Wednesday, November 30, 2005


LATX2, poets online, Rummy's dirty word, Duke departs

On yesterday's edition of MobyLives radio, Dennis Johnson interviews David Ulin about his new gig as constitutional monarch of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Meanwhile, Ulin's predecessor Steve Wasserman pens a eulogy for the Los Angeles Times itself, arguing that the paper is undergoing a slow death at the hands of its corporate overseers, the Chicago-based Tribune Corporation. This friction between the editorial and business side is hardly unique to the Times, of course, nor is the appetite for a bigger bottom line than newspapers have traditionally produced. But according to Wasserman, the paper is also saddled with a dispiriting--and possibly lethal--culture clash:
There is also an unquantifiable but important cultural factor: There is a strong feeling within the newsroom at the Los Angeles Times that its Chicago masters regard Los Angeles as an alien planet whose denizens are made of different DNA. Chicago's faint and unenthusiastic recognition of the 13 Pulitzers the paper was awarded during the five years that John Carroll was its editor is a wound that refuses to heal. It's almost as if Mars had conquered Jupiter but somehow, much to the Martians' bafflement, Jupiter still exercises a larger gravitational pull and looms still brighter in the heavens above. More than one high official of the paper has remarked on the odd but palpable admixture of resentment and envy the paper's Midwestern owners evince when they are in the presence of their West Coast underlings.
On a more cheerful note, Andrew Motion--British poet laureate and the author of Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life--has launched a new site called The Poetry Archive, featuring recordings of poets reading their own verse. In a statement quoted in the New York Times, Motion seemed rather defensive about having the poets do their own dirty work, as opposed to, say, Meryl Streep:
Actors may (or may not) read poems well, but poets have unique rights to their work, and unique insights and interests to offer as we hear their idiom, pacing, tone and emphases. They all, in their different ways, validate the intention of the archive to preserve the mystery of poetry while tearing away some of the prejudices which can make it appear unduly 'difficult' or separate from familiar life.
Hear, hear. The site looks great--a gem, really--but despite a good deal of angry fiddling with RealPlayer, I couldn't manage to hear Yeats recite "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." Woe is me. I'll try again tomorrow.

Finally, two political notes of interest. During a meeting with reporters yesterday, semantician-at-large Donald Rumsfeld banned the use of insurgents from his private lexicon. Henceforth Rummy will call them Enemies Of The Legitimate Iraqi Government--a phrase that will instantly double the length of every Defense Department briefing. Please, please, read the entire article here. It's almost indistinguishable from something you might see in the Onion.

Meanwhile, Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham--whose efforts on behalf of the anti-flag-burning amendment to the Constitution have previously made me apoplectic--will be departing the House in a squalid burst of glory:
U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican, fought back tears as he resigned on Monday after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for help in securing Defense Department contracts. Cunningham, 63, an eight-term congressman and decorated Vietnam War pilot, admitted taking cash, antiques, a yacht, vacation expenses and money for his daughter's graduation party from several defense contractors between 2000 and 2005.
It really does call to mind Samuel Johnson's famous definition of patriotism: the last refuge of a scoundrel. Bye-bye, Duke. Write if you get work.

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