Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Before it moved to The New Yorker:
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Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule


This summer’s talented Emdashes interns will be performing many welcome tasks for our contra-profitable yet strangely satisfying project. One of these tasks, I think it’s fair to say, out-metas even our generally mega-meta mode: Each week, Sarah, Taylor, and Adam will explore all the active blogs at The New Yorker’s website, and post a report each Friday on what they’ve discovered. They each have a variety of beats, which you will see below. They had only a day or two to file their first reports here, by the way, rather than the full week they’ll have hereafter. Let’s see what they have to say!

Sarah Arkebauer writes:

The Book Bench this week contained some interesting tidbits. I found Rollo Romig’s mention of Ben Lewis’s new book about the history of Communism fascinating, but what really drew me in was Andrea Walker’s analysis of the cover of Christopher M. Kelty’s new book, Two Bits. The picture of the cover itself piqued my curiosity, while the surrounding text both fed and rebuffed my love of judging books by their covers.

Cartoonist of the Month did not update this week; nor did Malcolm Gladwell.

On his blog, The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross brought to light a disturbing trend—the firing of classical music critics and arts writers generally—in his Wednesday post.

Taylor House writes:

Mick Stevens’s I Really Should Be Drawing is my current favorite blog, though unfortunately Stevens has just gone on hiatus to Martha’s Vineyard for an indeterminate period. We might not be seeing much of Stevens this summer, but his archives are full of odd anecdotes describing the cartoonist’s condition and whatever doodles don’t make it into the magazine. In “The Formula,” he lets us in on the secret concoction that transmogrified him into a cartoonist—and his assistants into a neighing Italian pony and a self-conscious fridge, respectively. I
guess even doodlers need to summer.

Dana Goodyear, who writes Postcard From Los Angeles, is just returned from her summer vacation, and breaks her blog fast with a gripping clip from a recent Times piece on the semantic history of South Central (or Eastside, or La Newton). I can’t get enough of this L.A. history stuff—looking forward to much more from Goodyear.

Steve Brodner’s comics are about as menacing as the neocon characters he laments in his Person of the Day posts—and just as unsettling. He does throw in the occasional uplifting tidbit, like this recorded and illustrated interview with John Lennon, but the standard seems to be highlighting vestiges of Nixon in the current administration and strategizing how best to stomp it out next November. The question I’m pondering: is Brodner a political cartoonist? And if yes, how does he differ from the traditionalists? Discuss.

Hilton Als (Et Als) hasn’t posted since February; maybe he’ll make a comeback before the summer’s done.

Adam Shoemaker writes:

At Interesting Times, George Packer meditates this week on Christopher Hitchens, the exhibitionist essayist. When Hitchens took on Vanity Fair’s dare to subject himself to waterboarding, it was to understand the debate that much better. But for Packer, it was also an opportunity to witness “the limit to Hitchens,” to see why he will never be the next Orwell (Packer admits to sharing Hitchens’s hero worship here). Hitchens’ prolific and contrarian writings (a few here) do tend to make him into a spectacle with, as this writer puts it, a “strong presence of the ‘I’”, and it is useful to read a deconstruction of this character, whom Packer deems compulsively readable if not always worth the serious consideration he demands.

On his blog (subtitled “Notes on politics, mostly”), Hendrik Hertzberg contemplates the value of a journalist’s access when he (in this case, Zev Chavets) fails to exploit its potential (not much) and the crime of hiding behind the Constitution to avoid the very freedom it guarantees. Hertzberg is grateful neither to Chavets nor the New York Times for the Magazine’s portrait of Rush Limbaugh, which he finds long on “the vulgarity and ostentation of [Limbaugh’s] domestic arrangements” and short on substance.

Hertzberg likewise spares no ire in his indictment of Rhode Island Governor Donald L. Carcieri. He dissects the governor’s excuses for vetoing his state’s National Popular Vote bill, and in so doing demonstrates the danger in allowing our statesmen to hide behind their own idea of the Constitution without reading the document on its own terms. “Not all Republicans are averse to popular election,” Hertzberg grants, but there are enough like Carcieri to make him worry about the possibility of reforming the Electoral College, even at the state level.

“Untitled” is the name of Nas’s new album, but Sasha Frere-Jones spends three paragraphs considering the title Nas conspicuously removed in May: Nigger. Frere-Jones also wonders about the motivations behind making an elaborate video for “Be a Nigger, Too,” when it too was removed from the album. A slightly different YouTube link gives us “The Walrus Speaks,” an elaborately visualized interview with John Lennon, complete with a satisfying conspiracy based on Canadian squares. I too have known a few.

On Tuesday Frere-Jones chose, reluctantly, a song of the summer. This hesitation, he reports, was due both to the greatness of the tradition and to the sad state of this year’s offerings. In the end he picked Ryan Leslie’s “Diamond Girl,” despite judging him “the last dude I would want at my barbecue.” I’m not sure I’d want this boombox there either.

Meanwhile, for The Borowitz Report, Andy Borowitz leads with a story about liberals’ discomfort with Barack Obama’s now seemingly-determined attempts to claim the White House. “Any Democrat who voted for Dukakis, Mondale, or Kerry should regard this as a betrayal,” says Tracy Klugian of “LoseOn.org.” While we can rest confortable that when it comes to November, Howard Dean is not actually trying to “talk him out of it,” Borowitz’s final prediction seems destined to come true even if Obama turns the tide and decides “to lose the thing”: either way, the Democratic candidate “should brace himself for some really mean blog posts.”


Insightful comments on the NYer blogs! Thanks so much!

Awww, no, no you didn’t … yes you did. You went and gave me about six more things I’ve gotta track down, fascinating things I would’ve missed without your glosses (because who has time to read the TNY blogs when there’s Emdashes to read?)

Seriously, this is great. I look forward to more reports from you guys.

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