Inhuman Swill : Page 167
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Dueling reviews

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From off the beaten path, dueling reviews of Fahrenheit 9/11 (which I was delighted to see over the weekend with Laura and friends):

New York Press: Film of the Fascist Liberal

The Nation: By Way of Deception

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Hide this, Bill O'Reilly

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Film critic Jack Mathews has been feuding with fellow columnist Bill O'Reilly in the pages of the Daily News:

Hide this, Bill O'Reilly
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From James Hershberg in yesterday's Washington Post, an interesting if hurried analysis of how Ronald Reagan didn't singlehandedly bring down the Soviet Union:

Just Who Did Smash Communism? Ronald Reagan's policies surely contributed to the dissolution of the Kremlin's empire, culminating in the 1989 anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union two years later. But for the media and Reagan's hagiographers to give the 40th president all the credit is like saying a late-inning relief pitcher had "won" a baseball game without mentioning the starting pitcher, the closer or the teammates who scored the runs that gave the team its lead.  [full story]
In fact, as I was just opining yesterday to my friend Ron, the article identifies Gorbachev as the most critical figure, though hardly the only factor.

Related question: How long are the damn flags going to stay at half-mast? Is this usual when former presidents die?

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New York Press:  Rollerbabes

The only thing missing was Delia Pain....

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If you haven't yet, read British writer Elena Lappin's distressing Guardian account of being detained at LAX as a foreign reporter without a proper journalist visa:

Welcome to America Before I could approach to observe them [examining the luggage], the officer who had originally referred me to his supervisor was unzipping my suitcase and rummaging inside. For the first time, I raised my voice: "How dare you touch my private things?"

"How dare you treat an American officer with disrespect?" he shouted back, indignantly. "Believe me, we have treated you with much more respect than other people. You should go to places like Iran, you'd see a big difference." The irony is that it is only "countries like Iran" (for example, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe) that have a visa requirement for journalists. It is unheard of in open societies, and, in spite of now being enforced in the US, is still so obscure that most journalists are not familiar with it. Thirteen foreign journalists were detained and deported from the US last year, 12 of them from LAX....

During my surreal interlude at LAX, I told the officer taking my fingerprints that I would be writing about it all. "No doubt," he snorted. "And anything you'll write won't be the truth."  [full story]

Why is it that I find this as easy to believe as I do appalling?

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Curses! Foiled again!

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So way back in the mists of time I was engaged to a girl I'll call Katrina, because that's how I refer to her in my memoir. Katrina and I have stayed in touch all these years, and she now lives in Connecticut with her second husband, a Dutch chemist nine years her junior (go, Katrina!) whom I'll call Gerrit.

Laura and I had a holiday party back in December, and Katrina and Gerrit drove down from Connecticut for it. It was the first time I'd met Gerrit.

About an hour into the party, Gerrit came sauntering into the group I was chatting with, drunk off his ass, and said, "You know what I just found out that I didn't know before? I found out in the car on the way down here. This guy here"—he indicated me—"he used to be engaged to my wife."

I looked around at the group and said, "Well, this is awkward."

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The Years Best Science Fiction: Twenty-first Annual Collection
A courier just brought me a box from Barnes & Noble containing two copies of The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-first Annual Collection. It's not in stores yet—at least, not at the B&N I checked before work this morning—but the warehouse apparently has them already.

I'm rather beside myself to report that, besides reprinting my story "Strong Medicine," Gardner also listed a full five of my other stories in the Honorable Mentions list. I didn't even realize I'd published that many stories last year!

(Actually, I didn't, but he's including my contribution to Beyond the Last Star, which came out late in 2002.)

So here's to 2003, a very good year!

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Oopus Dei

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So I started reading The Da Vinci Code this morning on the train to work. The introductory matter indicates that the ultra-Catholic and rather scary Opus Dei organization has fairly recently constructed its world headquarters at 243 Lexington.

That's only about two blocks from my office but I couldn't picture the building, so instead of going straight to work I figured I'd amble over to 34th and Lex and take a look. I discovered I was well familiar with the building. It's a red-brick structure on the northeast corner that looks like a regular high-rise apartment building. On the 34th St. side of the building there are a few benches set amidst some low bushes, with a sign identifying this as a small public space proferred by Murray Hill Place, which is also the only name to be found on the building.

I took a look at the 34th St. entrance, then, feeling a little like a conspicuous gawking tourist, I wandered around to the Lexington Avenue side to see if there were any other identifying marks to be found. For some reason, the complete lack of anything but another modest MURRAY HILL PLACE sign struck me creepy and ominous.

I was just passing the Lexington entrance, craning my neck, when a loud voice at my shoulder said, "Hey, buddy!"

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Plus ça change

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Boy, a lot's changed since high school. I don't think I'd even fit in my locker anymore.

Don't mind me. I'm just trying out lines for my upcoming 20-year high school reunion, where I've been asked to give a wee speech. Okay, back to the drawing board.

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Float on

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This, from the New York Times, is one of the most exciting pieces of news to be published in a long time:

Pilot Guides Private Plane Beyond Atmosphere, a First A veteran civilian test pilot became the first human to reach space in a privately financed mission today, riding a small, winged rocketship high above California before gliding back to a powerless, soft landing in the Mojave Desert, organizers said.

Despite a washboard ride and a loud bang on the way up, the craft, SpaceShipOne, soared beyond the Earth's atmosphere, according to preliminary radar data collected by the design team, a voyage that if confirmed, would make the pilot, Mike Melvill, the world's first private astronaut.

Upon crossing the threshold of space, more than 62 miles up, Mr. Melvill said later, he opened a celebratory package of M&Ms as he became weightless.

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William Shunn