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Inhuman Swill : Page 30
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Frey-ing fish in a barrel

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After reading last week's New York Magazine feature article "James Frey's Fiction Factory," I was tempted to post another jeremiad against the author who proves himself time and again the slimiest, most brazenly unapologetic charlatan to disgrace our industry in the past decade.

Fortunately, doing so would be redundant, since I can just send you to John Scalzi's two excellent posts analyzing Frey's latest hijinks:

  • The Man in the Frey Flannel Suit
  • An Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students)

    All I will add is that you should never sign a contract with a man who claims there's no difference between fact and fiction.

    Full entry
  • Four, no, five buffoons

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    It's easy to see why Drafthouse Films (the new distribution arm of Austin's great Alamo Drafthouse theater chain) was able to snap up the rights to British TV vet Chris Morris's feature film debut, Four Lions. Probably no one else wanted to touch it. It's not a movie for everybody.

    I saw Four Lions last night at a preview screening at Piper's Alley, and I thought it was the funniest movie I'd seen since, well, The Hangover. Like any number of other comedies, it's the story of a buffoonish group of losers determined to succeed at something they clearly have no talent for. What makes Four Lions different is that the something is jihad. Will you like it? That depends on how much taste you have for laughing at suicide bombings. (Mild spoilers may lie ahead.)

    Omar and Waj are two would-be British-Pakistani mujahideen who get ejected from an Al Qaeda training camp for rank incompetence. Undeterred from their dreams of glorious martyrdom, they tell the rest of their goofy terror cell back home in England that they've been sent back to carry out an important mission. The antics of the group, the most volatile member of which is a loose-cannon white convert to Islam, as they bumble their way toward a series of suicide bombings are very funny stuff, laugh-out-loud stuff. But you can't help but feel a certain amount of discomfort laughing at this gang of sincere fools.

    Are we laughing at stereotyped Muslims? I don't think so. We're laughing at comedic types, certainly, but as embodied by characters who are actually more three-dimensional than you might expect in this sort of movie. Along with the uncomfortable laughs, we get a look inside the rage, the faith, the yearning for community, and the yearning for glory that prods a certain type of personality into taking up a violent cause. And the self-styled jihadis are hardly the only Muslims we meet. In the course of the film we encounter a wide range of Muslims, most of whom want nothing to do with violence, and a few of whom get caught up in it anyway, in different ways.

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    Cribbing

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    Just received another instance of one of my favorite emails. It goes something like this:

    Hi! You've been such a help and inspiration, I'd like to send you a copy of my new self-published book. I'd really like to read some of your books too. Which one do you suggest I start with?

    Flattering, right? But you have to know how to read an email like this. Here's what it means:

    I know I'm imposing on you so I'll salve my conscience by pretending to want to read your stuff. Only I'm too lazy to do my homework, so I'll let you tell me what books you've written instead.

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    Cheap bitch

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    Don't call Ella cheap, but she did just get less expensive. Take an extra 30% off her 2011 calendar when you enter the coupon code EARLYBIRD305 at checkout! (Offer good through November 15, 2010.)

    Ella-Mental 2011 13-Month Calendar

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    It's "Ella-Mental," Watson!

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    Though Laura and I have fallen down on the job for the past few years, we've finally gotten it together enough to publish a sequel to the immensely popular Ella-Vation 2006 and Ella-Tion 2007 calendars.

    Yes, our furry little 33-pound calendar girl is back in her biggest productino ever, with an extra month thrown in for free:

    Ella-Mental 2011 13-Month Calendar

    For a limited time, only $14.39! Order all you want. We'll print more.

    Full entry

    And a brine chaser, please

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    While Laura and I were in New York City about a month ago, we were introduced to a drink called the "pickle back"—a shot of Irish whiskey followed by a pickle-brine chaser. Yes, I was dubious too, but it was the best new drink I'd tasted in ages. Of course, the pickle juice needs to be of high quality. You can't just use the liquid from a bottle of Vlasic dill chips.

    We first experienced the pickle back at Sweet Afton in Queens ([info]ecmyers was there!), so imagine our surprise when at Whiskey Tavern in Chinatown the next evening we found two varieties of pickle back on the menu! It's apparently a growing trend in bars in the know, as detailed in this New York Post article:

    Give Pickle Juice a Shot

    Time to invest in cucumber futures?

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    According to Whisky Connosr: "Some ideas are so brilliantly simple you wonder why no-one has thought of them before."

    Now, I love me some gimmicky new ways to quaff my favorite hoity-toity single-malt scotches, but seriously? No one's ever thought of "drinks by the dram" before? Maybe I'm revealing myself for the old fart I am, but in my day they called those "minibottles." And they were perfect for sneaking into a laser show at the Hayden Planetarium.

    Okay, so that was only a few short years ago. My point stands.

    Full entry

    I know your heart, Joseph Purcell

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    I love the AMC series Rubicon so much that I tracked down a copy of one of the out-of-print collections of producer/writer Henry Bromell's New Yorker short stories from the '70s. I've started I Know Your Heart, Marco Polo, and so far I'm very taken with the hallucinatory prose style. Can't wait to finish it.

    I think it's the first time that someone's television work has prompted me to seek out his or her fiction. Racing through The Wire is what finally prompted me to read David Simon's non-fiction Homicide, a book that had been mocking me from the shelf for twenty years. (Interestingly, Bromell also worked on the Homicide television series.) I started watching Justified precisely because I was a fan of the Elmore Leonard novels featuring Raylan Givens. (Of course, it also didn't hurt that Timothy Olyphant from Deadwood was playing the character.)

    But I'm pretty sure the Bromell conversion is a first. If I keep enjoying the stories, his novel Little America, a semi-autobiographical (I gather) tale of a son trying to understand his father's C.I.A. career, sounds pretty interesting.


    Any of you other Rubicon fans recognize the name Joseph Purcell?
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    Memories of my father's memory

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    Clearing out my inbox (a task that requires a pitchfork, a shovel, and high-volume hose), I ran across an email from a old, old family friend who had known my father since they were young together in Los Angeles, and whom my siblings and I have always known as Uncle Lee. Laura and I dropped in on him last February, and while we shared a meal of takeout sushi he regaled us with stories from Dad's younger and wilder days.

    In the followup email, Uncle Lee had one more memory to share:

    I think I forgot to tell you that your dad could dance and memorize at the same time. If he liked his dance partner he would ask her for her telephone number which he would memorize immediately so he could call her and thank her the next day.

    I am not sure how many telephone numbers he could memorize in one evening.

    Dad passed on a lot of interesting genes to me, but not that one!

    Full entry

    We are all fucking assholes

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    I am shocked, saddened, and sickened by the recent spate of bullying and harassment of gay youths that has led to so many teen suicides nationwide. It's disturbing that such vicious intolerance still exists in our country, and depressing that with so many positive gay role models today that the message that it gets better still hasn't permeated society far enough.

    But I'm also uneasy with this week's rush to label every bully a "total fucking asshole." Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me stress that bullying is wrong. Bullying of any stripe, against anyone of real or imagined difference, is ugly and cruel and harmful and utterly wrong. It seems to me, however, that labeling anyone who expresses an opinion we don't like a "total fucking asshole" is counterproductive in a couple of important ways.

    First, though I think it's important for gay kids (for all kids, really) to learn to stand up for themselves, calling a tormentor a "total fucking asshole" is not exactly a way to open up a pathway to understanding and enlightenment. It strikes me only as a way to close off communication and escalate conflict. (Still, I know it would be an awfully satisfying thing to say, and there might be a certain element of empowerment to it. That and a good right hook.)

    But second, and more importantly, I think the "total fucking asshole" label is a great way for adults to draw a dividing line between "us" and "them," and to avoid confronting the hard truth that we all have some degree of bully in us. The trick for us all is to recognize and curtail our own bullying tendencies, and to spread that same message in constructive ways.

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