My Back Pages

Tags: Scratch one puppy! Also, my top secret very first blog revealed.

I read a blog post the other day called something like, “Twenty Commandments for Getting and Keeping Readers at Your Blog”–a title that may remind you of Clemenceau’s response to Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points: “God only needed ten.” I’ve misplaced the link (breaking one of the blogging commandments right there), but if you’ve read similar posts, you’ve probably heard most of the advice. What jumped out at me was this: Old is the New New breaks each and every one of the blogging commandments. Thou shalt choose one topic and stick to it? A commandment I honor more in the breach than in the observance. Thou shalt comment widely on other blogs? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Thou shalt keep your posts short and to the point? Thou shalt post regularly? Thou shalt have an informative “About” page? A distinctive banner? Bless me Blogfather, for I have sinned.*

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The New Old is the New New

Aieee! What’s become of Old is the New New? Where’s the brown on beige color scheme that looks sickly yellow on certain browsers? Where are the long bloviating triennial posts in a skinny center column that makes them seem even longer? Where are the inside jokes and references nobody can understand? Where’s that globey-planety thing I scroll down and ignore?*

Be not afraid. I’m migrating over from Movable Type to WordPress, and I’ll be hacking the layout for a while yet, but while the new Old is the New New is under renovation, you can always find the old Old is the New New, plus its loyal sideblog The New New, at

If you’re reading this in some kind of RSS reader, please update the feed. The new RSS feed URL is

*It’s called an orrery.



Tags: The best four days in history?

The annual wargame, roleplaying game, and dressing up like an elf convention GenCon (to which I have never been, by the way) bills itself as “the best four days in gaming.” Will the American Historical Association’s annual convention, which starts tomorrow in Atlanta, be the best four days in history? I’ll let you know–I’ll be there. If you’re going to be there too, let’s meet up: drop me a line using the AHA’s weirdly archaic message system, email me (electromail chez robmacdougall dot org, not com), or just look for the guy in the totally bitchin’ elf costume.


Dr. Hodgman, I Presume

Tags: ARFFF 2006.5, Hodgman vs. Livingston, Metaphysicians of Tlon, the primal scene of American historiography, The Muppet Movie, how history judges a dream-thief.

We’re still visiting family in (y)our nation’s capital and I’m finding it hard to write the second half of my books of 2006 post without more of the books in front of me. In its stead, I thought I’d excerpt two remarkable books I did bring with me on this trip. The books are John Hodgman’s crypto-pseudo-almanac The Areas of My Expertise, and James Livingston’s philsophical critique of American intellectual history, Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy. The two books have nothing in common except that: I brought them both on vacation, they both impressed me, and they look almost identical. OK, maybe not identical identical, but they’re trade paperbacks of similar size and their covers have nearly identical color schemes. All week I was picking up Livingston and expecting it to be Hodgman or Hodgman and expecting it to be Livingston. You think you’re so clever, you tell me which is which! Read more



Tags: All reading for fun at Fessenden, our quirky electronic childhoods, the great American elevator inspector novel, I don’t know Dick.

It’s year in review time, Loyal Dozens, that magical time of year when we review the year that went by since the last time it was time to review the year between the times when it’s time to review it. I’ll dispense with such fripperies as the year in movies, music, or current events, but I read a lot of books and every year I like to take some time to record a few that stayed with me, both for their own merits and for vaguely autobiographical purposes. (I try to associate the subjects of books with the places and times where I read them. Even though you can find a copy anywhere, for instance, it’s cool to me that I bought Colson Whitehead’s old weird NYC novel The Intuitionist, along with Ann Douglas’ Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s, at the awesome Strand bookstore in Greenwich Village. Or that I read Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon while actually en route from Paris to the moon.) This is made easier this year by the LibraryThing account I started last December. Most people use LibraryThing to catalog the books they own, but I use the library so prodigiously that my the set of books I possess bears only a passing resemblance to the set of books that have passed under my eyeballs. Instead, I used LibraryThing to catalog books as I read them, regardless of their provenance. You can, if you care, see all the books I read in 2006 here. But here are some highlights, starting with fiction first. Read more