More on Google's quasi-Faustian deal with AOL: The NYT clarifies yesterday's story.

Google also agreed to provide technical assistance to AOL to help explain how to make its pages easier for Google - and other search engines - to find and include in its index of the Web. Google has provided similar information for other large Web sites, according to Kevin Lee, executive chairman of Did-it, a search marketing firm. In general, Google will offer an engineer who recites publicly available technical information on how Google's search engine evaluates Web sites.
This paragraph is not exactly a model of clarity but it seems that yesterday's assertion that "Google will ... provide technical assistance so AOL can create Web pages that will appear more prominently in the search results list" was inaccurate. There's a big difference between being included in Google's index (its database of billions of web pages) and learning to do well in its page rankings (the hierarchy that determines whether a particular web page appears at the top of Google search results or on the seventeenth page).

It's still annoying that we're going to have to see graphics ads on Google just so Google can prevent Microsoft from partnering with AOL.


From the NYT:
"Google will also provide technical assistance so AOL can create Web pages that will appear more prominently in the search results list."

In other words, Google is going to be consulting on how to game its own search rankings. Is it just me or does this completely violate everything Google is supposed to stand for?


Currently listening to Gold Sounds, the album of Pavement songs as performed by jazzmen James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Ali Jackson, and Reginald Veal, and I can't stop thinking: The first time Steve Malkmus heard this, he must've smiled so hard his ears fell off.


The trouble with creative writing programs

I recently read a chunk of manuscript by a woman in my novel-writing workshop. In her accompanying note, she explained that her novel-in-progress is narrated in alternating sections by five women: a grandmother, her two daughters, and her two granddaughters.

There is no rule against writing a novel along these lines. It's possible to imagine this turning out to be a very good novel. But if you were talking to a first-time novelist who told you this was her plan, you might want to say something like: "Wow, that's a lot of narrators! It sounds like it would be a real challenge for the reader to keep track of them, especially if they're all of the same gender and background. Have you thought about how you're going to deal with that? Are you 100% sure you need all five of them to narrate? Have you considered writing in third-person close, where you can shift from one character's point of view to another's without reassigning the "I" pronoun every time?"

And yet I have not met a single instructor who says things like this. Instead they tend to say things like, "Well, that sounds very interesting," and then focus the discussion on particular scenes or characters.

I suspect there are several reasons for this failure to talk about problems with the way students conceive their projects: the sincere belief that there are no fixed rules for fiction writing; respect for the experimental impulse; fear of pooh-poohing a contemporary Ulysses or To the Lighthouse; the wish to be encouraging. Those are all valid. But they're often accompanied by a certain wilful blindness to context. The author of this five-narrators novel doesn't see herself as writing experimental work; she admires mainstream North American realists like Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson. She wants to write a transparent and affecting story about three generations of women for a literate popular audience. She's just starting out and, like all of us, she could use some help. And yet her teachers decline to tell her things that could save her months or years of work.

James Wood, my current #1 literary crush, recently wrote: "We have become fixated on one kind of intelligence -- the theoretical, the analytical, the cultural -- at the expense of other kinds.... Put it this way: I'll accept that Richard Powers is terrifically smart if you'll admit with me that Alice Munro is also terrifically smart." Wood's general point, that there are different kinds of intelligence that might be useful to a fiction writer, is well taken. But there is a third kind of intelligence, crucial to writing, that Richard Powers and Alice Munro share. I'm talking about a kind of meta-intelligence, an ability to accurately assess one's own powers and weaknesses and to find literary forms that play to these. It's not just that Alice Munro is smart because of her keen grasp of human thought and motive and Richard Powers is smart because of his gift for understanding cultural systems and the role of individuals within them; it's that they're both smart because they've found ways to translate their different kinds of intelligence into functioning novels and stories. It's this third kind of intelligence that creative writing instructors can reasonably aspire to teach, because teaching it wouldn't exclude anyone or cram anyone into someone else's mold. I wish they'd be a bit more aggressive about teaching it.

Jan Peters is a teenager from Holland who lists his interests as "DJ, music, party." His webpage contains a mesmerising animation showing the derivation of letter forms from the Phoenician alphabet through to modern Europe. Link from Mimi Lok, who writes, "If only all knowledge could be stored in my head in such a precise, elegant way."


Roth Brothers contest #1: Smurf or Dwarf?

  1. Sleepy
  2. Clumsy
  3. Brainy
  4. Smurfette
  5. Grumpy

Sense patrol!

I heard Young MC's "Bust a Move" on the radio the other day, and the following verse has not left my head since:

Your best friend Harry has a brother Larry;
In a week or two he will marry.
Try to make the wedding if you can
For at the ceremony you're to be the best man.

There is much here that doesn't add up. Every line suggests that the second-person protagonist's relationship to the groom is minor. In the first line he has to be informed of Larry's existence; in the second he is given only the vaguest possible information concerning the scheduled date of Larry's nuptials, and indeed learns of them only a few weeks prior to the event itself; he is not even urged forthrightly to attend, but only to try to attend if his schedule permits. And yet, we learn at the verse's conclusion: He is to be the best man? Does Larry have no friends of his own, forcing him to draft his brother's best friend? What about Harry himself? Have things between the brothers reached the point where Larry doesn't feel comfortable asking Harry to stand up for him? I can only hope that my social life and my relationship with my estimable coauthor never come simultaneously to such a pass that I find myself placing a long-distance call to Robin Mulder and saying, "Listen, there's something I wanted to ask you...."


Select Soccer Silliness Part Deux

There are, admittedly, worse people in the world than George Vecsey (Tom DeLay, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Conor Oberst) but he has now incurred my wrath for the second straight day. (Go here for the first installment of Roth vs. Vecsey.) In part, it's because he has been unfortunate enough, in today's dispatch from Leipzig [NYT Select subscription required, but you don't need to read it, I've pasted the relevant parts below], to stumble unwittingly onto the topic of a heated e-argument i've been carrying on for the last 24 hours with my friend Mike, to wit: Does the US have any reason to complain about not being a number 1 seed in today's World Cup Finals draw?

GV never actually works up the bollox to mount an actual explicit argument in America's favor, but he clearly wants to. So instead, he just makes vague, whiningly aggrieved observations like:

"The Yanks were quarterfinalists last time. That is no small thing. Yet the masters of world soccer saw fit to slip Mexico into the top group of eight in this year's World Cup seedings, and delegate the Americans to steerage, where they have been before."

Yeah, and South Korea were semi-finalists, which is an even less small thing, but you don't see GV arguing that they should have been in the top 8. And let's unpack this myth of American accomplishment in 2002: They beat a highly-regarded but, as it turned out, deeply-flawed Portugal team (a good win, admittedly), they drew with South Korea (not a good team in anyone's book, despite their fortunate finish) then lost 3-1(!) to Poland (a loss which Mike, whose mother is Polish, claims was only allowed to happen as "a favor" to him: "I got to 'have my cake and eat it too,'" he argues, "because I got to watch my land of heritage finish on a high note, while at the same time I got to watch my underdog homeland make it to the second round.") Then they beat an impotent Mexican team 1-0 (a win which GV hilariously calls a "drubbing") before losing 1-0 to a mediocre German team, in a game in which, for all their dominance of possession, they generated only two clear-cut chances. Color me unimpressed.

Also, we get:

"The experience of 2002 must be worth something, even if the seeding committee tended to overlook it. The United States had its fun for three years, qualifying for the World Cup easily, sometimes rated above the older powers in the monthly world rankings. But at this World Cup draw, reality (or politics) intruded."

Huh? Is there anyone who doesn't understand that the only reason the US qualified "easily" is because they play in the CONCACAF region, against the likes of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, et al? Try putting them in an average European qualifying group, composed of, say, Italy, Norway, Romania, and two weak teams, and see how they do.

And what "politics" is he talking about? If GV thinks the US got stiffed because the world hates America he should say it. But he'd still be wrong.

In response to the good showing in 2002, GV tells us, "a player like DaMarcus Beasley had viability with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands."

Ah yes, DaMarcus Beasley (or a player like him, anyway.) Striking fear into the hearts of defenders from Anderlecht to Feyenoord.

I'll grant that Mexico doesn't scare anyone, and the US outplayed them in 2002. But the ones who really should be aggrieved are the Dutch. Compare Keller, Donovan, Reyna, and Beasley, to Dutch players like Van der Saar, Van Nistelrooy, Davids, and Cocu. With the exception of Keller, the Americans just aren't in the same league.

I have a theory, as yet not very well thought-thru, that there is something deeply and structurally, even conceptually, wrong with American soccer, which will prevent it from ever realizing the potential offered by its vast talent pool. Which would be fine by me.


Select Soccer Silliness

Let us count the ways in which this (pasted below if you don't have Times Select) is silly:

1) It is silly that the NY Times makes you pay to read stories like these -- or any stories for that matter. It's hard to find anyone who doesn't think the NYT will come to regret this absurd and ill-conceived experiment. Paying for George Vecsey when you can get Rob Hughes for free is like buying Andy Rooney dinner in the hope that he'll sleep with you when Charlize Theron is already brushing her teeth in your bathroom. In a thong.

2) It is silly that George Vecsey has written this story, which he has clearly filed only because they've sent him over to Leipzig and he's got nothing else to write about until tomorrow when they actually do the draw. Sing the national anthem, don't, who cares? GV doesn't even convince us that he does. And who really gives a fock if Sepp Blatter tends to say things off the cuff? It's sort of refreshing, as a contrast to officials from American sports leagues who weigh every word like they're Scott friggin McLellan. I"m not seeing the harm here. What would GV have written about if it weren't for Blatter? The real problem is that Blatter, like all high-ranking FIFA officials, is irredeemably corrupt, but GV isn't really interested in that.

3) It is silly that GV thinks that playing the anthems lends "pomp and dignity" to sport, and that this is important. The dignity comes from the game itself, and how many people care about it. Fock the pomp.

4) It is silly that Blatter thinks that women should wear tighter outfits when they play soccer. Women, of course, should not be playing soccer at all.

kidding, kidding.

Blatter's Blather Besmirching Soccer

Published: December 8, 2005

Leipzig, Germany

ONE of the great rituals of sport is going to survive. For a few tense days recently, it seemed that the singing of the national anthems at all World Cup games was going to be booted toward oblivion, not only by the sport's resident hooligans but also by the free-associating major-domo of world soccer, Joseph S. Blatter.

After a nasty scene in Turkey, Blatter blurted to the Swiss weekly Schweizer Illustrierte: "I feel this whistling shows a great lack of respect and is disparaging to national pride. I wonder, therefore, whether it even makes sense to play these national anthems."

Blatter, who is known as Sepp, surely knows that anthems are an intrinsic part of the greatest sports event on the globe. The players march out, stand in line and move their lips as if they actually know the words to their national anthem. Some soccerphobes equate this ceremony with more ominous mass stirrings, like to tramping armies. George Orwell once labeled international matches "orgies of hatred," words often dusted off by the British news media.

I, however, see the soccer anthems as a touching gesture, matching the handshake line in the N.H.L. playoffs or the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" at the Kentucky Derby.

For a few seconds, there is some pomp and dignity in sport, although quickly followed by the elbowing and the shoving, the name-calling and the gesturing - and that is the benign part - on the field. Sometimes in the stands or city streets, it gets worse.

Tomorrow night in this former East German city, the draw will be held for the 2006 World Cup. The German hosts have initiated a policy of selling tickets only to registered individuals, who must present their passports and have their identity checked by microchips in the ticket at every game. This will surely cut down on scalping, and perhaps also keep away the thousands of officially barred thugs.

In keeping with his long history of blurting out whatever is on his mind, Blatter, the president of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, suggested this week that this tracking process was too complicated, but the hosts insisted they would do it their way.

FIFA has other issues on its plate. The downfall of an allied marketing agency, International Sport and Leisure, in 2001, left a loss of millions of dollars. The police recently raided FIFA's headquarters in Zurich to recover records, a move that Blatter yesterday called "not correct."

Blatter also got into the anthem issue after the final playoff game between Switzerland and Turkey. In the first match, in Berne, Swiss fans hissed and jeered the Turkish anthem, so when the Swiss team flew to Istanbul for the return match, Turkish fans rocked the Swiss bus and spat and threw eggs at the players. Before the game, the Turkish fans reviled the Swiss anthem.

This display was a shame because Turkey had contributed lovely moments in 2002 in the last World Cup. After defeating one of the host teams, South Korea, in the third-place match, the Turkish players held hands with the South Korean players for a mutual victory lap. The Turkish fans were also a credit to their country.

On Nov. 16, however, when Switzerland qualified after the second game, players and coaches from both squads got physical on their way to the locker rooms. FIFA is currently investigating and could place serious sanctions on Turkey during qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

Blatter's comments about anthems created a stir around the world, making it seem he would try to ban the prematch ceremony.

When asked at his news conference yesterday, Blatter said: "We should keep the anthems, but I said we should put them into question. We should respect the anthems and educate people about them."

Blatter has been known to quickly engage his vocal cords, perhaps ahead of his reason. He once proposed holding the World Cup every two years instead of every four years, which would have watered down the anticipation that makes the World Cup so vital.

And who will forget the time he blurted out that female soccer players should wear tighter shorts that fit their shapes?

"In volleyball, the women also wear other uniforms than the men," Blatter told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick. "Pretty women are playing football today. Excuse me for saying that." Needless to say, Merrie Kinge Sepp took some criticism for those public musings.

Currently, Blatter is dubious about modern technology, including electronic gadgets that may determine if a ball has crossed a goal line, a huge issue since England defeated West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

"The referee can make mistakes," Blatter said yesterday, adding, "For the next few years, we will not speak of goal-line technology."

But we will surely speak of many other things. Blatter's random comments are a part of soccer, right up there with the anthem ritual.


Wiki wack

John Seigenthaler has his underpants in a twist because the Wikipedia entry on him suggested he might be connected to John F. Kennedy's assassination. All it takes is one NYT story apparently, and Wikipedia is changing its contribution policy.

What I want to know is: Why didn't Seigenthaler just delete the offending sentences from Wikipedia himself?

Okay, Two Things

First, you're wrong to write that "excessive laughter" was the sin of which BJ's "dangerous crowd" was guilty. It was the volume of the laughter, not the quantity, that was imagined to be the problem -- a transgression on which many parents might well take a harder line, particularly if they were talking on the phone or something while the overly-loud laughter was taking place.

Second, I just listened to the sax solo on Thunder Road, and don't agree. Maybe it's only because, like all the best Clarence solos, it seems to re-capitulate -- and to make abstract -- all the longing and hope we've just heard spelled out very concretely in the body of the song (the far, far better example of this is on Jungleland). But whatever the reason, it just has more soul than any TV theme-song, 1000 jumping Japanese or no.

Gabe replies: Predictably, my eagerness to work in the bit about the 1,000 Japanese men has confused my point, which was not that the sax on "Thunder Road" is cheesy but that Mike Post is awesome. Have you listened to "Hill Street Blues" lately? Soul on a roll (but you treat it like soap on a rope).

More Bruce vs. Billy Joel

Another thought: your describing BJ's "musical scheme" as "like a Gilbert and Sullivan song or something, not like any kind of call to arms" is totally apt ... and yet, have you listened to the sax break in "Thunder Road" recently? (It starts around 3:51.) With the drums pulled back it could have been written by Mike Post as the theme to a prime-time dramedy about a bunch of recent college grads trying to make it in the big city c. 1986.

(This is in no way a dis to Springsteen, Clemens, or whoever else is responsible for that lovely piece of music: Mike Post is a genius. Remember: "to achieve the unique sound of the NYPD Blue theme ... he used, among other effects, 1,000 Japanese men jumping up and down on a wooden floor, a cheese grater, and a subway horn. All these ideas are largely inspired by the program's script." A lesser composer might have used Caucasian men, or settled for nine-hundred-some, but the NYPD Blue mis-en-scene demands exactly the sound of 1,000 Japanese men jumping up and down.)

Roth vs. Roth

Yeah, that's kind of what I meant when I made the (facile) Bruce comparison: a more spelled-out version would be "early Springsteen with the soulfulness and romance replaced by a kind of crude teenage-boy sexuality." You could argue that "Thunder Road" and "Only the Good Die Young" are the two faces of adolescence: the overweening and pretentious but basically lovable romanticism (Springsteen) and the boorish date-rapist horniness (Joel). Incidentally, probably the thing I love the most about early Bruce is that it puts me back in touch with those sweet teenage feelings. I should stop now before I start talking about the hope that stings like chlorine and Sasha Frere-Jones kicks my ass.

By the way: Billy Joel's Catholic-schoolgirl prey was named not Belinda but Virginia, an instance of symbolic naming that I bet Billy Joel was really pleased with.

Also, bear in mind that Joel's "dangerous crowd" was in fact guilty only of excessive laughter -- a form of delinquency that most parents could surely overlook.


Bruce vs. Billy Joel

It's interesting that you describe Only the Good Die Young as"kind of like early Springsteen with a massive, embarrassing boner." The critical difference between OTGDY and the obvious early-Bruce comparisons -- Rosalita and Thunder Road, I'd say -- is that in the Bruce ones, both in the music and the lyrics, there's a sense of breaking out, and escape (hardly an orginal Bruce-based insight, I know) that makes the song transcend the immediate situation. He makes it feel like if Rosie will just come out of her daddy's house, or if Mary will just, well, come out of her daddy's house, they'll not only get to have sex, but it'll open up a whole new set of possibilities for their lives. Not to be too cheese-ball here, but it's not just about trying to get a girl to sleep with you, it's about trying to get a girl to save you, pretentious Catholicism-based attempts to turn Bruce into CS Lewis or whatever not withstanding. OTGDY, by contrast, really is about Billy Joel's pathetic and probably failed attempts to get Belinda, or whatever her name is, to shag him -- and nothing else. Even the musical scheme, like all BJ's musical schemes, feels to this musical illiterate like a Gilbert and Sullivan song or something, not like any kind of call to arms.

The other thing is that any song in which Billy Joel declares "you might have heard I run with a dangerous crowd," is just hilarious on so many levels.


Best article about why Billy Joel sucks ever

We once had a conversation about exactly this topic, and it's almost like Rosen was listening in. This is so exactly right, and helps explain alot of stuff about music. Ultimately, you realize, it's just sort of a character problem more than anything, which Rosen doesn't quite make clear, but I think we covered. But he/she is so totally right that what he should have been was one of those Brill Building people who didn't realize they were making art. And about the Paul McCartney thing.

Gabe gloms onto Zack's post again: Yes, Slate is plagiarizing us twice in one week, except that this time they have plagiarized a private conversation. Next: Slate introduces a new section called "Today's Sexual Fantasies," which look disturbingly familiar to a certain pair of Anglo-Jewish siblings....

One excellent thing that Rosen's piece has that our conversation did not is a link to a soundclip of a reggae version of "Only the Good Die Young." I was of the opinion that "OTGDY" was BJ's most fully realized work, because it's such a funny conceit (a rock'n'roll song about trying to convince a Catholic girl to risk Hell and fuck you; kind of like early Springsteen with a massive, embarrassing boner) and because he makes the complicated rhyme scheme (A-A-A-B-C-C-C-B-B) seem easy. But knowing that BJ experimented with this absurd reggae version makes it clear that the song is in fact just as lame as every other Billy Joel song.



This Slate piece about a la carte cable, by Daniel Gross (who's really good, especially on the auto industry) recounts pretty much every argument I made in my Washington Monthly story on the same subject.

There's a reason for this, which is that there's pretty much a finite number of important points to cover here, and you can figure them out by talking to the right people. But still. Even the tagline on the Slate homepage -- "You Shouldn't Have to Pay for Oxygen to get ESPN" -- sounds weirdly like the subhed to my piece: "Parents Should be Able to Pay for Nickelodeon Without Having to Pony up for MTV." I am left feeling half annoyed and half proud.

Gabe adds: There's a convention for how to rip off someone's story like this: somewhere in your ripoff piece, you mention the original piece, even tangientially ("as Zack Roth wrote in the Washington Monthly..."), and link to it. Gross should have done this.


The woman who owns Tallula apparently called my editor at the Guardian yesterday and yelled at him. Among her points (and all this is hearsay): (a) I am not qualified to review expensive restaurants because I am too poor; (b) the paper's job is to help her restaurant stay in business.

This made me really happy. I was kind of disappointed that I hadn't heard anything from them.

For a person who is generally pretty clumsy ...

I am weirdly good at catching grapes in my mouth.

I just did six in a row.

Most self-absorbed post ever!

Correction of the week

From the Observer:

Our interview with American literary sensation Benjamin Kunkel (Review, last week) was accompanied by a panel of quotes from US reviews, supplied by his publisher. One, from Entertainment Weekly, read: 'Kunkel has succeeded in crafting a voice of singular originality' and omitted the next line: '- one you want to punch in the mouth.'

via Bookslut.


Someone has finally come up with a scientific explanation for why Jews are smarter than everyone else.


Nice to be Noticed

Everyone's favorite smart conservative Ross Douthat links to my piece on A La Carte cable TV.


Less than meets the eye

Maud Newton writes:

At Moby Lives, Paul Maliszewski talks with Michael Finkel, a former New York Times Magazine writer who was fired for using "improper narrative techniques" in his article "Is Youssouf Malè A Slave?" The piece ostensibly focused on a West African boy who worked in the cocoa fields, but when writing and revising, Finkel "blended details from the life of Malè, a real boy, with the experiences of others in similar straits."

After his dismissal, Finkel admitted he’d made a mistake, "retreated to his home in Montana and stopped writing for publications." He told a journalist that he planned to digest what had happened and write about it himself. Now he’s done that, in True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, which reportedly discusses not only the controversial article but the strange relationship Finkel developed with a suspected murderer who fled to Mexico and adopted Finkel’s name.

"One of the themes of this book," Finkel tells Maliszewski, "is this whole issue of what’s true and what’s not. What stories are true? What does non–fiction mean? What is thought of as good journalism? Accurate quotes? If I say to you, "I’m a girl named Jennifer" and then you report, "Mike Finkel is a girl named Jennifer," is that good journalism? It’s an accurate quote, but it’s completely false. You’ve not broken any rules of journalism, you’ve just written something completely false. That complexity is at the heart of this whole story."

This is the sort of thing that seems at first like it might be interesting, but upon closer examination turns out to be a very stupid and self-serving justification for making shit up. If a journalist were to quote Mike Finkel saying "Mike Finkel is a girl named Jennifer," they would indeed have broken a rule of journalism if they didn't give readers enough information to know that Mike Finkel is in fact not a girl named Jennifer. Sometimes in political journalism, reporters don't do enough to convey to readers that a quote by a politician is false or misleading. But they should, and there isn't any debate about that. This "complexity" is not really very complex at all, and has nothing whatsoever to do with taking stuff that happened to one person and writing that it happened to another.

More interesting, maybe, is the frequency with which things that at first look sort of interesting turn out only to be interesting to the sort of people who spend enough time in cirlcles where interesting things could potentially happen (and who therefore have developed a pretty good sense of the surface appearance of interesting things) but are in fact incapable of the sort of serious critical thinking that would allow them to distinguish the actual interesting things from the impostors. It's sort of a shame that the world must genuinely be more interesting to these stupid pseudo-intellectual type-people. Or maybe its actuallly less interesting to them, since if you can't distinguish between interesting and stupid you're probably not getting the full benefits of the interesting. Anyways, I'm not pointing any fingers at anyone other than Mike Finkel, but I feel like this keeps happening. I'm now going to see if I can think of any other examples.

Follow-up by Gabe: The mendacious-reporter memoir is apparently a new literary form for our era. Stephen Glass followed his making-stuff-up-in-the-New Republic career with a novel about a young reporter named Stephen Glass who makes things up. Jayson Blair blamed his serial plagiarisms and fabrications at the NYT on mental illness in Burning Down My Masters' House. I haven't read either book, so I don't know if they examine bullshit issues about the nature of truth. But all of these books, by virtue of their very existence, fall victim to another confusion: the writers confuse the fact that people are paying attention to them with the idea that people give a shit about them.

The reason we started this blog ...

was to link you to things like this.


Trite Polite Shite on Fright Night

One thing I've been thinking about lately is how polite people in America, and particularly Washington DC, are. Most of the time this is nice. But sometimes it sort of goes too far, and you get the feeling that they're getting a weird and pathetic kind of satisfaction out of being so polite and being able to think of themselves as such polite people.

Yesterday I was in Borders waiting in line to pay. The guy in front of me was paying, and he and the cashier, a man, were, typically, being very polite to each other throughout the transaction. I can't remember the exact words but it basically went something like this:

CASHIER: How are you today?
CUSTOMER: Good, how are you?
CASHIER; Good, thankyou.
CUSTOMER: You're welcome
CASHIER: Will that be all for you today?
CUSTOMER: Yes it will, thankyou.
CASHIER: Sure. Would you like to sign up to receive new offers electronically?
CUSTOMER: No thanks (pause, as if fearing his answer was insufficiently polite) Thanks for the offer though.
CASHIER; You're quite welcome. You have a great day now.
CUSTOMER: Thankyou, and you do the same.
CASHIER: I certainly will, thankyou.
CUSTOMER; You're welcome.

This seemed to pretty much cover things, but as I stepped forward to pay, the customer thought of a new polite thing he could say, which he used as his parting shot:

CUSTOMER: Happy Halloween.

A stroke of genius! This momentarily flummoxed the cashier, who at first, trying to leave as small a gap as possible between the customer's polite remark and his own riposte, started to say, "And you do the..." But then he realized that that didn't quite work, syntactically, so he finally went with, "And to you." But his stumble had made things a bit awkward, and the customer left without another word, thank god.


Law School Gone Wrong

Kate's room-mate Alex bumped into some guy's computer (which was sticking out into the aisle) with his book bag and damaged it. Soon after he received this email, which contains, in our friend Kim's description, "1st-year civ pro lingo."


-----Original Message-----
From: XXX
Sent: Wednesday, October 26, 2005 1:39 PM
To: Alex Hunt
Subject: Re: computer


Having not heard from you or Dean Ballenger after I emailed her back about
my availability for a meeting, I can only assume that our ADR options
through her office, or the law school generally, are more or less
non-existent. Her email more or less confirms that, though she did say
she'd look into it for us.

At this point, I have reached the conclusion that waiting around for an ADR
solution to present itself is not in our best interests. I want to resolve
this matter conclusively and soon. So, I present you with the following
three options and await a response.

(1) Because the nature of a small claims proceeding is relatively
non-adversarial (each party represents himself, presents his case, and the
judge essentially acts as an arbiter between them), we could use that as a
way for us to each present our views on what happened, who's liable, and
why. I would go to the courthouse in Charlottesville on Monday, file a
warrant in debt, and mail you a copy by certified mail. The court would set
a date, and if it presented a conflict with either of our schedules (be it
an exam conflict or otherwise), either of us would ask for a continuance and

I would certainly not oppose such a request. I'm looking at this,
essentially, as a way for us to use an existing structure to resolve our
dispute in a more or less amicable way. If you'd like to pursue this
approach, please send me your mailing address here in Charlottesville, and
I'll file the necessary paperwork and keep you aware of what I'm doing by

(2) Alternatively, we can choose a repair facility to estimate the cost
of repairs and split the cost evenly. Since you seem to believe that 100% of
the damage is my fault, and I believe 100% of the damage is your fault that
might not be a bad compromise. I would like to have an agreement on this
approach, should it be what you want to do, worked out between us and in
writing by the end of this week.

(3) Finally, if you are unwilling to agree to either of the other two
approaches here, please feel free to suggest some other definitive course of
action to resolve our dispute or simply continue to ignore the matter. I
will proceed by filing a warrant in debt on this coming Monday, and since
you haven't given me your address (a necessary condition of having the
normal constructive service affected), I will have to go through the extra
expense of having a process server personally serve you. Since I only know
one place you can reliably be found, in the classes we share, that would
probably be where I would suggest that they serve you. I would like to
avoid that, but I will take that route in order to avoid further delays if I
have to.

I await your response.




So true

My favorite discussion-board comment of the day:

Henningjohnathan, while a lot of the points you make are valid, I think you have to ask yourself "Could the time I spent writing that have been better spent going for a nice walk or eating some cake?"

from page eight of Barbelith's Infinite Crisis thread.

The thing is, once you start applying that logic, it's hard to know where to stop.

Your tax dollars at work

Exactly what you suspected was going on in New Orleans:

"Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical," [FEMA regional director Marty] Bahamonde wrote.

Less than three hours later, however, [then-FEMA chief Michael "Hell of a Job"] Brown's press secretary wrote colleagues to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening. "He needs much more that (sic) 20 or 30 minutes," wrote Brown aide Sharon Worthy.

"We now have traffic to encounter to go to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you."

from the AP.


Now We're Getting Somewhere

It's seeming more and more like this whole Plame thing is gonna reveal a lot more about what's gone on during the last 5 years than just a couple people leaking someone's name.


Best Slate Headline Ever

Having Trouble Deciding Whether to Read Indecision?

It's good because, you know, I am.


"What's happening in Calgary...is the North American tragedy in microcosm"

We should listen to James Howard Kunstler.

Sometimes Bloggers are so Cute

I like this guy and substantively I agree with him on this, but I do think the idea that anything of any consequence hangs on the question of whether he, Ezra Klein, liberal blogger, formally "endorses" Harriet Miers, as opposed to just saying that he's pleased about it (which he says he is) is sort of hilarious. It's as if he's imagining a news story saying "Miers Gets Klein Nod" or whatever.

How the Democrats could avoid blowing it maybe, Part Deux

Agreed, and I kinda think Social Security is key here. The point wasn't just to fend off privatization. The point was, or should have been, to so totally discredit the idea that you can use it as a campaign issue, where you continually remind people that these are the guys that wanted to take away your SS benefits. That's what the GOP would do if it were the other way around. The Dems did the first part really well, but it means little without the second. And it has the equally important benefit of establishing for the next 10 years that anyone who fucks with SS is going to pay a political price. If they don't exploit the whole sorry episode for every ounce of political advantage, they'll just have to fight the same battle again in 5 years, and ultimately they'll lose when someone comes along who's smarter about it than Bush was.

Also I wouldn't get too optimistic about taking back the Senate. They'd need to pick up 7 seats and there just aren't 7 vulnerable GOP incumbents facing re-election. Still, a couple in the Senate and a bunch in the House would be nice.


How the Democrats could avoid blowing it, maybe

With the Republicans falling apart, it's pretty clear that 2006 is the best opportunity the Dems are going to get for a while to take back the Senate and a good chunk of seats in the House. What they need to do that is something like the Gingrichites' 'Contract with America' -- a platform that would turn a bunch of disparate House races into a national campaign.

What should this platform contain?

1. Capitalize on W.'s record. This writes itself.
We stand for:
-- a government that's got its shit sufficiently together to help you when your entire city is getting flooded;
-- catching people who fly planes into American buildings;
-- saving Social Security (from both insolvency and privatization).

2. Take advantage of the Democrats' outsider status. Republicans run on reformist antigovernment issues even as they vastly expand programs and slush funds for their ideological and political allies. Democrats tend to get defensive about "big government," which makes them sound like the party of the status quo even when they're in the minority. They need to run on things like:
-- balancing the budget, for a return to the prosperity of the Clinton era;
-- cleaning up the cesspool of corruption that is Washington DC;
-- not wasting your tax dollars on no-bid contracts, illegal political propaganda, etc.

3. 'A smarter War on Terror.' It seems clear that Bush & Co. aim to pull substantial numbers of troops out of Iraq before the midterms, to deprive the Dems of that issue. But I think there will still be mileage in something like, 'Real homeland security, not just randomly invading countries we don't like.'

Admittedly, much of the phrasing needs to be tweaked. But that's what you have pollsters for.


Blighted Albion

Via everyone's favorite "smart conservative" Ross Douthat, I see that Zadie Smith is sounding a lot like Jonathan Coe in The Closed Circle (as well as someone called Theodore Dalrymple) in her take on contemporary England. They all seem to think that it's undergone a weird transformation in the last 10 or 20 years, and that whereas English people used to be polite and well-behaved and basically content, they're now all rude and angry and antisocial. And it seems sort of true. I don't have any big thoughts on how or why this has happened but it seems like more and more people are starting to notice it.

Wait, so the part about not having any big thoughts on this was true at the time i wrote it, but untrue 5 seconds later. I began to notice something in the air in English culture right around 1993, but i thought of it as positive. It had something to do with the football league getting richer and more open to foreigners, and something to do with London starting to be a hip cultural capital type place again, and something to do with alot of new buildings going up and French and Italian cafes popping up on every street corner. And people seemed better looking than they had previously been, a trend which seems to have continued to this day. Anyhoo, I know this is all impossibly vague, but i kind of think that stuff is not totally unrelated to what people like ZS and JC are identifying now in a much more negative way. And the way it's related, maybe, is that the idea of a world where you could get rich easily and watch satellite football and eat Italian food outside somehow got confused with the idea that there were no longer any rules at all, and all the norms of civilized society sort of got thrown out the window. This is all very jumbled up and is starting to sound weirdly conservative but what you can do? Help me out here.

What will we tell the children?

So David Dreier, the guy replacing Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader, turns out to be gay.

I'm confused. I thought putting gay people in positions of power would send the wrong message to our children about deviant lifestyles. I guess its okay if they have a 92 rating from the Christian Coalition.

UPDATE: Looks like I blogged too soon. Should have known they wouldn't do that.


Reality Show Thrills for the NYT Mag Set

I don't ususally spend a lot of time thinking about the visual presentation and illustration of magazine articles (although now that my job is as editor of a magazine i probably should). But there was something really weird and disturbing about the pictures and captions that went along with the piece by Joan Didion in the NYT Mag on Sunday.

About the piece itself, I don't have much to say other than that i initially resisted reading it since it felt like too much death on a Sunday morning and i didn't know if i could cope. But then I did and it was fine, although not that compelling since her patented Didion prose style, when applied to personal things rather than political or social ones, just feels kind of vague and imprecise.

Anyhoo. Whether you liked it or not, this was a piece about the experience of having your husband die. But the photos and their captions made it seem like the point was that readers were getting some kind of intimate peek into the home life of a famous person. Check out these two pictures, especially the one with the pen. I mean what the fuck? Is that supposed to generate some kind of frisson of excitement, knowing that Joan Didion and her now dead husband keep pens and notepads around their house as "idea catchers"? It's like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or whatever.

I get that a certain amount of scene-setting detail can help make these people seem real, and so make the piece more powerful. Maybe even showing the armchair where the guy used to sit. But the thing with the pens isn't on that level at all. It's about using a piece of writing on just about the most personal subject there is to create some cheap reality-show-style thrill for readers.

Did you have that reaction?


Virtual nerds get each other sick ...

According to ArsTechnica, a virtual plague has gotten loose in World of Warcraft, the hugely popular online game:

The trouble started when Blizzard programmers added a ... separate area ... that players can enter and attempt unique quests. One of these instances, Zul'Grub, contained the god of blood, Hakkar. Hakkar was a powerful foe that could cast spells of his own, including a spell called Corrupted Blood. This spell did a large amount of damage to any player within the vicinity....

What happened next was something Blizzard did not expect. Some of the players who had gone into the instance emerged back into the main world of Azeroth, and started spreading the Corrupted Blood disease to others who they came into close contact with. The infection soon spread into many of the cities and towns in the virtual world....

Instead of being angry about the deleterious effects of a bug, many are treating this as an exciting and unprecedented event in the WoW universe.


Not to make this the Matt Yglesias show or anything...

...since he does have a bunch of his own blogs and everything, but this is so so worth reading if you haven't yet maxed out on the "Iraq: No Good Options, Really" theme. (It continues below the date and time line, and the best stuff is toward the end.)


I have been waiting a long long time to point out that Matthew Yglesias has gotten something wrong

At last the glorious day has arrived. He writes:

BETTER CRONYISM, PLEASE. I appreciate the desire to associate the president with the highly successful invasion of Afghanistan, but the notion being floated here that General Tommy Franks would be a good candidate for Gulf Coast Reconstruction Czar (or whatever) doesn't really withstand cursory scrutiny. Running CENTCOM is nothing like running the sort of project that's being envisioned.
Obviously, it would be asking too much to ask George W. Bush to reach outside his circle of political allies to find a competent professional, but really all a president needs to do is think a little about the cronies he has at his disposal. USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios has done disaster relief, has worked in administration, financial management, and urban infrastructure. And that's just off the top of my head; surely the White House has access to some personnel files that could let them find somebody.

But this assumes that the White House's goal here is to find the person who can most efficiently rebuild the Gulf Coast. It isn't. It's to find the person who can best "project strength" and thereby give the public the impression that the White House is spearheading an effective response. Looked at in that way, choosing Tommy Franks makes perfect sense.

It's Funny Because It's True, Part Deux

Scott McLellan at home

It's funny because it's true

John Roberts declines to answer questions on Logan v. Wayne.


Karl Rove is Smiling

This is bad bad news. If there's one thing the GOP could use right about now, it's an opportunity to start talking about how Democrats want to stop people from being Christians.

Metcalf on Smith

So Metcalf, no fan of Hornby, doesn't seem to like Zadie Smith much either, or at least her latest. I am still weirdly excited to read it. It just sounds, like White Teeth, sort of big -- lots of characters and ideas and stuff, and those kind of books are always more enjoyable than any other kind, I think.

Metcalf's review also contains maybe the best and most elegant description of the challenge of writing fiction that I've ever seen. Virgina Woolf said that E.M. Forster's problem was:

"How to connect the actual thing with the meaning of the thing and to carry the reader's mind across the chasm which divides the two without spilling a single drop of its belief."

Brilliant huh?


Playing Twister in the wind

It's pretty clear that the worse things get for FEMA director Mike Brown, the better it is for the president and the rest of the administration. It's a given that Brown will be fired soon -- the only question is, how long can they keep him around to absorb the lion's share of the flak?

UPDATE: Why else drag it out like this?


A first for rothbrothers

In response to Zack's last post, we got our first comment that wasn't by one of the blog's authors. It was posted by someone named 101493, who has a fascinating blog of his own. Check it out.

Race, Katrina, and Greyhound

I had to travel on a Greyhound bus last Friday. It was Labor Day weekend and everyone was traveling and there were a million people there and all the buses were delayed and everyone was having to wait around in the hot bus depot, with almost no reliable information about when and how they’d be getting where they needed to go. Your basic nightmare traveling situation. Having spent the whole week reading about New Orleans, the whole issue of race and access to services was sort of in the forefront of my mind, and I kind of started interpreting every development in those terms. And the main thing that struck me was how I, along with the other white middle class people there, were way more dissatisfied with the whole situation than any of the black people were. To us, the fact that we were having to wait, and no one was giving us good information, and Greyhound had clearly done an appalling job of catering to its customers' needs in an efficient way, was totally outrageous. We got out of line and demanded answers from people in uniform, and when those answers weren’t forthcoming, we laughed and shook our heads sadly at each other to indicate how pathetic we deemed the whole situation, and how grievously we’d been wronged. But the black people just waited, and joked around, and generally acted like nothing was owed them. And it seemed like this was just something that was totally in keeping with their everyday lives. I mean, not to generalize too much, but a lot of them probably spend a good part of every day waiting a while for the bus, or waiting around at some underfunded government agency, or waiting to have their kid see a doctor in some understaffed public hospital, or whatever. The way things are set up just means that that kind of inconvenience is just a built in feature of their lives. I know this is kind of obvious, and I don’t have any grand conclusions to draw from this but it just sort of struck me in a new way.


Hopefully, America's misbegotten love affair with Barbara Bush is finally over.


Oh, well that's a relief

From the NYT web site (and the grammatical error is sic):

Mr. Bush took note that the Mississippi home of Senator Trent Lott had been destroyed, the president said he saw himself one day sitting with the former Senate Republican leader on his rebuilt front porch.

UPDATE: Want to sit on the porch with them? Buy the bumper sticker.

Why Didn't They Just Hire a Limo Like That Other Family?

Most of the time I try not to let myself think that the people running our country literally couldn't care less if black people die. But sometimes it's hard to avoid that conclusion.

Via Josh Marshall, here's what Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, said on CNN yesterday:

BROWN: Well, I think the death toll may go into the thousands. And unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the evacuation warnings. And I don't make judgments about why people choose not to evacuate.

But, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart wrenching to me because the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. And so we've got to figure out some way to convince people that when evacuation warnings go out, it's for their own good. Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that. My job now is to get relief to them.

I can't stand these fucking people any more.


The FEMA* of news-reporting racial stereotypes

This is from an e-mail that was forwarded to me, so it might be all over the internet in 20 minutes, but: here's a couple news photos from Yahoo News. Take a look at the photos, and try to tell me why these people are depicted "after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store," while this guy is shown "after looting a grocery store."

*FEMA because it comes out when there's an emergency, not because it has, by some accounts, a large and serendipitously-placed mole on the shaft of its penis.

The Rasputin* of Sports-Related Racial Stereotypes

So Major League Baseball and Chevrolet do this thing where they identify 6 qualities that Chevy trucks and some baseball players could be said to have in common. Then each week they nominate 6 players who they think best embody that week's quality, and ask fans to vote on which one should win.

This week's quality is "durability". The MLB site explicitly equates durability with "toughness", noting that, "you can't succeed in the Major Leagues without toughness, a quality that endears you to your manager, your team-mates, and your fans." Then it tells you the 6 nominees, and they are all white, even though only 63% of all players are white.

In sports, for some reason, only white guys can be tough.

*When I say this is the Rasputin of sports-related racial stereotypes, I mean because it's very hard to kill. Not because it helped precipitate the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, or because it had, by some accounts, a large and serendipitously-placed mole on the shaft of its penis.

Well so here, kind of astonishingly, are a few pages from Alan Moore's script to Watchmen. If you haven't thought about Watchmen since you helped bake a cake to celebrate my excitement at the release of the final issue c. 1986, be aware that it has remained in print in a paperback edition, has become recognized as a classic of the superhero genre, and is constantly on the verge of being made into a movie. Largely forgotten is the disappointment that we felt about the ending (which, bear in mind, we'd been waiting years for -- maybe it holds up better when you read it all in one gulp).

So: some thoughts re: Alan Moore, prompted by this incredible document:

1. In comics scripting there's two basic methods: the DC way and the Marvel way. Under the DC way, which was the dominant way until the early '60s, the writer scripts the entire comic, then gives the script to the artist to realize. In the Marvel way -- pioneered by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the first issues of Fantastic Four -- the writer writes a plot; the artist breaks it down into panels (a process in which most of the unique genius of the comics medium occurs); the writer adds the dialogue (and, in the case of Lee and Kirby, takes all the money).

Moore is the DC way taken to its ne plus ultra. "Over more towards the left, down at the bottom of the picture, we can see the old and worn metal of the drain cover with solid darkness visible between its slats...." Moore is famous for his clockwork plotting, his zingy dialogue, and his lyrical prose, but it turns out that his imagination is deeply visual.

2. You can understand why Bill Sienkiewicz, confronted with endless pages of similarly minute instructions, begged off Big Numbers after two of the proposed 10 issues. The fact that he did, though, is probably the biggest missed tragedy of modern comics. Big Numbers -- about the erection of a shopping mall in Northampton -- was going to be Moore's farewell to superheroes and hello to real-life drama. Those first two issues are astonishing. Instead, he started taking Aleister Crowley too seriously, began calling himself a magician, ruined the end of From Hell, took up performance art, and went back to superheroes. Because Moore has done some first-rate comics even recently (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, obviously, but also Top 10, which I really wish he'd continue) I think we overlook the extent to which his career is a wasted opportunity -- almost as much as Dave Sim's.

3. Also, if you haven't seen it, here's Moore's post-Watchmen proposal for a Crisis-style DC-universe-wide crossover maxiseries, Twilight of the Superheroes. A radical reinvention of just about every DC character ever, crammed into a plot that could have been a four-page Future Shock or Time Twister strip in 2000AD.


Luckily There's Nothing Else Going on Right Now in DC Part Deux

Here's a good post explaining why John Roberts, despite being very precise in his use of language, is still a wanker.


Luckily There's Nothing Else Going on Right Now in DC

I had sort of been thinking that the whole John Roberts thing hasn't really generated much actual news so far, and isn't likely to until the hearings actually start; and that reporters assigned to it must be kind of bored and frustrated. This confirms my suspicions.

Google Update Part Trois

This is sort of funny. When I called Google for my patent story, their PR guy insisted on approving any quoted material for publication, so I gave up.


Another thing I think about in bed...

...is the inadequacy of the ERA (earned run average) statistic as a predictor of a pitcher's future performance. The obvious problem is that it doesn't measure baserunners, so if a pitcher strands alot of runners, he keeps his ERA low. But by the law of averages, allowing alot of baserunners is going to catch up with him. It's true that certain guys are good at "pitching out of jams", but in reality, pitching with men on base requires the same basic skills as pitching with the bases empty. In other words, with rare exceptions, a guy who allows a lot of baserunners is sooner or later going to be a guy who allows alot of runs. It's the getting hitters out that's the pure test of the pitcher's skill.

The easiest way to think about this is: Pitcher A gets 2 outs, then gives up a single and then a home run, then gets the third out. So he's charged with 2 earned runs. Pitcher B gets 2 outs, then gives up a home run and a single, then gets the third out. Although he performed identically to Pitcher A in terms of the aspect of his job that he can control (the pitcher-hitter matchup), he's charged with only 1 earned run, because he stranded a runner on base.

So the point is, a guy who, over the first half of the season, had allowed alot of baserunners but a low number of earned runs, because he had frequently pitched his way out of jams, would not be a guy who one would expect to be successful in the second half of the season.

So what you need is a stat that measures hits and walks, and also that further penalizes a pitcher for surrendering extra base hits (which generally result from an objectively worse pitch than do singles, making them a relevant indicator here). The best way to do this, I think, is a Bases Per Inning (BPI) stat, which charges a pitcher 1 point for giving up a single, an unintentional walk, or a hit by pitch, 2 points for a double, 3 for a triple, and 4 for a home run. (Forget about what the runners do once they reach base, whether or not they score, etc. Focus only on the pitcher vs. hitter contest.)

Then, rather than doing it per nine innings, like the ERA, divide that by innings pitched. Nine has become sort of arbitrary because pitchers rarely pitch a complete game any more. So a dominant pitcher might have a BPI of 1 or a little over, meaning that in an average inning he'd give up just one single or walk. A bad pitcher might have a BPI of 3. The average would probably be around 2.5, I'm guessing, although the median would be lower.

The drawback here is that BPI doesn't account for situations that do genuinely test a pitcher's skill but don't necessarily involve hits or walks. So with 1 out and a man on third, a good pitcher will get a strikeout or short pop-up which prevents the runner from scoring. A bad pitcher will more often surrender the sacrifice fly ball that lets the runner score, but isn't counted as a hit. In the "crude" BPI system, he wouldn't be charged for that. But maybe you could fix that by treating a run-scoring flyball or grounder -- or a case where the hitter intends to advance the lead runner and succeeds -- like a single.

It'd be interesting to see how this would change how we rate pitchers. I'd guess that Pedro Martinez, who this year has a very good but not spectacular ERA of 2.86, would fare even better under a BPI system, because frequently this year he has gone thru stretches where he retires 10 or 12 hitters in a row, but then has given up clusters of hits, allowing runs to score. Another Met pitcher, Victor Zambrano, seems to have pitched out of a lot of jams this year, and I'd bet his BPI would be comparatively worse than his (already relatively poor) ERA. But that could be wrong. In a later post, I'll use existing stats on hits and walks and innings pitched to figure out some crude BPIs for a few pitchers (the more sophisticated version would be impossible to tally from existing stats unless you went thru all the box scores, which would take forever), and see how they compare to ERAs in terms of the pitchers' rankings against each other.

By the way, I'm defintely far from the first person to be thinking along these lines. I'd bet that general managers, at least since Bill James, have been much more interested in hits per inning (or some version thereof) than ERA in trying to gauge a pitcher's future performance. Some version of this thinking is probably in Moneyball, which I keep meaning to read.

Update Part Deux

I read both those NYT Google pieces and without knowing too much about the subject, I sensed that there was something a bit off about the Rivlin thesis, and also that Pogue's might have been intended as a bit of a riposte. Satisfyingly, the new issue of the Washington Monthly has something to say on this too.



Pogue is making fun of Rivlin here, I think.


The difference between sour grapes and just complaining about something that sucks

Interesting NYT front-pager pushing a Google-is-the-new-Microsoft thesis that I think is totally wrong.

Gary Rivlin cites two reasons why Silicon Valley is down on Google: (1) Google is moving into too many markets, which makes life worse for anyone else who wants a slice; (2) Google is hiring all the good programmers, driving up salaries.

I'm not denying that people complain about Google along those lines -- I've heard them do it myself. But when you examine them, the two points add up to sour grapes: I want a piece of the [local search/messaging/whatever] market, but Google is competing for it! And they've got money and skills! How am I supposed to compete with that? In any industry without a gold-rush mentality, this would be laughed off the court.

So how is this different from the Microsoft-bashing that's been a feature of the industry for decades? The complaints about Microsoft certainly include the two cited above, but they're supplemented and legitimized by a couple of others: (3) Microsoft makes crappy software; (4) Microsoft uses its desktop monopoly to establish its crappy software as standard, preventing superior products from getting a foothold and forcing programmers to work within the ugly, clumsy, bloated Windows framework.

In other words, programmers (as opposed to entrepreneurs) hated Microsoft because it made the software environment massively worse. Google is making the environment better. (Just three examples: (a) Remember pre-Google search engines? (b) Try comparing Google's web apps, like Google Maps and Gmail, with competitors like Mapquest and Hotmail. (c) Most telling of all: right below the jump of Rivlin's article is a piece on Google's new IM software, which uses the open-source Jabber standard. For Microsoft to do that would be a 180-degree reversal of their business model.)

To sum up, here's one programmer's take on Google and Microsoft:

Google is much more dangerous to Microsoft than Netscape was. Probably more dangerous than any other company has ever been. Not least because they're determined to fight. On their job listing page, they say that one of their "core values'' is "Don't be evil.'' From a company selling soybean oil or mining equipment, such a statement would merely be eccentric. But I think all of us in the computer world recognize who that is a declaration of war on.


Shafer vs. Posner, Roth vs. Kinko's

Jack Shafer makes exactly the point about Richard Posner's ridiculous NYTBR piece that I would have made if I still had wireless Internet access at home and hadn't been forced to go to Kinko's* to get online. (He also makes a bunch of others too.)

When Posner declares that media competition has pushed the established press to the left, he gives only one example: Fox News making CNN more liberal. Has Posner lost his cable connection? The success of Fox News convinced CNN of the opposite. CNN realized that the demographic that has the time and interest to watch a lot of cable news tends to be older and more conservative, as this Pew Research Center report indicates. If anything, the one-worldist CNN of founder Ted Turner has been vectoring right in recent years. Lou Dobbs, for one, now blabs a Buchananesque position on trade and immigration five nights a week. Over at MSNBC, which dumped overt liberal Phil Donahue in 2003, they've given every nonliberal listed in the Yellow Pages a show in hopes of boosting ratings (examples: Michael Savage, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Jesse Ventura, and now, Rita Cosby).

What the fuck kind of CNN has Posner been watching? I guess not this kind.

* On the Kinko's thing, I'd be interested to know how that place stays in business, even post-Fedex buyout, when it continues to offer perhaps the poorest quality of service this side of the Khazakstan Patent Office, which recently ran out of paper, no joke (and also just sounds like it would probably not be all that efficiently run). I don't have the heart to catalogue all of the various transgressions I've witnessed, not just at the W.72nd St. branch, but at others across the eastern seaboard. The other day they told me they didn't have a single pair of scissors in the store. But there's this one woman who works there who 's clearly the only person there who cares even a little bit about doing a good job, and you can just tell how miserable she is all day, and I just always feel so bad for her. A couple weeks ago I saw her there in the evening, in regular clothes so no one would bother her, on one of the computers searching job listings. (I also saw her walking down my street with her boyfriend once, and they looked happy, and he seemed nice, so, you know, she's probably okay on the cosmic scale.)

Kate will be mad but...

...Sometimes I feel like Matthew Yglesias is the only sane person in the world.


Wankers We Have Known, Part Deux

Kaus on the Hillary-Daily Kos brouhaha:

"Of course it helps her, both because attacks from the left make her look centrist and because Kos is one of the few people on the planet with a personality so unappealing he allows Hillary to seem warm and enchanting!"



Wankers We Have Known

This week’s Six Feet Under (which I watched last nite, rather than in the traditional Sunday nite slot, thanks to my DC trip) was very slightly marred for me by the fact that it was directed by Matt Shakman, who is a wanker. I went to college with him and he directed a play I was in, and also starred in another play I was in. It was frequently mentioned in Yale dramatic circles (and what circles they were) that he had been the child star of some 80's sitcom which all the American kids were intimately familiar with but I didn’t know anything about, and whose name now escapes me. Anyway, he was a pretty good director, and his performance, as Sir Robert Scott leading his ill-fated mission to the Antarctic in “Terra Nova” was decent, if self-importantly over-wrought. But jesus what an asshole. We had this one scene where my character, Evans, a member of Scott’s crew who would subsequently go crazy from hypothermia and take his clothes off and then die, confessed to Scott that he, Evans, had been concealing the fact that his hand was almost useless from frost-bite. It was a pretty well-written scene, in which both characters were going thru various interesting realizations, transformations, etc. But for Shakman it was all about him. It was like everything I said or did, he was just waiting to step all over it with his next line. Its hard to describe but I’d never had such a total feeling of getting absolutely nothing back from the other person on stage. It’s incredibly irritating, and fit in perfectly with his personality.

Anyway, he did a good job with 6FU, especially in the scene where that lawyer dude asks Claire out when she’s sitting at her desk, which was very realistic and charming. Claire is by far the best character over the last season and a half. Her whole development feels incredibly believable and real. The fact that she has these arty old friends will definitely make the lawyer dude (who, by the way, will obviously soon be revealed to only enjoy sex in semi-public places – everyone has their weirdnesses when you get to know them and this will be his) like her even more.

This is what I think about in bed

As I was lying in my Holiday Inn bedroom in Bethesda, MD this week, trying to get to sleep I started thinking about this: Imagine a guy who was born in 1790. Imagine that as a newborn baby, he was held by his 91 year-old great-grandfather, born in 1699. Now imagine that John also goes on to live to 90, and right before his death in 1880, he holds his newborn great-grandson. Now imagine that kid also lives to 90 (maybe the family has really good genes) and dies in 1970. That means that John would have known someone who was alive in 1699, and someone else who was alive in 1970. That’s sort of mind-boggling to me. Doesn’t it just make history seem, like, so much shorter than how we usually think of it? It’s like if you could just cast your memory back a little bit further than you can, you’d be back in the 17th century. I know this whole thing is kinda stupid, but it’s just so crazy, and weirdly exciting to me. Anyway.


No blogging so far this week as I was down in DC at NIH. Back in NYC and everything’s cool, although I saw a new doctor who didn’t have any of the records of my previous visit so I had to go thru the whole thing with him again which was kinda weird, and adds support to my “NIH-is-better-than-most-private-hospitals-but-it-still-isn’t-all-that” position. Also, have you noticed that whenever doctors examine your balls they talk to you the whole time, as a way of easing the embarrassment? Unsurprisingly, forced casualness while someone is fiddling with your genitals really just makes things worse all round.

So for whatever reason I had never really wondered about where the word “Eschaton” in Infinite Jest comes from. Then the other day on the train down to DC I was reading this thing in the New Yorker about the pope and his theology. It says:

“In [Ratzinger’s] book, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life” (1977)…he addresses “the doctrine of the last things,” known as eschatology. He acknowledges that, at times, Jesus seems to have predicted the imminent coming of a literal new world, a “Kingdom of God,” but…anyone who hopes to understand the eschaton must compare Christian texts on death and the afterlife with those of pagans and Jews, which influenced the Christian vision of a kingdom of God.”

So I’m confused: Is an eschaton like an apocalypse, where literally the whole world ends and everyone goes to heaven, or at least the good ones? The eschaton of Infinite Jest seems like that kind of eschaton (which is my kind of eschaton, haha), since the point of the game is metaphorically to blow up the entire world. But the book’s title kind of makes it seem like maybe an eschaton could just be about one individual person’s death, and the issue of them gaining eternal life and what have you. Do Christians believe that these things are somehow, like, the same thing? That seems like the kind of thing they might believe. When we actually have readers, we can throw these kinds of questions open to the floor, so to speak.

This is interesting partly because it sheds some light on what is, for me, IJ’s funniest and best scene. It’d also be interesting to know this about Christianity.


Copy desk should've partial-birth-aborted that ...

It sucks when the liberal media gets tricked into using right-wing jargon.

Although the law that passed this year contains an amendment saying it does not endorse same-sex marriage - and although Maine has a defense of marriage law - opponents fear that a judge could declare the marriage law unconstitutional based on the antidiscrimination statute. [Emphasis added.]
Seriously: "a defense of marriage law"? Why not "a restriction of marriage law"?


'Five Antonio Salieris won't produce Mozart's Requiem. Ever. Not if they work for 100 years.'

One of the themes of this-novel-that-I-should-be-writing-instead-of-posting-this is software programming and development. So I've been reading up on programming, and I'm going to be linking to programming-related things occasionally. Since I am not a programmer myself, this stuff will hopefully be comprehensible (and even maybe interesting, if you like that kind of thing) to normal people.

So ... here's a neat post about the gulf between competence and greatness, that's applicable to just about any field. It includes one of the best why-I-love-my-iPod riffs I've seen recently:

That beautiful thumbwheel with its little clicky sounds ... Apple spent extra money putting a speaker in the iPod itself so that the thumbwheel clicky sounds would come from the thumbwheel. They could have saved pennies ... pennies! by playing the clicky sounds through the headphones. But the thumbwheel makes you feel like you're in control.

And Wes Anderson is currently shooting Littlest Groom 2

What's the deal with Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County? In terms of content, it's your typical reality thing (hot rich young people flirt and argue on-camera before having sex off-), but: How do they shoot this thing? Reality TV, in general, is all about editing, but LB:TROC is all about cinematography. Next to every other reality show, this one looks like it was shot by Bill Pope, and I honestly have no idea how it's done.

Talking with T.S. Eliot about rockism

Franklin Bruno (songwriter/poet/former leader of Nothing Painted Blue) sounds kind of sad and confused about everyone (read: Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker and Kelefa Sanneh of the New York Times, who are not literally everyone but who combined can certainly move the ball down the field) bagging on indie rock. The estimable Mr. B. (last seen, by me at least, playing with John 'Mountain Goats' Darnielle in the Extra Glenns) writes:

Look: Between 1990 and now, I’ve made about 11 full-lengths (plus however many CD-EPs, Shrimper cassettes, 7”s). I can’t see any way out of understanding them as indie-rock that does not involve even more sophistry than I managed to master on my way to a doctorate. (Though oddly, the generic facts failed to convince many “indie-rock obsessives” to direct their custom our way. One problem was that our rhythm section weren’t loadies.) [I'm not sure what this means; my best guess is that it's a typo for 'ladies.' -- gr.] I don’t think one of them has sold more than 4,000, and I’m embarrassed to tell you how few others have. With a couple of exceptions related to playing w/ kindly headliners, I don’t believe I’ve ever been paid more than $400 for a show. I enjoyed the years of heavy activity, felt poor-but-honest most of the time, but I also think I was a bit of a sucker in some respects that I won’t go into here. In any case, it’s difficult for me see how I can avoid instantiating a conclusion or at least implication of pieces like K.’s, and SFJ’s EMP piece can be entirely avoided:

You, Franklin Bruno, as an exemplar of what we’re talking about: Your records (a) suck, (b) do harm. And given who you are and what you come from, it is quite unlikely that those you make in the future will do otherwise. And curiously, part of what actually makes your music bad is that enough people do not enjoy it.
The emerging critical consensus (real or imagined) that FB is referring to here is that indie rock is a bohemia that became hegemonic without achieving popular success -- that it got elected president by the rockcrit Supreme Court, if you like. This is a real argument, but one that goes way beyond this little playground: you could apply it to any (critically esteemed) example of high Modernism.

What I would really like, though, is an artistic defence of indie rock, one that helps me explain why I get so excited about it that goes beyond 'because you are white and middle-class and were born in 1973.'


Unsurprising and yet so delicious

Ann Coulter joins the list of celebrity plagiarists, according to an article in The Raw Story:

Much of Coulter's Jun. 29, 2005 column, “Thou Shall Not Commit Religion,” bears a striking resemblance to pieces in magazines dating as far back as 1985—and a column written for the Boston Globe in 1995.
[Link via Bookslut.]

While we ramp this bad boy up ...

I'm a judge in the quarterfinals of Everything Idol, a tournament-style attempt to determine, once and for all, the Best Thing Ever. (The quarterfinalists are Art, Water, Friends, Love, Science, Infinite Jest, Kitties, and Email.) Come vote at gardnerlinn.com.


Dutch Football, Sports Photography, Franklin Foer, Carl Gilbey-Mackenzie, Eric Stolz, William Blake, etc.

Dutch football may seem like an odd note to kick things off on (pun intended, haha), but i've been reading this book called "Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football", by this guy David Winner. It's about how Dutch football is a reflection of Dutch culture and society and everything. At one point during the chapter on how Dutch players use space differently from others players (which, according to Winner, is because the Dutch in general see and use space differently -- I think because their country is so small and they're very big, and have to build a lot of dykes and so on), he talks to this Dutch photographer who takes pictures at football games. Only they're not sports pictures, they're, like, art pictures. But they're not all arty either. They're really about the football, showing key moments in the game from a panoramic, TV-style view. This part's really interesting:

Van Der Meer has taken memorable photographs of Ajax matches too - but never from the traditional photographers' vanatage point at eye level behind the goal or on the sidelines. He perfers to work high in the stands, ususally near the halfway line, from where he aims to capture what he calls the "moment of tension." His deep-focus, pin-sharp images freeze the game, the crowd, and the trees and clouds beyond the stadium. Although his pictures are taken from a similar angle to that of TV cameras, they capture something quite different. 'Football is a game of space, so why should you leave the space out?' he says. 'Every Monday in the newspapers you see the same stupid, boring closeups taken from behind the goals with long telephoto lenses which distort the space. Those pictures show you the football siutations but you have no idea what they mean. Two players fight for the ball. So what? Where on the pitch are they? In the 1950's we had different pictures, more interesting photographs of the crowd, wide-angle pictures of the game. The closeups tell you so little. When the sports photography archives are opened in a hundred years, there will be a whole part of the history of the game missing because all the interesting little things around the pitch were simply not photographed...Newspaper picture editors always say its much more dramatic to have a closeup. That is bulshit. The problem is basically they don't understand football, they don't know what they're looking at. Of course, yes, it is nice also to have closeups, to see footballers looking like heroes. But you need both kinds of picture.'
I never thought about it like that but it's totally true about how lame the pictures that newspapers run are, and how they totally fail to capture anything interesting or important about the game.

What's also cool about all this -- both Van der Meer's pictures and Winner's book -- is that it's actually interested in what's going on in the game, not, like, the socio-economic background of the fans or whatever. I mean that can be interesting too, but it's nice to read serious sports writing that's not afraid to get its hands dirty. Very little sports writing is both A) willing to treat sports as a serious cultural subject, etc, AND B) actually concerned with the nitty-gritty of what happens on the pitch. Too much serious sports writing does A but not B. One thing that sux about Frank Foer's (I'm allowed to call him Frank not Franklin because i once received an email from him, after i had written him a long and rambling message taking excited issue with a minor point he made in a New Republic Online piece about the European Championships) otherwise annoyingly good "How Soccer Explains the World" is that, for all the fascinating ways that he shows football bound up with local political, religious, social, and cultural issues, he doesn't seem to actually like football all that much. I mean, I'm sure he likes it. You'd have to, wouldn't you, to go to all the games he went to and so on (that sentence sounded very Hornbyesque, btw). But, beyond the pedestrian observation that the Italians play a defensive style called catenaccio (which means 'bolt', like a lock) he has nothing to say about the action on the pitch. Maybe this is unfair, because that would be a different book (my English teacher when i was 11, Mr. Carl Gilbey-Mackenzie -- about whom regular readers will surely be hearing more in future posts -- once wrote at the bottom of an essay in which I had criticized the film "Mask", starring Cher and a young Eric Stolz, that my objection -- the substance of which remains lost to me -- was like saying "I like chocolate but why is it not toffee?") So anyway, maybe it's like that, but it's a shame that Foer's not so interested in the on-field action because (as Winner shows, both in "Brilliant Orange" and in "Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football", his possibly even-better followup which does the same for English football as B.O. did for Dutch -- although maybe it's only better because the English are more interesting than the Dutch, or maybe I just know more about them -- and whose title, brilliantly, refers to William Blake's "Jerusalem") it's on the field, and in specific tactics and styles of play, that much of the best material for the sort of clever socio-cultural observations that we all so love can be found.

As Matthew Yglesias would say, "All Done".



now i will link to the ny times

posting on safari

lets see what happens

Just to clarify

Of course Blogger supports Safari in the sense that you can view this page on Safari. But to post, you pretty much need to be on Firefox. Unless you are me or Zack, this should not affect you. (If you're still using Internet Explorer, consider switching to Firefox or Safari: way better in every regard.)


And I can link, too!

Like for instance, here's Zack's article from Salon the other day.

One thing that's a little annoying about Blogger, though: I wish it supported Safari.

Look out web!

Here we are!