Gay or blind?

Here, thanks to Youtube, is our first ever video post. Zack found this; I'm just putting it up. Fourteen seconds of hilarious newscaster-fuckup comedy goodness.

I wonder if the guy really is gay. And Jewish. Probably not: who ever heard of a Jewish mountain climber?

I keep watching this over and over, to see the way she says "but!" and does that thing with her hand.


The NYT's David Carr chimes in on Merrittgate, mostly to say that it's all a big fuss over nothing. (Then, uh, why are you writing about it?)

Side question: Isn't it a bit 1982 for the Times to refer to Merritt as "openly gay"? Why not just "gay"? If I were writing the NYT style guide (and Bill -- I'm available), I'd reserve "openly gay" for stories in which the possibility of being closeted is explicitly present.


What are the rules that govern the use of quotations from reviews on the covers of books? On the cover of my Vintage paperback of Roberto Calasso's Literature and the Gods is the line:

"Calasso can take your breath away."
--The New Yorker
The actual sentence, from a Briefly Noted review in the May 7, 2001 issue, is:
"Calasso likes to go for the big, sweeping effect, and once in a while he can take your breath away."
(Yay for The Complete New Yorker DVD set, which also discloses a 1993 profile of Calasso that's printing out as I type.) I honestly don't know if this is kosher or not.

World supply of vaccuum tubes (the kind you find in guitar amps) threatened by crazy Russian business shenanigans.


From The Economist, perhaps the first full-scale Google backlash piece.


I think we've found the world's bitterest person.


Slate synthesis

It is interesting that Rosen expressly denies any connection between his subject, rockism, and l'affaire Merritt. (He calls it "another ball of wax.") In fact, the rockism debate (like any attempt to think categorically about American popular music) can't be extricated from ideas about race. One of the peculiar facts about rockism is that every generation of rockists disdains most contemporary black music but admires the black music of the previous generation. So '60s rock fans learned guitar licks from Robert Johnson and Hubert Sumlin but dismissed the Motown Sound as disposable teen pop. (They made room for Hendrix, who they managed to categorize as musically white [details here], and began to tolerate Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye once those soul men came around to rock-derived "concept album" forms toward the end of the decade.) Today's rockists are OK with "Dancing in the Streets" but not "Ignition (Remix)." (Everybody likes "Hey Ya!")

Kelefa Sanneh described the famous 1979 anti-disco rally at Comiskey Park as "the Boston Tea Party of rockism." The image of thousands of white Chicagoans burning records made largely by blacks and gays makes it obvious that the word rockism exists in part to connect anti-pop fervour with uglier and more consequential forms of prejudice. That's why, when music critics accuse one another of rockism, they're not smiling: there is a moral dimension to the accusation, one that winds together aesthetics and race politics.

(Merritt, of course, is none of these kinds of rockist. In a 1995 interview, he said "Rock should have consisted of only the Paul McCartney branch, not the Lennon/Jagger/Richards one," which is a more doctrinaire statement of reflexive antirockism than you'll hear from SFJ on a bad hair day.)

Really, I think the SFJ/Hopper case against Merritt falls down on a confusion of the proper roles of critic and artist. A critic who disregards entire important swathes of his/her chosen field exposes him/herself to charges of narrowmindedness. An artist who does the same thing is just engaging in some necessary clear-cutting. Merritt, I think, is a full-time artist and a dilettante critic, and that's what gets him in trouble.

I will now draw your attention to more music writing on Slate

Jody Rosen really is the man. But is it just me or does he switch between using the word "pop" on the one haned to refer specifically to Britney-and-Justin-style music, and then on the other to refer much more broadly to "popular music", including the traditional rock music that's being talked about as existing in opposition to pop? Including using it both ways in the same graf (the one near the bottom that begins "it's also helpful..."). This seems confusing, no?


Is Stephin Merritt a racist because he doesn't like hip-hop? I've often wondered whether the general whiteness of my own music collection says something unflattering about my inner prejudices. Pretty much the only hip-hop I like is The Streets. Although I do like that Marvin Gaye song, so there's that.

"Snotgreen" = hyphenated: Feedback from James Joyce's submission of Ulysses to his creative-writing workshop.


Returning to this whole issue of the US soccer team...

... I would point out that it's hard to feel too optimistic about Team USA's chances, when our own president -- not normally a man who's shy about indulging in nationalistic bluster that exaggerates American ability out of all proportion to reality -- can offer only this lukewarm assessment:

"Of course, my team is the U.S. team. They tell me we've got a good team. Now, whether it's good enough to win it all, who knows? But I know they'll try their hardest."
Try their hardest? Not exactly a vote of confidence! Still, it's refreshing to see him make a judgment informed by the evidence for once.

Know when to etc.: Economics columnist Tim Harford on poker and game theory.


The pleasure's all mine: In re your last post: I frequently say "Good to see you" when meeting someone for what I believe is the first time. I do it to guard against the possibility that we've met before and I've forgotten. I suspect that people like journalists and lobbyists, who meet lots of people and would prefer not to offend them, often make a practice of it. It seems to have become more common recently for who-knows-what social-epidemic tipping-point power-law Gladwellesque reason. I'm pretty sure that, sometime in the last few months, I saw an advice columnist advocate exactly this move, although I can't remember who the columnist was and thus can't find it on Google. If I'm right, there's no rebuke implied -- just a kind of reflexive ass-covering.


Sometimes having a blog with a readership in single digits is an advantage

So my boss Paul just had lunch with his friend [EDIT: a prominent DC journalist]. So anyway they were walking around the office, and Paul introduced us. As I extended my hand, I said "Nice to meet you." To which he replied: "Good to see you." Then, during the course of our short and somewhat stilted conversation, I made it clear that we had not, in fact, met before, though we had both attended the Washington Monthly holiday party at Paul's home (you begin to get a sense of the verbal fireworks on display). And yet, when we brought the conversation to a close moments later, he again returned my "good meeting you," with a "good seeing you."

Am I the only person who finds this weird? I've always thought that if you've never met, the appropriate expression is "good to meet you," or "nice to meet you," or, pace Kate, "how do you do?" But definitely not "good to see you." Coming after my "nice to meet you" it seems to imply a sort of rebuke, as if we had met before and I've offended him by forgetting. Actually the rebuke seems more like that we both secretly know we haven't met before but I've somehow slipped up by making this explicit, and thereby puncturing the mutually advantageous fantasy that we all know each other because we're all these connected DC journalist-type people. Or maybe that's not quite it, at least not always, because the other week I had breakfast with this lawyer/lobbyist guy who I had called for a story, and in this case it was clear that not only had we not met before, but that we move in sufficiently different circles that there could be no expectation that we had met before, and that neither of us would have had anything to gain from pretending we had. And he said "good to see you" too. He was Southern, so maybe it's a Southern thing. Like a Southern attempt to appear less formal and more down-home or whatever. Is [EDIT: the prominent DC journalist] Southern? I just don't know.

UPDATE: No he isn't. He's [EDIT: from the northeast] I'm more confused than ever.


It's time for some very intense baseball blogging

Here's something that's just unbelievably dumb. I was watching the Mets-Braves game the other day. With two outs in the top of the sixth and the Mets up 1-0, Xavier Nady, hitting seventh for the Mets, singled. Then, with the number 8 hitter Kaz Matsui at the plate, Nady stole second. Now that first base was open, the Braves, sensibly, chose to intentionally walk Matsui so as to pitch to the Mets pitcher, Tom Glavine. Fine. Whereupon, both TBS announcers agreed that having Nady steal second had turned out to be a negative for the Mets, since it ended up meaning Glavine had to hit. The obvious implication was that the Mets should not have had Nady steal second.

Supposedly knowledgeable baseball people say variants of this frequently, and it just doesn't make sense. The announcers are arguing that for the Mets, Situation A, in which Matsui hits with a guy on first, is preferable to Situation B, in which Glavine hits with men on first and second. That means that for the Braves, Situation B must be preferable, what with baseball being a zero-sum game and everything. But if the Braves truly preferred Situation B, they could have gotten it by intentionally walking Matsui as soon as he came to plate, while Nady was still on first. The fact that they chose not to do that suggests they in fact preferred Situation A. And the fact that the Braves did what almost every team in that situation in the history of baseball has ever done suggests that they're right.

To be clear, if the announcers wanted to boldly challenge conventional wisdom -- and in this case the Braves decision -- by arguing that it really is better for the pitching team to concede putting men on first and second for the reward of getting to face the pitcher, I'd be interested to hear their argument. I think a case could even be made for it, at least in situations where the pitcher was a less experienced hitter than the veteran Glavine, or where the number 8 hitter had more power than the weak-hitting Matsui. But the point is, it hadn't even occurred to these guys that the Braves' decision not to walk Matsui immediately, with Nady still on first -- and the similar decision of just about every other team that's ever been faced with that situation -- suggested they were wrong.

If anyone's still with me after that, I'd like to go a bit further. There are two related factors that are confusing the announcers here, I think. The main one is the fact that Situation B (Glavine hitting with men on first and second), while not being preferable for the Braves to Situation A (Matsui hitting with a guy on first) IS in fact preferable to Situation C: Matsui hitting with a guy on second. Everyone agrees that Situation C is the worst situation of the three for the pitching team. That's why once Nady steals second, it's a no-brainer to walk Matsui. But the fact that it makes sense to walk Matsui in that situation leads the announcers to the perverse and self-evidently wrong conclusion that it would have been better for the Mets had Nady never stolen second at all.

The other reason this is hard for them to get their heads around is that it involves thinking about (not actually departing from, but at least thinking about) one of Baseball's Golden Rules of Strategy. If you are a baseball announcer or pundit of any kind, thinking critically about BGRS's is absolutely off-limits, and may make your head explode, hence the unwillingness to do it. In this case, the particualr BGRS at issue is the BGRS that says you don't intentionally walk someone if there's already a guy on first, since the walk will advance not just the guy being walked, but also the guy on first. So you're in effect conceding two bases, and putting a guy into scoring position, by moving him from first to second. This BGRS, like most BGRS's, almost always makes sense, and it makes sense in the Mets-Braves example too. But because it's a BGRS, it doesn't even occur to the announcers that you're legally allowed to intentionally walk someone when there's a guy on first. It's just not on their radar screen as something that could ever happen. If it were on their radar screen, they would play it out in their heads, and say: "hmm, the Braves could have chosen to intentionally walk Matsui even while Nady was still on first. Maybe the fact they didn't suggests that they've concluded they're actually worse off having men on first and second, even with the pitcher at the plate." This is why the BGRS's are problematic: Not, interestingly, because they can't always be applied. Everyone kind of understands that, and managers are often surprisingly good about breaking with BGRS's when it makes sense. (One brave manager even intentionally walked someone with the bases loaded, forcing in a run, because his team was up by 2 runs with 2 outs in the 9th inning, and he wanted to face the next hitter, rather than give the current hitter a chance to drive in both runs and tie the game. It worked.) But because even when BGRS's can be applied -- as in this case -- they discourage the critical thinking that allows you to actually understand what's going on.