FYI: My post about New York magazine's Approval Matrix has drawn a thoughtful reply from the feature's editor in the comments thread.

The Nine (ABC, Wednesdays)
There was a girl in my MFA program whose novel-in-progress was constructed around a mystery, which went like this: Two teenage girls are living with their grandma. Their mom's dead. Out back of the house there's a yard, and buried in the yard is a box, and what's in the box is very, very important. But the grandma can't just show the girls what's in the box, or tell them what it is, because, she says, they're not ready to know yet. In order to get them to the point where they're ready to learn the mysterious secret of the box, the grandma has to tell them the story of their mother's tragic life.

I thought of this never-to-be-completed novel when I learned that ABC was cancelling The Nine. The Nine is one of the current crop of TV shows that, in an attempt to duplicate the success of Lost, tell a single story over the course of one or more seasons. Like my classmate's novel, both Lost and The Nine are structured around a mystery. But Lost is huge, and The Nine is axed, and The Novel About the Mysterious Box helps explain why.

The big problem with the what's-in-the-box framing device is this: Why doesn't grandma just tell the kids what's in the fucking box already? I don't just mean that the psychology ("they're not ready to know") is contrived. I mean that, if the reader is waiting to learn the solution to the mystery but the storytelling character already knows, the reader is going to get frustrated and impatient with the character for not just coming out with it already.

Which, multiplied by nine, was the problem with The Nine. The show followed the lives of nine people who had been caught in a bank heist gone horribly wrong. (I watched the show because the bank-heist-gone-horribly-wrong is perhaps my favorite genre of all time.) At the start of the pilot, the robbery got underway. One of the thieves said, "This'll all be over in five minutes." And then the caption "52 hours later" appeared, and people were taken away in ambulances. We don't know What Happened In There, but the nine people's lives are Not The Same. For instance: the young couple who went to the bank together on their lunch break, who are engaged and happy and in love. After the robbery she can't look him in the eye, and he says "It was a moment. Does it have to mean everything?" Apparently he did something very cowardly inside the bank, and we keep watching in order to find out what it was.

The problem is, the characters -- all nine of them -- know what happened. (Well, eight of them do, More on this later.) They make oblique references to it. But they won't just come out and tell us what's in the fucking box already. This forces us into an antagonistic relationship with all nine of the protagonists, wihch is not what ABC is hoping for.

In Lost, by contrast, the characters are for the most part as much in the dark as we are. Like them, we're in a mysterious landscape with all kinds of unexplained features that we have to learn about as we go along. As in a detective story, we find the clues along with the characters, and so we're naturally led into a sympathetic relationship with them.

Oddly, The Nine had a perfect vehicle to inspire some Lost-style identification. The youngest of the nine -- Felicia, the teenage daughter of the bank manager -- had post-traumatic amnesia: she couldn't remember what had happened in the bank either. If Felicia had been the show's protagonist -- if the story had revolved around her quest to find out What Happened In There, with the audience finding out at the same time she did -- The Nine might have worked. But The Nine was conceived as an ensemble drama, and Felicia was one of the less interesting characters. When she started investigating What Happened In There, the other eight all sat around a restaurant table and began to tell her ... at which point the camera pulled back and the closing theme came in to drown out the dialogue. That's not a mystery, that's a cheat.


Once bitten ...

From the New York Times:

The Internet firm BitTorrent, once a pariah for enabling vast unauthorized video file-sharing, plans to announce today that it has struck distribution deals with eight media partners, including 20th Century Fox, Paramount and MTV Networks.
It sounds like just another digital-content agreement, but the story doesn't add up.

The word BitTorrent refers to two different things. (OK, four, but we'll skip the other two.) The people at the company BitTorrent Inc. (one of the two things) seem to have used the confusion between those things to hoodwink the movie studios and the New York Times.

BitTorrent is the name of a method (or "protocol") for sharing files over the Internet. It was invented in 2001 by a programmer named Bram Cohen. (Fun fact: an estimated 40 percent of all Internet traffic consists of people sharing files using BitTorrent.) Napster had previously allowed people to share songs, but it was too slow and fragile for anything bigger than a three-minute single. BitTorrent allows people to share much larger files: four-CD box sets, games, movies. (The way it does this is clever and technically interesting but not germane to this discussion.) Napster and its successors wrecked the music industry's business model, and BitTorrent threatens to do the same to the movie industry by cannibalizing DVD sales.

BitTorrent Inc. is a company founded by Cohen and Ashwin Navin in 2004, long after people had started using BitTorrent to share movies. It's a small company that chiefly provides specialized software to businesses, and it's entirely peripheral to BitTorrent the protocol. Millions of people download movies using the protocol without ever coming into contact with the company.

So here's what seems to have happened: The movie-studio honchos are worried about piracy. They ask their 23-year-old assistants how the kids are downloading movies. The assistants say, "They use BitTorrent," referring to the protocol, and go back to spitting in their bosses' lattes. The executives say, "Ah, BitTorrent!" and return to their desks and Google "BitTorrent." They find a link to bittorrent.com, the homepage of BitTorrent Inc. And so they offer BitTorrent Inc. a nice chunk of change to sell movies from bittorrent.com, and BitTorrent Inc. offers to make sure there's no pirated material available on its site. Here's how the Times puts it:
The media companies are not only attracted to the large online audiences of companies like BitTorrent, but also want to enlist their support in eradicating unauthorized content. The media companies in the BitTorrent deal say that the Internet firm has pledged to police its network for illegal trading.

“They are making a big commitment to us to filter the site,” said Jamie McCabe, executive vice president at 20th Century Fox. “When anything is up there that is not legitimate, they’ve pledged to take it down.”

What a win for the studio execs! A brand new revenue stream, and no more BitTorrent piracy!

Here's what they missed: It's the protocol, stupid. People who want to download movies illegally don't go to bittorrent.com -- they go to hundreds of other sites, where they can use the BitTorrent protocol to download movies without the studios' consent. BitTorrent Inc. and bittorrent.com are entirely irrelevant to the piracy issue: if they both disappeared tomorrow, traffic in pirated movies wouldn't diminish in the slightest.

If the studios wanted, they could set up their own website and sell their own movies using BitTorrent (the protocol), and they wouldn't have to pay BitTorrent Inc. a dime. But they don't know what they're doing, and they're flailing around trying to keep their business together, and apparently the New York Times can't figure it out either.

[EDITED to remove a statistic that I couldn't source. EDITED again to add the quote about BitTorrent Inc.'s anti-piracy efforts.]

Brow beaten

It is time for the question to ring out: what's wrong with the Highbrow/Lowbrow rankings in New York's Approval Matrix?

If you're baffled: the Approval Matrix is a weekly feature that appears New York magazine, at the end of the culture section and before the listings. (By the way, this is a stupid location for a cool and popular single-page feature. Why isn't it on the back page? If I want to do a crossword, I've got the Times right here.) It consists of a four-quadrant Cartesian plane of which the horizontal axis represents the spectrum of quality from Brilliant (far right) to Despicable (far left) and the vertical axis represents the spectrum of, uh, browness, from Highbrow (top) to Lowbrow (bottom). Obviously this makes more sense when you're looking at an example.

Robert Fagles's new translation of The Aeneid is in the top right corner, because it's both the height of brilliance and the height of highbrowdom. The Lost board game, assailed for being "even more confusing than the show," is in the bottom left corner. Simple enough and, making allowances for value judgments, perfectly appropriate.

But look more closely at the intermediate items, and compare their vertical positions, i.e. the relative height of their brows. According to the AM linked above, "a Ricky Gervais–Stephen Merchant–penned episode of NBC's The Office" -- i.e. the creators of a BBC critical favorite returning to the milieu of their finest work -- is lower-browed than: (a) sports; (b) James Bond; (c) the new Christopher Guest movie.

It is almost enough to make one suspect that the editor in charge of the Approval Matrix is not taking his or her responsibility -- the responsibility of ranking everything comparably -- sufficiently seriously.

Altman redux

David Edelstein, maybe my favorite movie critic currently working, has this to say about Altman:

On the Internet last week, I read that Altman had changed American cinema, but I’ve always been saddened by how little influence his work actually had in an era of wall-to-wall storyboarding and computer-generated imagery.
This is true as far as it goes, although the current vogue for large-ensemble pileups like Crash and Babel certainly owes something to Nashville. But it may turn out that Altman's influence was most strongly felt on the small screen. Hill Street Blues, with its elaborate tracking shots and overlapping dialogue, was always described as "Altmanesque" (that's where I first heard the word). Add to that NYPD Blue, The West Wing, and most of all The Wire, which in its subtle sound mixing and its gyroscopic portrait of the connections between moments and systems is basically Altman filtered through a bunch of genius crime writers. (Altman would never have attempted The Wire's intricate and satisfying narrative setups and resolutions.) Plus remember that Tanner '88, the HBO series Altman made with Garry Trudeau, anticipated the look and feel of The Office and every other video-documentary-style sitcom. Altman left television in 1969 to make the remarkable and remarkably adult films that are his legacy. He may have done more than any other filmmaker to drag television into its adulthood too.


A Prairie Home Companion, Walter Reade Theater, 11/27/06

There's a moment in A Prairie Home Companion, the last movie Robert Altman made before he died last week, when someone says, 'The death of an old man is not a tragedy." When the movie was released last summer, before it was publicly known that Altman was dying of cancer, that was a bit of offhand philosophy. At last night's memorial screening it carried an extra charge: Hey -- he's talking to us! Altman got to speak at his own funeral.

At another point Meryl Streep says, "I just love a happy ending," and the line plays as irony, because the film makes clear that, if you keep the camera rolling long enough, there is no such thing as a happy ending. Altman was particularly good at strange, complicated endings -- A.O. Scott began his remembrance with a discussion of the shocking end of California Split, in which the mystical energy that has propelled the protagonists and powered the entire film suddenly and momentously dissipates, like the air whooshing out of a balloon, and then the credits roll.

Artists always struggle with endings, but they rarely get to struggle (in a conscious-artistic-intent way) with the ending of their careers. For some, death comes as a surprise; for others, the illness that makes it predictable also prevents them from making artistic use of it; others find their efforts thwarted by the waning of their artistic powers. Altman, it now turns out, is the rare exception; the only other serious example I can think of offhand is Shakespeare. For his last movie, Altman took a radio show whose appeal is its insistent timelessness, and he added the element of death and made it into a tragedy. At the end of the film, the show has been cancelled and the stars are sitting in a diner talking about a reunion tour the same way they sing about heaven: joyfully, sincerely, but not literally. It is, in a way, miraculous that a man who got to make so many movies and so few compromises should have been able to approach even his own ending this way: with a thorough understanding of his situation, with all his artistic faculties intact, and with a circle of brilliant collaborators to carry him out. It's almost a happy ending.


Obama apologizes for cockblocking: First read this, and then listen to this, and then tell me he wouldn't get your vote.


Sorry to disappoint ...

We are still in tedious agreement. What I was referring to was not the music itself, which has as you say gotten deeper and richer and more thoughtful even as it has lost some of its youthful urgency, but the onstage presentation, which bundles their entire career together achronously "as though there's no difference between the work they did at 25 and the work they're doing at 40." (Emphasis added.)

No, on their albums I think Superchunk are doing what Al Green did for Memphis soul in the late 1970s: refining and perfecting the form after everyone else has stopped caring.

The albums on which they transition from early Superchunk to late Superchunk, Foolish and Here's Where the Strings Come In, are still my favorites.

Disagreement! Controversy! Thrust and Counter-Thrust!

I'm surprised to find myself disagreeing with you so unreservedly on Superchunk -- an issue on which we have in the past been almost boringly in sync, to the point of my knowing with absolute certainty that you would, when I asked you, name "European Medicine" as the best song on Indoor Living.

I'll agree, up to a point, that lyrically, their later songs are no more "mature" than their early ones (although: "Phone Sex." "Art Class." "Silverleaf and Snowy Tears." Could you see any of these, just lyrics-wise, appearing on any album released before the mid-90s?) But I think it's pretty clear that their music has matured musically. Many of the early songs are little more than punk fragments, whose only obvious instrumentation is a few loud guitars and some drumming. Even the bass is barely audible. The guitars on the later albums -- I'm thinking of Here's Where the Strings Come in, Indoor Living, and Here's to Shutting Up -- feel way more textured, and you can hear the bass a lot better. Most important, there's a lot of keyboard-playing. And his voice is no longer screechy and indecipherable, but rather falsetto and quite precise.

This later style is not just different, it's more mature (and, I'd argue, better). It feels richer, more nuanced, more thoughtful, more serious. The albums feel like fully realized art works, rather than raw, tossed-off musings that they didn't have the patience to fully develop. These are all qualities that we associate with aging, and maturity.

Maybe you're talking more about style than substance here -- the jumping around, the jeans, the songs they choose to play live, etc. In which case, you know, fine. But I sense you're making a broader point...

The Daily Show: 10 F#@king Years, Irving Plaza

The comedy: Jon Stewart wasn't there, although it was supposedly his party. No Carell, Colbert, or Corddry either. The only alum was Ed Helms, who demonstrated that he can sing close harmony and play bluegrass acoustic guitar solos. As for the present crew: John Oliver, the British guy, is clearly the guy with breakout potential. John Hodgman, who probably has the most interesting resume in the entertainment world right now, did his "resident expert" character and displayed total, unblinking commitment -- you got the feeling that you could try out all kinds of CIA interrogation tactics on him and he'd never break. Rob Riggle may have been the funniest guy in his frat, but he doesn't belong on TV, and Jason Jones did the kind of parodic non-comedy that you do when you can't think of anything funny.

The music: Eef Barclay (a.k.a. Clem Snide) suffered for lack of a proper band, and John Darnielle (a.k.a. the Mountain Goats) kind of suffered from the presence of one. I think Darnielle's brilliant and psychotic songs are more suited to the solo-acoustic-boombox Mountain Goats than to the polite-little-pop-arrangements Mountain Goats; I hope he realizes this soon.

Here's what I realized during Superchunk's set: Superchunk is the ultimate grup band. They still wear T-shirts and jeans, and they still jump around like teenagers, and their shows draw evenly from throughout their sixteen-year career, as though there's no difference between the work they did at 25 and the work they're doing at 40: they played the early quasihits "Seed Toss" and "Precision Auto" plus lots of things from the great mid-period album Here's Where the Strings Come In (including the mighty "Detroit Has a Skyline"), plus "Hello Hawk." A useful counterexample is Yo La Tengo, who have spent two decades making records that explore marriage and maturation, and who have always represented a model for growing up with happiness and integrity. (This is why they are so beloved.) Superchunk, some of the members of which are married with children, represent growing up without growing up. They encored with "Slack Motherfucker," an early '90s slacker anthem (kind of redundant, really -- are their any slacker anthems from other eras?) about the very early-'90s trope of making art while on the clock at Kinko's. "I'm working / But I'm not working for you!" Mac McCaughan sang. About a hundred balding 35-year-old men in sneakers pumped their fists. As one of them posted on the Merge Records bulletin board before the show:

Any idea on the time Superchunk is suppose to hit the stage? The potential babysitter is giving me a hard time about not knowing the time.


So the town of Pahrump, Nevada, A) has a funny name, B) passed a law making it illegal to fly a foreign flag, unless it's clearly below the American flag, which is also funny. Could things possibly get any funnier, Pahrump-wise, you ask. They could:

The law passed as part of a package of measures that also declared English the official language of Pahrump and denies town benefits to illegal immigrants.

"We don't have any" benefits, town manager David Richards says. "If we ever have any, they'll be denied to illegal immigrants."

From the Times's story on yesterday's Senate hearings:

As Mr. Nelson questioned General Abizaid, the Arizona senator [John McCain] stood up to confer with Senator Susan M. Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine. At this, Mr. Lieberman got up and walked to the Republican side to join them in a brief, chuckling huddle, then ambled back to his party’s side with a glance at his colleagues as if to say, “You watching?”
Oh Jesus Christ, now we're in for two years of this bullshit.

Engadget's review of the Zune is here. It was pretty obvious that Microsoft's take on the iPod was going to look something like this.


Perhaps you, like me, have been waiting for a long profile of Rahm Emanuel. Well, here it is. Many interesting details, among them: You probably knew that R.E. was the inspiration for Josh Lyman on The West Wing. But did you know that his brother Ari was the model for Ari Gold on Entourage?


Taking liberties

Rapidly forming conventional wisdom says the new Democratic caucuses are split on social issues but hew to a protectionist line on economic issues. Michael Tomasky says that the new Dems (as opposed to the New Dems) make up "a freshman class more economically liberal than perhaps any since 1958." Ramesh Ponnuru says they "can be a lasting majority if they are an economically liberal party with socially conservative and socially liberal wings."

Both writers are using the word liberal to mean "taking positions traditionally associated with the Democratic Party." In that sense, liberal is a floating signifier, one that denotes a historically contingent set of things but that connotes nothing at all. This is problematic because liberal has a specific meaning, one that is often used with reference to economic policy: it means, roughly, favoring individual freedom. Applied to economic issues, liberalism prefers open borders and free markets and disdains tariffs and regulations. In other words, it means the exact opposite of what Tomasky and Ponnuru are using it to mean.

(Merriam Webster defines liberalism as "a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard." I think the gold standard part is probably out of date, but the point stands.)

Jacob Weisberg, good man, calls the consensus Democratic position economic nationalism, which makes much more sense.


Humiliated frat boys sue Borat

My first reaction when I saw this story was, of course, "haha, you stupid frat boys." But now that I think about it, they maybe sort of have a point. I have no idea how the law works here, but if it's true that they were told they were being filmed for a documentary that wouldn't air in the US, and that they were told that the release they were signing was about liability for being in the RV, then that is kind of deceptive and lame.

But more interesting than the legal and moral issues are the artistic ones. When Borat gets in the frat boys' RV, you assume that these are real frat boys traveling around the south in a real RV, drunk. You assume this because many aspects of Borat's encounters, both in the movie itself and in the TV shows which established our expectations for the movie, are real. Believing that this is something he just stumbled upon is pretty crucial to the humor -- not to mention to whatever merit the movie has a kind of journalistic capturing of American weirdness, which seemed to be part of the intention. That aura of fascinating authenticity, that sense that you're watching a documentary, doesn't work if you don't believe this is real, obviously.

But so now we find out that they just put those frat boys in the RV and got them drunk beforehand. Which suggests they probably staged a lot of other stuff too. So it seems like the filmmakers are using the fact that some parts of these interactions ocurred naturally, in order to make the audience assume that they all did. I don't think I'm being too literal-minded here. When much of the humor is premised on the belief that these situations occurred naturally, it's hard to laugh at it in the same way when you're now unsure of which ones did and which ones didn't.

But so now I'm questioning everything. Like, for instance, the black hooker he meets. I was wondering about this at the time. When she shows up in the movie, you're supposed to think that she too is real, in the sense that she thinks Borat is a real guy who she's going out with. That's why its both poignant and a bit cruel when he takes her home and they share kind of a sweet moment on the doorstep. You know she's being deceived a bit, and you feel bad for her. But then she shows up at the end back in Kazakhstan. So by this point you know she's in on the joke. So like, what's going on there? At what stage did she get let in on the joke? Was she in on it from the start? Was the tender scene on the porch just a conventional movie scene with two actors playing roles? Or what? I just feel like there's no conceptual framework governing the premise of the whole thing, which is in one way really interesting. But at the same time, it's only thru the existence of some kind of framework or premise or rules or something that anything can actually be funny, or interesting, or moving, or whatever. I feel like I'm not doing a very good job of explaining myself here, but I also feel strongly that I'm right. Writing is sometimes not as good for explaining these things as having a conversation, although maybe that's only if you're not very good at writing.


Anti-Microsoft conspiracy theories ahoy!

In the course of launching its iPod rival the Zune, Microsoft has made a weird deal with Universal Music. Universal was balking at allowing Microsoft to sell its music on the new Zune-compatible online music store, so Microsoft agreed to give Universal a percentage of the revenue from the Zune itself. Bear in mind: Universal will still get the revenues from the sales of its songs, but now it'll also get revenues from sales of the player.

Medialoper breaks it down:

Basically, what [Universal CEO Doug Morris] is saying is this:
  • Every single person who buys a portable media player is a thief and a pirate.
  • All music comes from Universal.
  • Therefore, you should pay extra for any device you use to store music, you fracking thief.
    John Gruber asks:
    I don't get it. Why would Microsoft do this?
    Why would they enter into a deal that will cost them money and potentially fuck up a market they're trying to enter? The answer, I think, is pretty simple: to the extent that they do fuck up the market, it will be Apple, which owns something like 88 percent of the market for legal music downloads and 75 percent of the market for digital music players, that suffers.

    Remember, for Apple the iTunes Store is almost a loss leader: after paying royalties to the record companies, Apple's profits on each 99-cent song are measly. But making most of the popular-music canon easily and cheaply available online sure helps them sell those iPods, which are high-margin items. Ever since this arrangement began, the record companies have been grumbling about having their product turned into a commodity to help Steve Jobs sell iPods, but they don't have much choice if they want any kind of revenue stream from music downloads to replace CD sales. (Remember CDs?) Microsoft is offering them a better deal, and setting a precedent for them to use in negotiations with Apple. (Right now "negotiations with Apple" consist of Steve telling the labels how it's going to work, and the labels saying "Thank you sir, can I have another?" But it won't always be that way.)

    The likelihood of this panning out for Microsoft is not huge. But the Zune was always a long-shot bet; the Universal deal is a way for Microsoft to diversify the potential upside a bit, by adding the possibility that they could mess with Apple's profits.

    Update: Other people have come to the same conclusion. Gruber disagrees, and I think he's probably right.

    And another thing...

    ...I was making exactly that same point about Lincoln Chafee last night in a conversation at DC's popular Wonderland Ballroom. Actually it wasn't really a conversation, it was me shouting "Fuck Lincoln Chafee" at my friend Mike. I may also have gone so far as to add, somewhat crazily, that I like Rick Santorum more than Lincoln Chafee, because at least he has the courage of his insane convictions or something. But I think I would like to take that back now that I've seen he dresses his daughter as a pilgrim.


    ...the great thing about this whole "big government Republicanism has failed" thing, which seems to be the response of choice among GOP leaders (looks like Mike Pence, the ultimate ideological small govt conservative, is gonna be their next House leader) is that it's gonna lead them to emphasize exactly those parts of the GOP agenda that are the least popular. Remember that whole thing where they tried to privatize Social Security? That was a big hit, wasn't it? And when they start talking about cutting Medicare that's gonna win them a lot of support too, right? It's not as if they'd have won on Tuesday if they'd only decided to cut more popular government programs. The thing they don't get is that most voters actually like these programs.

    If their response was to double down on talking about killing terrorists and vilifying gays, I'd be way more worried.

    This is no time to turn into a mensch

    Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn, a Republican who was not up for reelection yesterday, issued a statement today that said, essentially, We blew it.

    This election does not show that voters have abandoned their belief in limited government; it shows that the Republican Party has abandoned them. In fact, these results represent the total failure of big government Republicanism.... Our short-term, politically-expedient, bread and circus governing philosophy has failed.
    For about five minutes I thought, Hey, now there's an honorable man.

    Something similar happened vis-a-vis Lincoln Chafee, the Rhode Island senator who lost his seat yesterday. Chafee voted against the Iraq war resolution, unlike most of the Democrats. In 2004 he announced that he hadn't voted for George W. Bush's reelection, instead writing in the name of the president's father. In a very Democratic state, 66 percent of his constituents said he was doing a good job on the same day they voted decisively to replace him. For a little while, I felt kind of sorry for Lincoln Chafee.

    But y'know, I got over it. Chafee was one of the few genuinely moderate Republicans left. He may only have been a Republican at all because of family tradition. But he had six years of Bush-Cheney-Lott-Frist in which to do what his ally Jim Jeffords did: declare himself an independent and begin caucusing with the Democrats. His constituents would have loved him for it. Instead, at the beginning of every session, he voted to let the worst people in the country run his branch of government. It was the most important vote he cast, more important than the Iraq vote, and now he's paying the price for it, and so he should.

    Similarly: Tom Coburn is entitled to tell the American people how venal and opportunistic his party is, on the day after an election when they've lost control of Congress. But honorable would have been doing it the week before.

    Perhaps you are thinking, OK, I am certainly happy that that dick Rumsfeld is gone, but who is this Gates person who will be replacing him, and is there not a high chance that he is also a dick? That's what I was thinking, too. Fortunately, the underrated Fred Kaplan, who has been writing a knowledgeable and sensible column for Slate since this whole Iraq nightmare began, and who is no fan of Bush, Rumsfeld, or their misbegotten Middle Eastern adventure, says that he's a great choice.


    Crazy scary point just made by Paul Begala on CNN: Bush could have appointed Joe Lieberman to replace Donald Rumsfeld, which would have allowed Connecticut's Republican governor Jodi Rell to appoint a replacement to Lieberman's seat, putting the Senate back in the hands of Republicans. Thank fuck he didn't.

    Your favorite superhero's political affiliation:

    Green Lantern -- Republican
    A former test pilot and current galactic police officer, Green Lantern has always been a running dog for The Man. Dude carries a WMD on his ring finger and flies around reshaping reality according to his idea of The Way Things Should Be. Total neocon.

    Spider-Man -- Democrat
    "With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s 100% Democrat. Spidey grew up poor, watching his Aunt May trying to stretch her Social Security check each month and scrambling to make ends meet as a freelance photographer for that yellow rag The Daily Bugle. Nowadays he’s working as a teacher in a New York public school. Recently Spidey was duped by reactionary neocon superheroes into supporting their oppressive agenda in Marvel’s Civil War mini-series. Total Democrat.


    Next in what seems to be turning into a series on popular misperceptions about evolutionary theory: John Seabrook, in his otherwise terrific profile of Sims creator Will Wright, says this about Wright's forthcoming Spore:

    In order to create the best content for your style of play—“the right kind of ecosystem for your creature,” as Wright puts it—Spore builds a model of how you play the game, and searches for other players’ content that fits that model. If you create a hyper-aggressive Darwinian monster, for example, the game might download equally cutthroat opponents to test you.
    Seabrook is using the word Darwinian as a virtual synonym for "hyper-aggressive," to suggest "nature red in tooth and claw." Of course, strategies of hyper-aggressiveness are Darwinian in the sense that they evolved through natural selection. But as has been argued many times, the same could be said about strategies of cooperativeness or reciprocal altruism. The achievements of human cooperation -- cities, science, language, political structures, the World Series -- are as much a product of our evolutionary heritage as are bloodsports and rape, and to imagine otherwise is to suffer from lazy humanist metaphysics.

    Other than that it's a good piece, and Spore looks amazing:
    Wright hurtled through the levels, evolution moving at hyperspeed as his creature acquired houses, tools, weapons, vehicles, and cities. While he was narrating his creature’s adventures, Wright was also explaining how, in passing through the different levels of the game, the player would be progressing through the history of video games: from the arcade games, like Pac-Man, to Miyamoto’s Super Mario, to the first-person shooters. At the tribal level you are playing a Peter Molyneux-style God game, and at the global level you are playing Sid Meier’s Civilization.


    Matt Taibbi on the media's anti-Bush turn:

    It doesn't take much courage to book the Dixie Chicks when George Bush is sitting at thirty-nine percent in the polls and carrying 3,000 American bodies on his back every time he goes outside. It doesn't take much courage for MSNBC's Countdown to do a segment ripping the "Swift-Boating of Al Gore" in May 2006, or much gumption from Newsweek's Eleanor Clift to say that many people in the media "regret" the way Gore was attacked and ridiculed in 2000. We needed those people to act in the moment, not years later, when it's politically expedient. We needed TV news to reject "swift-boating" during the actual Swift Boat controversy, not two years later; we needed ABC and NBC to stand up to Clear Channel when that whole idiotic Dixie Chicks thing was happening, not years later; we needed the networks and the major dailies to actually cover the half-million-strong protests in Washington and New York before the war, instead of burying them in inside pages or describing the numbers as "thousands" or "at least 30,000," as many news outlets did at the time; and we needed David Letterman to have his war epiphany back when taking on Bill O'Reilly might actually have cost him real market share.