To everybody who's curious about that amazing Dylan/Seuss thing I posted the other day (hi, MetaFilter!): I don't know anything about it, and the guy who sent it to me doesn't either, and it's one of those crazy Internet mysteries. What trips me out about it, though, is not just the awesomeness of Dylan singing Seuss (or Zimmerman singing Geisel, if you prefer) -- it's the fact that it was recorded by someone who knows how to recreate the sound of Columbia Records 1966.

Best MeFi comment: "The odd thing is that hearing the lyrics in this context automatically activates the Dylan-interpretation neurons: 'Once every day and on Saturday twice'... hmm, what does that meeeeeean?"


Will Wright's amazing-looking evolution-as-video-game Spore has a website with art, animations, etc. (Here's the New Yorker and the NYT Mag on Spore.) I am unbelievably psyched to play this game. Is it just me, or do some of the designs look, uh, heavily influenced by the great Jim Woodring?

Recommended reading

New York magazine is firing on all cylinders these days. Exhibit A, which I meant to link a while back, is Po Bronson's "The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids," a science story, an education story, and a personal essay wrapped up in one. It surprised me, but it also jibed with my experience in a kind of profound way. Exhibit B is Emily Nussbaum's "Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy," which argues that ubiquitous personal disclosure on MySpace et al is precipitating the first generation gap since the baby boomers discovered rock 'n' roll. It's well argued and unhysterical, and it's the rare trend piece that successfully identifies something (I think) real and meaningful. Yay, magazines!

Go listen to this immediately.


Ha! Vindication! Who's the chump now?

A reader, who we'll call "Jenny Gotwals," e-mails to ask "WHY have you not commented on your blog re. the tragic tales of gavin newsom?" (For those of you who don't know, Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, earlier this month copped to an affair with the wife of a top aide and close friend.)

The answer, "Jenny," requires some back story. The biggest fuckup I committed during my short and undistinguished career as a political reporter in San Francisco involved printing a stupid non-fact about then-county supervisor Newsom's personal life. Actually, that was the second biggest error. The biggest came the following week, when, in attempting to correct the error, I replaced it with a different error. (I'm not going to go into detail about what these errors were, except to say that they revolved around making an incorrect inference about one person, and then confusing that person with a different person with the same first name. This is the kind of thing that's usually harmless if you are not a newspaper reporter.) The Bay Guardian, the paper that allowed me to sully its pages with this sequence of non-facts, doesn't seem to have those columns online, thankfully freeing me from the obligation to link to them. (I don't think anyone deliberately removed the columns, a feat of coordination that I fear would strain the capabilities of the Guardian's web operation past their breaking point; everything from the '90s seems to be gone.)

Anyway, as a result of this blunder, whenever I hear Newsom's name I am filled with a cringing sensation of embarrassment, even when he's doing something awesome like marrying gay people. Ever since, I have harbored this secret fear that he would one day be president (something that was once discussed as a real possibility by California Democrats), and every time anyone said "the president" it would be as if they were saying Gabe Roth is a fucking moron.

And so my reaction to the news that Newsom has made what has to be considered a larger mistake than mine, a mistake that would seem to greatly diminish his chances as a candidate for higher office, is a profound and selfish relief: he'll probably never be president, and even if he is, everyone will remember his fuckup rather than mine. This relief is of no interest to anyone other than me, but it prevents me from writing something pithy and clever about what a fucking dumbass Gavin Newsom is. Sorry, "Jenny."

One thing that's going to be kind of fun over the next couple years -- and I mean fun in a bleak, masochistic way -- is rereading some of the comments that Iraq war advocates made before the invasion. Some are already famous ("greeted as liberators," "cakewalk"), but there's a lot of undiscovered gems out there. Here's one from National Review's Jonah Goldberg, writing in April 2002:

So how does all this ... justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine." I'm not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I've ever heard, by the way).
Yeah, that does sound pretty entertaining. Do these guys sleep at night?


What did you do this week? I added a few thousand words to my novel, and removed some of the words that were already there, for a net gain of perhaps a thousand words. Also I walked the dog a lot, because Tali was out of town, and I watched Friday Night Lights, which I haven't posted about because I've been waiting to come up with something to say about it beyond "This show is surprisingly awesome." My friend Ty, on the other hand, got this guy out of jail. So there you go.


Wanker of the Day: George Will.

Regarding Iraq, the Democratic-controlled Congress could do what Democrats say a Democratic president would do: withdraw U.S. forces. A president could simply order that; Congress could defund military operations in Iraq. Congressional Democrats are, however, afraid to do that because they lack the courage of their (professed) conviction that Iraq would be made tranquil by withdrawal of U.S. forces.
But does any leading Congressional Democrat argue that a pullout would make Iraq "tranquil"? What they argue is that it's the best of a bunch of terrible options.

I don't get why it's okay to just make up stuff in the Washington Post. Dick.

Michael Lewis has a good column on the private-equity boom:

Much of the financial drama of the past five years -- the rise of Eliot Spitzer, the Sarbanes-Oxley law, the muckraking in the financial press -- has been staged, ostensibly, to level the playing field on Wall Street. But the players have responded by building a new field, apart from the old one.
The regulation, by raising the cost of doing business to public companies, has had the perverse effect of reducing the value of a company simply because it is public, and thereby creating further incentive to take it private. Sarbanes-Oxley has done many things, but one of them is to create a lot of cheap assets for private-equity firms to buy.... We may not have arrived at the point where the publicly traded shares in a company are a sure sign that those shares are a poor investment. But that's the obvious, ultimate destination.


Listen to this: Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)'s amazing speech during last week's House debate on the anti-surge resolution.


So: after a massive electoral repudiation of the president's policies, the Senate finally tries to have a say in military policy -- not with any actual legislation, but with a non-binding resolution. They can't even get a vote on that -- they can't even discuss voting on it -- because the Republican minority voted to block the debate.

What does the White House press secretary say? He says, “This week’s voting gave the world a glimpse of democracy’s vigor."


A Washington Post column by David Ignatius about Washington Monthly founding editor Charlie Peters.


Scary fact of the day: One liter of bottled Fiji water uses 26 liters of water and a kilogram of fossil fuels, and produce a pound of CO2.


Funniest headline of the day.

From the Brown Alumni Monthly: "This is not only the best freshman math homework I have ever received. I contend it is the best overnight homework any teacher has ever received in any course at any level at any place in any subject at any time, ever."


Right approach, wrong time?

It looks like George Packer may finally get the war he's been asking for. In his 2003 New Yorker essay "War After the War," which was the basis for the book The Assassin's Gate and which is one of the single finest pieces of journalism I've ever read, Packer made the case that Iraq would be won or lost not in battlefield victories or large-scale campaigns but in tiny human interactions, ground-level points of contact between Iraqis and Americans. His intimate, scene-based reporting became an example of the thing he was advocating, the attentiveness to nuance and context that the military couldn't get right.

As the American effort went into a tailspin, Packer wrote a couple of pieces on military freethinkers who were urging subtlety and finesse instead of bombast: Col. H. R. McMaster, who had one of the war's few impressive successes in the city of Tal Afar in late 2005, and David Kilcullen, an Australian army captain who wrote his PhD dissertation on counterinsurgency and who is "on loan" to the U.S. government. These pieces (here and here) inspired a mixture of hope and despair: there are smart people in the military who are thinking pragmatically about this stuff (check out Kilcullen's widely circulated "Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency"), and no one with any clout is listening to them.

Things change. Gen. David Petraeus, who appeared in Packer's Tal Afar article leading what seemed like a particularly worthy and irrelevant effort -- inviting academics, journalists, and human-rights activists to a workshop to discuss a draft counterinsurgency manual -- is now U.S. commander in Iraq. According to the Washington Post, Petraeus "is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals," including McMaster and Kilcullen, to form a brain trust. Thomas Ricks writes, "Essentially, the Army is turning the war over to its dissidents, who have criticized the way the service has operated there for the past three years, and is letting them try to wage the war their way." Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that the change comes too late.

'We refuse to be each other'

In October I saw Zadie Smith deliver a lecture at the New Yorker Festival. At the time I thought, 'Yes, she's done it, she's put something central and unspoken about writing into words that are exactly right, and then she's managed to think about it intelligently.' More than any of her novels (which I like just fine), this lecture convinced me that Zadie Smith is really, really smart, and that she might turn out to be Major. I was disappointed when she said, in response to a question, that she wasn't planning to include it in a book of essays on literature she's preparing.

RoBros' much-beloved mutual mother has just alerted me to the fact that the lecture's text was published in the Guardian last month. It turns out that it's as good as I thought it was. Part one can be read here; part two is here. It is long, so you should print it out.

A riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a tortilla

There's something I don't get about Frank Rich's column today (here, but behind the stupid subscription wall). The last paragraph begins with this sentence:

Call it a coincidence — though there are no coincidences — but it’s only fitting that the Libby trial began as news arrived of the death of E. Howard Hunt, the former C.I.A. agent whose bungling of the Watergate break-in sent him to jail and led to the unraveling of the Nixon presidency two years later.

What does Rich mean by that interjection "though there are no coincidences"? He can't mean it literally: obviously there are some coincidences, and obviously the proximity of Libby's trial to Hunt's death is one. People who say "there are no coincidences" usually mean to imply the existence of some dark conspiracy, and indeed the column is about a White House conspiracy to defame Joseph Wilson, but surely Rich doesn't mean to suggest a material connection (as opposed to a thematic or associative connection) between that conspiracy and Howard Hunt's death from pneumonia at 88.

I'm sure I'm being too literal here, but I honestly can't figure out what Rich thinks he means. My best guess is that the phrase "there are no coincidences" has somehow lodged in his head (it's not an uncommon phrase), and when he types the word coincidence in a context of skullduggery it muscles its way into the sentence. Does anyone have a better explanation? Post it in the comments.


Remember last year, when a New Jersey public high school student taped his teacher espousing creationism in class? The school board has just responded by ... banning taping in class.

Did you know that your hero Matthew Yglesias is a comics fan? Here he compares neocon arguments for bombing Iran to tropes from Green Lantern, and reveals a startling depth of DC Universe knowledge.

Oh this is good! James Walcott totally makes fun of Adam Gopnik in The New Republic. Best line:

In a later chapter Gopnik and Luke bond over baseball, guy stuff that they can share without mom's editorial interjections killing everything. When Luke opts for pinstripes, his father does likewise. "Luke remains a Yankees fan. I have, amazingly, become one myself, in the wary, ironic way that one can be a Yankees fan now, a pigeon watching the antics of the hawks from a safe distance." As a New Yorker for over thirty years, I can confidently assert that there is no such creature as a "wary, ironic" Yankees fan. (If such a being existed, the ghost of Billy Martin would slap it silly.) No true fan would declare home-team loyalty with such a sad-sack sigh, as if adjusting the elastic band in his shorts: "We have accepted the Yankees, more than we have embraced them. They are another New York accommodation that we have made." Gopnik just doesn't seem cut out for guy stuff; his fidgety navel-gazing keeps interfering.

The piece is even more interesting if you've also read this, and especially this:
Watching the Mommy Wars makes me mighty glad I'm not a Daddy. To be sure, there's a lyrical part of me that longs to savor the joys of fatherhood; to jam a stroller into the trunk of a taxi in the pounding rain, to trade nanny horror stories with the other fellas in the support group, to lie awake at night worried sick over tuition fees and dental bills, and, most of all, to deck myself out in the official uniform of the Middle-Aged Dad: baseball cap, team jacket, hip-pouch cellphone holster, and thick-soled white sneakers suitable for a lunar landing. I often spot such dedicated MADs wheeling their sticky offspring along the sidewalks of upper Manhattan, bracing themselves as they bend over to pick up the juice cup that Jeremy has dropped for the five-thousandth time. Yes, that could be me stooping and retrieving. Married and childless, I'm missing out on so much. Yet I'm willing to forgo the mature satisfactions of being a father, and how, because it has spared me having to listen to the incessant kvetching and crabbing of the Mommy Wars--the latest endless installment of "I Can't Believe How She Lets Those Kids Run Wild."


I don't often send you to Fox News, but this is worth watching: the post-arrest press conference by the two guys responsible for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force promotion that shut down Boston traffic yesterday. It's funny how pissed off people in the media get when someone fails to take them seriously.