So yeah, pretty cool about Zack's new job.


Friendblogging: The trailer for Jake's new movie, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, starring John C. Reilly.


Joshua Green's Atlantic cover story on "the Rove presidency" came out just before Rove called it quits, but it's probably going to be the ur-text on Rove-in-the-White-House -- a deep, intelligent, well-reported look at how the guy who Republicans and Democrats alike had annointed the greatest political genius of his time managed to screw the pooch so royally. The piece is behind the Atlantic's subscriber wall, but you can still read it -- pages one, two, three, four, five, and six -- thanks to the magic of Google cacheing. [Update: Some of the cached pages are gone, unfortunately.]

One suprise is the parallel between Rove and the Hillary Clinton who botched universal health care in 1993. Both tried to push their own political ambitions through Congress without properly deferring to the congressional leadership, and both thus lost the ability to pass ambitious legislation even when both houses were held by their own party. Something about winning the presidency apparently makes people think they get to call all the shots.


The Observer on James Wood's move to the New Yorker. Interesting fact: Wood has had a standing offer to work for David Remnick for many years.

Midweek readings

We wanted to do comedy that was about something, have the character articulate something about the baby-boomer generation that is now getting old and disconnected with the world. Nobody has properly articulated that.
Steve Coogan on Saxondale

The font is one of the oldest tricks in the book. You typeset text in a regular font, I think this was Rotis, and then you blow it up really big on a Xerox machine and then you shrink it down really small. The trick is to see just how much you can distress it and keep it readable. It's gotten harder to do because Xerox machines are so much better.
Chip Kidd on designing book jackets
for Amis, McCarthy, and Updike

Hansen and NBC News maintain that law enforcement and Dateline simply conduct “parallel investigations” that never influence each other. But by this afternoon, in front of Bill Conradt’s house, whatever wall may have once divided Dateline and the police has essentially collapsed.
Esquire on NBC's "To Catch a Predator"


Dick Cheney, 1994


Interview with Reading Comics author Douglas Wolk:

There were a bunch of chapters where I found myself going, “Dude, you’re talking about the story. Use your eyes. Don’t just read the words. Use your eyes, Douglas.” It’s something that because I’m such a word person that it’s hard for me to do, but I realize also that this is how comics work on my brain. This is how comics work on everybody’s brain. And it’s hard to talk about visual things in words in the same way that it’s hard to talk about music in words.

Maybe once a week I read something about Iraq and I think, This could be a storyline from an episode of The Wire. It's partly that the war in Iraq is perhaps the only national project as misguided in conception and inept in execution as the war on drugs. It's partly the repeated images of incompatible institutions butting up against one another, and of individuals within those institutions struggling and failing to affect the situation. And then, of course, there's all the stuff from The Wire that reminds me of Iraq. (Just one example: the conflict between Stringer and Avon that's the dramatic spine of season three is a conflict between a modern capitalist culture and a premodern "respect" culture, and the way it plays out as tragedy is a perfect mirror of our tragedy in the Middle East.)

Now we learn that David Simon and Ed Burns, the geniuses behind The Wire, are making a miniseries about the early months of the Iraq War.

It's hard when someone makes one of the great works of art, because then you want their next thing to be another one. And now that they've found the perfect subject ... I can only be disappointed by this, really.

It's based on this book, which I haven't read. The bad news is that it's only seven episodes. My big hope is that it'll become open-ended, and that, just as The Wire grew from a show about cops and gangs to take in the longshore union, City Hall, the school district, and soon the media, the new show, which starts from the perspective of a Marine battalion, will incorporate ordinary Iraqis, militia fighters, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Iraqi Parliament, the Kurdish peshmerga, reporters with both the western press and Al Jazeera ... like I say, I can only be disappointed.


My #1 intellectual hero James Wood is leaving the New Republic for the New Yorker. I have wondered when this was going to happen. Political correspondent Ryan Lizza made the same move a month ago, which is maybe what's behind this comment from Leon Wieseltier: "The New Republic plays many significant roles in American culture, and one of them is to find and to develop writers with whom the New Yorker can eventually staff itself.” Meow!


Dahlia Lithwick makes a good point about the craven Democrats who just signed off on Bush's wiretapping program: they spent six months blasting Alberto Gonzales for every kind of ineptitude, then decided to let him violate the civil liberties of everyone in the country.

There is virtually no way to reconcile Sen. Mark Pryor's, D-Ark., claim that Gonzales has "lied to the Senate" and needs to go with his vote to expand the reach of our warrantless eavesdropping program. And how can one possibly square Sen. Dianne Feinstein's, D-Calif., claim that the AG "just doesn't tell the truth" with her vote to give him yet more unchecked authority?

A while back I requested a new front-end for the ugly and cumbersome Azureus, which I described as "the only Bittorrent client that meets my (very reasonable) needs: OSX-compatible, allows partial downloading, handles things like tracker announcements and protocol encryption properly." Happily, that's no longer true. With today's release of version 0.80, Transmission is now capable of partial downloading. It's handsome and usable and not written in Java, and thus leaps into position as the OSX BT client of choice. Just thought you'd like to know.


It turns out that Fake Steve Jobs is a senior editor at Forbes named Daniel Lyons. Surprisingly, this was broken by the NYT rather than some obsessive tech blogger. Maybe we do need old media after all.

Update: FSJ himself says the same thing. Also, on the NYT's tech blog, Brad Stone (who broke the story) asks "Are you happy that the mystery has been solved? Or did we just ruin the fun for everyone?" In the comments, 21 out of 23 commenters pick the latter. "Ruined it completely. Sux big time!" writes MS. Obviously, this is a biased sample set but these folks are, not to put too fine a point on it, total morons. Dennis O'Connor takes the prize for perverse logic with:

Regardless of your infantile need to expose FSJ, we will continue to enjoy his comments if he chooses to continue. He should quit and let the scorn of thousands be heaped around your ears for ruining a good thing.
But he has some stiff competition from Matthew J, who says:
with all of the real news that needs to be slethed by a talented reporter such as yourself, isn’t it more than a little sophmoric to cover this at your paper AND, at the same time, ruin a perfectly good bit of sport?
(Um, how is this ruining a bit of sport rather than participating in it and winning?)

I sympathize with these morons on one point: it was kind of neat when FSJ was anonymous, because you could pretend he was a real person, like e.g. the Earth-Two version of Steve Jobs or something. And now we know he's a fictional construct, created by a guy who happens to have a vendetta against the open-source movement. That's kind of a shame, because the pleasure of FSJ is the plausibility of its insights into Steve Jobs's head. I had thought, Yeah, I bet Steve Jobs really does think that the Free Software people are losers. And I still think he probably does, but the fun of speculation is dampened by the fact that this is obviously the author's POV too.

Still, that same observation reveals something interesting: it makes sense that a guy who engages in a long-term ventriloquism project like this one, who spends more than a year thinking "What might Steve Jobs have to say today?", will wind up writing about the topics that interest him, even if he does so through the point of view of his subject. Like if I decided to write a blog in the voice of Fake Steve Martin or Fake Stevie Wonder or Fake Stephen Hawking, I'd end up writing about that fake person's perspective on comic books and Apple. Something like this happens in most fiction, I suspect, although I have so far kept references to comics and Apple to a minimum in my own novel-in-progress.

Plus more: Daniel Lyons's personal blog, the one in his own voice that mostly covers open-source shenanigans, is a funny and interesting window into a world about which I know very little. Most of it is straight reporting/opinionizing, but here's a satirical entry that could have appeared word for word on FSJ.


Surging behind

Remember the surge? The idea behind the surge was that if we pump some more troops into Iraq to jack up security for a few precious months, maybe this will provide enough breathing space for the Iraqi government to hammer out a deal. It was always a hail Mary, a plan forged out of desperation -- the kind of thing that builds up tension at the climax of a movie but that typically fails miserably in real life.

So let's check in and see how it's working. Question one: have the troop increases led to some measurable increases in security for Iraqis? There is some dispute about this, even within Michael O'Hanlon's brain. So let's give the surge the benefit of the doubt and say it is indeed making Baghdad and Iraq as a whole more secure.

Now we turn to question two: Is the bump in security paying off? I.e., is the Iraqi government responding to the improved circumstances by moving toward a settlement on the tough issues (oil-revenue sharing, de-de-Baathification, federalization)?

Well, no. In fact, the Iraqi government has responded to the surge by falling apart.

This would seem to eliminate the surge's entire rationale, no? Even if there is a rapprochement with the Sunni Accordance Front (anything's possible), it's obvious that political reconciliation in Iraq is moving backward rather than forward.

So how does defense secretary Bob Gates explain this mess? “We probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation."

Oh Jesus H. Fuck, it's greeted-as-liberators all over again.

Still, now that Gates has acknowledged the error, presumably we're going to call off the surge and start figuring out how to wind this thing down with as few additional corpses as possible, right? After all, the evidence is in: temporary "breathing room" can't bring Iraq's warring factions to the table.


Mr. Gates offered a slightly different formulation on Thursday, arguing that political progress would come when Iraqi Army and police units proved able to take over primary responsibility for maintaining security in areas now largely controlled by American troops.

“I think the key is, not only establishing the security, but being able to hold on to those areas and for Iraqi Army and police to be able to provide the continuity of security over time,” he said. “It’s under that umbrella I think progress will be made at the national level.”

Bear with me, because I'm about to make a sports analogy, and we all know that's not my strong suit. But this is what's called moving the goalposts.

With the speed and alacrity characteristic of the U.S. military, commanders will be reviewing the surge strategy in September, at which point, Gates said (in the words of the NYT), "the administration would have to balance the relative lack of political progress with the somewhat encouraging security trends."

Since that last sports analogy seemed to go OK, I'm going to try something more ambitious: this is like saying that, in assessing a football strategy, we'll have to balance the fact that we didn't score any points and gave up three touchdowns with the fact that we did some really strong blocking. The security trends are only relevant inasmuch as they enable political progress. If the surge could be sustained indefinitely, you could argue that the security improvements benefit Iraqi civilians, the people who have suffered for all our blunders, so better security is a good thing on its own merits. But we can't sustain current troop levels too far into next year, no matter how much we lower recruiting standards/extend the tours of exhausted soldiers/starve commanders in Afghanistan of manpower.

As of now, the surge makes no sense as a military strategy. Until yesterday it had a logic, however optimistic. But now that logic is exhausted, and yet the surge continues.

The only possible conclusion is that this is happening because the surge is not a military strategy at all -- it's a narrative one. It's a way to keep a tired show on the air one more season, like an adorable kid cousin or a Very Special Wedding Episode. The surge is the moment when the Iraq War jumped the shark. Can we please, please cancel it?

Why it's not in Bush's interest to fire Alberto Gonzales.

Haven't posted anything heartbreaking about Iraq recently, so as the Iraqi government -- and with it the rationale for Bush's troop surge -- collapses, I turn as usual to the New Yorker's George Packer, who writes:

After ten days or so, Omer went with a friend to look for his father at the morgue and found a scene of absolute hell. Bodies were stacked two or three high in the hallways, with no refrigeration, the older corpses beginning to decompose and generate maggots. Holding hands, Omer and his friend examined body after body until they found one that had been shot in the torso and might have been his father; they couldn’t be sure. Morgue officials led them to a room where a few dozen Iraqis, many of them women, were staring at six computer monitors. The screens showed a picture of one corpse’s face for a few seconds, then flashed the next face. Now and then, someone in the room would begin to wail. This was the closest thing to “closure” and dignity in death that the victims’ families could expect. Suddenly, the face of Omer’s father appeared on all six screens.

Butler, desnarked

Pulitzer-winning oversharer Robert Olen Butler has sent a lengthy response to Gawker about his loony e-mail re: his wife and Ted Turner. Gawker posted Butler's e-mail sliced into little chunks, with funny/snarky commentary in between. For those who want the soap opera without the commentary, I've put the pieces back together below.

Subject: Can you please give voice to this at your site?

I am sure there are a number of your followers who actually might want to understand this intense letter which was written in an extreme emotional circumstance. They encountered the email with no knowledge of two of the three principal players in the drama. They have only a sound-bite-and-media-spun understanding of the third. I can well see how a first reaction to the email by someone for whom it was not intended might be that it is only a bizarre and inappropriate document worthy of scorn.

But to begin to see the email in a fair way, you must understand this premise: I loved Elizabeth deeply for 13 years. I did not stop loving her when she told me what was happening between her and Ted. I love her still in an altered but sincere way. She loved me. She loves me still, but no longer as her husband. I'm sure many, if not all, of your readers have gone through their own dramas of love and loss. Love is not easily relinquished and it can shift its shape.

My drama of love and loss was particularly intense and had some strikingly unique characteristics. And it presented only a small range of choices, none of them good. In terms of the inevitable news of all this, my primary concern, of course, was with the community she and I lived in. If I had said nothing, the naked facts of the events would have meant that Elizabeth would be savaged by the rumor mill.

Even with the facts of her terrible childhood before them, some of the commenters on this and other forums are saying terrible and cruelly untrue things about her character. With no mitigating interpretation at all offered about what happened in our lives and in our marriage, you can well imagine how much worse the reaction would have been. It's just human nature. Nor would very simple, broad-outline public pronouncements have made any difference. If I had simply said something to the effect of "they're marrying for love and she and I will remain friends and I wish them well," it would not have been believed and the very same false assessment of her would have occurred. The explanation vacuum--even a partial one--especially given Ted Turner's involvement--would have been filled in a way that would have been unfairly critical of Elizabeth. Remember, I'm talking about the circle of our friends and acquaintances and colleagues here. Those were the people I had to focus on, not the wide general public. I never dreamed you all would get this intimately involved.

Either of those two choices--silence or vagueness--would have been the easy way out for me. I had nothing to gain from the letter I wrote unless it was a covert act of rage, an act of passive aggression. It was not. Your readers may not believe that. But my wife and I have warmly and lovingly spoken on the phone virtually every day since the breakup. We are going through this crisis of publicity together in a loving way. She is the one person in the world--the only one other than myself--who can judge if I am raging and aggressive over her. When I said in the email that she knew about, endorsed, and even encouraged the email, that was literally true. I showed the entire email to her before I sent it. She could have said not to do it. She could have significantly altered it. She did not. She made a few suggestions, which I implemented.

And the email was never a mass email. I chose five trusted grad students who know us both the best. I chose half a dozen faculty members who know us both the best. And they were asked, when the rumors reached them, to tell the appropriately nuanced story. Or to tell the fuller story on their own initiative--because everyone would soon know anyway. Yes, I sanctioned the use of the email I sent them in order to explain the circumstances to the people in our community who were hearing about this. Why should I avoid vagueness myself and then force them to be vague? Without that sanction to use the email, the explanation vacuum would have continued to form and be filled with lies. And this process worked exactly as I had hoped. That email went out six weeks ago. And faculty members and students alike have told me that all of the talk around campus and around town has been sympathetic and generous about both of us.

Now as to the intimate nature of the email, this is crucial to understand: there is not a single fact of Elizabeth's or Ted's or my personal lives that the intended audience could not easily have already known. Elizabeth has spoken and written openly, publicly, about everything in her childhood. Ted's persona and the details of the pattern of his love life are widely known (just read Jane Fonda's memoir). I do connect some dots to try to explain why Elizabeth has been drawn to him. But it was not meant to be a judgment against either of them. Ted's own difficult childhood is also public knowledge. We all of us often--some psychologists would say pretty much always--form adult relationships as an acting out of the basic love patterns of childhood relationships. There is nothing unseemly or wrong about this. It is the human condition.

And I tell you absolutely that Elizabeth did not do this for money and Ted did not do it lightly as conquest. They love each other deeply. And given what they've both been through in their lives, I expect them to be very good for each other. I love Elizabeth and her remarkable writing talent. I admire the wide-ranging good works Ted does to preserve the earth and prevent nuclear war. These are admirable people doing important work in the culture and in the world. I sincerely hope they have the rich happiness they deserve.

In spite of my previous chiding of you and your readers, I wish that happiness for all of you, as well. It's dangerous to live too deeply in a world of glib judgmentalism. And man, there is some truly legitimate short-burst writing talent among you all. But I hope at least some of you come to realize that vituperation, no matter how funny or elegantly expressed, is not an art form. Because some of you may well be capable of turning your talent with language--and your ferocious sense of right and wrong--to a more enduring purpose: to exploring, with courage and frankness and humor and compassion and moral insight, the truths of the human heart.

The geeks shall inherit the earth

Comic-Con International, the biggest annual comic-book convention, was held last weekend and is apparently now big enough to take over the city of San Diego for four days. (I did not attend.) Douglas Wolk:

This was, by all estimations, the biggest Con ever; Friday, Saturday and Sunday were all completely sold out, hotel rooms were impossible to score, the aisles of the San Diego Convention Center were clogged with fans, every nightspot in the city was awash with after parties every night.... Comic-Con has become an event where Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Jenna Jameson, Sarah Silverman, Cory Doctorow, Michael Cera and Katee Sackhoff can all be spotted at the same party. We are all nerds now.
Tom Spurgeon:
I'll probably always remember this year for the moment when my pal Jordan Raphael and I were walking in an upstairs hallway to take part in the comics media panel and some Hollywood-looking guy literally elbowed past us, bellowing in a gruff voice, "Sorry, fellas. I have a panel to be on."
Shaenon K. Garrity:
There are people who are extreme obsessive fans of one, and only one, anime series, and these people will attend every single anime-, manga-, and random-Japanese-crap-related panel strictly so that they can get up at the end and ask a completely unrelated question about their one thing. I went to three panels on manga publishing, and this happened at every one, with a different person and different anime each time. All three questions were the same: "Are they ever going to make more episodes of ______?" All three answers: no.
Big announcement: after two decades of false starts, the Watchmen movie is slated for March 2009. Look, there's a website and everything. I will probably go see it, in an instance of the triumph of hope over experience. Smaller but maybe more exciting announcement: Grant Morrison will be writing DC's 2008 crossover Final Crisis.


So some guy tried to pitch Canadian cartooning genius/misogynist lunatic Dave Sim on a Dave Sim Celebrity Roast book. Sim's response is actually pretty sensible: "You roast a beloved figure as a contrast with all the nice things that people say about him: you don't roast someone that everyone hates."

Of course, he thinks the whole thing is a plot by YHWH, a giant monster who lives inside the earth and thinks she's God, so there's a limit.

Unintelligent design

I have nothing against the idea of redesigning the New Yorker. The most recent tweaks have made it more pleasant and readable than ever. But KT Meany's argument for sweeping changes to the magazine's look provide an inadvertent case study in the dangers of redesigning-for-the-hell-of-it.

In her introduction Meany writes:

It’s time to elevate design standards to the same level that grammar and language are held. Ain’t it?
The cutesy grammatical mischief of "Ain't" would be more convincing if the previous sentence weren't so illiterate. The same carelessness is evident in Meany's suggestions.

She starts with the table of contents:
First, create more space by removing any ads from the contents page. Territorially speaking, we own that space!
What a great idea! Just get rid of the ads! The editorial designers will have much more room to play with, and the result will be so pretty and readable that Conde Nast will be happy to print the magazine for free! Why didn't Rea Irvin think of that?
(However, I acknowledge the importance of advertisements, and, if they are necessary, simply extend the ToC across two pages.)
Even when making concessions to reality, Meany loses touch with reality. If you give the ToC another half-page, you have to lose half a page of editorial content somewhere else. Where does it come from? Or is that something for the editor to worry about while you're busy designing?

Anyone can make a table of contents look and function better if they're allowed to say
"First give it twice as much space." The challenge of magazine design is improving things within the space you actually have.

Her dumbest suggestion, I think, is this one:
The magazine prints in four colors but predominantly uses only one: black. The 2 x 2-inch advertisement in the margin is bursting with color, yet the whole spread is sedately black and white: an inedible garnish amidst this rice-and-beans meal.
Pay attention to that metaphor. What does the garnish represent? That's right -- the text, i.e. the New Yorker's journalism and fiction.
If The New Yorker pays for CMYK, as the ad suggests, shouldn’t the spread sing with color? To make the most of money spent, let’s rethink color choices. Any one of the New Yorker sections could easily be differentiated with a subtle page tint. This would help one flip to desired articles. Illustrations could be colored, too. How devilish: Hell could look quite hot!
Well now. Since Tina Brown opened the door, the New Yorker has begun using color in ways that would once have been hard to imagine: in photographs and illustrations and in the red display type throughout. (If you have the August 6 issue nearby, take a look at pages 6, 43, and 72 for examples of the effective use of color.) Meany thinks that's not enough, and that there should be color on spreads that contain nothing but running text. Why? Because the publisher pays for color printing. This is the worst kind of design thinking: if it's available, use it! ("Where can we put this cool <marquee> tag?")

Her specific suggestions for color are as bad as you'd expect from the fucked-up premise. (1) She wants a "subtle page tint" for different sections -- maybe salmon for the listings, lime green for Talk, eggshell for fiction. This is such a great idea it's astonishing that not one of the zillions of magazines that print in full color has ever done it, perhaps because it would look totally moronic. (2) She wants to add color to the cartoons. This is the other worst kind of design thinking: the content is a tabula rasa for me to work my design magic on. Cartoons in the New Yorker are a particular kind of drawing with a long history. They're typically done in black lines and (sometimes) gray washes on a white background. The lack of color is not a sad concession to technological or economic realities -- it's a feature of the style. It allows for a particular kind of expressive linework that gets trampled on when you add color. Of course, certain drawings look good in color (there's one on page 65 of the same Aug. 6 issue), but they're not what we mean when we talk about New Yorker cartoons. If you want to replace the New Yorker cartoons with a different kind of drawing, you're welcome to suggest it, but you're not talking about design anymore, you're talking about cartooning.

And note the implication of that dopey "Hell could look quite hot" remark: apparently it's impossible to convey heat in a black-and-white illustration. Redesigning the New Yorker is a fine idea, but it should probably be handled by someone with more respect for writing and drawing than KT Meany.

The NYT posts Clive James's poem, "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered."

What do you do if you're a Pulitzer-winning novelist and your wife leaves you to join Ted Turner's stable of girlfriends? If you're Robert Olen Butler, you write a fucking batshit-insane e-mail to your grad students telling them about it. I don't usually hard-sell stuff, but you must read this right now.

Update: Butler tells the Post that his wife, Elizabeth Dewberry, read the e-mail before he sent it, and "she
was weepingly grateful to me for it. It's full of love and compassion."

Update 2: NPR has an interview with Butler, which doesn't add much. At the end, there's this about Dewberry, who wouldn't talk on-air:

She said she had read Bob's e-mail but had not approved it. "There are inaccuracies in it," she said, but would not go into detail.

Terrific Sopranos appreciation by Geoffrey O'Brien in the NYRB.