12/30/08

Best news of the holiday season: David Denby has written a book entitled Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation -- setting up what will no doubt be a knock-down, drag-out contest to write the best negative review. Adam Sternbergh takes an early lead.

11/30/08

Link rodeo:

  • Adam Gopnik remembers Saul Steinberg.
  • The real progenitors of modern Republicanism are not Goldwater and Reagan but McCarthy and Nixon.
  • Terry Gross interviews the great Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, of Philadelphia International Records [web, iTunes].

11/25/08

Why professional journalism sucks: Dan "Fake Steve" Lyons quits blogging in Newsweek censorship fracas.

11/21/08

Gay marriage: The database engineering perspective.

11/20/08

John Darnielle: "It's pretentious, but hard-won pretentiousness is its own kind of realness once you've learned the secret handshake."

Wait ... Jeff Tweedy is friends with Barack Obama?


This made me really sad for Jack Kirby.

Harold Meyerson: "Second, Waxman is a legislative genius."

11/19/08

Chuck Klosterman: "The GNR members Rose misses more are Izzy Stradlin (who effortlessly wrote or co-wrote many of the band's most memorable tunes) and Duff McKagan, the underappreciated bassist who made Appetite For Destruction so devastating. Because McKagan worked in numerous Seattle-based bands before joining Guns N' Roses, he became the de facto arranger for many of those pre-Appetite tracks, and his philosophy was always to take the path of least resistance. He pushed the songs in whatever direction felt most organic. But Rose is the complete opposite. He takes the path of most resistance."

Ezra Klein: "You don't tap the former Senate Majority Leader to run your health care bureaucracy. That's not his skill set. You tap him to get your health care plan through Congress."

11/17/08

In the spirit of Nathan Zuckerman's perennial Hebrew-school essay topic "Sandy Koufax: Great Pitcher, Greater Jew," comes the Forward's roundup of the top 50 Jews. Of Matthew Weiner's Mad Men, which features two peripheral Jewish characters in its large cast, the editors write: "Mad Men won six Emmy awards this year, including one for best drama, but its greater accomplishment was in shaping perceptions of who Jews are and where we came from."

11/7/08

These past few days I've been crying at odd intervals, prompted sometimes by pieces of music -- James Carter's version of "Summer Babe" coming up on shuffle, Sam Cooke's version of "A Change Is Gonna Come" coming up in my head -- and sometimes by the sight of children in strollers, although when the children are black I try to hide my emotion because I bet the black parents of Fort Greene are already sick of white people's faces creasing up at the sight of them going about their lives.

Judith Warner has a good piece up about all this crying and what it means.

11/6/08

I love Fort Greene.

For the past two decades, a core set of "cultural conservative" opinions has served as a theoretical dividing line between "red" (Republican/conservative) and "blue" (Democratic/liberal) America. These incude attitudes toward sex roles, the centrality of Christianity in culture, and a social traditionalism focused on patriotism and the family. If you were to translate that divide into baby names it might place a name like Peter—classic, Christian, masculine—on one side, staring down an androgynous pagan newcomer like Dakota on the other. In fact, that does describe the political baby name divide quite accurately. But it describes it backwards.

11/3/08

Spore wrapup: Seed article on the conflict among the game's developers: the "cute team" versus the "science team." On the Spore messageboard, disappointed fans react with a thread called "We Found Who to Tar and Feather!" Biologist P. Z. Myers bemoans the dumbed-down science.

OMG, I'd forgotten like 65 percent of these, and the rest are permanently burned into my brain.

11/2/08

Andrew Sullivan:

If you place a map of the states that favoured the proslavery south over a map of the states that are now showing a trend for John McCain, you will get an almost perfect match. The only differences: Virginia has switched sides, and West Virginia has too. (It is now for McCain.) Florida, once part of the Confederacy, is also now prone to vote Democrat because of a massive influx from the north. The rest is essentially unchanged since the 1860s. Even in America, the past controls the present. [Emphasis mine]
It would be foolish to deny that slavery and the Civil War exert their influence over present-day politics. But it's also foolish to suggest that the electoral map is "essentially unchanged since the 1860s."

In fact, the south wasn't a unified conservative bloc even in the 1860s. (In 1869, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana voted for Horatio Seymour while the rest of the south backed Union war hero Ulysses Grant.) In the '30s and '40s, FDR swept the south twice, along with the rest of the country. In 1952 and 1956 the former Confederacy (and nowhere else) threw its electoral votes to that good ol' boy Adlai Stevenson. In 1960 and 1964 the region's votes split down the middle; in 1976 every southern state but Virginia backed native son Jimmy Carter. In 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton won many southern states. (Fascinating historical maps here.)

In the last two elections, of course, the south has been homogeneously conservative. But that's an anomaly, and the idea of the former Confederacy as a unified and consistently reactionary voting bloc is an unwarranted capitulation to the fantasies of Karl Rove.

Awesome website for Maura's new book.

11/1/08

Mark Danner's "Obama and Sweet Potato Pie": Probably the best non-newsy belles-lettristic thing I've read about the campaign, maybe the closest we're going to get to a full-scale Joan Didion Obama/McCain piece.

10/31/08

[37] David Lipsky's great sad biographical piece about DFW, the most thorough so far, is now online.

Why blogs are good: Today I learned two things I didn't know. From Matt Yglesias:

Probably the greatest blow Ronald Reagan struck against American liberalism was changing tax law so as to index income tax brackets to the Consumer Price Index. Before that, each and every year inflation created a small tax hike. Consequently, the default scenario was for revenue to grow. That created a situation where for three decades following the end of World War II, politicians steadily increased the volume of public services while also offering the occasional tax cut. And until the economic malaise of the 1970s, voters liked the outcomes just fine. But by seizing the opportunity provided by the 1980 election to change this, Reagan was able to shift the structure of American politics in a fairly significant way.
And from James Surowiecki, whose new blog is a bit less hand-holdy than his "Financial Page" columns:
Felix [Salmon] argues that Japan’s experience should make U.S.investors wary of buying stocks now ... because “the lesson of Japan is that even cheap stocks can continue to decline for decades." Actually, that’s not the lesson of Japan. The lesson of Japan is that a country’s stock market is not going to rise over time if, over time, its companies fail to create economic value for their shareholders. Felix says that “Japanese companies are well-run.” But in fact they’re not well run, at least by the standards that are relevant to shareholders—return on equity, profitability, growth, and managing cash flow in a shareholder-friendly way. By these standards, Japanese companies have historically been run badly, and while they’ve improved some in recent years, they’re still far behind American firms on all of these metrics.

10/29/08

Nate Silver, yesterday:

The closest recent parallel I can find to the Ted Stevens situation is that of former Ohio governor Bob Taft, who in August, 2005 was convicted on misdemeanor charges of failing to disclose gifts and golf trips paid for by lobbyists... He went from a 34-55 (-21) in a University of Cincinnati poll taken in April 2005 to a 26-65 (-39) in the same poll in August 2006, a net decline of 18 points.

Let's assume that Stevens will also suffer a decline in his net approval score of 18 points. Since he's at roughly 50/50 now, that would put him in the range of 40 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove. Our regression model uses approval ratings for incumbent senators as one of its inputs, and thinks a decline of this magnitude would cost a senator about 6 points in the polls ... actually, 5.8 points. So what we're going to do is apply a 5.8 point penalty to Stevens' numbers in Alaska.


Eric Kleefeld, today:
The first public poll of Alaska conducted entirely after GOP Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted on all counts in his corruption trial shows a probable Democratic pickup in this deep-red state -- but Stevens is doing surprisingly well for a newly-minted convicted felon.

The new numbers from Rasmussen: Dem candidate Mark Begich 52%, Stevens 44%, with a ±4.5% margin of error. Three weeks ago, Uncle Ted had taken a 49%-48% edge over Begich. So apparently getting convicted of a felony a week before the election can be quantified as taking five points off of a candidate's poll numbers.

Upshot: Nate Silver is a genius, with a margin of error of +/-1%.

10/27/08

I have long advocated federal control of the election system. Now election law expert Richard Hasen makes the case in Slate. He doesn't mention my suggestion that the whole thing be run by the Postal Service, which is generally efficient (it's the only federal agency that makes a profit) and has offices and employees in every zip code in the country.

I'm not sure if Hasen is being coy or naive when he writes:

There's something in this for both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats talk about wanting to expand the franchise, and there's no better way to do it than the way most mature democracies do it: by having the government register voters. For Republicans serious about ballot integrity, this should be a winner as well. No more ACORN registration drives, and no more concerns about Democratic secretaries of state not aggressively matching voters enough to motor vehicle databases.
The trouble is, there is no such thing as a Republican serious about ballot integrity. It's like being worried about elephant attacks in large cities: it's not a serious concern. In fact, nationalized voting has something to offer Democrats, and something to offer people serious about democracy, but nothing to offer Republicans who use "ballot integrity" as a cover to pass laws that make it harder to vote.

John Heilemann's election coverage for NYMag has been all-star, and this week's cover story's his best yet: informed (and deeply reported) speculation on the character of the forthcoming Obama administration.

10/26/08

Thomas Friedman can be a shallow thinker, but I've rarely seen him write anything as straight-up wrongheaded as this. His argument is that the government's injection of equity into the banks is probably necessary, but it's also dangerous, because ... well, here's why it's dangerous:

Let’s imagine this scene: You are the president of one of these banks in which the government has taken a position. One day two young Stanford grads walk in your door. One is named Larry, and the other is named Sergey. They each are wearing jeans and a T-shirt. They tell you that they have this thing called a “search engine,” and they are naming it — get this — “Google.” They tell you to type in any word in this box on a computer screen and — get this — hit a button labeled “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Up comes a bunch of Web sites related to that word. Their start-up, which they are operating out of their dorm room, has exhausted its venture capital. They need a loan.

What are you going to say to Larry and Sergey as the president of the bank? “Boys, this is very interesting. But I have the U.S. Treasury as my biggest shareholder today, and if you think I’m going to put money into something called ‘Google,’ with a key called ‘I’m Feeling Lucky,’ you’re fresh outta luck. Can you imagine me explaining that to a Congressional committee if you guys go bust?”
(Is there anything more perfectly Friedmanesque than the way he (a) works in a reference to the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, and (b) misstates what it does?)

This story and the threat it raises -- future Googles stifled in their cribs by risk-averse government bureaucrats -- has no connection to reality. When Larry and Sergey wanted money to start Google they didn't go to a bank and take out a loan. First they found an angel investor named Andy Bechtolsheim, who'd made his money as a cofounder of Sun Microsystems. Then they went to John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins and Mike Moritz of Sequoia Capital, the two most famous venture investors in Silicn Valley.

In other words, they raised money by selling equity rather than by borrowing. This is how startup financing works, for obvious reasons: Almost all startups fail. So a bank that lent money to guys like Larry and Sergey would see default rates that would make subprime mortgages look blue-chip. A venture investor, on the other hand, gets a share of the upside; he's happy to watch nine startups fail as long as the tenth is Google.

(Venture firms are currently reducing their investments in response to the bleak economic picture, and that might slow the parade of new Googles, but it has nothing to do with government ownership of the banks.)

OK, ignore the Larry-and-Sergey story. Does Friedman have a deeper argument? I guess it's that banks with public equity will be more risk-averse in lending, because ... well, he doesn't really say why. Oh, OK, he says they'll have to justify each failed loan to "a Congressional committee," which given the number of loans involved is absurd on its face. Is that just a cutesy way of saying that they'll have to justify their balance sheets as a whole? If so, what makes Friedman think a Congressional committee would be more risk-averse than private shareholders?

The problem in the economy is that, right now, private lenders are maximally risk-averse: until last week they weren't lending at all. The government took positions in banks precisely to encourage them to make riskier loans than they were making under private ownership. It doesn't seem to be working, but (pace Friedman) that's not because those bold risk-taking bankers are being stymied by government bean-counters. It's because the banks don't want to make any loans at all, and (so far) the government isn't forcing them to.

10/25/08

Yglesias says the NYT's speculations on the composition of the Obama administration are ill-founded: "the Fed Chairman is more important than the Treausury Secretary," so there's no reason Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin, or Larry Summers would want to run Treasury.

But isn't the Treasury Secretary more important now that: (a) s/he's in charge of a big chunk of the banking industry; and (b) the economy's in too deep a hole to be rescued by monetary policy? The next administration's response to the recession is going to have to involve substantial fiscal stimulus (unless the next administration is staffed by lunatics), and you'd imagine the Treasury Secretary would be heavily involved in that.

In a way the Treasury Secretary is like one of those hammers kept behind a thin pane of glass -- most of the time it's just sitting there, but it's really important in an emergency.

(Perhaps RoBros legal advisor and former Treasury intern Ty Alper could weigh in.)

10/23/08

Whoa: Earnings from the news operations of the New York Times (i.e. the newspapers as opposed to the company's other holdings), third quarter of last year: $79 million. Third quarter of this year: $37 million.

10/21/08

Goofy post by the usually-acute Noam Scheiber, arguing that Obama's position in the polls is more tenuous than it appears.

I can imagine a losing scenario that doesn't involve outside events. It goes something like this: Obama wins all the Kerry states plus Iowa and New Mexico, giving him 264 electoral votes, then narrowly loses the rest of the red states where he's currently competitive. According to the latest RCP averages, the next most competitive red states, in descending order of favorability to Obama, are: Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada, Florida. Let's focus on Virginia, since it represents the knife-edge between winning and losing--the potentially decisive red state where Obama's currently got the biggest lead.
And then Scheiber lists a bunch of reasons why Virginia might diverge from the rosy national trend: McCain could throw a lot of resources at it; state polls are a few days behind national polls; maybe there's a Bradley effect. "There's no reason to think [McCain] couldn't lose the popular vote by 2-3 points but still win Virginia by 1." He calls this list "the caveats that keep me up at night."

Noam, dude, get some sleep. It's true that Virginia -- or any of the six borderline states that Scheiber lists -- could be a few points off the national average in either direction. Polling is an inexact science, and things change in two weeks. But Scheiber acts as though, once Virginia falls, every other swing state must fall in the same direction. But of course, if Virginia is a few points off the national average, that makes it the exception. And if Virginia goes to McCain, Obama only needs one of the other states on Scheiber's list. (Nevada makes it a tie, which likely goes to the Democrats.)

Put it another way: given Scheiber's starting scenario (Obama wins the Kerry states plus Iowa and New Mexico), McCain needs to win Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada, and Florida. If he does that, it won't be thanks to a flukey dice roll and some bad polling; it'll be a palpable, dramatic, nationwide turnaround.

Brookswatch! (Let's just make it a regular feature and be done with it.) So today David Brooks checks in on Patio Man, a character who typefies the rising exurban middle class. Weirdly, I don't find the Patio Man concept particularly annoying, for two reasons: (1) Brooks doesn't overuse his coinages the way his colleague Tom "flat world/petro-authoritarianism/green-collar jobs/etc. etc. etc." Friedman does; and (2) Brooks's attention to the actual conditions of life in the exurbs is a useful counterweight to the Palinites' fetishization of an entirely invented "Main Street." Also, to be honest, maybe I'm soft on Patio Man because today he's leaning Democratic:

But deeper down, there are some shifts in values. Americans, including suburban Americans, are less socially conservative. They are more aware of the gap between rich and poor. They are more open to government action to reduce poverty....

But the shift in public opinion is not from right to left, or from anti-government to pro-government, it’s from risk to caution, from disorder to consolidation....

Democrats have done well in suburbia recently because they have run the kind of candidates who seem like the safer choice — socially moderate, pragmatic and fiscally hawkish. They, or any party, will run astray if they threaten the mood of chastened sobriety that has swept over the subdivisions.
But look at Brooks's weird swerve in the last paragraph:
Patio Man wants change. But this is no time for more risk or more debt. Debt in the future is no solution to the debt racked up in the past.
If Patio Man really believes this, Patio Man is obviously wrong. (Even the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, whose raison d'ĂȘtre is to fight deficit spending, agrees that the present situation urgently requires deficit spending.) It wouldn't be too surprising for Patio Man to be wrong about this: he probably hasn't read Keynes, and he has a tendency to overgeneralize from family budgeting to fiscal policy. ("Debt in the future is no solution to debt in the past" might make sense when it comes to Patio Man's own finances, but the rules that apply to a suburban family don't necessarily scale to the level of the federal government.) But does David Brooks agree with Patio Man on this? If not, shouldn't he come out and say so? If so, shouldn't he go down the hall and ask Paul Krugman for some very remedial tutoring?

Via Alex Ross, the musical majesty of Sarah Palin:

10/18/08

Jacob Weisberg argues that the financial collapse is final proof of the bankruptcy of libertarianism.

Andrew Sullivan posts this anecdote from a reader:

I voted for McCain in the primary. As a political reporter and columnist in Michigan, I have the news on in our house with some frequency. That's how my now 6-year-old got to know Barack Obama. And she loved him. She asked to tag along when I went to cover his events. Maybe it's the smile, the calmness. But she felt very assured by the idea of this man being president, long before I was ready to switch my vote.... And I've found that Obama has the same effect on lots of kids, whether they come from liberal or conservative homes.

I think these kids are canaries in the coal mine. They're obviously responding not to policy differences but affect and manner and body language. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's article about Cesar Millan, TV's "dog whisperer." Ignore for a moment the controversy over Millan's training philosophy: Gladwell's point was that both dogs and people respond instinctively to his movements, his commanding and trustworthy physicality. Obama seems to have some of this same quality. Thank God he's on our side.

Via Krugman, a little FT piece on the relevance of J. M. Keynes to the present crisis. Plus here's Krugman's own introduction to the 2006 edition of The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.

10/16/08

Talking about last night's debate, Michael Tomasky sounds like the bumbling cartoon detective who considers every possible explanation except the obvious one.

By 53-22%, 638 uncommitted voters polled by CBS chose Obama as the winner. CNN was a little closer, 58-31%.... I actually don't understand it. I didn't even think Obama was quite on his game. He should have gotten much the better of the economic-crisis debate, but it seemed to me that McCain represented his proposals slightly better than Obama represented his.... Maybe it's just about McCain. Maybe he just looks like he's ready for the glue factory.... Or, maybe it's the politics. Maybe 90% of the people who are usually swing voters are just so disgusted with the Republicans that they're not going to entertain the idea of voting for McCain under any circumstances.
Or maybe it's that voters, unlike pundits, don't watch debates as though they're scoring gymanstics events. Maybe voters are less concerned with who represented his proposals better than they are with what those proposals actually, you know, are. Maybe they prefer the guy who does an OK job describing a policy that will get them health insurance over the guy who does a slightly better job describing a policy that won't get them health insurance. Just an idea.

Obviously I haven't been tracking Watchmen's progress into mainstream awareness, but surely this represents a new level of cultural penetration. A woman writes in to "Dear Prudence," Slate's advice column, about her insensitive-genius boyfriend. She ends with, "Am I being unreasonable for wanting a little bit of slack, or should I just accept that I'm dating Dr. Manhattan and let it go?" Emily Yoffe responds, "Mr. Spock and Dr. Manhattan are effective characters because while they seem human, their lack of emotion and empathy means they aren't quite."

What's startling is that no one feels the need to explain who Dr. Manhattan is.

10/15/08

What would a Smurf Asterix look like? This, apparently. If my French still works, it was designed by Albert Uderzo himself, to evoke the soft and always smiling Peyo he knew. (Uderzo drew the Asterix comics; Peyo was the creator of the Smurfs; beyond that you're on your own.)

10/14/08




Very sad story about David Levine, the genius New York Review of Books caricaturist. Levine did so many incredible drawings for so long that I took him 100% for granted, and when another illustrator's work started showing up in the NYRB last year it made me weirdly queasy. The story's not complicated or surprising: Levine is 81, and his eyesight's going. He spent his whole life as a freelancer and doesn't have a pension. Go to his gallery on the NYRB site and type in the name of a writer or a politician from the last 50 years. Try the really famous ones -- try Joyce. (There's eight.) Check out Philip Roth: how does he feel to see himself captured like that, eleven times, from 1969 to 2000? Who will replace David Levine?

Barack Obama has been president for negative-21 days, and David Brooks can already see the backlash.

10/13/08

Newly minted Nobelist Paul Krugman wrote this in 1992, an account of his intellectual heuristics.

I have no sympathy for those people who criticize the unrealistic simplifications of model-builders, and imagine that they achieve greater sophistication by avoiding stating their assumptions clearly. The point is to realize that economic models are metaphors, not truth. By all means express your thoughts in models. But always remember that you may have gotten the metaphor wrong, and that someone else with a different metaphor may be seeing something that you are missing.

10/12/08

Two weeks ago, Thomas Friedman wrote: "What would impress me from Obama? How about this: ' ... I’m going to keep Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson on the job for a while. I am impressed with his handling of this crisis.'”

This was a classic bit of MSM false equivalence: Friedman had just urged John McCain to take certain un-Republican positions, so he's contractually obligated to ask for some equivalent un-Democratic statement from Obama. But imagine if Obama had taken Friedman's advice and tied himself to Paulson, who in mid-September was largely untested. From today's NYT:

The Treasury Department’s surprising turnaround on the issue of buying stock in banks, which has now become its primary focus, has raised questions about whether the administration squandered valuable time in trying to sell Congress on a plan that officials had failed to think through in advance.
It has also raised questions about whether the administration’s deep philosophical aversion to government ownership in private companies hindered its ability to look at all options for stabilizing the markets.
Some experts also contend that Treasury’s decision last month to not use taxpayer money to save Lehman Brothers worsened the panic that quickly metastasized into an international crisis.

10/9/08

Dean Reynolds, self-important douche.

10/8/08

Five months ago, This American Life did a great episode explaining the mortgage crisis. This week's episode (iTunes, web) explains the bigger financial crisis; it's even better. Unless you work in finance or economics, I guarantee that you will be smarter after listening to it.

Norman Ornstein: "Two key words have been largely missing from the debate over our financial crisis: moral hazard."

Google: "
Results 1-10 of about 13,400 over the past month for 'moral hazard' 'financial crisis.'"

10/6/08

Sorry, it's still going on: Here's a memorial song. Pretty. Here's a lovely memorial tattoo. Here's a report on the memorial service, beginning with Jonathan Franzen in tears.

9/29/08

The weirdest case in favor the bill came from Minority Leader John Boehner, who yesterday called the bill a "crap sandwich." "Nobody wants to vote for this," he yelled. "Nobody wants to be anywhere near it. ... You all know how awful it is. I didn't come here to vote for bills like this!" But, he went on, "I believe the risk in not acting is much higher. ... These are the votes that separate the men from the boys and the girls from the women. What's in the best interest of our country? Vote yes," he concluded and dashed away from the podium in tears.

9/27/08

"Maybe I say this because people keep using the word crisis all the time, but I was just thinking 'you know, it kinda feels like the United States is in the middle of a big crossover event right now.'"

9/25/08

Ty wanted me to post something about the ascendance of "double down" as a buzzword in the presidential campaign. I don't really have anything to say about the phrase "double down," but here's stats guru Nate Silver with a useful analysis of McCain's am-I-going-to-the-debate-or-not strategy that revolves around a mathematically precise use of the phrase. You're welcome, Ty!

A century of British history in service of selling bread:

9/24/08

Innumeracy: Karen Tumulty: "Are polls getting thrown off by the fact that so many young people use cell phones only--and, therefore, don't get polled? The answer: Possibly, though the effect is probably small."

Well, sure, if by "small" you mean "big enough to have changed the results in each of the last two presidential elections."

Speaking of numbers, you guys are all reading Nate Silver, right? Here he is on that totally trivial cellphone effect, which by the way means some national polls have a 3-point bias toward McCain. Silver's Todays Polling column [hits a slam dunk/kicks it out of the park/insert sports metaphor for triumphant scoring of your choice] every day, e.g.

9/22/08

Today's footnote: Wallace is hard to review, because the books are complicated, and because their self-consciousness tends to swallow attempts to conceive them. (There was a Don Martin cartoon that scared me as a child, in which for four panels a spider weaves a web between two branches, until in the final panel the camera pulls back and the branches are revealed to be the sticklike legs of a giant fly, licking his chops; Wallace's fiction is to criticism as the fly is to the spider.)

Wyatt Mason, writing about Oblivion in the LRB in 2004, maybe doesn't trap the fly, but at least he's weaving his web in the right place: he successfully articulates the difficulty of the late stories, and some of the functions and effects of that difficulty. (Helen Dewitt, whose The Last Samurai is recommended to DFW fans, doesn't find Oblivion difficult. Good for you, Helen!)

9/21/08

Your DFW footnotes of the day: A. O. Scott moves the canonization along:

“Infinite Jest” is a masterpiece that’s also a monster — nearly 1,100 pages of mind-blowing inventiveness and disarming sweetness. Its size and complexity make it forbidding and esoteric. The other big books published since by members of Mr. Wallace’s age cohort — “Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides; “The Corrections,” by Jonathan Franzen; “The Fortress of Solitude,” by Jonathan Lethem; “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” by Michael Chabon — are more accessible, easier to connect with and to give prizes to. They are family chronicles, congenial hybrids of domestic melodrama, immigrant chronicle, magic realism as well as the more traditional kind. Not easy books, necessarily, but not aggressively difficult, either.
In their different ways, though, these novels and their authors — along with other itchy late- and post-boomer white guys like Richard Powers, Rick Moody and Dave Eggers — stand in Mr. Wallace’s shadow. Not because his version of their generational crisis was better or truer than theirs, but rather because it was purer and more rigorous.
Fascinating personal reminiscence of the day:
We bonded over our depression. We shared war stories, the way patients on psych wards do. “I’ve eaten tapioca pudding on the fifth floor, too,” he told me. It wasn’t something you would know about him. Though when you read him, you knew that he thought about things in the way that gets you to that fifth floor. We were both taking Nardil; we bonded over this, too. It is one of the MAOI class of anti-depressants that went out of favor long ago, after the new SSRIs came to the scene. But he and I had no luck with other drugs; Nardil was the only thing that did it for us.

9/20/08

Part 2: Top conservative thinkers have finally found a way to blame the collapse of the U.S. economy on political correctness! I assume they get some kind of prize:

I always listen to Mark Levin while making Friday night dinner. Tonight he is giving the most serious, intelligent, cogent explanation of the current economic crisis I have heard or read anywhere.... Funnily enough, he has explained just what it is community organizers do. Advocating, for instance, for affordable housing for the poor — the poor who traditionally rent, because they are bad loan risks. The day that reasoning by banks was junked as "racist," was the day this crisis became a possibility.
It must be sad to know that your movement is undergoing total intellectual collapse. [Via Andrew Sullivan.]

Random bashing of traditional targets as respite from DFW grief part 1: Mary -Jo Foley reports that Steve Ballmer's going to stay at Microsoft longer than he once claimed: "According to scuttelbutt [sic] from Microsoft’s annual employee meeting, which was held in Seattle on September 18, Ballmer told attendees that he is going to stay on at Microsoft until Microsoft’s search share exceeds Google’s." Why not just say until hell freezes over?

9/19/08

More footnotes:

  • An incredible letter, apparently from DFW, describing his own experience at an addiction recovery house much like Ennet House.
  • James Wood corrects the record (more here, scroll down): "An untruthful reviewer of my book, How Fiction Works, claimed that David Foster Wallace was its 'aesthetic villain.' That is not true."
  • In, say, twenty years, John Ziegler's career as a radio talk-show host will be over. In thirty years, no one who never met Ziegler personally will remember him. But for years after that, people will still know his name, thanks to DFW's "Host," collected in Consider the Lobster. Maybe that's why he wrote this, or maybe he's just an asshole.
  • "Just to satisfy some people’s curiosity about Dave the player – who once underrated himself as a 3.0, an intermediate in tennis terms – he had a complete game, the kind that comes from years of obsessing over stroke technique and ball location. If there was one sign that he was more than an above-par recreational player, it was the fact that he would employ a relatively advanced tactic, what tennis geeks call “taking the ball off the rise.” It requires sharp reflexes and timing. He did it repeatedly that summer afternoon in 2005."

The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
From Infinite Jest

9/16/08

Footnotes: Salon's Laura Miller: "He was my favorite living writer, and I know I have plenty of company in that." New York's Sam Anderson: "He was my favorite living writer, and the contest wasn't particularly close." It's interesting that people talk about DFW in terms of personal affection, rather than "greatness": I haven't seen anyone yet call him the greatest of his generation, although next to him the accomplishments of most of his peers look a little thin.

Personal remembrances are collected on the McSweeney's site. Zadie Smith, as usual, gets straight to the point:

He was my favourite. I didn't feel he had an equal amongst living writers.... In person, he had a great purity. I had a sense of shame in his presence, though he was meticulous about putting people at their ease. It was the exact same purity one finds in the books: If we must say something, let's at least only say true things. The principle of his fiction, as I understand it. It's what made his books so beautiful to me, and so essential.
KCRW's awesome Bookworm had a discussion today, which I haven't heard yet; you can listen to that and to the show's archive of excellent Wallace interviews here. Harper's compiles Wallace's writing for the magazine, some of it uncollected. Another uncollected piece, the Roger Federer profile from the NYT's Play magazine, is here; it makes a fine partner for the Michael Joyce piece from Supposedly Fun Thing, which piece might be my favorite of his nonfiction.

Christopher Beam was wondering the same thing I was regarding what Wallace thought of the 2008-model John McCain. After he posted, someone apparently pointed him to this WSJ interview, in which Wallace says:
McCain himself has obviously changed; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing.
Neighborhoodies has already commoditized our grief with these handsome Enfield Tennis Academy T-shirts.

9/14/08

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

It seemed worthwhile to write something about David Foster Wallace, but it also seemed difficult, since everyone else would be writing something about David Foster Wallace. Then it occurred to me that this is the kind of problem -- genuinely thinking about something that has already been densely and unproductively mediated -- that Wallace excelled at.

Large chunks of my brain are devoted to Wallace's thoughts about addiction, tennis, luxury, and a dozen other topics, but something similar is true of any writer one loves. There's another chunk, though, that contains a (limited and impoverished) version of Wallace himself in miniature, one that I've reverse-engineered from his writing and can now set to work on a certain class of problems that trouble me. It (the miniature David Foster Wallace in my head) is morally unflinching and intolerant of ethical or intellectual half-assery, but also sympathetic and devoid of cruelty. Of all the different kinds of conscience, it's a pretty good one to carry around with you.

Here are the thoughts that I can remember having about Wallace during the week before he died:

  • I wonder if he's sad or just kind of resigned about what's happening with John McCain.
  • The introduction he wrote for Best American Essays 2007 feels apposite right now, especially the part about a three-alarm cultural emergency, but suffers from a reflexive urge to force a rhetorical parallel from the blinkered worldviews of the U.S. political right- and left-wings, thus setting up a false moral equivalence. But is it possible to describe that three-alarm emergency without either (a) setting up a false moral equivalence, or (b) contributing to the conditions that you're trying to describe? Because I can't think of a way to do it.
  • Wouldn't it be great if my novel had a MacGuffin like the videotape in Infinite Jest? But then maybe it does? Or no.
  • It is odd that, of late, Infinite Jest has dropped off my mental or conversational lists of my favorite contemporary novels. This omission has the flavor of an oversight rather than a waning of affection; I think it's precipitated by the fact that Infinite Jest is worthless as a source of helpful guidance in writing your own novel.
Here are a couple of thoughts I have had in the past couple of hours:
  • Wallace's biography was always peripheral to the way his work was received: he wasn't a famous recluse like Pynchon or a famous prodigy like Safran Foer or a famous stud like Philip Roth. He was just a famous writer. Now he'll be a famous suicide. This will not be good for the books, and I feel slightly sorry for anyone who hasn't read IJ yet, not that you should let that stop you.
  • The passage in IJ about Kate Gompert's depression is probably the only piece of writing on the subject that's made me think, Yup. There's an analogy I'd like to quote, but I'm away from my copy right now. The gist is that a suicide is like a person who jumps from the top floor of a burning building: eventually the fear of the flames overtakes the fear of falling, but the flames haven't made the jump any less terrifying, i.e. the fear of falling is a constant.
  • Besides IJ, which I'm guessing will be read 50 years from now, his most lasting work will probably be the essays. (Kakutani agrees, although she closes her piece with a tautology that Wallace would have made fun of.)
  • Wallace's prose's tics and mannerisms probably distracted attention from how good he was, or at least limited it to an in-group of fans. If you haven't read IJ then all you know about it is that it's huge, it's set in the near-future, and it inspires cultlike devotion. If that was all I knew about it, I would think it was Not For Me. I have not yet found a way to communicate its massive, throbbing heart. I will say this, though: I have never read a writer who loves his characters more or better than David Foster Wallace did in that book, and I expect that I never will. And maybe love everyone as much and as well as you can is in fact helpful guidance for writing your own novel, and for much else besides.

9/10/08

Well it's about fucking time.

What passes for analysis: WaPo's Dan Balz writes:

McCain and Palin have been silent on the lipstick controversy, preferring to let their advisers and surrogates do the work for them. It would be valuable to hear their assessment of it. If they're not prepared to associate themselves directly with the tactics of their campaign, voters should know it.
Of course, if they think we should have a special tax on haircuts, voters should know that too. But until McCain or Palin speaks out on this issue, we all assume that they're not in favor of a haircut tax. If we assume that, can we also assume that they're fine with the bullshit being spouted by their campaign? Or are we going to keep suggesting that John McCain is actually a sensible and honorable adult who's keeping silent, for some mysterious reason of his own, as travesties are perpetrated in his name?

9/8/08

National stereotype blogging: I'm writing this from a Quality Inn in Woodstock, Ontario. As is often the case with motels, we had to sign a special form saying that we'd be liable for damage caused by our dog. (We sign with confidence, since our dog would never in a million years damage anything, because she is perfect.) Among the pet policies listed on the sheet: "Barking is discouraged after 11 p.m."

Ah, Canada -- where (a) they wouldn't presume to tell your dog what to do before 11 p.m., and (b) even after 11 p.m., they won't go further than discouragement.

9/5/08

So according to the NYT's David Sanger, "a fierce struggle has been under way for the foreign policy heart of John McCain." Sanger is referring to the debate between the neocon and the realist wings of the Republican Party, although for some reason he doesn't use those words. His portrait of McCain's foreign-policy thinking would be very interesting if it weren't so completely deceptive.

Look at who McCain's top foreign-policy advisor is. Look at his reflexively bellicose response to the Russa/Georgia flare-up. Look at his unwavering support for the Iraq War and his grandiose definition of victory there. Look at his disdain for the idea of negotiation with Iran, Syria, North Korea -- countries with whom even the Bush administration has opened lines of communication.

Now name one foreign-policy situation -- just one -- since Sept. 11, 2001 on which John McCain has taken the realist position. (An anonymous McCain adviser cites the senator's laudable role in the normalization of relations with Vietnam -- an effort that peaked in January, 1993.)

Sanger writes that McCain "defies easy categorization. His threat to throw Russia out of the Group of Eight industrial nations went far beyond anything Mr. Bush has said, and he has often sounded more hard line than Mr. Bush about doing whatever it takes to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." This is like saying that Jesse Helms "defied easy categorization" because he opposed school integration, the Civil Rights Act, and Martin Luther King Day. McCain's foreign policy, in fact, invites easy characterization, and only the shreds of his reputation as a "maverick" could lead any journalist to think otherwise.

Link rodeo

  • I'd always kind of wondered what "vetting" really entails. Clinton-era labor secretary Robert Reich explains.
  • Disappointment of the day: Seth Schiesel is down on Spore's gameplay.
  • Yglesias on "energy independence": "What you’re hearing here is a bit of political opportunism from progressives coming back to blow up in our faces."
  • "Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle": What your musical taste says about your personality. (It seems to me that if they didn't correct for demographics, this study is basically worthless.)
  • Un-frackin'-believable experiment on the neurology of memory.
  • This is kind of fun! Maybe I should start a tumblr!
  • My last tumblr lasted exactly one week, but it may have been too narrow in focus to sustain my interest.

9/4/08

Brilliant. [via]

9/2/08

Haven't tried Google's new browser because, you know, Mac blah blah. Scott McCloud's comic is good, though. Smartest comment so far: Siracusa.

9/1/08

How long until we hear the suggestion (probably from David Brooks) that John McCain didn't really want to pick Palin but those other Republicans, the nasty ones, made him?

8/31/08

How is it possible that there is no heavy metal band named after this phenomenon?

8/29/08

Every now and again, Matt Yglesias just blows my mind. As with this reflection on Martin Luther King.

8/27/08

Good move, Democrats! Every one of the convention speakers talked about how John McCain is both a war hero and a close personal friend. Now everyone at the Republican convention will feel obliged to mention the great esteem in which they hold Barack Obama, and will limit their criticisms to his policy positions!

The Democrats' inability to mount successful personal attacks on their opponents would be funny if, you know, something less than the fate of the world were at stake. How much do you think Robert Greenwald spent to make a film attacking John McCain for, um, owning a valuable parking lot? This is a guy who can't keep the names of foreign countries straight, even as he threatens to make war on them, and you're going after him for owning a parking lot? Can you imagine how loud they're laughing over at McCain HQ? Update: see comments.

Why we love xkcd: This. It seems like it's going to be a sex joke, but then it turns out to be a math joke. And then, while you think about it, it turns back into a sex joke, but one that's sophisticated and kind of wise rather than crude.

8/23/08

Awesome-sounding puzzle/platformer game, currently Xbox only but coming out soon for PC. Plus: two weeks till Spore!

8/21/08

Copy-editing the world: Is it kind of funny that Gavin Newsom and PG&E, trying to appear down with "Generation Obama," can't even get the name of the headlining band right? Update: It's fixed now. When I originally posted this, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! was referred to as "Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah!"

8/20/08

Department of OMG: Did you know that Stephen "Freakonomics" Dubner used to be in a band with Superchunk's Jon Wurster, one of my all-time top-five drummers? Did everybody except me know that?

'NATO enlargement has become the crack cocaine of White House politics': Daniel Benjamin maps the connection between the Bush administration's foreign policy and Russia's invasion of Georgia.

8/15/08

So John McCain recently named Dancing Queen by ABBA as his favorite song ever. When Walter Isaacson (who probably couldn't name an ABBA song but knows you're supposed to not like them) challenged him on this, McCain said:

“Now look, everybody says, ‘I hate ABBA. Oh ABBA, how terrible! Blah blah blah. How come everybody goes to ‘Mamma Mia?’ Huh? I mean really, seriously, huh? ‘I hate ABBA, they’re no good, you know.’ Well, everybody goes. They’ve been selling out for years.”

I'm not that surprised that John McCain would name an ABBA song as his favorite song, but I am surprised, frankly, by his full-throated, unequivocal, and refreshingly cogent defense of the Swedish pop quartet.

OK, I admit it's a bit weird to not post anything for like 6 months and then all of a sudden post something, and it's something positive about John McCain. But there you go.

8/8/08

Here's why that Obama New Yorker cover totally fails as satire.

8/1/08

Wow. Really, Wall Street Journal? Really? (This and just about all other content ever: via DF.)

7/31/08

Why the British newspaper industry, and indeed English culture as a whole, is so awesome: Guardian restaurant critic Giles Coren excoriates the paper's subeditors (British for copy-editors); the subs respond. Can you imagine any U.S. newspaper hosting an exchange like this one on its website?

Customer service: ARWWC'JG' emails to request yet more Billy Joel commentary. Perhaps she doesn't realize that the last word on Billy Joel has already been written, by the NYT's excellent Dan Barry, two weeks ago:

SOMEONE must sing a proper song of farewell for Shea Stadium, the nice try of a coliseum in Queens, as its dismantling draws near and a new ballpark rises just yards away. But that someone must be able to convey emotions specific to the place, emotions beyond the sadness of many lost Mets summers and the euphoria of two World Series championships. There is so much more.

The romantic idealism and the yeah-right realism. The quickness to mock and to take offense. The need to prove oneself better than any Upper East Side twit and the guilt from having conceived such a hollow ambition. The restlessness, angst and ache of the striver. The Long Island of it all.

Copy-editing the election: Jonathan Chait writes:

Republican campaigns to impugn the character of Democratic presidential nominees have two major themes. The primary one is slipperiness or flip-flopping.... The secondary theme is to portray the Democrat as effete, intellectual and un-manly. ("Effete" is a common epithet used against Democratic presidential hopefuls of the last two decades, along with "Harvard Boutique," "Blow-dried," "drag queen," and "Breck Girl.")
What's interesting is that effete doesn't have anything to do with gender. It originally meant "no longer fertile" (it's related to fetus); more broadly it means "tapped out, sapped of strength, past its prime, exhausted." But it sounds a bit like effeminate, so Republicans can use it to mean "unmanly" and everyone will get the point.

7/28/08

Thing we just realized and got sad: Superchunk hasn't released an album of new material in seven years.

7/16/08

Department of impossibly awesome: Samuel Beckett pitching gag ideas to Ernie Bushmiller.

I think the problem you're having, Sam, is the same problem any literary man might have. You're not setting up the gags visually and you're rushing to the snapper. It seems to me you've got the zingers right there at the beginning, in panel No. 1, and although I have to admit you got Nancy and Sluggo in some crackerjack predicaments, I don't see how they got there.

For instance, putting Nancy and Sluggo in the garbage cans is a good gag, but in my opinion, you can't have them in there for all three panels. How did they get there? Same thing when you had them buried in the sand. I like to do beach gags, but I don't think that having Nancy buried up to her waist in the first two panels and then up to her neck in the third one is adequately explained, and I've been at this game for a while now.

7/14/08

What is the single most annoying way to return from a medium-length blog hiatus? You might imagine that it's the classic apology-for-the-lack-of-posts post -- and indeed, that was the conventional wisdom until today, when I happened upon a brand new and measurably more annoying way: the rare I-keep-stumbling-into-money post.

On Saturday I went to the track for the first time. (On the train I said, 'We are, quite literally, off to the races!' which is something you would only do if you had never been to the races before.) I put $20 on the special MetroCard-of-gambling thing they have, made some small bets, lost some, won a couple, watched my stake dwindle. And then I hit the exacta in the ninth (one of the best parts of going to the races was saying things like 'Who do you like in the ninth?') and walked away with $75.

Then today I took a bunch of old clothes to the hipster used-clothing store, expecting them to laugh at me, and instead they gave me $81.

And then the mail arrives and there's a tax-rebate check, plus a check from a class-action settlement. Time to fire up the blog again!
___

There's going to be more blogging in the next little while. It might be a little different from the RoBros blogging you're used to: I'm not going to link much, because I'm trying to regain some of my short-term-memory/power-of-concentration/general-mental-mojo by not spending as much time on the internet. Maybe it'll be a return to the classic here's-what-I-think-about-Apple/Billy Joel/superhero comics era. Maybe you'll be able to watch my thinking skills return, in real time! Dunno.

In a way my return to the blogodrome is overdetermined: there is, after all, a contretemps going on that involves Barack Obama, The New Yorker, and cartooning. Much of the commentary on Barry Blitt's cover has been along the lines of this, from Time's Michael Scherer. Scherer quotes 270 words from William Rehnquist to make the point that "Despite their sometimes caustic nature ... graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate."

Rehnquist was asserting that cartoons count as protected speech under the First Amendment. Scherer, on the other hand, is arguing with a straw man. Jack Shafer does something similar: "Has the public's taste for barbed drawings waned since the Paul Conrad, Herblock, Pat Oliphant, and Bill Mauldin heydays, or have the voices of the would-be bowdlerizers gotten stronger? Shall we don blinders and erect barriers so nobody is offended or misled? Only weak thinkers fear strong images."

The argument against Blitt's drawing is not that cartooning is worthless, or that there's no place for satirical illustration. The argument is that this specific cartoon is a failure of imagination, and that depicting a calumny is not the same thing as satirizing that calumny. Scherer's attempt to defend cartooning is in fact weirdly patronizing to cartoonists everywhere: if cartoons constitute a form of political expression, if they have any meaning at all, then they can legitimately inspire disdain. The First Amendment protects the right of the speaker to speak, but it also protects the right of the listener to boo.

I'll bet you Blitt's illustration appears, unmodified, on merchandise for sale at the Republican convention.

7/6/08

6/27/08

If there's a genetic component to homosexuality, why wouldn't it die out? Obviously homosexuals are at a reproductive disadvantage. Will Saletan reports on an explanation that, like so many good bits of evolutionary logic, seems obvious once you've read it. By the way, if you are gay, your sister is probably easy.

Things I did not know until just now: In addition to starring in amusing silent films in which he hung from the hands of giant clocks, Harold Lloyd was also an erotic photographer.

6/25/08

Check out Gary Hart's very public application for a job in the Obama administration.

6/24/08

The Obama campaign is selling state-specific campaign T-shirts. Yglesias points out that D.C. gets jacked yet again. The weird thing, though, happens when you sort the shirts by "most popular": in the lead are Tennessee, Delaware, Kentucky, and Montana, in that order. It's hard to believe the electoral map is really that favorable.

6/22/08

This week's Vows column is kind of a doozy.

6/18/08

Does the blame for the conservative era belong with Ronald Reagan (and his John-the-Baptist, Barry Goldwater), as the wingers always claim, or with Richard Nixon, as Rick Perlstein's new book argues? TNR's Barron YoungSmith gives a well-reasoned answer.

6/5/08

It's been a while. Couple of links:

  • If you would like to listen to some nice songs, try Faded Paper Figures.
  • If you want to read a good column on Hillary Clinton, Joe Klein can oblige.
That is all for now.

6/1/08

The Dieline: Cool blog devoted to excellence in consumer packaging.

5/26/08

Don't miss David Bianculli's great interview with Jack Kirby biographer Mark Evanier (web, iTunes).

5/24/08

Cool LAT piece on Inara George's new record with Van Dyke Parks. Beyond the article's inherent interest, it also reveals how bad the LAT website's contextual referral software is. Inara says, with regard to her many side projects, "I think you just make sure you say yes to the things that you really want to do and no to the things that feel they're extra fat," so the website offers a link to "How to build six-pack abs: For that ripped, lean look, you need strength training -- and very little body fat in targeted areas." And producer Mike Andrews charmingly compares Inara's music to "beachfront real estate on an island that no one's ever visited," which prompts the suggestion, "America's best beaches: Dr. Beach ranks the country's top 10 beaches." Someone build a metaphor-recognition algorithm in there, quick!

5/19/08

Obama's latest riposte to McCain is pretty great:

Here's the truth: the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons, and Iran doesn't have a single one. But when the world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust, Kennedy talked to Khrushchev and he got those missiles out of Cuba. Why shouldn't we have the same courage and the confidence to talk to our enemies? That's what strong countries do, that's what strong presidents do, that's what I'll do when I'm president of the United States of America.
Just one suggestion: Why not, "Reagan talked to Gorbachev and they ended the Cold War"?

5/8/08

Stupid metaphors, second in a series: From Slate's Dana Stevens:

Noise bites off much more than it can chew—an indigestible wad of broad social satire and sincere political commentary, with one too many Hegel references for even this former grad student to endure. But it masticates that wad with admirable vigor.
To masticate is to chew. If the film can masticate the wad -- with vigor, yet -- then it has not, by definition, bitten off more than it can chew.

5/5/08

4/30/08

Former Microsoftie Joel Spolsky on "Windows Live Mesh" (that's the real name of the service; it's just so stupid that I had to apply scare quotes as a prophylactic):

I shouldn't really care. What Microsoft's shareholders want to waste their money building, instead of earning nice dividends from two or three fabulous monopolies, is no business of mine. I'm not a shareholder. It sort of bothers me, intellectually, that there are these people running around acting like they're building the next great thing who keep serving us the same exact TV dinner that I didn't want in Sunday night, and I didn't want it when you tried to serve it again Monday night, and you crunched it up and mixed in some cheese and I didn't eat that Tuesday night, and here it is Wednesday and you've rebuilt the whole goddamn TV dinner industry from the ground up and you're giving me 1955 salisbury steak that I just DON'T WANT.

Interpreting censorship as damage part two: Perhaps you would like to read Michael Chabon's original screenplay for Spider-Man 2, which differs significantly from the one that was filmed. Perhaps you were disappointed to find that it's no longer available at McSweeneys.net. Perhaps you are interested to know that you can download the whole thing here.

Jeff Lester's revisionist take on the famously botched conclusion of Kirby's New Gods saga. A must.

4/28/08

Obviously I am not posting everything good being written about the nonsense that seems at the moment to be engulfing Barack Obama like a tide of nonsense. But I'm posting this, by Timothy Noah, about Peggy Noonan, because in a voice that is the very soul of reasonableness it breaks the nonsense down into little atoms and asks, What the fuck is up with this crap?

4/25/08

Last year a friend sent me a link to Dylan Hears a Who, a mysterious and wonderful collection of songs that set the words of Dr. Seuss to music in the style of vintage Bob Dylan. Then some lawyers for the estate of Dr. Seuss got involved, and the site was taken down. Dan Brekke summed up the affair in Salon.

It's a shame that, unless you downloaded them at the time, you can't listen to these awesome recordings anymore. Of course, you could acquire them via Bittorrent, using this torrent file. But that would be wrong.

The Lost writers room sounds a lot like conversations between the Roth brothers:

DL: We have one writer, Brian K. Vaughn, who writes comic books, and then another writer, Adam Horowitz, who's like a die-hard sports fan.
CC: Yankees fan. He used to sell hot dogs at Yankees Stadium.
DL: We'll ask Vaughn an easy sports question, like how many innings are there in a baseball game...
CC: Or what is the color of the Carolina Panthers or what sport do the Carolina Panthers play...
DL: And then we'll ask Horowitz to name two of the Avengers. And they will face off, and it's fun to watch them, you know, try to answer questions outside of their specific area of expertise.

4/21/08

I feel kind of lame linking to a Pitchfork review. But I also feel kind of psyched: look, they gave Let It Be a perfect 10! O ambivalence! Update, now that I've heard it: The remastered version sounds great, and Let It Be is still all-time. Let's hope these reissues prompt Sire to remaster Tim, the Mats' major-label debut and perhaps the worst-sounding great album I own.

RoBros gets results!

4/20/08

Abhay Khosla on the new Blue Beetle series:

Consider the likely goals of the creators at the outset of the series:

(1) Tell a single two-year meta-story that was comprised of smaller story arcs (what TV fans might call the "Buffy" model); (2) launch a new superhero character in a marketplace hostile to new superhero characters; (3) launch an ethnic character to an audience that never supports minority characters; (4) tie into the shitty, oppressive meta-story of the "DC Universe"; (5) remain independent enough of the shitty, oppressive meta-story of the “DC Universe" to convey the book’s own meta-story in a comprehensible way; (6) service a meta-arc while satisfying the demands of monthly fans-- e.g. having a superhero fight every issue; (7) tell a superhero origin story as well as telling a teen coming-of-age story; (8) juggle a superhero cast-- heroes, villains, mentors, etc.-- with a sizable supporting cast for the teen coming-of-age story; (9) place the brand new Blue Beetle character into some kind of larger context visa vi earlier iterations of the Blue Beetle brand name, without angering fans of previous iterations by suggesting those earlier versions were somehow less than the new version, while still allowing said fans to see the new characters as being a worthy inheritor of the brand name; and (10) present an all-ages book that's friendly to new fans looking for a new character to latch onto but also friendly to DCU otaku.

SPOILER WARNING: they fail.

4/17/08

A question for RoBros video technology advisor Mr. Perkins: Approximately how much do you think was spent to produce this? Just ballpark it for me.

4/15/08

There is something very funny about the headline "Pope Says Church Will Not Allow Pedophile Priests."

4/14/08

I don't know what it says about me that this site, which lists unintentionally funny internet addresses (for instance, an Italian power generating company whose site is powergenitalia.com) made me laugh harder than I've laughed in maybe like months. There are literally tears streaming down my face right now.

(Via Matt Yglesias, who shares my puerile sense of humor.)

4/13/08

Footloose: more relevant than ever! Apparently you can get arrested for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial.

4/12/08

The thesis of Dan Ariely's new book, Predictably Irrational, is that "people often make decisions that seem to defy logic--but they do so in very predictable, consistent ways." It sounds like a good book, and I'm looking forward to reading it. But one of his experiments, described in this MIT Tech Talk article, doesn't really make sense.

Ariely and his students went around and left six-packs of Coke in randomly selected dorm refrigerators all over campus. When he checked back in a few days, all of the Cokes were gone. But when he later placed plates of six loose dollar bills in those same refrigerators, not a single bill was missing when he checked back. Even though the value was comparable--and thus the situations were supposed to be equivalent--people responded in opposite ways.
The problem is with the idea that "the value was comparable -- and thus the situations were supposed to be equivalent." The value is comparable in the sense that the price of a can of soda is around a dollar. But to a person standing thirstily in front of a refrigerator, the value of a can of soda is greater than a dollar. Try leaving a six-pack of Coke and six dollar bills on a municipal garbage can and see which one disappears first.

Update: Good lord! Ariely himself (the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT's Sloan School of Management) responds, both courteously and informatively, in the comments. The internet is amazing.

4/10/08

Name a newspaper columnist at any paper -- daily, weekly, mainstream, alternative -- as good as Dan Savage at his best. Just one.

4/8/08

Last night I dreamt that we were in China and our dog got sick, and it was hard to get good veterinary care in China, and I realized that, in an economy in which millions of people are living at subsistence level, veterinary care for non-productive animals must seem an absurd Western luxury. Which suggests that my unconscious can sometimes be more perceptive than my conscious mind, because I'm not sure it had ever occurred to me before.

4/6/08

First line of Gawker's Charlton Heston obit: "Well, you can have his gun now."

4/4/08

This country is nuts: Until recently, governors of Wisconsin could use their veto power to strike individual words from legislation, allowing them to create entirely new meanings. "Like when Gov. James E. Doyle, a Democrat, scratched out some 700 words from a section of the 2005 budget bill, leaving behind just 20 words that, when stitched back together, moved $427 million from the transportation fund to education." (It gets nuttier: until 1990, they could cross out letters to make new words.)

The A.P. reports on Ty Alper's lethal-injection study: "Nearly all lethal injection executions have occurred in states where veterinarians are not allowed to use the same method to euthanize animals."

4/3/08

Pants on (Sa)fire: Pedantic warmonger William Safire, guest-blogging for Oxford University Press, claims to have made up the verb "consense":

As a language columnist, I feel free to coin a neologism now and then; “consense” is a verb that can replace “form a consensus”. Not the opposite of “nonsense”.
Anyone who has spent even a little time around left-wing politics and activism has heard "consense" used in exactly this way a hundred times. Wiktionary has several citations, including one from 1970 -- a speech by pioneering gay activist Harry Hay. Looks like the queers beat you to that one, Bill!

The things old people do

Everyone knows it's hilarious when old people refer to a blog post as a "blog". As in, "I liked that blog you wrote about..." Even the founder of the site that may become the model for online news, being an old person, does this.

Also amusing, in an endearing way, is the tendency of Roth Brothers' mutual, aging, and much beloved mother to call a Facebook profile "a Facebook." As in: "Does Timberlake have a Facebook?"

But here's an even better one. Marty Peretz of The New Republic writes a blog called The Spine. In a post from the other day, he referred to an earlier post as "a Spine."

I hope you have enjoyed this Roth Brothers.

This McCain web ad appears to argue that he would be a good president because in high school he reported on students who broke the honor code, and would continue to do so in the White House.

Surely they could have come up with a more compelling argument than that!

Also, check out how in showing "our heroes", they have some real people (Thomas Edison, Teddy Roosevelt, Ted Williams) and then a generic headless dude with a guitar. It's like they knew they should have a "rock star" but they didn't feel comfortable singling out any actual existing "rock star" as a hero!

4/2/08

So money, baby: Wow, the new British coins are awesome. [via DF]

4/1/08

If you made it through my "Disagreeing with Paul Graham," you might like to know that there's a lively comments thread about it on Graham's social news site, Hacker News. Graham responds here; I respond to his response here. Also:

This reads like Mister Spock's review of a punk rock concert.

"I don't understand why the audience was asked if it was 'ready to rock', as they clearly did not have instruments. Also, it was illogical to ask them to 'fight the power', since power is an abstract physical quantity that cannot meaningfully be 'fought'."