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.


"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.'"


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:


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.


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!)


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.


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?


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


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


Brilliant. [via]


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.


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?