Sunday, September 30, 2007

AMillionMonkeys on literature

This weekend I finished reading an obscure series of British novels known as the "Harry Potter" books, which I first became aware of over the summer. Has anyone else heard of these books? They are dynamite.

Then, also on Laura's recommendation, I read this pretty great piece on the series by obscure horror novelist Stephen King. King connects the success of the Harry Potter books to the previous king of kids' literature, R.L. Stine ("an adequate but flavorless writer"), which I think is a smart point. He also writes this:
One last thing: The bighead academics seem to think that Harry's magic will not be strong enough to make a generation of nonreaders (especially the male half) into bookworms...but they wouldn't be the first to underestimate Harry's magic; just look at what happened to Lord Voldemort. And, of course, the bigheads would never have credited Harry's influence in the first place, if the evidence hadn't come in the form of best-seller lists. A literary hero as big as the Beatles? "Never happen!" the bigheads would have cried. "The traditional novel is as dead as Jacob Marley! Ask anyone who knows! Ask us, in other words!"

But reading was never dead with the kids. Au contraire, right now it's probably healthier than the adult version, which has to cope with what seems like at least 400 boring and pretentious "literary novels" each year. While the bigheads have been predicting (and bemoaning) the postliterate society, the kids have been supplementing their Potter with the narratives of Lemony Snicket, the adventures of teenage mastermind Artemis Fowl, Philip Pullman's challenging His Dark Materials trilogy, the Alex Rider adventures, Peter Abrahams' superb Ingrid Levin-Hill mysteries, the stories of those amazing traveling blue jeans.
(Original emphasis.) The man has a point. Maybe people stop reading as they get older because novels for adults are so dull compared to all that fun kid stuff.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bad review

"But to the discerning ear"! Ah, thank you Ronnie Reese, a more condescending attitude is exactly what is needed in music criticism today.

That gem comes amid a pretentious, meandering review of Graduation in Stop Smiling, a magazine that still owes me money. Reese is explaining that those of us who like the album are hopeless charlatans who don't know what is good. Well, no accounting for taste, I guess.

But what is the meaning of this:
West’s modest, middle-class upbringing in the south suburbs of Chicago suggests a humble beginning, but having grown up the only child of a single parent, he is also accustomed to the spotlight. Yet it is often a spotlight of his own making, such as the one created with the now-infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” remark during a televised Hurricane Katrina fundraiser, just three days after the release of his sophomore LP, Late Registration. Or his recent awards show outburst at the annual MTV Video Music extravaganza, two days before Graduation hit stores.
(Emphasis added.) No denying that Kanye did attract some attention to himself with that remark. But he also attracted an awful lot of productive attention to George W. Bush's handling of the Katrina aftermath. The whole appeal of Kanye West--well, a big part of it--is that his persona comprises the egotistical awards-show tantrums and a sense of social responsibility, both. Maybe Reese thinks both are undignified.

Or maybe I just don't have the highly refined, carefully discerning taste required to understand what Reese is talking about.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Will it be possible to get the straight story from this group?

"Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern, Denis Leary, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Ed Begley Jr. and Bob Balaban have been set by HBO Films to star in 'Recount,' the drama about the controversial Florida results in the 2000 presidential election."

Rest of the story here. Should be a fun movie nonetheless.

UPDATE [9/25 9:30 AM]: I realized it may not be clear what I was implying.

Total Democratic/left-wing PAC contributions by individual:
Kevin Spacey - $29,000
Laura Dern - $800
Denis Leary - $2000
Ed Begley, Jr. - $16,100
Bob Balaban - $2300

Total Republican/right-wing PAC contributions by individual:
none found

UPDATE [9/26 5:36 PM]: At Haahnster's request...

Sydney Pollack (Exec. Producer) - $75,150 to Dem/left-wing (although he did give $1,000 to McCain in 2000)
Kevin Spacey (Producer) - see above
Paula Weinstein (Exec. Producer) - $22,825 to Dem/left-wing
Danny Strong (Writer) - $500 to Dem/left-wing

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kanye and Timbaland

Stronger Revisited from Kanye West on Vimeo.

"I got so many sounds, it's too much to go through. It hurts, gives me a headache." -- Timbaland


"I got sounds upon sounds. There's nothing I don't have." -- Timbaland

P.S. ... AND IN OTHER NEWS, how about this new Jay-Z track? Very tight. Kingdom Come, what Kingdom Come? This is more like it.

UPDATE [9/24 10:27am] ... PLUS ALSO THIS OTHER THING: Dr. Dre grants his first interview in three years to the L.A. Times to tell us that...Detox is not finished yet. Right. Got it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

When I see an elephant fly

A while back (maybe a month or two now) I wrote a piece that was intended to run in the National Review Online. For a variety of reasons, it never did, so I thought the time has come to expose it to the light of day. Admittedly, it's a bit long and somewhat dated.
One flew over the elephant’s nest

Earmarks are starting to look a little insane

If it weren’t so disheartening, it would be comical.

Last Tuesday, video started circulating of Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on the floor of the House, offering an amendment to strike another mundane earmarked appropriation. This ritual of Rep. Flake attempting to rain on an endless parade of questionable earmarks has become mere background noise on the Hill, buzz his colleagues are largely acclimated to. Or are they simply narcotized by spending?

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the mental institution patients remain anesthetized by their own insecurity about what awaits them at home should they ever leave, that and a steady stream of medication. Which is why we root for the insufferable R. P. McMurphy to rile them up – to infuse his fellow patients with the spirit of who they once were. I’ll avoid any obvious Congressional analogies to the domineering Nurse Ratched, but it’s clear Rep. Flake and his ilk have become thorny McMurphy’s in the side of leadership.

In one memorable scene, McMurphy attempts to gather support in order to change a mundane scheduling rule – bureaucratically enforced by Nurse Ratched – so the residents can watch the World Series. Ratched ultimately wins the fight when it comes to a vote, the patients’ heartening enthusiasm turning to sheepish cowardice. And so it goes with challenging earmarks. Under Democratic leadership, and Republican leadership before it, Congress talks a big game but the votes always swing counter to rhetoric. Nothing plays better in the press than a paean to curbing runaway spending and exposing surreptitious earmark-laden appropriation bills. With “Bridge to Nowhere” having become the unofficial euphemism for such largesse, the argument for some reform (or at least some minimal restraint) is all but self-evident.

But to borrow from Rick James, spending is a hell of a drug. In this latest episode, the argument in support of Rep. Flake’s salvo is nearly tautological. Flake challenged an earmark for $1 million put in by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) for the Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure, a group that as far as anyone can tell doesn’t even exist! Usually these strike-funding amendments center on the obvious lack of merit. But this latest earmark marked a new level of audacity: a non-recipient recipient.

Wait, it gets worse. According to the certification letter attached to the earmark, which explicitly identifies the earmark to its sponsor, the $1 million appropriation goes to a different group called Concurrent Technologies, a company that to its credit actually exists and has received earmarks before. Mr. Flake’s plea was simple: to whom is this money going, and do they actually exist? Rep. Murtha wasn’t there to answer the questions, and the sponsor of the bill was left to respond indifferently, “at this time I do not know.”

Maybe the discrepancy is a clerical error, or maybe the intended recipient actually does exist. But the intent of this amendment, as evidenced by Mr. Flake’s remarks, is to at least question spending shrouded in such mystery. Oh I almost forgot, Concurrent Technologies is a seven-figure contributor to Mr. Murtha.

If the results of an earmarking process gone awry are in any way comical, the tragic part is their inevitable outcome: Rep. Flake’s amendment was shot down 98-326 (the spending bill itself was approved by a similar margin). And so it goes with the tiring attempt to trim spending of its pork (Flake’s offered 54 such amendments since last year). Later in the week, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) challenged Rep. Don Young (R-AK) on his loose spending ethics, which led to a rather publicized spat, and most recently Senate leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are attempting to thwart Sen. Jim DeMint’s earmark reform attempt.

Admittedly all this may seem like procedural bickering (and what’s a $1 million between friends anyway). Similarly, McMurphy’s administrative challenges to the indomitable Nurse Ratched were seemingly about changing when they were allowed to watch TV or do their chores. But the antagonistic protagonist was really trying to remind the patients of the independent, saner way of life they once knew. It’s unfortunate the inmates, er, Congress continues to swallow the numbing therapy of spending, fed to them in million-dollar doses, when they are fully capable of breaking the habit.

In Kesey’s novel, McMurphy ends up receiving forced shock therapy, and is ultimately lobotomized, turned into just another mindless patient. For now it’s reasonable to believe that Rep. Flake and his fellow pork-fighters won’t give up, but it’s not clear just how absurd earmarks have to become in order for their colleagues to wake up, lest the few sane ones end up smashing the window and flying the cuckoo’s nest themselves.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fill in the blank: The 'Surge' is _________

The answer is "leading to diverging conclusions." Is it working: the answer is unequivocally yes, no, and maybe so.

MIT professor Michael Greenstone (who also happens to look like an older Sufjan Stevens) fortunately has a very useful analysis of the strategy. Among his conclusions:
  • The data clearly suggest that deaths of civilians in Baghdad have fallen, and there is no evidence that the crackdown in Baghdad has shifted violence to the rest of the country.
  • Coalition troop fatalities have been stable since the surge, which in some ways signifies progress since they were on a steady upward trend prior to the surge.
  • The surge does not seem to have helped in other dimensions such as the amount of oil produced or hours of electricity in Baghdad.
And in what I think is the most interesting and clever part of the analysis, he uses Iraqi gov't bond prices as a market indicator of the likelihood of government breakdown.
  • the financial markets say the surge is not working. Since the surge started, the market’s estimate of the likelihood of default by the Iraqi government has increased by 40 percent.
The paper is here. A useful summary is here.
Garance Franke-Ruta on Fred Thompson's supposed sexiness:
At best, Thompson is what we women refer to as tall.
(Italics hers.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The two most interesting facts I read today

"The FAA as currently structured is impossible to run efficiently," says Langhorne Bond, who ran the agency from 1977 to 1981. BusinessWeek reports the air traffic control network runs on software that is so outdated that there are only six programmers left in the U.S. who are able to update the code.
Ask yourself this: What proportion of Americans do you think are satisfied with their jobs? Twenty percent? Thirty? In fact, according to the 2002 General Social Survey (GSS) from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, among adults who worked 10 hours a week or more in 2002, a surprising 89 percent said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs. Only 11 percent said they were not too satisfied or not at all satisfied.
The first is from John Fund's column (with whom I had the pleasure of having lunch in Bucharest last week). The second is from Arthur C. Brooks in The American. Apparently not many people are satisfied with the job of programming archaic computer languages.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Curtis is tired

Kind of an extraordinary clip for how worn-out and depressive 50 Cent seems. Gets interesting around the two-minute mark and then even more interesting at the end:
(Clip via Status Ain't Hood)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Something sort of similar to consensus on the new AG

On the new nominee to be attorney general, Judge Michael Mukasey, conservative commentator Andy McCarthy says he is a
brilliant, honest guy who would carry out the business of the Justice Department with competence, fairness and integrity.
Meanwhile, liberal commentator Matthew Yglesias concludes that Mukasey
stands a good chance of rescuing the DOJ from its Gonzalez-era status as a cesspool of depravity and incompetence and bringing us back to the glory days of John Ashcroft when one primarily worried about the Attorney-General's ludicrously wrongheaded ideology.
Well, it is not quite a bipartisan paradise. But by the standards of this decade, it is actually kind of close...

[Crossposted to What's Your Beef?]

Friday, September 14, 2007


My review of Kanye West's "Graduation" appeared in the Wausau Daily Herald's Thursday entertainment section. It didn't make it online, so I'm reprinting it here:
Review: Kanye West, Graduation (Wausau Daily Herald, 9/13/07)

Kanye West has a way of making his worst lines the most memorable. Though not a technically gifted rapper, he is an intensely engaging one, unafraid of silly rhymes and groan-worthy jokes. "I'm like a fly Malcolm X/ Buy any jeans necessary" is terrible, yes, but it sticks in your head.

West doesn't define himself against rap music, exactly, but he is aggrieved and thin-skinned about his place within it. Unapologetic about his middle-class upbringing, his rap persona see-saws between outsized boasting and moments of ego-deflating self-deprecation. "I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny/ And what I do? Act more stupidly," he raps on "Can't Tell Me Nothing," one of several standout tracks on "Graduation," West's excellent third solo album.

While his raps follow a similar script as on earlier albums, the beats on "Graduation," most of which West produced or co-produced, have taken a jarring turn. Just last album he was sampling Curtis Mayfield; here the jagged, synthetic tracks sound more influenced by krautrock than the Superfly soundtrack. West has always been a great producer, but the switch-up is not unwelcome: the tracks that sound like vintage Kanye also are the least interesting on the album. ("The Glory," especially, feels like paint-by-numbers.)

And West still has a knack for picking out a great sample. Album intro "Good Morning" takes a bit from Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," and "Champion" uses a line from Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" to create a moment of cocky call-and-response. Steely Dan asks, "Did you realize that you were a champion in their eyes?" and West responds matter-of-factly, "Yes I did."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is Eric Gordon the best freshmen basketball player in the country?

Fellow Hoosier fans will surely hope so. But O.J. Mayo's debut in Mexico makes a credible case for the incoming USC Trojan.

Bottom line: Indiana has a better chance of keeping Gordon past his first year. USC better make plans to find a superior guard to replace Mayo.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I will not be buying "Curtis" tomorrow

And I take the word of everyone who has heard the new 50 Cent album that it is terrible. But "I Get Money" is a pretty great single:

"I run New York." How quaint.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Friday, September 07, 2007

Kanye's "Can't Tell Me Nothing"

Video with Zach Galifianakis and Will Oldham (!). And I like this couplet from the song:
I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny
And what do I do? act more stupidly

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The answer is: No, but apparently yes

The Corner's Ramesh Ponnuru asks an easy question:
Do conservatives really want to tie themselves to the position that the surge is not only working, but that there can be no doubt on the score and that anyone who acknowledges the existence of doubt is a heretic?
(Via Ross Douthat.)

"'If I have something named after me when I leave Congress,' he said, 'I'll consider my time here a failure.'"

The LA Times profiles my favorite congressman: Rep. Flake's Mission: Be a bug in their earmarks.
"This process is out of control," Flake said during a recent debate. "I think Democrats are as much to blame probably as Republicans are. The difference is, as Republicans, we pretend to stand for limited government."

Congress voted this year to require lawmakers to publicly disclose their earmarks. "But in order to cut the number, you've got to have some shame," Flake said, "and we haven't got there yet."
Where have all the Cold Cowboys gone?

Best line I read today

Craig's Republican colleagues must be checking the schedule for the next bus they can throw him under.
From Bruce Reed's latest "Has Been" column. The rest of the graph:
But if Sen. Craig needs a legal defense fund, Idaho Democrats will be happy to contribute. The state's Democrats haven't had a lucky break in 40 years. Last week's flameout seemed to follow the same pattern, as the biggest sex scandal in Idaho history quickly looked to be the shortest.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Wait a minute, Robert Draper is saying it was John Roberts who recommended Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court? Harriet "You are the best Governor ever" Miers? For the Supreme Court? Not George and Laura Bush but Chief Justice John Roberts?

Roberts's spokeswoman denies it. Which is good because it makes absolutely no sense.
The Washington Post is on the set of the last episode of The Wire. Plus video.
Department of obvious headlines.