Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Bad Publishing News

It just keeps coming.

BLOODLETTING UPDATE: Simon & Schuster has fired 35 people.

My home state of Georgia persists in electing sleazy, dishonest demagogues rather than more honest men. For those who don't remember, in 2002 Chambliss defeated Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs after throwing himself on a grenade. Chambliss won by running ads that juxtaposed Cleland's face with images of Osama bin Laden and accused Cleland of being soft on terrorism and national defense.

Holiday Angst, Then and Now

You know how nowadays on Thanksgiving you turn on the TV and leave the Macy's parade playing in the background on mute without paying much attention to it because all the floats are silly and the balloons all look like Disney cartoons and besides you can't stand to look at or listen to Ryan Seacrest for more than a couple of seconds without feeling sad and desperate and altogether killing the festive mood? Well, back in the day, Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades used to be so much cooler.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Unlovely Part

Josh Marshall on Sarah Palin's continued presence on the national stage: "You're at a party and someone's drinking too much and starting to do embarrassing things. Even you don't like them, and even if the unlovely part of you thinks it's kind of funny, still someone should step in."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Song Lyrics and Meaning

Here's what happens when you use Google's language tools to translate R.E.M.'s "So. Central Rain" from English to Finnish, from Finnish to German, from German to French, from French to Greek, from Greek to Croatian, and from Croatian back into English:

Central Rain Sunday

That's all I call you?
Waited for a call
These rivers are proposed for me
Trees are Bend, cities destroyed
Urban river, is a girl without a dream

Sorry ...

Eastern Europe and the mountains, the third request, the definition
Wise man built words, if the rock
But I am not obliged to follow
Trees turn, the debate was boring
Go to build a second home, this option is not for me

Sorry ...

That's all I call you? Waited for a call
These rivers are proposed for me
Blood in the ocean, the debate was boring
Go to build a second dream, this is not for me

Sorry ...

And here's what happens when you translate Pavement's "Here" from English to Korean, from Korean to Norwegian, from Norwegian to Russian, from Russian to Czech, and from Czech back to English:

There is

I have to succeed, but the success of the upcoming clothing
I am the only person who laughs
His jokes are so bad that
A bad jokes Semper
But because they are not so bad.
Let us pray together
We are waiting for you for your words
I like it.
Dock empty you all to prevent an attack bulimin activities.
And if you rent at the forefront when the rain fog
Of course.
We need to send in the last quarter of a temporary
Also, what's on the wall.
Painted a portrait of the slave and a midwife
Shell movie mavens and feast
Their laughter and not
And they are bad jokes?
All this is a bad guy, and a joke
But because they are not so bad.
Let us be with us.
We are waiting for you for your words
I loved
A sold all the lights in Spain, died.
A: Take a piece of rock - "shake the highway running trip.
I sent him in the last quarter of a chance, I think.
I think it will be my best, in our opinion, I believe.
Finally, in recent years the best times

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace, Dead at 46

When I saw Wallace read at the First Parish Church in Cambridge shortly after the publication of Oblivion, he was discussing his plans to marry. He also encouraged me to buy a set of the (unabridged) Oxford English Dictionary. According to the Times obit, he committed suicide.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bare Knuckles

Both the Post and the Times have stories up about the Obama campaign's newfound aggressiveness. Time will tell whether they're really willing to take the gloves off, but in politics, there's no such thing as being above it all. You're either hitting back and aggressively denying your opponent's claims or you're passively allowing them to be echoed until they become conventional wisdom. In any case, there are a couple things about the articles that troubled me. First, in the Times there's this:

“We’re sensitive to the fluid dynamics of the campaign, but we have a game plan and a strategy,” said Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe. “We’re familiar with this. And I’m sure between now and Nov. 4 there will be another period of hand-wringing and bed-wetting. It comes with the territory.”

Unfortunately, it's true that a lot of Democrats react this way at the first sign of controversy, but this is not how you should talk about your campaign.

Then later, there's this:

[Obama's] aides said they were looking to the news media to debunk the image of her as a blue-collar reformer, even as they argued that her power to help Mr. McCain was overstated.

The Obama campaign shouldn't be waiting for the shouldn't be waiting for the media to do their job for them. They should be pushing this line at every opportunity. And where the hell is Biden? Obama needs to avoid looking as though he's attacking Palin, but Joe can afford to get his hands dirty. In fact, that's part of why he's on the ticket.

The Washington Post offers this:

Asked why they have not pressed harder on reports that Palin's home town of Wasilla charged victims of sexual assault for their rape-testing kits, Obama spokesman Bill Burton gingerly mentioned it was "something we're looking at."

When journalists as much as tell you they're ready to run with a story, it's time to stop looking into it and start aggressively talking about it.

Look, it's not that hard. Palin represents a hard right shift in the McCain campaign. Everything about her undercuts McCain's claims to being a maverick promoting change, more so than McCain's shifts in policy because her brand extreme conservatism is so iconic. She may well shore up the base, but the majority of Americans would find her views alienating if only they knew about them. Furthermore, McCain's attempts to make her conform to his own carefully cultivated maverick image are transparently phony. This business of earmarks and eBay and the Bridge to Nowhere is all lies. Blandly worded fact checks in the backs of newspapers aren't going to sway voters because most will never see them. If the Obama campaign starts shouting this from the rooftops, it may just find its way to the front page.

If there's anything the Obama campaign can learn from Karl Rove, it's that they need to go after McCain's strengths. Some Democrats may be squeamish about that kind of politics, but there's a way to do it honestly. It certainly helps if your opponents are continuously lying, and McCain and Palin certainly are.

Big Surprise

Via Steve, Palin's first cable interview will be with Sean Hannity. What courage these mavericks have.

Daily TPM Link: Lies!

It's become pathological. John McCain just claimed on TV that Sarah Palin has never requested an earmark for her state -- when actually her state gets more earmarks than any other state in the country. And this year she asked for $197 million worth of them herself.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big Truth or Small Truth?

"The more the New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there's a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she's new, she's popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent," [Republican strategist John] Feehery said. "As long as those are out there, these little facts don't really matter."

Daily TPM Link: Fight! Fight! Fight!

They've both embraced a level of dishonesty that disqualifies them for high office. Democrats owe it to the country to make clear who these people are. No apologies or excuses. If Democrats can say at the end of this campaign that they made clear exactly how and why these two are unfit for high office they can be satisfied they served their country.

And the World Hasn't Ended . . .


Friday, August 01, 2008

Will Fat People Vote for Obama?

Taking note of the squeamish liberal media's silence on this issue, the WSJ raises an important question. Via Political Animal.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Still Mulling

I'm back, and I have a lot to say about seeing the president speak and more generally about my trip down to South Carolina, but I'm still gathering my thoughts. In the meantime, you should be listening to this album by electro-shoegazer band the Depreciation Guild. Did I mention it's free?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Decemberists

As you probably know, 75,000 folks showed up to see Obama in Portland, OR on Sunday, but did you also know the Decemberists were there? John Knight is upset that the media didn't report their free concert at the rally, leaving the public to think that all 75,000 people actually showed up to see Obama.

Last I checked the Decemberists were selling out clubs with capacities of only 2,500 people. Let me be the first to congratulate the band on their massive popularity. Way to go, Decemberists! Your fan base has grown 3,000% since that time I saw you at Avalon in Boston and everyone was talking during the encore.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Global Food Shortage: It's Worse than You Think

From "Findings" in the current issue of Harper's: "It was suggested that a pack of black squirrels in Russia had killed and eaten a dog because of a shortage of pine cones."

Friday, May 16, 2008

"He Was an Appeaser!!!"

This is hilarious.

Most of the time, Christ Matthews gets on my every last nerve, but credit where credit is due.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

This doesn't speak well of the industry either. Male or female, it's just unethical.


Carolyn on the lack of meritocracy in the publishing industry:

I’m seeing an alarming trend lately of friends of mine leaving book publishing. Alarming for whom? . . . We [in publishing] found that experience and education did not give us a leg up in an industry that starts everyone at the bottom and where who you know is more important than what you know. We realized there’s no way we could ever afford to pay off our student debt or rent a decent New York apartment with our measly, stagnant salaries.

So, alarming for whom? Not the publishing companies. They’ll fill our spots at the bottom of the ladder with other clueless graduates willing to slave away as overqualified and criminally underpaid peons.

As I've said before, this is bad for the industry. It not only narrows the range of perspectives held by those deciding what is published, it also means the most capable people are unable to rise to the top. I honestly believe, however, that these chickens will come home to roost.

Sad, young, male

Shorter Choire Sicha: "The reason Keith Gessen and his lot can't write is that they've been emasculated by their own jealousy of great female writers."

I don't pretend to know what motivates all the sad, young literary men, but I do dream of a world free of this sort of post-Freudian claptrap.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sunning Our Pallors

Along Lexington and Park, the street vendors have multiplied and traffic has thickened. The offices have let loose a miraculous profusion of people, like spiders bursting from an egg sac. After suffering through the near endless angst of winter, New York has found its reason to be.

On my lunch hour, I walked east through a wash of white noise and jackhammering along 47th Street, where I discovered a bar called Snafu, a tiny farmers market, and a statue entitled Good Defeats Evil.* The stretch of 1st Avenue in front of the U.N. was being repaved and smelled like tar.

Flesh was noticeably absent. Whereas I suspect SoHo is a study in the inverse relationship of skirt lengths and necklines, the streets around Grand Central seemed filled with businessmen carrying their suit jackets, their sleeves rolled to their forearms.

Spring has come late and on unsteady legs, but it has come. Such are our joys and concerns on a Wednesday at the end of April.

* In which Good is apparently some sort of Greek warrior wielding a cross-shaped staff against Evil, a sea creature partially made of ballistic rocket parts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Literary Life, or Those Ideas Are Dead

Carolyn makes a lot of good points here:

My blood is boiling over this L.A. Times piece that purports to examine the question of whether it’s possible to be a young, struggling writer in New York these days, when “bohemian writers have been forced out by hedge-fund guys.”

Literary Young Men and Their First Novels

The three authors the Times uses to illustrate this point are Nathaniel Rich, Ed Parks, and Keith Gessen —demonstrably NOT AT ALL young, struggling writers. They each have a wealth of literary and media connections that have led to their books getting exactly this kind of national coverage. Rich is a Yalie and the son of Frank Rich, a New York Times columnist. Parks has worked for the Village Voice and the Believer, so he’s in with New York publications and the McSweeney’s machine. And Gessen is an Ivy Leaguer who worked at the New York Review of Books and then started n+1, which created its own whirlwind within the right kind of publishing circles. They exemplify the fact that it’s next to impossible to get anywhere in New York without an inherited network and a literary pedigree.

She goes on to decry the trend of New York literary professionals writing novels about New York literary life. There's little to argue with, but there are several things I'd like to add.

It's not just that those authors are speaking to themselves (and few others) when they write these novels; editors are doing the same when they acquire that kind of book. It's not worth pointing out that there are an absurd number of books about affluent New Yorkers, but am I alone in thinking that this is a problem that's getting worse?

My real point—if you'll excuse what is admittedly a screed—is that this is a problem that's institutional within publishing. As long as publishers continue to hire entry-level workers at $30,000 per annum (in some cases lower) and is solely located in a city notorious for its high cost of living, those positions are going to be filled primarily by kids who don't need the money. This is a wage well below what we find it acceptable to pay starting teachers, whose salaries are constantly (and rightly) bemoaned. This is what I think about when I hear my friends tell me they're leaving publishing.

I'm not saying that the editorial assistants I know don't deserve the jobs they have. They are all extremely bright people, but personal experiences matter, and they shape how we approach literature. If we limit the industry to people who come from a single, privileged background, it also limits the scope of our literature. You can bet there will be fewer stories about scraping money for food at the end of the month and more about, well, the tiresome existential angst of the upper class.

From where I sit, class is still with us. It ain't going away. We all know the middle-class is struggling, but poor are suffering more than at any time in recent memory. Taxes have become increasingly regressive, and there's little political momentum behind shifting the burden back where it belongs. Food and gas prices have increased dramatically. These are inconveniences for the middle-class that go largely unnoticed by the affluent, but for the poor they are serious hardships. If you are poor and live in a rural area, $4.00 gas is the difference between keeping your job in the next town over (the one, I might add, where housing is more expensive) and taking a lower-paying job closer to home.

These are stories that aren't being told, and our culture is hurting because of it. I got into publishing because I firmly believe that writing is the best—and in some cases only—way to give complex issues the attention and detail they deserve. If we abandon the responsibility to tackle complicated and timely problems—or even just the portion that don't affect us directly—we're abandoning the chief purpose of our medium.

Friday, April 11, 2008


My little sister, Topher (short for "Stephanie," of course), is graduating college. We all know commencements have to have a keynote, but really, Furman?
President George W. Bush will serve as commencement speaker when Furman University holds its graduation exercises Saturday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Paladin Stadium.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shoes vs. Books

Tyee Books:
Using a booklist to divine a man's character seems no worse than rating his shoes -- which many women swear is infallible -- and it may be better.
That in response to this piece from the Times, which I'm sure you've already read.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Afternoon Weirdness

Sometimes Mondays are like a night of hard drinking. To wit, it's Monday, and somehow I've made it to the afternoon, though I'm not quite sure how I got here. I recall something about coffee and answering the phone. Perhaps your day is going much the same, and if so, might I recommend you listen to this song.

I first heard this song after going to a Tearing the Veil of Maya show. Michael Showalter closed the show by trying—and failing—to play the song over the loudspeaker. Frustrated, he ordered the crowd to listen to the song at home: "It's the weirdest thing I've ever heard, and by 'weirdest,' I mean the most awesome." And so it is.


Right now, Facebook is telling me I might know a guy named Snake Murray, who apparently went to my high school. I'm pretty sure I don't know him, and if I do, I certainly don't remember him. But what I'm wondering is how someone decides it's appropriate to call himself "Snake." Is there a mathematical formula? A government-issued flow chart?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Benign Neglect?

I've read a fair amount of commentary on the speech Obama gave last week about race, some negative, some positive, but nothing irked me quite as much as this piece in today's NYT, in which Bill Kristol asserts, "The last thing we need now is a heated national conversation about race." Race, it seems, is not something that can be talked about without the conversation devolving into a shouting match. Instead of talking, he recommends dealing with the problem of racism through "benign neglect."

Now, I disagree with this on a couple levels. First, I see no reason that this has to turn into a shouting match. Besides, there are worse things than shouting matches—for instance, racism.

More importantly, however, I don't know of any other problems that we're solving through neglect. Perhaps the real reason for all the ruin in New Orleans is that FEMA was trying too hard to save it. There are few things that can be done to turn around the current economic crisis, but I don't hear a lot of economists and commentators saying we should just ignore it until it goes away. That war in Iraq? Maybe if we just don't think about it, it'll all turn out fine. Better yet, let's pitch this idea to the Sunnies and Shi'ites. Forget history and religious disagreements, it's probably an excess of dialogue that's causing them to go on killing each other.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Pharmaceutical Ads

Some things you might not know about Dr. Robert Jarvik, Lipitor spokesman and "inventor of the Jarvik Artificial Heart":
  • Dr. Jarvik "holds a medical degree [but] is not a cardiologist and is not licensed to practice medicine."
  • Dr. Jarvik is "about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen" and cannot row. In the Lipitor ads in which he's shown rowing, a body double was used for wide shots. In close-up shots, he is rowing on a platform.


From an NYT article about the dwindling weight of male models:
“Designers like the skinny guy,” he said backstage last Friday at the Duckie Brown show. “It looks good in the clothes and that’s the main thing. That’s just the way it is now.”
Now, I don't know that much about clothing design. Fashion has always seemed to me like a hobby for the rich and prodigal, but I was under the impression that clothes were supposed to be made for the people wearing them and not the other way around. Call me naive.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Literary Endorsements

In a NYT interview, poet laureate Charles Simic, a New Hampshire resident, reveals that he voted for John Edwards.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is running an op-ed by Michael Chabon, who is supporting Obama.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Is Out of the Race


John Edwards, the progressive Democratic candidate who made his populist, anti-poverty message a centerpiece of his campaign, has decided to drop out of the presidential primary race, and is to give a speech this afternoon at the same place where he began his campaign — in New Orleans.

This is too bad. I like Edwards, and I think he was our best hope for correcting the damage done by the Bush administration.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Heckuva Job: Diplomacy Edition

As a general rule, I find Maureen Dowd's columns utterly annoying, but today's is pretty solid:

Arab TV offered an uncomfortable juxtaposition: Al Arabiya running the wretched saga of Gaza children suffering from a lack of food and medicine during the Israeli blockade, blending into the wretched excess scenes of W. being festooned with rapper-level bling from royal hosts flush with gazillions from gouging us on oil.

Violence has escalated in the West Bank. There's still no clear way out of Iraq nor any sign of political reconciliation. Meanwhile, the president has been jet-setting throughout the Middle East, where he's been showered with gold necklaces and fur robes.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


If you're free tomorrow night, Housing Works Used Books Cafe (an excellent nonprofit bookstore where I regularly volunteer) is hosting an event tomorrow night at 7 for two books published by my employer.

The Feminists

If you haven't seen it already, io9 has discovered a copy of The Feminists, an alarmist 1971 pulp novel about how the womyn are coming. Funny stuff.

Via Feministe and Bookslut

"She Didn't Win It on the Merits"

Chris Matthews is such a hack that I don't know why MSNBC continues to employ him. Be that as it may, they do.

Remember when Jon Stewart told Matthews just how sad his book Life's a Campaign was? Matthews came across in his usual way, self-satisfied and stupid. Today, he claimed Hillary Clinton owes her political career—both her time in the senate and her presidential bid—to Bill's "messing around."

Now, given his characteristic cynicism and how his book is about thinking like a politician, who as he likes to tell us aren't very honest, you might conclude that he's not really a pig, that he just plays one on TV. Personally, I'm pretty sure he's every bit the asshole he seems.