Here's a fucking scandal: Voting machines in Miami are attributing votes to the wrong candidate.

Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney said it's not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly. Poll workers are trained to recalibrate them on the spot -- essentially, to realign the video screen with the electronics inside. The 15-step process is outlined in the poll-workers manual.
If that's what it's like in early voting, just wait for election day.


I have long thought that, pace Dworkin/MacKinnon/Canadian law, it's just as plausible that pornography prevents rape as it is that pornography causes rape. (Seriously, ask Kate Lewis Wright: I remember making this argument to her c. 1989.) Now it turns out that there is empirical data to support this view. Once again, I am right.

LA Times reporter Patrick McDonnell covered Baghdad from 2003 to 2005. Then he was away for a year. This month, he went back and filed this horrifying piece on what life there is like now. You should read it.

A city in which it was long taboo to ask, "Are you Sunni or Shiite?" has abruptly become defined by these very characteristics. Once-harmonious neighborhoods with mixed populations have become communal killing grounds....

Even gathering the bodies of loved ones is an exercise fraught with hazards. A Shiite Muslim religious party controls the main morgue near downtown; its militiamen guard the entrance, keen to snatch kin of the dead, many of them Sunni Muslim Arabs. Unclaimed Sunni corpses pile up.

Breaking News: Some gossip sites have less than unimpeachable journalistic standards

So last week, I sent in the following tip to Wonkette:

anyone there know if john negroponte has had a problem with booze? saw him picking up a 6-pack of o'douls last nite at the liquor store on calvert street.
They reproduced it as:
John Negroponte must have a problem with booze, cause I saw him picking up a 6-pack of O’douls last night [10/25] at the liquor store on Calvert street.
Call me Andy Rooney or whatever, but this seems to me to change the meaning enough to be not really okay.


Last year, Rupert Murdoch spent half a billion dollars to buy MySpace. Now, according to the WaPo, MySpace is totally over. Ha ha! What a chump you are, Rupe! If you can't trust the Washington Post to bring you all the latest information about what the kids are doing these days, who can you trust?

Bonus fact about usage times, the average amount of time a user spends on a given site:

Friendster, another older site, hit its first usage peak of 1 hour and 51 minutes in October 2003, and then hit another peak of 3 hours and 3 minutes in February 2006. But last month, the average user was on Friendster for a mere 7 minutes.


Fun and addictive web game: how long can you keep both balls in the air? My record is 35.2 seconds. Nice physics plus when it gives you your score it insults you in French.

Chump Sucker of the Week: Wired copy chief Tony Long

The latest on the comics-have-cultural-cachet front: the backlash! Wired copy chief Tony Long is mad because Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese has been nominated for a National Book Award:

If you've ever tried writing a real novel, you'll know where I'm coming from. To do it, and especially to do it well enough to be nominated for this award, the American equivalent of France's Prix Goncourt or Britain's Booker Prize, is exceedingly difficult.... Sorry, but no comic book, regardless of how cleverly executed, belongs in that class.

Rather than respond myself (although as someone who has tried to write a "real novel" I am apparently qualified to speak on this issue, unlike most of you), I will paraphrase Zadie Smith, who has also tried writing a real novel, with more success, I would wager, than either myself or Wired copy chief Tony Long. I happened to see Smith field a question about graphic novels at a talk in New York earlier this month. She said, essentially, that the comics form is a different but not lesser form than prose, that she especially admired the work of Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, and that she is in awe of the amount of work that producing comics requires. She cited some figure about how long it takes Ware to draw a page -- I think it was something like two or three weeks.

You are now welcome to decide who to trust on the difficulties of prose novels versus comics: Zadie Smith or Wired copy chief Tony Long. More interesting questions, like "Is degree-of-difficulty really the standard we should use to assess works of art?" and "Should there perhaps be a separate awards category for comics, since they are after all formally different from prose?" will not be addressed at this juncture.

[Link via Bookslut]


Rare, long, fascinating profile of Garry "Doonesbury" Trudeau from the Washington Post -- well worth reading. Topics covered include: Trudeau researching the strip by talking to injured Iraq War veterans; rumors that Trudeau does not draw the strip himself; Trudeau's wife Jane Pauley's mental breakdown.


Jon Ronson interviews British TV host Noel Edmonds:

"I wrote to the cosmos that I would like to meet a woman who'll make me laugh and make me happy," Noel tells me. "I wrote that I'd like a relationship that's not too heavy, with an attractive lady, and I'd like her to walk into my life by the end of September 2005. And she did!"

There is a short silence.

"She wasn't the person who sold her story to the Sunday People back in July, was she?" I ask.

There's another silence.

"Yes," says Noel.

Marjan Simmons, The Sunday People, August 2006: "He was a very tender and lovely kisser. When I woke up with him the following morning, I felt completely at ease and his first words were, 'Cup of tea, darling?' He was a very giving man in all aspects and satisfied me in every way. Noel had his own special song for us. It was You're Beautiful by James Blunt. But once he was back at the top he didn't need me any more. I felt he just discarded me. He was a hypocrite who used me to make himself feel more positive about himself."

"So that turned out to be not so good," I say. "Maybe if you'd written down, 'I want to meet somebody by the end of September and I don't want her selling her story to the Sunday People...'"

"No, you can't do that," Noel interrupts, "because that is a negative. The cosmos will accept only positive orders. The word I probably missed out was 'trustworthy'."

As the country heads into Obama fever, John Kerry is thoughtful enough to provide the world with a little reminder of why he's such a total douchebag. George Stephanopoulos asked him if he thought Obama was ready to be president. Kerry reminded viewers that he had tapped Obama to give his breakout speech before the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Then:

I think he's a very interesting and very powerful communicator with a great deal of skill. I wouldn't have picked him if he didn't. And I'm really pleased to see the way in which the country is ratifying my judgment on that.

And when Democrats nominate Obama as their presidential candidate in 2008 and Kerry comes in a distant fifth, this will be a further ratification of his judgment by the American people.


New research: Does watching television in early childhood cause autism? Update: Stephen "Freakonomics" Levitt explains why he thinks the research doesn't hold up.


My shocking tale of abuse

This brought back some memories, and added to my general sense that the level of panic about "paedophilia" (which is obvioulsy the wrong word to apply to hitting on a 16 year old, by the way), child molestation etc. that Foley-gate exposed is really quite absurd. You see, I too was once molested on a rafting trip -- by a pasty, messily-coiffed man named Howard, who was accompanied (on the trip, not on the molestation part) by his adolescent nephew (or "nephew"?). I was 11, and a whole group of us was walking thru this dark cave near the river, when suddenly I felt this arm kind of brush over my (I think bare) chest. I could see Howard standing next to me. I figured it was just an accident or something, but then a little later it happened again. So I yelled "Stop groping me Howard!," really loud, and a couple other people turned around, and Howard kind of slunk away in humiliation. Had someone suggested that the FBI should launch an inquiry I think I would have been a bit confused.

Well Gabe may be attending New York literary festivals and everything, but is he being given impressive-sounding titles on the sports blogs of prominent political magazines? I think not.

Actually, lame self-promotion aside, something weird is going on in the relationship between mass entertainment and indie music. It has long been noted (or at least for like the last year or so) that prime-time TV shows have begun using music from relatively sophisticated and at-least-slightly obscure bands. Gray's Anatomy went with The Postal Service last year, and a friend of mine's sister, who's a NYC-based singer-songwriter, had a song on Six Degrees the other nite. But now it seems to be spreading beyond TV dramas with artistic pretensions, into the heretofore determinedly unartistic world of professional sports programming. In case you didn't follow the link above:

Not only did FOX play Fugazi's "Waiting Room" last nite, they also played the intro to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's "My Yellow Country Teeth" before a commercial break. It was, frankly, fantastic.
There's still a ways to go though: FOX also played "Do you really want to hurt me?" during a brief in-game segment on the Mets' injury woes -- after which the announcer felt compelled to add, his voice tinged with poorly concelaed homophobia: "I don't know why we have to listen to Culture Club, or Boy George."


A funny bit of date sabotage at the New Yorker Festival by writer Christian Carmona:

A couple sitting next to us saw people having drinks, so the man commented on how he would treat himself to one. The woman, deciding whether she wanted to splurge and purchase a martini, asked him to get her one as well. I waited in anticipation, truly curious whether he would return mentioning that the event was Open Bar. As expected, he did not. He noted that what she was drinking was called a "Festini," a kind of exotic martini.
"You," she gushed, "are too sweet."
"Anything for mah baby."
I felt obligated to turn to my friend and tell him, a touch below a scream, "I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS EVENT WAS OPEN BAR" to which he screamed, "I KNOW. THESE MARTINIS ARE REALLY GOOD," he turned to face the couple, "CONSIDERING THAT THEY'RE FREE."


Screechy-voiced lead singer Justin Hawkins has quit the Darkness after emerging from rehab. In a sentence that vies for the "least true sentence" award for 2006, the Sun writes: "The extent of his cocaine and booze problem will shock fans."

Green with envy (haha!)

So for the magazine this month I wrote a profile of a Democratic congressman (I'll send it around when it comes out in the next few days). I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. The whole thing basically engendered a feeling in me of "I can do this thing,", with "this thing" meaning writing long-form magazine journalism, and I guess in this case specifically political stories.

But then I read Josh Green's profile of Hillary in The Atlantic. And it's not like I now doubt my ability to do this. It's more like I just am realizing that there's a whole further level of sophistication that it's possible to get to thru this form. And I guess it makes me want to get there, which is good I suppose.

Jacob Weisberg should write more.

Sasha Frere-Jones makes a nice point about Little Feat:

While not mega-platinum, Little Feat were putatively a pop group in the 1970s. Now, you would only hear such drum sounds and flat recording style on an indie record, a fairly knowing one, or an alt country recording. Possibly a good one, though likely not as good as Little Feat.


Other interesting factoids from the New Yorker Festival

New Yorker staffers who, at separate events, made gratuitous references to the Gnarls Barkley song "Crazy": star reporter Malcolm Gladwell and features editor Daniel Zalewski.
How Roger Angell pronounces the last name of the late Donald Barthelme: BARL-mee.
How Zadie Smith pronounces it: BARTH-elm.

If you still had the bones of an idol ...

As part of my I live in New York now Cultural Events Campaign, I went to a bunch of New Yorker Festival events this weekend. The most intellectually thrilling thing I saw was Zadie Smith’s lecture on novel-writing, and the most emotionally thrilling was when the New Pornographers got to the last chorus of “The Bleeding Heart Show,” when Neko sings “We have arrived!” But the most personally reassuring part was Financial Page genius James Surowiecki, who interviewed the New Pornographers before they brought the rock.

Suroweicki won me over immediately by being less good-looking than the photo on the jacket of his book, which is to say he’s only very good-looking, as opposed to intolerably good-looking. Then he had to interview the New Pornographers on stage. Onstage interviews are usually bad, because you can’t edit them, and musicians make particularly poor interview subjects because, with a few important exceptions (Springsteen, John Darnielle), they’re usually less articulate than they are intelligent. So interviewing seven musicians at once, onstage, would seem a tough gig, and so it proved. Carl Newman is funny, and Neko Case is clearly just as intelligent in real life as she is in my having-a-witty-conversation-with-Neko-Case fantasies, but, y’know, what are you going to ask the keyboard player?

Surowiecki did about as well as you or I might have done in similarly challenging circumstances. He made the mistake of beginning with a question about how the band got its name. (All musicians hate being asked this, because the answer is always “We thought it sounded cool,” and no one wants to say that.) He also asked if they saw themselves as part of a power-pop movement, to which Newman asked, “What’s power-pop?”, putting Surowiecki in the absurd position of trying to explain power-pop to Carl Newman. (Neko bailed him out by addressing the original question. She’s so nice. I wonder if she wants to hear any of my songs.)

But so then microphones were set up in the aisles and Surowiecki asked the audience for questions, and no one had any. There was kind of an awkward silence, and then there was a thing where a kid got up from his seat and it looked like he was going to ask a question, and Surowiecki said “I hope he’s got a question,” and then it turned out the kid was just going to the bar, and Newman said, “That was cold-blooded.” After that, obviously, no one was going to stand up and walk to the mic and say, “Uh, Mr. Newman, sir: the chorus to ‘Mass Romantic’? Did it just come to you in a flash, or did you have to sit there with a guitar and work it out?” And after a little more silence, Surowiecki said, “Do you guys just want to hear them play?”, to which everyone cheered loudly in order to identify themselves as people who enjoy awesome Rock as opposed to lame Questions.

So the New Pornographers got up to go to the bathroom before playing, and the stage guys finished setting up the gear, and Surowiecki came and sat down next to (I’m assuming) his girlfriend, who turned out to be sitting directly behind me. As a result of this seating coincidence, I got to hear their post-interview conversation, which it turned out was the exact same conversation that you would have with your girlfriend if you found yourself in that situation and happened to have written The Wisdom of Crowds:

HIM: So that went OK, right?
HER: Yeah, no, it was good.
HIM: Some of it was kind of awkward, but some of it was pretty good.
HER: Yeah! He’s funny, A.C. Newman!
HIM: I just wonder why no one had any questions.
HER: Oh, I think it was that long pause, and then that thing with the guy getting up, and after that no one was going to get up and ask a question.
HIM: [in a self-conscious voice that somehow conveyed “Yes, I am citing my own best-selling book, but I am also making fun of myself for citing it.”] Oh, right – information cascade!

And then the New Pornographers came back on and went into “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”

Spot the subtext

Today's game: can you identify the subtext of this front-page NYT metro story, headlined "A History of Sex with Students, Unchallenged Over the Years"? Emphasis has been added; irrelevant (but juicy) details have been removed.

BAYONNE, N.J. — Many in this gray, insular city are at a loss to explain why Diane Cherchio West was allowed to continue working in the public school system for two decades after she was caught in 1980 kissing and groping a 13-year-old student at an eighth-grade dance. Why, after her promotion to guidance counselor at Bayonne High School, no one alerted social services, school officials or the police when she became pregnant by an 11th grader she supervised, Steven West.... Or why, when that baby, Steven Jr., grew to be a teenager, no one balked as his 15-year-old friend moved in with Ms. West, who then seduced the friend ... and used her school authority to rearrange his classes around their secret trysts. [snip]

Some blame small-town politics; Ms. West’s father is a prominent businessman here. [snip]

Ms. West, now 52, was raised in one of the city’s more comfortable Italian sections, the daughter of John Cherchio, a regular on who’s who lists here, who ran a successful construction and waste-carting business. [snip]

By 23, Diane Cherchio had graduated from college and was a special education teacher at Dr. Walter F. Robinson elementary school. Supervisors and colleagues ... told investigators decades later that they had been stunned to see her pawing at a 13-year-old student named Jorge at an eighth-grade dance.

The school principal at the time, Daniel Doyle, swore in a statement to prosecutors ... that he wrote to the superintendent asking that Ms. Cherchio be fired, but was startled to learn, upon returning to school in the fall, that she had instead become a guidance counselor at the high school.

“I accepted it as a political maneuver,” said Mr. Doyle, now retired, who grew up near the Cherchio family. He added that he suspected her father’s business and political connections allowed her to escape punishment.
(For legal and health reasons, RothBrothers would like to specify that this website and its authors take no position with regard to the fairness or accuracy of any insinuations the reader may find in the New York Times article quoted above.)


RoBros legal advisor Ty Alper is guest-blogging today at 4&20blackbirds, "a journal of Montana politics and culture." Since Ty lives in Berkeley and knows nothing whatsoever about Montana politics and culture, this could get interesting.


Not to get all Andy Rooney but...

...the following two things that people say or write have really been getting on my tits lately:

1) "Utilize." On the subway last night the announcer guy was like, "This is Dupont Circle. Please utilize all doors." I think people like train announcers, football coaches, and national-security bureaucrats like this word because it sounds sort of impressively technical, but it actually means nothing more than "use." So why not just say "use"? This over-technical quality is, I think, uniquely American, and is related to the creation of the verb "de-plane," which just means to get off the airplane.

2) "Moms". In my exchange with Melinda Henneberger on the midterms blog (can't link coz she took it down!), she wrote: "Ask any 100 moms..." This is increasingly common, and it's literally infantilizing. "Mom" is what you call your own mother. When referring to mothers as a group, why not call them "mothers"? Maybe part of this is that "mother" got corrupted by it's being part of "motherfucker" (or even the abbreviated "mutha", meaning the same as "motherfucker," as commonly used by RothBrothers' own mutual and beloved grandfather), so now it can't help but carry the taint of that meaning. But I think there's something else going on too, which is that the "moms" usage is being driven by advertizing, both commercial and political (eg: the Million Mom March), which, for obvious reasons, is being written to produce in the viewer or reader a kind of empathy. So you can see how a company selling baby food or whatever might want to use the more accessible "moms" instead of "mothers," as a way of connecting with the side of women that they're trying to engage with. But for ordinary non-commerical writing, empathy isn't usually the point. And "moms" just sounds cloying and childish (like when adults say "poop", which I find 1000 times more obscene than the straightforward word "shit"). I feel like Oprah and the 90s bear some measure of responsibility here.

Don Asmussen is much too brilliant to be in the San Francisco Chronicle.


Wondering who the bravest Roth Brother is? Check out Zack's post on the Washington Monthly election blog and then get back to me.

Less rare virtual appearance

Internet area RoBros fans take note as well: Along with my Washington Monthly colleagues and various other "Beltway Insiders" (haha) I will be blogging the midterm elections at a new WM blog called Showdown '06. My first post, a rather incoherent semi-defense of Dennis Hastert, is up.

Rare personal appearance

New York area RoBros fans take note: I'm doing a reading in Park Slope on October 10 (a week today), under the auspices of the Brooklyn Writers Space. It's at Night and Day, on Fifth Avenue at President, with Jim Hanas and Dominic Preziosi. I'll probably read a few pages from the novel, plus maybe a restaurant review or something. That is all.


Fun with the Hold Steady

I'm assuming you were as excited as I was by the big front-of-the-arts-section writeup that the NYT's Kelefa Sanneh gave the Hold Steady yesterday. One of the many things that's cool about the Hold Steady, that the NYT seemed to get, was how many American place names, mostly city names, are in their songs, and how this generally works to create a very American sense of wonder about the sheer number of people out there doing things like going to parties and having sex and throwing up and stuff.

There was a part at the end of the piece where Sanneh didn't make the point I thought he was gonna make, though. He writes:

After the first chorus Mr. Finn reels off some whimsical directions. “Take Lyndale to the horizon,” he sings. 'Take Nicollet out to the ocean." And that’s the Hold Steady’s hometown: a singular city that goes on forever.
What he doesn't point out is the obvious debt (in a good, non-plagiaristic way) this line owes to Bruce's "Blinded by the Light," whose protagonist receives the following driving directions: "Take a right at the light, keep on straight until night, and then boys, you're on your own."

For more evidence of the influence of early Bruce on THS, how about: "She looks shallow but she's neck deep in the steamy dreams of the guys along the harbor bars." That, from "Certain Songs," sounds like it came straight off The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. And it's equally awesome. Or, to seal the deal:
Tramps like us, and we like tramps,
And Charlemagne's got something in his sweatpants
(from the appropriately titled, "Charlemagne in Sweatpants").

I have this ongoing debate that runs in my head, along the lines of Alan Moore or Grant Morrison? It turns out Gene Ha, who I think is the only artist to work on substantial projects with both writers, has thought about the differences and similarities too:

Alan sends out his script a few pages at a time so he can't rewrite after he's done, but when you read the whole thing it still comes out feeling like he tweaked the beginning after writing the ending. It's scary that anyone can do that with a first draft. Grant’s plots are beautifully constructed, but they don't have the structural perfection of a Bach concerto. He's more of a Beethoven or a Thelonious Monk. He takes the theme and runs with it.
In the end, I lean toward thinking that Moore's work suffers from his obsession with structural perfection -- even his most impressive stories end up feeling mechanical. Morrison, on the other hand, flirts with incoherence, but his best work (Doom Patrol, Flex Mentallo, New X-Men, the last JLA arc) moves me in a way that Watchmen never has.


Good piece on why contemporary music (a) is so loud, and (b) often becomes kind of annoying a couple songs in. (Hint: it's the same reason.)

Some things cannot be described. This is one of them. (Link via Kausfiles) Update: It seems the page has been taken down. (Your tax dollars at work.) An archived copy is here.

Inane Criticism of the Week award goes to Denis Donoghue, writing in the NYRB [$], who takes Jonathan Franzen to task for what Donoghue calls "narrative ventriloquism." Franzen, he writes, "has to intervene on [his characters'] behalf, thinking, feeling, and expressing beyond their range." He gives an example from The Corrections:

The disappointment on Enid's face was disproportionately large. It was an ancient disappointment with the refusal of the world in general and her children in particular to participate in her preferred enchantments.
"'Preferred enchantments' is beautiful," Donoghue writes, "but it is not credible as a mark of Enid's mind."

Donoghue is making up a rule and then docking Franzen points for failing to follow it. Far from a fault, this technique is one of the great strengths of the "third-person close" mode that Franzen uses: the narration has access both to the characters' internal experience and to the writer's expressive powers. To cite a famous example (or at least an example I've been reading recently), this is exactly what Updike does in the Rabbit books, throughout which the inner life of the unreflective, poorly educated, basically dull protagonist is credibly and movingly described in Updike's sinuous, philosophical, metaphor-laden prose. Open Rabbit Redux at random, as I've just done, and you'll find something like this, from a scene in which Rabbit and Jill are bathing:
he cannot shake the contented impotence of his sensation that they are the ends of spotlight beams thrown on the clouds, that their role is to haunt this house like two bleached creatures on a television set entertaining an empty room.
Is this language "credible" as a mark of the mind of Rabbit Angstrom -- typesetter, former car salesman, one-time high school basketball star? No, it's what happens when John Updike lends Rabbit Angstrom his writerly intelligence and turns the character's inner life into poetry. It's this contribution from author to character that makes Updike's portrayal of Rabbit, and Franzen's of Enid, feel so profoundly generous: the implication is that human experience -- even the experience of the unthoughtful or inarticulate -- is rich and complex and substantial enough for art. But apparently it's against the rules of fiction as laid down by Denis Donoghue and thus should be forbidden.