2007 - %3, May

Strangest New York Times Clarification Ever?

| Mon May 14, 2007 10:53 PM EDT

At the end of a long NYT Sunday Business section story about the unpredictable alchemy that makes a best seller—a story that centers around the tale of Random House's Prep (a prep school coming-of-age tale written by Curtis Sittenfeld and originally titled Cipher)—comes this:

Editors' note: The editor of the Sunday Business section is under contract to Random House and did not edit this article.

Nope, just green-lighted it and decided it should go on the section's front page. To me, though, the strangest part about this piece is the notion that book publishing is such a crap shoot is because it is full of starry-eyed liberal arts majors, content to work for peanuts, who daren't soil their pure souls with notions such as marketing, and that "compensation is not tied to sales." Uh, maybe once. But you ask anyone who works in publishing or who's written a book in the last few years and the problem is the exact opposite. Sales are completely driving the business, meaning more and more editors' sole concern is acquisitions—there's barely any EDITING going on any more.

(True, the acquisitions process seems to be largely driven by group think, which is why we have a ten-year run of far-too-many dysfunctional family memoirs, for example.)

The horror stories of lack of editing are legion. Book publishers almost never fact-check, so you got to find someone to do that for you. And more and more writers are hiring editors, because the ones they've got through the publishing house—particularly if their original editor has moved on—just can't be bothered. One friend recalls how after toiling over a manuscript for three years, his editor gave it a quick read-through, marking it with little else than smiley faces (stuff she liked) and z's (stuff she found boring). "Three years of my life, smiley faces and z's." Sadly this is hardly an isolated incident.

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Gonzales' Deputy Resigns, Citing Family Reasons

| Mon May 14, 2007 10:00 PM EDT

And not, you know, the U.S. attorney firing crisis. Or his boss' bizarre behavior.

Read text of Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's resignation letter here.

[Late Update: Not to butt in, Clara, but I want to make one point: Gonzales has repeatedly said in congressional testimony that the advice/recommendations of his senior staff guided the U.S. Attorneys purge, not Gonzales' own thinking. Senior staff means McNulty, even if he's been more forthcoming than most, and even though Kyle Sampson seems more responsible for the purge. I think McNulty's resignation was inevitable. The only question now is whether enough heads have rolled to take pressure off Gonzo. -- Jonathan]

News for the Commute Home: Gas Prices Hit a New Record

| Mon May 14, 2007 6:36 PM EDT

The average national price for a gallon of gasoline hit $3.073 today, the highest on record according to the AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.

If you still own an SUV, I'd like your justification in the comments. Thanks.

Baby Bubba's Got a Gun: True Story

| Mon May 14, 2007 4:20 PM EDT

Here's a bizarre tale out of Illinois. A local newspaper columnist decided to see what would happen if he applied for a gun owner's ID card for his 10-month-old son and, well, here's the story...

Little Bubba Ludwig got a 12-gauge Beretta from his grandfather as a present. While it's illegal for minors to buy a gun in Illinois, it isn't illegal for them to own one, and if Bubba was going to legally own his he needed a Firearm Owner's Identification Card.

So like any good (and mischievous) father, Daily Southtown columnist Howard Ludwig sent in a picture of his son (featuring a toothless grin), filled out the appropriate form (2 feet, 3 inches; 20 pounds), and mailed in five bucks. A month later -- boom -- Baby Bubba's got a gun. He's even allowed to carry it unloaded under state law, but as his father says, "he can't walk yet, so that's not an issue."

Check out the father's column on the whole thing here. (Via Fox News and Wonkette.)

I can't tell what to make of this story. The family in question -- particularly the father who wrote the column -- seems to see it as just good fun. They're responsible gun owners, after all, and while this whole episode is kind of absurd, little Bubba will be taught how to use his gun only when he's good and ready. And when that time comes he'll be taught all the proper safety procedures by a family with a long history of responsible gun ownership.

At the same time, good God -- is Illinois insane? Have we reached the point where we are so afraid of gun control that we have no restrictions whatsoever? Why have a gun owner's ID card at all when a bureaucrat somewhere in the state house will stamp "APPROVED" on an application featuring the grinning mug of a 10-month-old baby?

And do you think the NRA would support a bill titled "Keep America's Cribs Gun-Free"? I'm guessing no.

Maybe GOP Voters Should Consult New Yorkers for Thoughts on Rudy

| Mon May 14, 2007 3:23 PM EDT

The New York Daily News has conducted a poll in which it asked New Yorkers who they thought was a better mayor and a better potential president -- current Mayor Michael Bloomberg or former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The results? Bloomberg in a landslide. For both.

Who is/was a better mayor -- Bloomberg 56%, Giuliani 29%.

Who would make a better president -- Bloomberg 46%, Giuliani 29%.

Now I know that New York is a heavily Democratic city, but if America's love affair with Rudy Giuliani is based on the fact that he "protected us" or "showed us strength" on 9/11, what does it say if the people who needed protection most, and who needed to see strength the most, don't like the man? Shouldn't it be a requirement if running for office that the last people you governed are satisfied with your performance?

Actually, if that was the case, Romney and McCain would be out too.

Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton would be just fine. For some reason, I can't find numbers on Obama, but I'd bet he's doing just fine in his home state.

Update: Yes, I know Bloomberg is technically a Republican, but he was a life-long Democrat before he ran and is about as liberal as any "Republican" can be. He's well-liked across party lines because of his effectiveness. That's why I once called him post-partisan.

"Spousal" Videos: Dem Candidates' Husband and Wives Speak

| Mon May 14, 2007 12:28 PM EDT

The Hillary Clinton campaign has a killer new video out in which Bill speaks directly to the camera about his wife and why she would make a great president. It's quite good.

Seeing this made me think about other "spousal" videos -- videos in which a presidential candidate's spouse talks about the candidate. The campaigns seem to think (rightly, I believe) that having a candidate's spouse explain why he or she fell in love with the candidate is interesting and worthwhile political material, because voters are sometimes looking for the same things spouses are. For example, if Bill Clinton says that he loved Hillary's passion for helping the poor, or Elizabeth Edwards says that she saw John's honesty and decency when they first met, or Michelle Obama talks about Barack's magnetism -- these aren't just crass exploitations of people's private lives. The values and attributes on display are valuable in a spouse and a president.

So with that in mind I went hunting for other "spousal" videos. I found this one starring Michelle Obama -- unfortunately it's not on YouTube and I can't post it here. You'll have to follow the link, but it's worth it. (And you can find video of Michelle Obama speaking at campaign events here.)

As for Elizabeth Edwards, she has her own history, and often the videos starring her cover her battle against cancer instead of her husband. The result is pretty impressive -- you get a full picture of who Elizabeth is, a pretty full picture of who John is, and a sense that together they are a strong and amazing couple.

See for yourself. The first video here is Elizabeth introducing John at a campaign event; the second is Elizabeth thanking the people who have shown support in her fight against cancer. Judge which one is more powerful.

Wow, right? The second video almost brought me to tears.

The Democrats in this race are not only strong candidates for president, they all seem to have incredible people for spouses, too.

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Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things: 5/11/07

| Fri May 11, 2007 11:33 PM EDT

Do not fret, my sweet liberal media blog enthusiasts -- I have not deserted you! Yes, yes, I sauntered off to Coachella and then galavanted halfway around the world for a silly DJ gig, and yes, I know, I could have used my shiny new laptop to post something for you, but these other places had piña coladas, by the pool, see, and what do you, oh Riffers, offer me, besides angry comments? Which are not refreshing or coconutty, by the way, and do not get me sloshed! But I still love you! Never think I don't love you! I love you so much, that I want us to share the following Top 10 Things, which this week are vaguely influenced by Jamaica, which is where I was for a couple days, and yes next time you can come.

mojo-cover-nickyvanshe.jpg10. Nicky Van She & Dangerous Dan"Around the World Again"
So the concept isn't so new: there's already been at least one rock cover of a Daft Punk song, and Who Made Who shot to novelty prominence in '05 with their B-52's-reminiscent take on Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction," but this is still awesome – a simple, guitar-based instrumental version of the toweringly great "Around the World." I'll dance to that

mojo-photo-sunshine.JPG9. Sunshine (upcoming film from Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, out this Fall at the earliest, from Fox Searchlight)
My motto, as far as B-movies are concerned, is "The Earth Must Be Destroyed." Any scenario that involves the potential destruction of humanity or our planet or our solar system, and I am so there. I mean, I dragged everyone I know to see The Core, on opening night, on IMAX, and that may be the worst movie ever made. So finding out that the inventive director Danny Boyle is taking on a film about an (ill-fated?) voyage to re-start our dying sun – how am I going to wait six months for this?!?!!!

mojo-photo-djjoven.JPG8. DJ Joven – Live at Zizek, Buenos Aires, Argentina (mp3 via Disco Shawn)
My expat buddy Shawn has written some intriguing things about the new avant-Cumbia scene in Buenos Aires, but I didn't really get it until I heard this brief but awesome set that includes a crazy version of Justin Timberlake's "My Love," as well as some oddly ambient-sounding electronic reinterpretations of this traditional Latin style

7. Verka Serduchka

Apparently this Ukranian drag sensation (real name, Andriy Danylo) is set to win the Eurovision Song Contest, an event that continues to amaze me with its, um, existence. In any event, this bonkers performance appears to be mostly in German, with some Ukranian asides ("Dance," "Where are your hands, hands, hands?"). IT doesn't make any sense to me at all... but I can't… stop… watching...

mojo-cover-interpol.jpg6. Interpol"The Heinrich Maneuver" (from Our Love to Admire, out July 10 on Matador)
Okay, in my Coachella preview, I got the album title wrong, so sue me. But really, this track is so great, they could have named the album after it. With a seemingly in-joke title, a weirdly casual intro line ("How are things on the West Coast?" Um, on fire, thanks, Interpol), and what appears to be a stuffed leopard on the cover, this song from the most Joy Division-y of indie bands makes some counterintuitive moves but still ends up majestic

Nebraska Teacher Taken Out Of Classroom For Showing Iraq Documentary

| Fri May 11, 2007 7:55 PM EDT

Last year, Michael Baker was one of only forty-seven teachers in Nebraska to obtain National Board Certification. Last month, he showed his students at East High School in Lincoln the documentary, Baghdad ER, which shows the lives of doctors, nurses, medics, and soldiers in Iraq. The next day, Baker was no longer in his geography classroom.

Says former colleague Michael Anderson: "I believe there were students who went home and were troubled about what they saw, and there were parental phone calls to the principal, and the next day she walked him out the door because she didn't have the courage to stand up to the complainers."

Baker was suspended for ten days without pay. Apparently, school administrators have never liked his teaching style. Baker taught history by starting with the present and moving backwards, but the school forbade him to continue doing that. Then his history classes were taken away altogether.

A spokeswoman for the Lincoln public schools says that Baker asked to retire and his request was honored.

Divorce Rates Are Low - Because Fewer Are Marrying

| Fri May 11, 2007 6:04 PM EDT

Golly gee whiz, it must be hard to work at the Heritage Foundation: to have one's doe-eyed innocence dashed again and again. Even what seems like good news proves to be further evidence that Americans are just not as pure and perfect as the Heritage Foundation believes we should and could be. So it was when the righteous ones heard that divorce rates had fallen significantly from their peak in 1981. Further investigation showed that fewer were divorcing because fewer were bothering to marry in the first place. Frowny-faces all around at Heritage: This is bad for the children!

Still further investigation revealed that divorce rates were significantly lower among college-educated couples. You know why? Craziness! It turns out opportunity makes people happier! So perhaps we should reinvigorate our sagging social safety network. You know what else we could try? Letting gay people marry. Some of them actually want to do it, and their joyful celebrations could give the flagging institution a real shot in the arm. And the economy, too.

CBS Fires Anti-War General; MSM: No Comment

| Fri May 11, 2007 5:47 PM EDT

Here's a prime example of a story the MSM is self-interestedly neglecting to cover. CBS fired General John Batiste, who had served as a consultant for the network, after he appeared in a VoteVets ad opposing the war in Iraq. CBS claims the ad damaged Batiste's credibility by undermining his apparent objectivity. But CBS has now been revealed to allow consultant Nicole Wallace—formerly of the White House communications operation, now on John McCain's campaign staff—to comment on Bush's policies, McCain's beliefs, and life in general. Not only that, but the ad in which Batiste appeared was pretty objective and analytical. Could anyone seriously be accused of diminishing their credibility by saying that we were led to war on false pretenses and don't have an effective strategy for winning? I mean, these are facts.