Top Ten Dutch Grocery Store Items of 2008

10. "Vla." Vla is pudding you can drink, make no mistake about that. Another fine product from the folks at Stabilac. You'll want to go ahead and finish both liters.

9. "6 Hot Dogs American Style." Because jars of pickled "Würstchen Vom Lande" are the biggest sellers at baseball stadiums and carnivals across the USA.

8. "Schmackos." Pictured are the Four Schmackos of the Apocalypse, coming to either smite or Rapture this dog. Let's hope for Rapturing because he looks like a good dog.

7. "Havermout." It makes Cream of Wheat look like oatmeal. Perfect for camping in grain fields.

6. "Rijstwafels met Zeezout." Kids here don't scream for ice cream. They scream for rice waffles with sea salt.

5. "Elmex." After all that grazing, you're gonna want to brush your teeth with Elmex ... if you're a monkey between the ages of 0 and 4, that is -- or between 0 and 5.

4. "American Style Big Pizza Texas Pepperoni - Salami." You can't go anywhere in Texas without stumbling over fluffy-based pepperoni-salami pizzas.

3. "Smac." What your lips do when you see it.

2. "Choco Choco's." Hold on, aren't dogs allergic to chocolate? Maybe not cartoon dogs.

1. "Nutrilon." Made from polar bear cubs and "Immunofortis" shields, Nutrilon doesn't sound like something you want to feed your baby. It sounds like something you want to feed an alien cyborg baby. ("And what about the Nutrilon tanks?" "19% and dropping, sir. Nearest resupply station appears to be ... Arcturus 14." "Set a course for Arcturus 14.")


60 Minutes: Obama's Road to the White house

This is for those like me, who didn't or couldn't watch it but want to at some point. I feel myself already taking it all for granted, and this is a reminder of how improbable it was. (Note "60 Minutes" is actually just over 43 minutes.)

Watch CBS Videos Online


Happy holidays

I snapped this photo last night as Haarlem ushered in Hannukah, with the burgermeester introducing a rabbi who lit the shamash (thanks, Wikipedia!). I indicate the different layers of religious imagery in this single photo, spanning paganism/shamanism's World Tree that stretches back into pre-history, to Judaism's commemoration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in the 2nd century BC, to the St. Bavo's church which started life as a Catholic cathedral in 1559 but was seized and converted to a Protestant church 20 years later (by basically destroying stained glass and statues). Who says God is dead? Quite the contrary, He just seems to get more complicated, even here in secular Europe. When the Islamic Caliphate of Europe is established, I will grab a shot of the new big gold onion dome.


Elizabeth Alexander to compose, recite inaugural poem

Anyone know her work? She's professor of African-American Studies at Yale. I had been wondering who would be "Obama's poet." Here's a little background on her selection. She seems to have won plenty of prizes and honors, but after a quick scan of these poems on her Web site I'm a little underwhelmed. However, there's no accounting for taste, and she has to be a better choice than the one made for the invocation.

Robert Frost delivered the first inaugural poem in 1961, Miller Williams the last in 1997. Dubya, whose favorite poems are almost certainly limericks, dropped the idea -- one imagines him crinkling his nose and cracking frat-boy wise when the possibility was brought up in a meeting. For my money, this is the bar, set in 1993, that any inaugural poet needs to clear:


Anyone Watch Californication?

Supposedly, some of the students decided to start referring to me as Runkel, from the show, Californication.

In an effort to find out how much vengeance this requires, I searched around and found out the character is an agent, completely bald, and was fired for masturbating, but that's all I can come up with.

Since I have long, Fabio-like locks, I figure it can't be the bald thing, I have never been an agent -- so that leaves the masturbating, which I of course limit to public rest areas and the bathrooms of friends, so that can't be it either.

Any of you television junkies have some helpful insight? Should I be upset or amused?


136 years of Popular Science free online

Wow. Every issue, going back to 1872. The ads alone... the designs alone... This is why I love/hate the Internet. Like I need another perfect way to spend time on it? Click the pic here, then choose your decade, choose your issue, and click the mag cover that pops up top.


Filming Revolutionary Road

With Yates' masterpiece being released for the screen in two weeks, I thought it was time to revisit this little gem in Salon that delves into a bit of the history behind the film, which has been "trying" to be made for 37 years. Winslet and DiCaprio together again for the first time since Titanic ... and they choose this film, which surely is the very antithesis? Can it be done well for the screen? Thinking back to American Beauty makes me think: just maybe.

Workshop TV series

We may have lost Live from Prairie Lights, but this might prove almost as cool. From the EG sheriff's inbox:
"Conversations from the Iowa Writers' Workshop," a new series produced by the University of Iowa Center for Media Production, will debut on the Big Ten Network Thursday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. with additional cablecasts Monday, Dec. 15 at 3 a.m. and Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 9 a.m.
Hosted by Kecia Lynn -- up first: Curtis Sittenfeld. There's a preview clip on YouTube, and that link will also have online versions of the show as it develops. I'm adding the link permanently to the "Things to look at" area in the right sidebar.


Timothy Egan states the obvious

But does it matter?

Regarding Joe the Plumber's upcoming book and Sarah Palin's rumored advance:

"Publishers: with all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on such a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print."


Your Neighborhood Bibliographer Wants to Know

What do you consider the best instructional texts in creative writing (particularly in poetry and creative non-fiction)?


Oldest stash ever found

789 grams with "relatively high THC content" was found in a 2,700-year-old shaman's tomb in China. At 7 euros per gram (average at the shop down the street), that's around 5500 euros -- $7000 worth of herb to help the feller get through the afterlife.

100 notable books of 2008

have been listed by the NYT. Among them books by Marilynne Robinson, Nam Le, Curtis Sittenfeld, Elizabeth McCracken, and Chris Adrian -- plus a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick and story collections by Tobias Wolff, Cynthia Ozick, and Annie Proulx. And new novels from Jim Harrison, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Aleksander Hemon. Lots of gift ideas here.

What did you read from this year that was notable?


The Other Democracy that matters in 2008

I'm on my second listen and I think I like enough of these songs to say the album is a success. But ultimately the "how" of this album is important enough that it might very well overshadow the "what."

Aside from this ruining the premise of my serial-noir (which, you know, is fine with me) I recognize that this album is art of a sort that rarely exists in the mainstream anymore: obsessively conceived and produced in epic toil. Fifteen years, people. It's like he's some sort of a novelist!

The time signature on that is just lusciously alien in 2008, when instant gratification (and disposal) are the default means of consumption. Add to that the fact that Axl--perhaps in another anachronism--seems in middle age to be every bit as incapable of irony, self-deprecating or otherwise, as he was in his brash youth, and you have a work of such pure earnest that I can't help but think of it as heroic. That a good number of you will scoff at such overstatement is part of what makes it real. This isn't just about greatness but also grandeur.

Maybe that makes it sound better.


City of Literature

Yesterday, the director-general of UNESCO approved Iowa City's application to the Creative Cities network:

"The panel of experts that evaluated the application of Iowa City recognized this University (sic) town’s unique profile as a creative writing and reading centre with impressive history of literary accomplishments. The community’s strategic commitment to literary culture through the diversity of grassroots initiatives, such as the Iowa’s Writers Workshop (sic) and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, was highly regarded as an instructional model and inspiration for other small cities to promote local economic and socio-cultural development through creative industries."

Bring on Dublin!

Doty, Matthiessen collect NBAs

Marilynne was a finalist, but alas no cigar. Interesting that Matthiessen's two NBAs were three decades apart! Now that's a career.


Writers on our writer-president-elect

An AP story from shortly after the election. I read and liked The Audacity of Hope -- it was a tad weaselly in parts, but I think that's understandable from someone running for national office. However, it was clearly written very well, by someone who knows the power and beauty of the well-chosen word. The better book it seems is Dreams from my Father, which I haven't read. I'd like to get hold of some of his poems that were supposedly praised by Harold Bloom.


A Real Pushover for Memory

Derrcules reminded me this morning via email of his favorite passage from Please Kill Me:

"Leee Childers: The Heartbreakers and I were at Caroline Coon's house for Christmas dinner. She was a journalist and she had money. And we were rock performers and we had none. On Christmas Day in London, everything shuts down. There are no buses, there are no subways. How are poor people supposed to go visit their relatives? It really is cruel. There's only taxis, and they're double fare. So we scraped our pences together and got a taxi to Caroline Coon's house because then she would at least feed us.

But once we were there, we were trapped. Along with every other punk rock band in London at the time. The Clash were all there, the Damned were all there, the Sex Pistols were all there. Everyone was at Caroline Coon's house. She was trying to make herself the queen of punk. She was an awful woman.

The whole Christmas dinner was set up to seduce Paul Simonon from the Clash. Which she got away with. She got laid. So that's fine. I've done worse.

Oh, everyone was very well behaved. They literally behaved just the same as other people all over England were behaving on Christmas. They just looked weird, that's all. Caroline was having the Christmas pudding in her basement, the ground floor in her language, and so they had just set it on fire and everyone was standing around waiting for it to burn before they served it. And I heard Jim Reeves drifting down through the stairwell singing...Jim Reeves' songs.

Who's Jim Reeves? Oh you little rock & rolll neophytes! Jim Reeves was one of the great country singers of all time, killed in a plane crash in 1964. He sang, 'Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone./Tell your friend you've got there with you, you've got to go.'

And I began to cry, like I'm crying now, because I'm a real pushover for memory. So I walk up the stairs to the second floor, which is the third floor in American language, and there was this little guy, just sitting there crying. So I sat down opposite him. And I cried too.

And when the song was over, I said, 'I can't tell you what that meant to me, because I'm from Kentucky, and I know my family is listening to Jim Reeves right now. Hi. I'm Leee Childers.'

And he said, 'Hi, I'm Sid Vicious.'"

It really might be the best book ever.


What if They Tie?

From Fivethirtyeight.com:

Using the Daily Kos estimate that 52.5% of recounted ballots will go to Franken (after dropping votes for third parties), we estimate a net gain of 206 votes for him, which is almost exactly the margin by which he presently trails Norm Coleman. (The margin is in fact exactly 206 votes as of this writing).

Possible tiebreakers: guessing the total points scored in the next Monday Night Football game, paper-rock-scissors (two out of three), cage match, runoff.

It's scary and fun when every vote matters.

Obama is bad for comedy

Not funny.


The Chicago White House

Here's Obama's likely new press secretary, Robert Gibbs, an Alabama native turned Chicagoan:

Oh, didn't some people worry that Obama would prove too conciliatory and deferential and accommodating, too namby-pamby, too lofty and ethereal and weak and hesitant and appeasing and cowering and effete and prissy? Didn't they claim that because he knows how to craft powerful language he would naturally allow the White House to be helplessly overrun by prancing pink unicorns snorting liberal fairy dust? And didn't the Republicans hope those things were true?

Ha ha ha ha ha! Add this cool customer Gibbs to David Axelrod as the Good Karl Rove of the North, and the pitbull Rahm "Dead! Dead! Dead!" Emanuel (whom we have to thank for a Democratic Congress) running the White House ... and it looks like open season on unicorns as well as Republicans. The Onion begins to resonate: "THE ADULTS HAVE COME BACK! WE ARE NOT HOME ALONE ANYMORE!"

These are seasoned power brokers ... from Chicago ... these are people that have nearly run the Republican party out of Illinois. They are cutthroat characters, ruthless, smart, merciless about getting things done. They just finished dispatching Clinton and McCain -- the two most powerful politicians in America -- and they are just getting warmed up. I am starting to think they'll make Rove and Cheney look like Laurel and Hardy. But what about bipartisanship? the Republicans are already whining. Well! It will be bipartisanship from a solid position of strength, it looks like. Meanwhile, Obama will be providing the overall leadership and be out there making with the soaring rhetoric that the country is now addicted to. I think it's about to dawn on people what a very, very good thing it is that we have done in making this unusual choice at the ballot box.

That said, it's awfully white and male so far (okay, make it two Jews and a Southerner). I want a lot of women and minorities in that cabinet and on the Supreme Court.


A man of few words

Even Bob Dylan is getting a little verklempt over this change thing:

"I was born in 1941," he said, a wavering sentimentality in his scratchy voice. "That was the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I've been living in darkness ever since. It looks like things are going to change now."


Visit the Office of the President-Elect online. You can even apply for jobs!

Election renders Morissey song outdated

His song "America Is Not the World" from the surprisingly good You Are the Quarry album contains these lines:
In America, the land of the free, they said,
And of opportunity, in a just and a truthful way.
But where the president is never black, female or gay,
and until that day,
you've got nothing to say to me, to help me believe.
Also these:
Steely blue eyes with no love in them, scan the world,
And a humourless smile, with no warmth within, greets the world.
And I, I have got nothing, to offer you
No-no-no-no-no, just this heart deep and true, which you say you don't need.
My favorite lines:
... America, it brought you the hamburger.
Well, America, you know where you can shove your hamburger.
To be fair, it ends like this:
And I love you,
I love you,
I love you.
And I love you,
I love you,
I love you.

High Grade Crack

The Newsweek Election Project, out now.

Were the Bush years worth this?

I just caught myself saying this is so great it almost makes eight years of Bush worth it. Like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction talking about someone keying his car: "It'd almost be worth him doing it, just so I could catch him doing it. " I asked myself, "Self, if you could go back and control election night, 2000 and be offered the proposition that if you let Bush barely win two terms, you will be rewarded with a solid and decisive win in 2008 by a brilliant, liberal, biracial writer -- would you do it?" My instinct is to say hell yes.

But if I knew what I know now, there's no way I could accept the suffering of so many innocent people around the world, especially the millions of refugees in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I would have to say no -- give it to Gore, who would probably have been a damned good president. Obama would still be out there ready to run a little later in life.

Not knowing what I know now, however, I might have to say yes. Bush back then seemed okay, not my cup of tea but certainly not evil or anything. I'd think: He couldn't screw things up too bad, and I think I'd take the bargain.


Goats for Obama

So chad and I braved the rally downtown last night. There were probably 100K digital cameras going, everyone trying to capture something of the spirit of the night. Impossible, really. They're saying 250K people, but it felt so much larger than that. When the newscasts called the election for Obama, the roar that rose from Grant Park must have rolled across the empty darkness of Lake Michigan and woken up people on the far shore. Astonishing. So much good will. So many good people. So much joy and hope. And for this flood to march afterward into the giant boulevards of Chicago was incredible. It was a perfect and beautiful night in a lot of ways.

Here are a few photos I took. (I have no idea who those goat people are but that's cool, eh?)

Champaign, IL

Walking to the election party, listening to results.

1230ish am-it's over

A surprisingly moving thing about this...

...was spending part of the morning scrolling through the international front pages at the Newseum. I find it strange but mostly wonderful that as these catastrophic last eight years come to an end, the rest of the planet - which in that time we've systematically beshitted, scorned, and generally treated like uninvited guests who are taking too long to leave - would be so moved and hopeful about what happened yesterday. (Amsterdammers, I don't know which way Het Parool leans most of the time, but its cover this morning was particularly lovely.) People still care about this place - or better yet, we're still capable of doing things worth praising:

They did it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the American people yesterday stood in the eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world.

Election night Amsterdam


President Obama

I Voted for Kodos

Anyone else see that hologram thing on CNN? It's like they're finally admitting they broadcast from a space ship.

Investors love likely Obama win

Stock market stages biggest election day rally in 24 years.

Exit polling

Remember how excited we all were in 2004 when the exit polls leaked?  Nate Silver from 538(translating the info from Pollster.com) gives us the lowdown on why not to pay attention to them this year.  Interesting stuff.  (And 538 is a great site, for those of you who haven't yet discovered it.)

Regardless of what the exit polls say, I am excited and hopeful.  NPR says statewide turnout in CA is expected to be 85%.  NO ON 8!

Revere, MA

My friend Berto recounts his experience voting this morning.

Write-in for DFW

It's going to be a long day at Holy Cross Church, my polling place. Already at 6:15 AM there was a line out the door, and it took about three lines and 50 minutes just to get a ballot. Says the man with bleary eyes and a cell phone holstered to his hip, "Shit, If I'd known it was going to be like this, I'd be selling hot dogs."

After the first line, there was some confusion over which line one should next join. An old man in a janitor's uniform and an FDNY hat got upset about this, and the election judge, in true bureaucratic fashion, calmly claimed to understand. Of course she wasn't telling him which line he should be in, probably because she didn't know, nor was she making any effort to find out. So one could make the case that she did not understand at all. Which the old man did. "I'm confused, and I don't think I'm the only one, but I'm man enough to admit it." A got him in the right line.

One woman Adrienne saw ("middle aged, bad sweater, bespectacled," she reports) was complaining about the DEMO ballot. "I want a ballot with republicans on it," she indignantly complained to the same judge. "This only has democrats." The demo ballot included elections for "Best Celebrity Basketball Coach" and "Best Champaign-Urbana Native," for which George Will, I noticed, had been nominated, along with Alison Krouse, Bonnie Blair, and Roger Ebert. DFW was notably absent.

"I want an official ballot," the woman said. "This one is democrats only."

"You can't have an official ballot until you get to the end of the next line," said the judge.

"I want an official ballot! You have to give me one!"

A, foreseeing the later call to Rush Limbaugh, explained what the judge refused to. "These aren't democrats, they're celebrities. The only point of the demo ballot is to show you how to fill in the bubble. You'll get a real one before you go into the booth."

Anyway, things seemed to be going a little smoother by the time we were leaving. I don't know if they reset those counters at any point during the day, but my ballot was 170 something just after 7 am.

Let's get it done, folks. Yes we can, yes we will, yes we did.


Happy Election Day!

Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what Biden's image stands for.

I'm sorry to bump traca's and Pete's posts, but I hope there are a lot more posts today and tonight, and lots of photos of this truly historic day. Local thoughts this morning: Last night here, as Obama's grandmother headed toward glory, Leonard Cohen, 74, sailed through a 2.5-hour show that would shame folks 1/3 his age. "What an honor it is to be back in Rotterdam," he said. "It's been fifteen years since I was last here. I was sixty back then, just a kid with a crazy dream."

When he sang "Hallelujah" I was abruptly lifted by the angels, and sobbed uncontrollably in my chair, overcome by the realization that these years of wandering in the desert are finally over, that we are approaching the promised land where we can begin to rebuild all we've destroyed and lost and squandered. As if reading my mind he then played, as I had hoped, "Democracy," which he said was his "love letter to the USA." Some lovely person at the Swedish show caught these two songs together, and it is amazing. The old poet has actually gotten better at singing since his years on Mt. Baldy.

Many may know this version of "Hallelujah" better, or Bow Jenkins'.

Here are the lyrics to "Democracy" -- let them lift your heart this day!

It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the war against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

The world has spoken

This is the first election eve that's found me giddy in a long time (helps that I'm going to a Leonard Cohen show). I feel increasingly sure of getting what I want, which is pretty amazing as it is the biggest political wish I've ever had. And I look forward to it almost as I looked forward to learning how being married felt -- I know it will be great, but I really can’t be more specific than that until it happens. But here's a taste: For the last several months, 'The Economist' has been hosting a global electoral college in which readers from 195 countries participated. The results are not surprising but are still extremely uplifting: of the 55,000 votes cast, Obama took 44,000. Ninety percent in favour of Obama. He nabbed 9,115 delegates to McCain’s shoddy 203. (For the curious, McCain won Cuba, Algeria, the Congo, and Iraq. I’m thinking they’d just like to fight with him.) Enjoy your election day -- it’s going to be amazing.

Over your shoulder

That Studs Terkel thing I found got me thinking: who will be over my shoulder when I'm in the booth voting in this historic election? It's a personal question, I think, and it would probably be cheapened were I to answer it out loud, or at least cheapened by my self-consciousness at answering it out loud. But wondering out loud-- that's another thing altogether.

The truth is there are a lot of people. Family; historic figures; and yes, fictional characters. Maybe it's silly, but I'm making a list and I will be reciting it to myself in the booth before I cast my vote.

Who will be over your shoulder? You can answer if you're inclined to. Or maybe just think about it.


Somebody's gotta remember

Studs Terkel less than two weeks ago:

The important thing is memory. You know in this country, we all have Alzheimer's. Obama has got to remember his days as an organizer. It all comes back to the neighborhood. Well I hope the election is a landslide for Obama.

A good note for going into Tuesday. I'm kind of sad that he didn't make it to Wednesday- get to see it. So let's all see it for him then.


Wish I Had a Camera

Election Day, 5 Days Early

I happened to be off work yesterday (here in Chicago) and decided to do a little early voting. I ran by my early voting place at about 10am, on a workday, and found the line out the door of my little neighborhood public library. Drove by around 1pm. The line was still there. At 2pm, I joined the line and waited 2.5 hours to vote. The line wrapped around my neighborhood branch, and inside the library the line snaked through all the stacks and around the entire inside of the library ending in a room where another 30 people waited in chairs for an electronic booth to open. There must have been at all times 200-300 people. When I left at about 4:30, the line outside was twice as long, all the way down the block. Probably 500 people. Polls were to close at 5pm.

As I was waiting outside, the energy buzzing around was palpable and electrifying. People driving by kept stopping and asking if this was a voting line. When someone answered yes, they almost always smiled this sort of fantastic, happy smile of wonderment and all-is-right-in-the-world-ishness. High school kids doing some sort of project for school where going up and down the line interviewing people. Dozens of people walking to the grocery store nearby stopped, pulled cell phones from pockets and took pictures. Some stopped to talk to people in line. It felt a bit like those moments after a catastrophe when there is no more Me as much as there is Us, except this was a joyful occasion, rather than a terrifying one. It felt appropriately historic.

My neighborhood is full of African immigrants, Muslims, and elderly Old World immigrants (along with your friendly mix of gentrifiers). It was so fantastic to see, especially among the African immigrants, the barely surpressed grins when people got to that final leg of the line, into that room where the voting booths surrounded us. I heard several people talking about getting tickets to the rally in Grank Park, which are much coveted. The seventy thousand that they put out seems at least 1/10th too small, and dozens of people talked about planning to go down there anyway.

Don't get me wrong, 2.5 hours is a long time to wait. Exhiliration gave way sometimes to annoyance, only to be perked back up to exhiliration by something else. There are 51 early voting locations in the city, and from what I've read in the papers, almost all of them have been similarly swamped for the 2 weeks or so that they have been open.

I know that Obama is much beloved here. I'm sure there is no city in this country that will probably vote more heavily for him. So it's not as if we were there to assure his victory in our city and state. And there really aren't any hotly contested legislative or local elections this year (Durbin is a shue-in; Schakowsky is shue-in). I think what really got me was that all of us were willing to put up with 2.5 hour waits in order to register our belief in this guy and in order to register our severe discontent with the current administration.

My reluctance to early vote was partly due to the fact that I've always enjoyed the euphoria I feel voting on Election Day. It was a treat to find that I didn't miss that one bit. Seems like that energy's been floating here for 2 weeks already.

I'm trying to reign in my optimism, but it's hard after yesterday: Tuesday is shaping up to be a good day.

The least scary Halloween in 12 years

For nervous pollwatchers... a simple equation remains:

Kerry states
+ Iowa
+ New Mexico
+ any other state
President Obama

He is comfortably ahead in every Kerry state. Here are Pollster.com's charts for Iowa and New Mexico:

What about that one last state? Well, Obama is also ahead or tied in Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and North Carolina. McCain has to win ALL NINE of those. Obama has to win ONE.

As if that weren't enough, two additional Bush states seem to be in reach: Montana and Georgia.


DFW feature in Rolling Stone

David Lipsky's absolutely terrific piece on what happened to David Foster Wallace is available online, in case you haven't bought your souvenir Obama-on-the-cover copy. I bought it in the airport, read it, walked right back to the store and bought Infinite Jest (I had wanted to start with Broom of the System, but no dice).

Daughter of slave votes for Obama

Wow. Check out Amanda Jones.


Best political web video

Andrew Sullivan put up a list of 10 web videos for us to vote on for the best of the season.  You may have seen some already, but they're worth a look.  I personally enjoyed Palinex, The Vet Who Did Not Vet, and, of course, Wassup.


A question about election-night returns

I can't remember how 2004's election-night returns rolled out on TV.  Do the networks start showing returns as soon as each state's polls close, or do they wait until all the polls close everywhere to report on anything?  

I am assuming it is the former since the latter would have meant staying up very late, and everyone knows I don't like to stay up late.


When I took Ethan's novella class, at one point he described his theory about titles (that is, how to decide upon one for your own story).  It was a bullet-pointed list of things not to do, from what I recall.  One of the points was something like "Don't make your title half of a cliche" -- like don't title your story "Desperate Times" and then have it be all about desperate measures.

Does anyone else remember any others?  I ask because I was taking a revision class last weekend, and this question came up.  I think Ethan's list would be helpful to the other people in this class, but I cannot find my notes on the subject.

(Alternatively, please feel free to weigh in with your own philosophy of titling.)


Obama rally: Indianapolis

I didn't get many good pics. I arrived at 10 a.m. -- he was supposed to start at 11 but didn't arrive till almost noon. Just standing there in one spot for two hours played havoc with my lower back. Then a cheer went up ... but it was Evan Bayh. Who introduced ... some lady who had lost her health insurance. Finally Barack took the stage to wild cheering, but I must say the excitement had nearly worn off for me by then. His speech was a pretty harsh and political, not a lot of uplifting stuff, just the tit for tat argument of these final days.

What was uplifting was seeing 36,000 white people and black people in Indianapolis getting together, talking, laughing, dancing together to the nice selection of tunes. It's a pretty segregated city. You go a block here, a block there, and all of a sudden everyone is a different color. But not that morning. I hadn't seen such unified multiracial action here before. Hopefully that was just a taste of the cultural shift, the racial healing that's coming for the entire country. And Indiana is not used to mattering in elections. It's been 44 years since it has voted for a Dem for president, but polls here right now are tight as a tick. I asked my dad, a lifelong Republican, who was going to win Indiana. "Obama will," he said.


A proposal

Let's do a photo essay on Election Day here at Earth Goat.  Whether you're voting that day or, having responsibly voted early, just going about your daily business, post photos of what's going on where you are -- lines at the polls, people with their campaign buttons*, etc.  Goats are all over the place, and it would be nifty to pass the time until the polls close by seeing what's going on all around this beleaguered (but possibly hopeful) nation of ours.

In election-related news, my brother sussed out that my mother voted for Obama.  This was in question since she voted for McCain in Texas's open primary.  But, whoa, she HATES Sarah Palin.  And she claimed my father is sitting out this election -- he doesn't like McCain/Palin but can't bring himself to vote for a Democrat.  I consider that a victory.

*Apparently, wearing campaign-related garb and accessories counts as "electioneering" in some states, so put that button in your pocket or turn your shirt inside out when you go to the polls.


Home work?

On Nov. 3, Marilynne R. is reading here in IC, presumably from Home, and some of my students will be going. I want them to have read something from Marilynne's earlier work, even just 10-15 pages. Suggestions?

Early voting

I voted last week.  No small part of me wanted to go vote on Election Day and to enjoy what should, I hope, be a glorious and historic day.  But then my natural paranoia made me think: what if there are earthquakes in San Francisco and Los Angeles on November 4, and the Central Valley ends up deciding what happens with the presidential election and on odious proposition 8?  

And then the rational part of me also said that lines might be long, and the ballot here in San Francisco, particularly if you live in a district electing a supervisor (which I do), involves four separate ballots and takes a while to fill out.  It was decided: I would vote early.

So I went down to City Hall -- mind you, this was neither in the exuberant rush of people eager for the first day of early voting, nor was it close to Election Day itself, nor was it even at the lunch hour or some other busy moment -- and I had to wait 10 minutes to get a ballot.  And now come reports of long early-voting lines in many states, as well as surges of new voters registering at the deadlines, suggesting that there will indeed be long lines on Election Day.

My point is: why not go ahead and vote now if you can?  Or if you're not already doing absentee?  The Google has most of the answers about how to vote early if your state allows it.


Who Caused the Gigantic International Financial Krakatoa?

New York magazine has been hosting IM (in a loose sense) conversations for the last week or so on the election, the economy, and politics in general. None of them come close to the hilarity found in this conversation between Byron York of National Review and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.

It's worth reading the whole thing, but this portion of the exchange is one of the highlights:

M.T.: What a surprise that you mention Franklin Raines. Do you even know how a CDS works? Can you explain your conception of how these derivatives work? Because I get the feeling you don't understand. Or do you actually think that it was a few tiny homeowner defaults that sank gigantic companies like AIG and Lehman and Bear Stearns? Explain to me how these default swaps work, I'm interested to hear.

Because what we're talking about here is the difference between one homeowner defaulting and forty, four hundred, four thousand traders betting back and forth on the viability of his loan. Which do you think has a bigger effect on the economy?

B.Y.: Are you suggesting that critics of Fannie and Freddie are talking about the default of a single homeowner?

M.T.: No. That is what you call a figure of speech. I'm saying that you're talking about individual homeowners defaulting. But these massive companies aren't going under because of individual homeowner defaults. They're going under because of the myriad derivatives trades that go on in connection with each piece of debt, whether it be a homeowner loan or a corporate bond. I'm still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I'm guessing you've never even heard of them.

I mean really. You honestly think a company like AIG tanks because a bunch of minorities couldn't pay off their mortgages?

B.Y.: When you refer to "Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act," are you referring to S.3283, co-sponsored by Gramm, along with Senators Tom Harkin and Tim Johnson?

M.T.: In point of fact I'm talking about the 262-page amendment Gramm tacked on to that bill that deregulated the trade of credit default swaps.

Tick tick tick. Hilarious sitting here while you frantically search the Internet to learn about the cause of the financial crisis — in the middle of a live chat interview.

Candidate metaphors

You may have seen this elsewhere on the Web (created by some brilliant commmenter named Kdoug:

I started dicking around with Photoshop and came up with this:

I'm going to be doing more of these as the election approaches... I expect them to get weirder. Give me ideas in the comments!


Coolly named French fellow snags Nobel lit prize

I have to admit, I had never even heard of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio until he won the coveted honor today. And I'm sure that says a hell of a lot more about me than it does him.

It seems he really likes deserts (he lives near your neck of the sands, dunkeys -- go interview him for Earth Goat).

Europeans, who account for 11% of the world's population, have grabbed 12 of the last 14 Nobel literature prizes (that's 85%). As Wikipedia notes, "The absolute majority of the laureates have been European, with Sweden itself receiving more prizes than all of Asia."

Maybe they should give out one per continent every year. Then all I'd have to do is move to Antarctica. And, you know, finish my novel. And publish it.

Donna Brazille puts down the talking points and grabs the country by the lapels

She goes on a beautiful four-minute unscripted tear re: progress, racism, sexism and the election.


Curtis Sittenfeld interview: American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld is the New York Times bestselling author of the highly acclaimed Prep and The Man of My Dreams. Her third and latest novel, American Wife, chronicles the life of Alice Blackwell, First Lady -- a character inspired by Laura Bush. We were delighted when Curtis agreed to sit down with us for our third chat.

EG: I must admit, when I heard what your book was about, I was like, what the? The least-liked president ever, and Curtis has written a book about the one person who loves him the most? But then I started thinking ... yeah, but why does she love him? It suddenly seemed like a great idea for fiction to explore, and I started thinking of works like Autumn of the Patriarch, Primary Colors, Citizen Kane . Was it hard to sell the idea to your agent or publisher? Were there pitfalls you wanted to avoid?

CS: I was under contract with my publisher for a third novel, and the subject of it was up to me (or at least I had this illusion!). Basically, I did know that a novel loosely inspired by Laura Bush could turn out to be a disaster in any number of ways, so I started writing it as a secret experiment and didn't tell my editor until I was hundreds of pages in. My concern was not that the book wouldn't be sellable but more that even if it turned out to be really bad and cheesy, it had enough of a hook that it could probably still get published -- and I didn't want it to be published for the wrong reasons. But ultimately I was happy with it, and so was my editor -- all she saw before I finished the whole thing was a 30-page excerpt, but she was always enthusiastic. The most difficult thing to explain to people who hadn't read it was that even though I'm a Democrat, it's not a satire.

EG: In a 2004 Salon essay called "Why I Love Laura Bush", you wrote: "How can she really be a good person if she's married to him? How can she be married to him if she really is more liberal than he is? But ambiguities are the foundation of fiction; it is only in the world of politics that they're met with hostility." Did you write the book partly as a way to explain our recent history to yourself?

CS: I definitely think I wrote this book to try to examine some of those questions that most intrigued me about Laura Bush. I suppose I also wrote it to try to show that famous people don't exist just for us to judge and critique -- they have their own stories, experiences, private wishes and regrets.

EG: Alice says her life is "lived in opposition to itself." She justifies/rationalizes her shared responsibility in her husband's conservative administration while disagreeing with much of it. She tries to separate out her love for Charlie from her distaste for his political job. Do you think Alice is happy with how she's handled her life? And do you think her down-to-earth father, who had his saying about fools appearing in public places, would have approved?

CS: I'd say that, by design, American Wife explores these questions more than it answers them. I don't think the answer to whether Alice is happy with how she's handled her life is as straightforward as "yes" or "no" -- it's probably a mix, and it changes depending on the day. This would be a difficult question for any of us to answer, don't you think? As for whether her father would approve, he'd probably feel wary about her living so publicly, but he'd also probably be a bit wowed, as most of us are, by that level of fame and power. By the way, former or current residents of Iowa City reading this interview might be amused to hear that when I read at Prairie Lights last week, Julie Englander asked me if I too lead a life in opposition to itself.

EG: I'm curious who you envisioned as your reader. Liberals might not be interested, thinking it's fluff, and conservatives might assume it's a hit job.

CS: Oh, believe me, I thought of this as I was writing -- that there's enough in the book to turn off Democrats and Republicans for different reasons! But the topics in this book were endlessly interesting to me, and I tend to let my own preoccupations be my guide. I guess that I imagine the people who read American Wife will mostly just be people who like novels, who are interested in the various complications of human relationships and aren't necessarily political junkies.

EG: What has the reaction been from conservatives? Have you heard whether anyone on the "inside" has read it? Were you worried about that aspect? It's funny how a sex scene, for example, that wouldn't raise an eyebrow in a "normal" book suddenly seems fraught with danger and controversy here. We are still talking about fiction, after all.

CS: Mrs. Bush's spokeswoman told a reporter that she herself didn't plan to read it, that Mrs. Bush didn't plan to read it, and that they don't comment on fictional characters, which I thought was pretty diplomatic. If anyone on the inside has read it, I haven't heard, though I do know of some political reporters or former political reporters -- including Maureen Dowd and Joe Klein, who both have written about American Wife and seemed to enjoy it. Their affirmation meant a lot to me because they'd certainly be in positions to notice my gaffes or false notes more easily than the average reader.

EG: Laura Bush has surprised many liberal writers, who presumably loathe her husband, by her knowledge of their work. She is by all accounts a devoted reader, as is your Alice. You describe Laura Bush's approach as "stealth independence." There was that poetry symposium where she invited many writers -- but once it was announced that there would be anti-war poetry, she canceled the event. In your essay you speculate that the poetry might have been acceptable if it had simply happened in the moment, but once it was foretold it became untenable to allow it. What is your view of the benefits of Laura's/Alice's stealth independence?

CS: In a weird way, a person has more credibility if she's not known for consistently voicing the same viewpoint, or even for voicing any viewpoint. For instance, a few months back, Laura Bush made generous comments about both Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, and those comments got much more attention than they might have coming from a Democrat (Rosalynn Carter, for example).

But I also think it's presumptuous for any of us to say what someone in Laura Bush's position should or shouldn't do -- we have to take into account her specific personality and temperament, and what she's comfortable doing. In writing American Wife, I was very influenced by a great biography of her, The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush by Ann Gerhart, and a question Gerhart grapples with is, given that a first lady can be very influential, is it her duty to exercise that influence? Is it a cop-out not to? But, of course, as a Democrat watching Mrs. Bush root for various Republicans at their convention in September, I was wishing she'd use her influence a bit less!

EG: You also wrote: "Literary fiction acknowledges the discrepancy between how we act and what we feel. When I teach creative writing to teenagers, I tell them to think about going with their parents to a party. The people are boring, and the house smells bad, and you just want to leave. In real life, you say to your hosts, 'Thanks so much! I had such a great time!' But fiction admits how boring and smelly it was." That seems like a great way to introduce young writers to the possibilities of writing fiction -- the tension between the interior life and one's exterior actions. How has that worked with your own students?

CS: Hmm ... you should probably ask them! In recent years, I've found myself teaching workshops for adults (like the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, or a summer course at the Iowa Writers' Workshop) more than for teenagers. But when I've taught teenagers, I feel like part of what's exciting for them is realizing they're "allowed" to write about situations or feelings that they could actually get in trouble for discussing in another class.

EG: I loved Alice's ruminations on her unsolicited fame -- how people come out of the woodwork, people you barely knew, and they all seem to want something, and how she and her husband have to wonder whether they can trust anyone to simply be their friends anymore, and once you reach a very high level of fame that all goes away because you are insulated by a barrier of handlers and so forth. What are you trying to get at in your own mind when you explore these questions of inequality in social standing and unequal access to resources and comfort?

CS: This might sound facile, but the world is an outrageously unfair place, and a lot of us, including me, often choose to pretend this isn't so -- maybe because otherwise we'd be paralyzed by guilt, or just bewildered by the senselessness. Certainly I'm interested in what the obligations are of people who are more fortunate to people who are less fortunate. And I do struggle with feeling like being a fiction writer is a fairly self-indulgent profession, that I am not exactly improving people's lives in any important way. I have often thought that I'd have a lot more respect for myself if I were a social worker instead of a writer.

EG: How is the real-life presidential campaign looking in Missouri, with the country about to "turn the page" on the Bush years? What's your take on how history will view the Bushes?

CS: Well, my fingers are tightly crossed for an Obama victory, and if that comes to pass (please, please, please!), then I suppose a case could be made that some people will have voted for Obama partly in reaction against Bush. It definitely seems like Democrats have learned from some of the mistakes of the 2000 and 2004 elections. Here in Missouri, I take note of every new yard sign in my neighborhood for either McCain or Obama. The Obama ones outnumber the McCain ones, but my fear is that people voting for Obama are excited enough to put out a sign while a lot of people voting for McCain will do it sort of quietly and unenthusiastically. I think an Obama presidency would be (will be?) thrilling.



What do we think of the new Atlantic design? In a vacuum, I like it. But back here in the time-space continuum, it strikes me that retro is never really a vehicle forward, though maybe here, at the end of history--after the universe has begun at least a metaphorical contraction and progress is marked by our ability to parse ever-smaller spaces-- staring hard across the diameter of some illusory cycle of culture has something to recommend it. At least this gerbil, we can say, has managed to build its own wheel.


A Grain of Sand

I just saw this wonderful (short!) piece in the NYT by Steven Millhauser about the particular ambition of short stories, which live generally in the shadows cast by novels, but which can exceed novels, too. I kind of love it.



The Post Turtle on Obama:

"This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America," she said. "We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism."

Sure, it's an obnoxious, desperate thing to say. But I don't really care about that. The truth is they've been saying obnoxious, desperate things since July. I doubt it's going to suddenly do what they need it to do.

But this is the second time now that Palin has made a pretty ironic malapropism with the word "exceptionalism." I think she means to say "America is exceptional" rather than "America is full of people who think America is exceptional--like me, for example!", which is actually quite a different statement. She might be surprised who agrees with her on that one.

(I would think, maybe, that a true commitment to American exceptionalism would necessarily include a willful ignorance of the very concept--an historian's term, really-- because it suggests a possibly critical awareness of American Bestitude. To define the belief that America is exceptional with so many syllables, with that stamp of subjectivity, "-ism," after all, is to admit the existence of alternatives--maybe even legitimate ones. That's probably why, in Polk's day, they just called it "manifest destiny." Destiny--the perfect word for the true believer, really, because it removes all inkling of agency, alternative, or qualm.)

I haven't seen any particular coverage of this gaffe. Maybe it's an elitist sort of thing to remark upon, so the real elites are actually too horrified to mention it, lest they be exposed (true story- I had to check wikipedia the other day to be sure that David Brooks isn't the bastard son of a toothless sulphur miner/pentacostal banjoist. He hides it well) .