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.