Thursday, December 22, 2005

God bless you, Mr. Hitchens

I have a strong love-hate relationship with Christopher Hitchens. Mostly, he loves hearing himself talk and I hate it.

However, I often find myself in agreement with Mr. Hitchens when he discusses religion, and in particular the problematic intersections of religion and public policy and culture. Case in point, it's Christmas again, and Mr. Hitchens is not terribly happy about it.

Hmm. . . Seems to me that I've written more about Christopher Hitchens in the past.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What to do with the arts?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of the arts in academia. For example, it's tough enough for a sensitive and creative reader to find his/her way through the contemporary theory-driven English department, but how much more so for the writer? The uselessness of a writing MFA is a cliche.

Thus I was interested to read in today's New York Times a discussion of college dance programs.

I love college-level arts instruction, but it seems to me to be doing people a disservice to offer a degree with so little expectation of a resulting career.

At the same time, the problem only exists because college-level education has become so career-driven. There is little room for dance instruction in a pre-medical program, and so the choice seems to become all or nothing. Take a dance BA, or don't study dance at all.

In a perfect world, an arts program wouldn't need specific numbers of graduates to justify its continued existence, but I fear that with declining state funding for public universities, administrative "indulgence" for arts programs without demonstrated revenue enhancing capacities can only decline.

It's incredibly stupid, but I couldn't stop laughing

For your friends, your enemies, and your pets, a Chewbacca Xmas card. (Courtesy Entertainment Weekly online.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

More year-end books

Salon has just posted their eleven item list of the year's ten best books. (Everyone really seems to like Kafka on the Shore. Maybe I'll have to give it another chance when it comes out in paperback.)

Interestingly, the New York Times' Public Editor has just written an examination of how that newspaper's Book Review decides who gets reviewed and by whom. On the whole, it's rather dry reading, but I found interesting that the editors attempt to maintain objectivity by keeping watch over their mealtime company. Byron Calame writes that "Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Book Review, [says that] he and his top editors 'do very few lunches with publishers or agents' where they could be lobbied about decisions."

While I'm at it, here are some other publications' lists of the best fiction of 2005.

And Publisher's Weekly's list, which is not so much a best-of, but sort of an inventory, and is perhaps the most entertaining of the bunch.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Not much, really

It's been a slow week, at least in my head. I feel like I'm starting to trim the edges and tie things down in anticipation of the new arrival my family is expecting in January. I have been certainly feeling an itch in the back of my head to start working on a new project, but at this point I would rather take some notes and set them safely aside than to try to set something in motion and then abandon it in a newborn-induced haze of sleepless nights and dirty diapers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The Detroit Free Press reports that today WDET is removing its daytime music programming in favor of news and additional NPR programming. (Click here to read my previous post on WDET.)

Another reason that I'm not sad to have gotten the hell out of Detroit.

Friday, December 09, 2005

. . . And tigers, and bears, oh my!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is in theaters today. In addition to taking the prize for unnecessary lengthening of an already long title, this movie adaptation should remind us of C.S. Lewis's one true stroke of genius.

Jesus lions. Every children's book needs Jesus lions. My first children's book is going to have a whole army of them, along with a second army of Jesus lionesses to do all of the hunting necessary to feed the army of Jesus lions.

It's going to rock holy.

No, really, I actually love Lewis's Narnia books. The movie looks like it could be fun, but I've already filled my British magical adventure movie quota for this year, thank you very much.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A voice here rarely heard

The text of Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize speech, presented by video last night in Stockholm, is available here. (Courtesy of the Guardian.)

As a U.S. citizen, it is difficult reading. It is also quite possibly essential. The difficulty of being a U.S. citizen, a member of the world's most powerful democracy, is that we cannot deny responsibility for a government that increasingly wishes to inflict itself on the rest of the world. Our current administration may be a particularly sickening embodiment of this tendency, but the it is a taint which touches every administration, Republican or Democratic, of the past fifty years.

And through them, it touches us. The government is mine, whether I voted for the other guy or not. If these things are allowed to continue it is through my support, because I allow the security and prosperity of my family and my children to blind me to the poverty and death inflicted in my name.

As a citizen, it is a matter of an immoral and unsupportable government. As an artist, I face the possibility that my language will become an immoral agent of its own. I love English, but if my literature does not begin to express its outrage and the possibility that the world could exist in some other fashion, I will be guilty of an unforgivable abdication.

For a political philosophy that claims a monopoly on absolute truth, our president seems to have forgotten a few things. Torture is unforgivable. Our comfort cannot justify the deaths of innocents at our hands. It is time that we count the Iraqi dead. It is time that we demand economic opportunity for all, at home and abroad. It is time to demand the rule of law, on individuals and states. It is time to take a seat in the international community as an equal, not a demagogue.

I have no desire to renounce my citizenship, even though I cannot deny that the idea has at times held appeal. I must instead recognize my obligation, and begin to work to fulfill it, in any way I can.

As I deflate, and consider the limitations of my pen and my keyboard, I can at least mention that Pinter's Paris Review interview from 1966 is available here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Promo CD problems

The Detroit Free Press is reporting this morning that WDET DJ Martin Bandyke has been "allowed to resign" over accusations that he "trafficked in recorded music and accepted free concert tickets in violation of WSU policy." (WDET is Detroit's Wayne State University-operated NPR affiliate.) Apparently, Bandyke had been taking duplicate copies of promotional CDs provided to WDET for airplay to used music resellers and exchanging them for additional titles to add to WDET's library. He also, apparently, had been obtaining free concert tickets from music label representatives.

Unlike many NPR affiliates, WDET plays little or no classical music. Instead it airs new music between NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." Spending most of the past year in the Detroit area, I found myself listening to WDET almost exclusively, especially given Detroit's dearth of original radio programming. (Old 90s standbys 88.7 and 96.3 have become exactly that--stations that split their broadcast between the music popular in the 90s and the MTV track of the week, which, more often than not, is deservedly removed from the playlist after a few days.) Last year's regulars ranged from Beck and Kraftwerk to John Prine, Sonny Landreth, and Mary Gauthier. I worked in a music store, and I discovered far more new music through WDET than I did at work.

At the same time, as the circumstances I've described have hinted, WDET is a bit of an exception, and I'm sure that they have to work pretty hard to keep it up. There is something of a perception that working at a radio station or music store means that you're swimming in free CDs. I can tell you from experience that this is far less true now than it was ten years ago. Ease of CD pirating has meant that labels are far less likely to distribute free CDs before a release date, and since so many commercial outlets have installed digital listening stations, there's far less of a need to distribute promotional listening copies at all. Since the promotional CDs we did get came in after release dates, we tended to only get copies of discs that were selling well, and different sources would end up sending us multiple copies of the same few titles. I imagine that this was often the case at WDET as well.

I have two reactions to the news of Mr. Bandyke's habits. Working in a store that sold used CDs, one of my pet peeves used to be label reps and employees of other music stores that would bring in big piles of promotional CDs to sell. In part, my frustration was my employer's apparent "plausible deniability" policy. If "promotional CD -- not for sale" was actually printed on the CD or booklet, I couldn't buy the disc, but if the CD were marked in one of the handful of other ways that labels use to distinguish promotional discs without the words "promotional" or "not for sale" actually appearing, I was supposed to accept the item as saleable. While selling promotional merchandise as "used" could have led to a lot of trouble were we to get caught, the attitude seemed to be that so long as we could plausibly say "oh, I didn't notice that the bar code had been punched out," that it was no problem.

On the other hand, in contrast to the label reps and music store employees that used to tick me off, Mr. Bandyke was not exchanging the discs for personal gain. This is a big gray area. While ethically, Mr. Bandyke's defense that "everybody on staff" was doing the same thing carries little weight with me, the fact remains that not only is the selling and reselling of promotional merchandise rampant, but that while record labels claim that promotional discs are "property of the label and must be returned on demand," I have never heard of a case where a label has ever asked that a promotional disc be returned, and I believe that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who was aware of such an event ever having actually occurred.

Thus, promotional CDs, for all practical purposes, do not remain the property of the label. They are distributed with no intent of return, and it is arguamble that the intent is all but for employees to take them home for their personal collection (at least after a period of broadcast or in-store play). While I still have issues with promotional discs being sold for cash, which still makes Bandyke's actions questionable at best--he may not have been selling the discs, but he was trading them for eventual sale--I have a hard time working up much in the way of outrage over Mr. Bandyke's apparent motivations.

There are big problems with the music industry, not the least of which being that if you want to run a radio station that broadcasts a wide variety of new and archival music, you have to resort to shady dealings to get your hands on the music you can't get from the labels.

(There is of course, room for a great deal more discussion, including the fact that WSU was not able to produce a copy of the policy under which Mr. Bandyke was asked to resign, and Mr. Bandyke's apparent feeling of entitlement to free concert tickets for personal use, but I think that 850 words for a blog entry is more than enough. Click here for my October 17 posting on a new proposal for copyright law, which also links to an October 11 post on Snarkmarket which discusses the ethics of selling used books and CDs.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Past glories

When I was in college at Michigan State University, a few friends and I started a literary magazine, The Offbeat. The magazine actually still exists today (check out the new, updated web site), and you can find most of the back issues at either the MSU Press, or at

Quite a while ago, I compliled an annotated index of the issues of The Offbeat printed while I was editor. I'm still looking for a print home for the index, but with a little bit of additional work, I indexed the remaining volumes and put together something of a statistical analysis. I'd be surprised if anyone not familiar with The Offbeat would find that much of interest in the information, but most of the few people who read my blog know my old magazine, so here goes.

The Offbeat, since its founding, has had four editors:

In the full run of The Offbeat (counting Spring 1999-Fall 2000)

139 writers were published
251 pieces were published

67 female writers published 108 pieces (48.2% of writers, 43.0% of total work)
72 male writers published 143 pieces (51.8% of writers, 57.0% of total work)

89 writers had one piece published (64.0% of writers, 35.9% of total work)
30 writers had two pieces published (21.6% of writers, 23.1% of total work)
9 writers had three pieces published (6.5% of writers, 10.8% of total work)
11 writers had more than three pieces published (7.9% of writers, 30.3% of total work)

3 writers had four pieces published: Jeremy Campbell, Micki Evans, and Kathryn Tucker (Poetry Editor, 2000-2001, Editor, 2002)
2 writers had five pieces published: Josh Guilford (Poetry Editor 2004-2005) and Rachel Murray
2 writers had six pieces published: Meg McClure and Steven Rajewski

Colleen Farrow had seven pieces published (across three issues)
Andrew Hungerford had ten pieces published (across five issues)
Gavin Craig had eleven pieces published (across five issues)
Timothy Carmody had fourteen pieces published (across six issues, and including one piece published under a pseudonym)

It seems like it might be interesting to get a title/page count for fiction, poetry, and drama, but that's far too much work for me.

Ten things everyone should know how to do

In my travels through the omnimedia world, I came a across a certain celebrity’s list of thirty things that everyone should know how to do. (Don’t ask me who the celebrity was, or I’ll be forced to tell you.) Being neither a celebrity, nor an expert I certainly don’t have thirty tasks that I think that everyone should be able to execute, but Danielle and I got to talking, and we were able to come up with ten. Our list differs in its philosophy from the original (click at your own risk), but every one of our items is, without a doubt, a good thing.

Ten things everyone should know how to do (in no particular order):

  • Perform CPR
  • Stop bleeding
  • Change a tire
  • Wrap a gift
  • Change a diaper
  • Cook one full meal
  • Balance a checkbook
  • Compute a tip without a calculator
  • Do your own laundry
  • Turn off the water/operate a household circuit breaker