Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Somehow, it's better that way



"Garfield Minus Garfield" posts Garfield strips with the title character removed "in order to reveal the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle."

It's so much better than the real thing.

(Update, 1/6/09: If you want proof, Gocomics.com posts both Garfield Minus Garfield and the original strips for comparison.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter: 1930-2008

Harold Pinter, who was ill when he won the Nobel Prize in 2005 and did not attend the ceremonies in person, died on Wednesday of cancer.

My thoughts from 2005 on his Nobel Prize address, including a link to his 1966 Paris Review interview, are here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Where do you go for your comics news?

And yes, I'm reclaiming the word comics. ("Graphic novel" is not any more descriptive, and worse in that it implies fictional content to the detriment of memoir, travelogue, reportage, etc., which is where you find some of the most interesting work being currently done—Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, Lucy Knisley, perhaps?)

Other than dccomics.com (because, for better or worse, Batman is still at the top of my list, even though he appears to be dead, by the way, and there's a big shake-up over the cowl coming up), the brand spanking new Graphic Novel Reporter is making a good case for being my one-stop comics source. News, reviews, and interviews, what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holy crap

The Detroit Free Press is cutting home delivery from seven days a week to three (Thursday, Friday, and Sunday), and The Detroit News is cutting from six days to two (Thursday and Friday, the News already does not publish a Sunday edition.) In a painful example of spin, the Free Press's web site is calling the move a "bold new transformation" and emphasizing a shift in resources to the delivery of online content. The Free Press is also stating that no news staff will be cut.

[Free Press publisher Dave] Hunke said the Free Press that will be sold on non-home-delivery days will be a more compact product. Editors are designing a product of about 32 pages with an easy-to-pull-out sports section, provocative commentary and enriched lifestyle coverage. Only 40% of the space will be available for advertising, compared with 55%-60% in the current newspaper.

The Sunday and Thursday home-delivery products will be more substantial, but also redesigned to provide a mix of in-depth news and features with quick summaries of information and events.

Hunke said he expects some home-delivery customers will not want a paper just three days a week, but he hopes to retain most of them while attracting new readers to the redesigned compact paper.


This is particularly painful coming on the heels of layoffs at The Lansing State Journal (which is not a coincidence—both the Free Press and the State Journal are owned by Gannett, so the layoffs and restructuring are different facets of the same process. The excellently reported and organized Gannett Blog is an excellent resource on the troublesome newspaper behemoth.)

I had been planning to write a post arguing that Lansing was a city worth covering, but if Detroit isn't a city worth covering, I may have a hard time making that argument.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Bible says a lot of interesting things

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die


(via Sullivan)

I'm ready for a debate: who makes a better Jesus, Jack Black or Sam Beam?

A good year for. . .

The NYT has posted their annual 10 Best Books of 2008 list. (I know, I still haven't followed up on the 2008 Notable Books list. I've been busy this year, and sadly not with new fiction.)

I only own one book on the list (a shiny nickel to the first person to guess which one! one guess per person, please), and there are at least two more that I'd like to read, but astute eyes which examine the accompanying photo will pick out something interesting:

Seven of the ten books were published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The publishing business: up and down

The NYT on the deeply weird past few months in the publishing industry:
In less than a week the book publishing industry has been set abuzz by the news that one publisher is so uncertain about the economic climate that it has temporarily shut its doors to most manuscripts while another is celebrating a banner year by handing out extra bonuses to all its employees.

The bad news came from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a company formed from the union of two venerable publishers of authors like Philip Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer, Günter Grass and J. R. R. Tolkien.

On Monday a company spokesman said that with rare exceptions, editors were temporarily not acquiring new books, an extraordinary move that rattled agents throughout the industry.
On the surface these twin pieces of news would seem to suggest that success in the book industry, as with other forms of entertainment, is increasingly dependent on the production of major hits, works that are so successful that they can support a family of less successful siblings. David Young, chairman and chief executive of Hachette Book Group, said that the company had racked up 104 New York Times best sellers this year.

Once upon a time, some publishers suggested, they could cultivate under-the-radar authors and slowly build an audience for them over several books. Now, with few exceptions, books tend to come out of the gate at the top of the best-seller list or be deemed failures.

The article goes on to give voice to others within the publishing industry who argue that the backlist is where long term viability still exists.

I think that's exactly right. The book publishing industry is in trouble because decades of acquisitions and conglomeration have turned what was basically a cottage industry into divisions of international media corporations with demands for constant and substantial quarterly revenue growth. A few mega-success stories like The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter have convinced the industry that it can operate on a blockbuster business model where a few books sell millions of copies and pay for everything else. The two problems with this business are 1.) not very many books are going to be million-copy bestsellers, less than one every two years, and maybe less than one every five years, and 2.) the pressure of the business model is toward publishing only books that the company thinks have the potential to become million-copy bestsellers. This tends to homogenize output, and defeats the one potential benefit of the blockbuster model, which is that it (in theory) provides the opportunity to publish books that should be published but that are near-certain to lose money in the short term.

While the article expresses a a certain concern for those who are trying to enter the publishing industry, either as authors or as publishers, I think that the future of publishing demands new blood. We need new small presses who are able to take advantage of their local and regional markets. We need authors who are looking for success that isn't measured by the bestseller list. (I'd like to say that we need local booksellers to provide an outlet to supplement the national chains, but, ironically, direct online sales and Amazon.com may make this possible already.) New York will probably always be the center of our country's literary universe, but, interestingly, the future of publishing may involve creating a universe around and outside of New York.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ping pong. With nunchucks.

On an awesomeness scale of 1-10, this is a good argument for 11.



Is it real? Who cares?

(Via Sullivan, of all places)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You can't lose an audience you didn't have in the first place

But why in the world would anyone think that writers should be "bending over backwards" to appeal to people who have no interest in reading? What bizarre conception of literature would have it intended primarily for nonreaders? The mangled logic of this view, which perversely seems to be widely shared by many who do read, seems to me so far removed from any plausible assessment of the place of "literature" in our culture as to be pretty close to insane.

—Dan Green

(Via Chekhov's Mistress)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One of my heroes



Nearly everything to do with George Plimpton is good reading, including Graydon Carter's review of George Being George: George Plimpton’s Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals—and a Few Unappreciative Observers. A few bon mots:

I remember getting a call some years ago from a television casting agent looking for a patrician type to play an editor who liked to go shooting rats in Central Park. I asked the agent if she had approached anyone else. As it happened, she had. Lewis Lapham said it was beneath him. George Plimpton agreed to do it, but he had a scheduling conflict. So she ended up with me. And the show went off the air within the year.

A wise man once said that 9/11 marked the end of the age of irony. Well, George would have none of it; he was an ironist to the end. He was not only in on the joke of being George Plimpton, he created the joke.

I am reliably informed that little magazines comprise four elements: shabby, cramped quarters; meager wages; attractive interns of independent means; and boundless enthusiasm. They are also excellent excuses for throwing parties.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Touché

Charles Bremner's anecdote of Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Sarkozy in the Times UK may almost fall into the category of too-good-to-be-true, but Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan have both found it too irresistible not to cite, and so do I.

(Of course, you are asked to imagine the exchange in French, the language of international diplomacy and the 19th Century Russian aristocracy.)

With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia's Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. "Hang him?" — he asked. "Why not?" Mr Putin replied. "The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein."

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: "Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?" Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: "Ah — you have scored a point there."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Worth quoting in full

From Salon.com's War Room:

More Palin expenses: $40,000 for the First Dude

With the election over, it's time for the full cost of Sarah Palin's shopping sprees to be revealed. The latest news? Todd Palin wasn't exactly left out; Alaska's "First Dude" reaped the benefits of the Republican National Committee's money too. The Washington Post's Reliable Sources column says:

On top of the $150,000 first outlined in Federal Election Commission filings, Palin spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on additional clothing, makeup and jewelry for herself and her family, including $40,000 in luxury goods for her husband, Todd, our colleague Michael Shear reports. The campaign was charged for silk boxer shorts, spray tanners and 13 suitcases to carry all the designer clothes, according to two GOP insiders.

The defense for the spending, when the campaign was still going on, was that Sarah Palin's new clothes were just loaned to her. So who wants a couple pairs of Todd Palin's silk boxers, slightly used?


I wish I could say that it was a shock that Palin responded to her vice-presidential nomination by going on a shopping spree (on someone else's tab), but this is actually something of a pattern. When elected mayor of Wasilla she spent $50,000 of city money (without authorization) redecorating her office (keep in mind that her entire salary was $68,000 per year), and when elected governor of Alaska Palin installed a tanning bed in the governor's mansion (although she claims to have paid for that one herself).

She claims per diems for nights spent in her home, and she claims reimbursement for taking her children on state travel, whether or not they were invited or welcome. And, as Andrew Sullivan has observed, Palin just lies reflexively. (There are actually twenty documented "Odd Lies of Sarah Palin" and this and this from Sullivan are also of interest.) There are no boundaries for Palin between the state and her family. There's no necessary truth content to anything she says. This is why she and Kwame Kilpatrick have a great deal in common, and why she should be the subject of a Joyce Carol Oates story.

Thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for making sure that she simply will not fade away. As long as she's a national figure, the truth will continue to come out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Awesomeness

The Complete New Yorker DVD and Hard Drive are already fabulous (the DVD-ROM in particular is now a reasonably-priced way to get all of The New Yorker, ever), but now there's something even better.

New Yorker subscribers (like me) now have free access to The New Yorker Digital Edition: which is The Complete New Yorker. Free. Online. (You can also buy access to individual issues or subscribe to the Digital Edition without a subscription to the physical magazine.)

Awesome.

I promised to stop reading Sullivan

but this is the one thing that could make me break that promise.

The aftermath

Language poet, critic, and Philadelphia Obama canvasser Ron Silliman:

I was just one of 1.1 million Obama volunteers yesterday. Unquestionably the get-out-the-vote effort was the greatest single act of community organizing in this nation’s history.

After the atrocious Republican National Convention, I take a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that community organizing is exactly what won this election for Obama.

Our work is not over, but now it has begun.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The most important item on the (Lansing) ballot

My wife and I took the girls to the polls this morning, as we usually do. We arrived a few minutes after the polls opened at seven 'o' clock, and there was already a substantial line. We vote in all the primaries, so I'm used to showing up first thing in the morning and getting ballot number 5 or 6. This morning I was ballot 122.

We were in line for about an hour and a half, and the girls were mostly good, but understandably restless. We didn't expect the line to be so long, so we didn't bring anything for them to do. I wished that I had brought a book, but as time passed, I realized it wouldn't have done much good. Entertaining myself isn't really a priority in a situation like that compared to entertaining my daughters.

I voted fairly quickly by the time I got my hands on the ballot, and only my conscience kept me from filling out the "straight party ballot" choice. It would have been faster, but the Ingham County Prosecutor needs to go.

I'm not misty about Obama, but then I never was. I'm optimistic, but I largely don't believe in a politics of enthusiasm and agreement. I'm ready to support the president where he's right, and fight him where he's wrong. I relish the thought of doing more supporting and less fighting, but nothing is certain until all the votes are counted. I've been disappointed before.

In all honesty, since Michigan went blue in the last two elections, and is likely to do so again this time, I'm a bit more worried about the CATA millage. If it fails, bus service will be reduced. Public transportation is good for the people and good for business. I'm hoping that Lansing realizes that.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The perks of a mail-order world

I'm normally not a big fan of Amazon—I liked them better when books were all they did, and I can't deny the pressure they exert on local independent booksellers. A perfect world would be "Amazon and," as in Amazon.com and your favorite local bookstore, but I'm not sure that such a world is possible in the way I would like it to be. (In all honesty, however, I have to admit that I'm able to resist Amazon in large part because of a long-term relationship with my own local bookseller which makes their prices competitive with or better than Amazon's, but also means that I'm not offering the maximum possible economic benefit to my local bookseller.)

However, I'm very enthusiastic about Amazon's new "Frustration-Free Packaging" initiative. Easy-to-open + less packaging waste + shipping-ready means I'm happy, the environment is happy, Amazon is happy, everybody wins. Retail packaging is insane, and while I understand the impossible competing demands of security and visual item marketing require a transparent-as-possible package that is as difficult as possible to open in order to defeat shoplifters. Amazon's mail-based warehouse-to-customer delivery system bypasses both of those needs, and they deserve a great deal of praise for taking the initiative to eliminate a great deal of useless and wasteful packaging.

Of course, interestingly, books are a primary exception to this wasteful packaging rule, especially if, like me, you keep all of your dust jackets. Thus, in a sense, I can have my cake and eat is too. I keep buying my packaging-free books from my local bookstore, and I order more retail items from Amazon than I currently do. Everyone really does win.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Newsworthiness

I've been watching the NYT today for a report on the Google Books settlement, but they seem, not unreasonably, to have decided for today that Doubleday laying off 10% of its staff is bigger news.

The book publishing industry is the new recording industry.

One step toward the new Library of Alexandria, for better and worse

Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers have settled their lawsuit over the Google Books project.

The pertinent details (via the Chronicle):
Under the terms of the deal, Google will pay $125-million to establish a Book Rights Registry, to compensate authors and publishers whose copyrighted books have already been scanned, and to cover legal costs.

If approved by a judge, the accord would allow users of Google Book Search in the United States to see the full texts of books they can read only in snippets now. The deal would also have the potential to put millions more out-of-print or hard-to-find titles within the reach of readers and researchers. Institutions would be able to buy subscriptions so that their students and faculty members could have full access to complete texts. All public libraries in the United States would be given free portals for their patrons. (The settlement does not apply to the use of Google Book Search outside the United States.)

Users without library or institutional access would pay a fee to preview the full text of a book. Google and the copyright holders—the publishers and authors—would share the proceeds from subscriptions and individual use. Authors and publishers could opt out of the program.

If this project turns out as planned—unprecedented accessibility to out-of-print and orphan titles and compensated accessibility for in-print and under-copyright titles—then it's a huge win-win for everyone, writers, publishers, and readers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On moral certainty

William J. Gould in Commonweal defends Doug Kmiec and criticizes the de facto pro-Republican "abortion is the only issue" posture of large segments of the Catholic Church. (If you don't know who Doug Kmiec is, you need to find out. You can start here, here, and here.)
In this political and religious climate, I find Doug Kmiec's support for Sen. Barack Obama a salutary and refreshing development. I say this as someone who does not fully share Kmiec's enthusiastic embrace of Obama or his high expectations regarding what an Obama presidency is likely to achieve. Instead I write as someone who has long been disenchanted with American politics and who fully expects that we will continue to be ill-governed no matter who wins the election.

Why then do I regard Kmiec's contribution in such a positive light? For two reasons. The first is that as a Catholic with a long history of support for the prolife cause, Kmiec's endorsement of Obama calls into question the notion that the GOP is the only acceptable political option for Catholics. Of course one might well counter that the Democratic Party is a far from welcome home for Catholic principles as well, and I would readily agree. But that's not really the point. At the moment, neither party is a good vehicle for the promotion of Catholic social principles. Catholics who truly understand and embrace the main ideas of the Catholic political and social tradition will find themselves politically homeless and regularly confronted with unattractive voting options. But if political homelessness is the characteristic condition of American Catholics, then the proper response of church authorities should be to acknowledge that lamentable situation rather than to offer de facto political endorsements—as they are coming perilously close to doing with the Republican Party. To the extent that Kmiec's vocal support for Obama challenges the movement toward a Republican hegemony within U.S. Catholicism, it performs a major service.

You should go read the whole article. It's better than my discussion will be.

The Catholic Church, to its credit, considers voting a moral responsibility, and rightly asks Catholics to think and pray about the moral consequences of their votes. The Catholic Church as an organization clearly and consistent with its own moral teaching considers abortion a special moral factor, calling it an "intrinsic evil," and stating that a vote for a candidate based on the support of an intrinsic evil is a mortal sin.

The problem comes when candidates are reduced to a single issue, especially an issue over which they have no direct control and at best a probable but not certain influence. A vote for Obama is not a vote for abortion. A vote for McCain is not a vote against abortion. Neither McCain nor Obama have the ability to stop or endlessly preserve legal abortion within the United States. This becomes more true as you move down the political food chain—senators, members of Congress, governors, mayors, etc. A vote for a candidate is a mortal sin if and only if the sole or primary guiding purpose behind that vote is the preservation of the right to an abortion. It is not unreasonable to vote for a candidate because of the probable outcomes of their positions on particular issues. It is, however, both unreasonable and dishonest to frame one particular probability in terms of moral certainty when speaking from the pulpit. It is perfectly right to ask and even demand that voters consider of the moral consequences of their actions, but you are also obligated to be clear on the fine points of moral responsibility.

Because civic responsibility is not discharged at the voting both, but extends into all aspects of day-to-day living. And letting the poor go hungry, supporting an unjust war which leads to the death of civilians, and complacency in the face of social injustice are intrinsic evils as well.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Some people have it rough

The always on-point Ted Rall

What we all really needed

Joan Walsh in Salon on the Sarah Palin $150,000 wardrobe story:

I would disagree with some of my Broadsheet colleagues: I think it's a valid topic for reporting, analysis and criticism. It shows the insanely screwy priorities of the McCain campaign.

Sarah Palin didn't need the best clothing and stylists money could buy; she needed tutoring and coaching on the issues. (She also needed more vetting in August, and what she really needed was to stay as the governor of Alaska, but we won't go there.)

In other Palin news, CNN reports that anonymous McCain staffers are complaining that Palin has gone rogue. I'm actually a bit surprised that this story has taken this long to play out. I thought it was striking that Palin openly criticized McCain's decision to withdraw his campaign from Michigan, if for no other reason than that the fact that she kept talking about it kept an embarrassing strategic decision in the news. (Also, how much confidence does it inspire in a candidate when his own VP pick doesn't seem to trust his judgment?)

Other than the odd sexism of the McCain campaign (Palin is referred to in the story as a "diva"), this story is perhaps best as evidence that the painful and pitiful "team of mavericks" line was bullshit from the start.

Watch it now, watch it on Thursday

The season premiere of 30 Rock has been posted, in full, on Hulu.com. That's right, even though it won't be broadcast until Thursday, you can watch the full episode online right now. Welcome to the future, bitch.

(I apologize for the profanity, it just seemed like a very Tina Fey-esque thing to say.)

So here it is, 30 Rock on Wordwright! Watch it now, and then watch it on Thursday too. Seriously. When you take good TV for granted, it goes away.

Monday, October 20, 2008

This should be a Joyce Carol Oates story

From Andrew Sullivan: the strange and involved narrative of the birth of Trig Palin. (while Sullivan's synopsis is well done, I echo his advice and urge you to read the contemporary Anchorage Daily News reports here and here, and the long after-the-fact NYT report here, even or especially if you are not interested in Sullivan's commentary and interpretation.)

I will keep myself from posting my own entirely-non-fact-based theorizing, since I, as a fiction writer, am prone to the occasional fancy. However, what strikes me about this particular story is that, maddeningly, Palin's actions make more sense and not less when explained by increasingly wild speculations. The continual reasonable questions of "why, why, why?" find a single response. It's a mystery.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dan Savage is awesome

Debate relief in the form of a debate



(via TPM, who, tongue-in-cheek , want to draw a parallel between the Penguin and John "My Friends" McCain, but just as interesting to me is the actual burning cigarette. I was surprised at how jarring I found its presence to be.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Twitter the debate

Check it out.

You can't go home again

For the last few weeks, especially in light of the semi-concluded Troopergate investigation, I've been curious as to how this national campaign would affect Sarah Palin's ability to act as governor upon her return to Alaska if and when the McCain/Palin ticket is defeated in November. Helpfully, the Anchorage Daily News gives a lay of the land. In short, Palin is expected to try to remain a player on the national stage, possibly by running for the Senate. Local perception of Palin, accordingly, has shifted from a view of her as a bipartisan governor, who often relied on Democratic members of the state legislature for support against Republican resistance to her initiatives, to a her current role as a "conservative lightning rod." Her approval ratings in Alaska are down but still formidable, and her ability to act effectively as governor is likely to hinge upon her ability to convince legislators and the public that she is acting in the state's best interest and not just to position herself for another national run.

As a side note, how outstanding is it to be able to read the Anchorage Daily News on my desktop? McCain may not have vetted Palin, but I can find years of newspaper coverage of her, both positive and negative, in an instant.

It's that time of year again

The National Book Award finalists have been announced.

Has anyone read any of them? My reading this year has been substantial, but very course-list oriented.

I've never owned a computer that wasn't a Mac

Newsweek says that Apple's updated laptops aren't really worth the hype.

To a point, I have to agree, but it still feels a bit like sour grapes. What's really going on here is a conflict between mutually irreconcilable points: 1. it isn't really fair to expect Apple to constantly reinvent everything (although they do an amazing job of putting out an incredibly innovative product every couple of years or so), and 2. it is equally unfair for us Mac fanatics to expect the entire world to share the full extent of our enthusiasm.

Are the new MacBook and MacBook Pro machines a radical re-thinking of the laptop computer? No. That's the MacBook Air from way back in January. The new MacBooks are, however, elegantly gorgeous, and I want one even though there's zero chance that a new computer will fit into my budget.

Those of you who share my love of all things Apple may enjoy Newsweek's photoessay on key products in Apple's history. I'd be interested to hear if there's anything specific that you think should Newsweek's timeline misses. (I'd suggest that a discussion of Apple's important failures like the Cube would be useful—Newsweek hints at this by including the Newton; and it would be worthwhile to explore the way Apple has used its education market to test ideas—for example, the little-known Power PC all-in-one that bridges the gap between the original Macintosh and the iMac.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

You read him already, right?

I know that I normally limit myself to the literature prizes, but as one of the very few people in his field whom I read and enjoy regularly, I was very excited to hear that Princeton University professor and NYT columnist Paul Krugman has won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Krugman's recent columns are available here, if you want to do some catching up.

Also, you may be interested in Krugman's thoughts on being both a professor and a public intellectual.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The moment I stopped reading Camille Paglia

When I watch Sarah Palin, I don't think sex -- I think Amazon warrior! I admire her competitive spirit and her exuberant vitality, which borders on the supernormal. The question that keeps popping up for me is whether Palin, who was born in Idaho, could possibly be part Native American (as we know her husband is), which sometimes seems suggested by her strong facial contours. I have felt that same extraordinary energy and hyper-alertness billowing out from other women with Native American ancestry -- including two overpowering celebrity icons with whom I have worked.


The level of projection here is astounding. "She was born in Idaho, so it could be possible. I mean, look at her facial contours. After all, I've worked with celebrities with Native ancestry, and we know that one of her husband's great-grandparents was Inuit, so it's too good to not be true!"

There's more, if you're so inclined. The quote I pulled is on page 2.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Perfection is the consolation of those who have nothing else

Steven Millhauser on the short story in the NYT:

The short story apologizes for nothing. It exults in its shortness. It wants to be shorter still. It wants to be a single word.

Friday, October 03, 2008

More on the Nobel

Adam Kirsch in Slate: Until Philip Roth wins the Nobel, there's no reason to take any of their crap.

But to prove the bad faith of Engdahl's recent criticisms of American literature, all you have to do is mention a single name: Philip Roth. Engdahl accuses Americans of not "participating in the big dialogue of literature," but no American writer has been more cosmopolitan than Roth. As editor of Penguin's "Writers From the Other Europe" series, he was responsible for introducing many of Eastern Europe's great writers to America, from Danilo Kiš to Witold Gombrowicz; his 2001 nonfiction book Shop Talk includes interviews with Milan Kundera, Ivan Klima, and Primo Levi. In his own fiction, too, Roth has been as adventurously Postmodern as Calvino while also making room for the kind of detailed realism that has long been a strength of American literature. Unless and until Roth gets the Nobel Prize, there's no reason for Americans to pay attention to any insults from the Swedes.

The first sign of a coming Halloween. . .

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That wacky Nobel committee

The Nobel Prize in Literature may or may not be announced a week from Thursday. (We never really know, as it's tradition to keep the date of the announcement a secret until 48 hours ahead of time.)

Nobel permanent secretary Horace Engdahl says that it's unlikely the winner will be an American:
Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world ... not the United States.

Nine of the last 13 Nobel Laureates have been European writers.

New Yorker editor David Remnick responds with a red, white, and blue bitch slap:
You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Some recent Shakespeare films

I'm off to see The Taming of the Shrew at the Stratford Festival in Canada this weekend, and the plan on the bus is to watch the ever enjoyable 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, which is, of course, an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew.

Because I like lists, I've compiled a short, admittedly far-from-complete list of recent film adaptations of Shakespeare. (Please feel free to add films in the the comments, but note that there's a whole lot before 1989 that I've not even tried to touch, and I've likewise totally neglected international films.)

Re-imaginings (adaptations)
  • 10 Things I Hate About You—1999
    The Taming of the Shrew as a teen comedy
    Gil Junger, director
    Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger

  • Titus—1999
    Titus Andronicus as, um, yeah
    Julie Taymor, director
    Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange

  • O—2001
    Othello as a teen basketball tragedy
    Tim Blake Nelson, director
    Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer

  • Scotland, Pa—2002
    Macbeth as the owner of a small-town diner
    Billy Morrissette, director
    Christopher Walken, Maura Tierney

  • She's the Man—2006
    Twelfth Night as a teen comedy
    Andy Fickman, director
    Amanda Bynes


Re-settings
  • Richard III—1995
    Richard III as a British fascist in the 1930s
    Richard Loncraine, director
    Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr.

  • Romeo+Juliet—1996
    Shakespeare with guns and Hawaiian shirts
    Baz Luhrmann, director
    Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream—1999
    Fin de siècle impishness in Italy
    Michael Hoffman, director
    Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart

  • Hamlet—2000
    Hamlet as an indie filmmaker
    Michael Almereyda, director
    Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles


Other strangeness
  • Looking for Richard—1996
    Al Pacino documentary on staging Richard III

  • Shakespeare in Love—1998
    You all know this one, right?


Kenneth Branagh
  • Henry V—1989

  • Much Ado About Nothing—1993

  • Othello—1995 (Oliver Parker, director)

  • Hamlet—1996

  • Love's Labour's Lost—2000

  • As You Like It—2006

Monday, September 22, 2008

In search of lost caped crusaders

D.D. Guttenplan on comic books in The Nation:

For a long time I used to go to bed early. Unbidden by my parents I'd hurry up the stairs to my room, turn out the light, burrow beneath the covers, reach under the bed for the flashlight and then, safe where I'd left it the night before, the latest issue of Superman or Batman. Proust can keep his madeleines. For me, nothing brings back that childhood sensation of safety, or the inky smell of clandestine pleasure, quite like Batman No. 166.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The audacity of hope (in the face of the Joker)

Novelist and superhero aficionado Jonathan Lethem on The Dark Knight:

In its narrative gaps, its false depths leading nowhere in particular, its bogus grief over stakeless destruction and faked death, “The Dark Knight” echoes a civil discourse strained to helplessness by panic, overreaction and cultivated grievance. I began to feel this Batman wears his mask because he fears he’s a fake — and the story of his inauthenticity, the possibility of his unmasking, counts for more than any hope he offers of deliverance from evil. The Joker, on the other hand, exhibits his real face, his only face, and his origins are irrelevant, his presence as much a given as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or Fear Itself.

The Joker’s paradox, of course, is the same as that of 9/11 and its long aftermath: audacious transgression ought to call out of us an equal and adamant passion for love of truth and freedom, yet the fear he inspires instead drives us deep into passivity and silence.


(For context see: "Is Batman a conservative?" at Counterfictionals)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sarah Palin=Kwame Kilpatrick

Members of Governor Sarah Palin's staff and her husband, Todd Palin, who is not employed by the State of Alaska, have declared that they will not comply with subpoenas to testify before a State Legislature investigation into allegations that Palin wrongfully terminated the state public safety commissioner. Failure to comply with a State Legislature subpoena is a crime in Alaska punishable by a fine up to $500 and up to six months in jail.

That's right. Palin's husband and her staff members, at her encouragement, are committing a crime.

Glenn Greenwald:
It ought to be striking to read an article that reports this:

(a) X is illegal under the law, punishable with fines and prison;

(b) Political official P just announced that s/he will do X;

(c) The reason is that P knows there will be no consequences for X.

That's the elimination of the rule of law and core democratic processes expressed in elementary logical terms, and that's what the AP just reported yesterday about the Palins' refusal to comply with subpoenas, and what media outlets have been reporting for years about what Bush officials have done. But it's not striking. It's now the standard way our lawless government functions.

Reasonable people can disagree about Troopergate, and whether an investigation should in itself disqualify someone from running for public office. The fact remains, however, that whether or not Palin committed a crime in firing Walt Monegan, she is currently engaged in the commission of a crime by obstructing the State Legislature's investigation and by telling her staff to do the same.

It's striking that McCain would select as his Vice-Presidential nominee a person who was under active investigation for misconduct in office. It is unforgivable (even if his own campaign is not behind efforts to actively interfere with the investigation) that he lets her remain on the ticket.

Answer me this one question:

Read Rush Limabugh's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal. Play close attention to the quotes of his that he claims that the Obama campaign has taken out of context in a Spanish-language ad:

"Stupid and unskilled Mexicans" and "You shut your mouth or you get out!"

Then read the extended quotes that Limbaugh [himself!] provides to place these statements in context:

"If you are unskilled and uneducated, your job is going south. Skilled workers, educated people are going to do fine 'cause those are the kinds of jobs Nafta is going to create. If we are going to start rewarding no skills and stupid people, I'm serious, let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do -- let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work."

and

"And another thing: You don't have the right to protest. You're allowed no demonstrations, no foreign flag waving, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies. You're a foreigner: shut your mouth or get out! And if you come here illegally, you're going to jail."


Question: Are these quotes more inflammatory in or out of context?

(Follow up question: How are we to evaluate Limbaugh's claim that "There was no racial connotation to [these remarks] and no one thought there was at the time"? Is it fair to ask Limbaugh for substantiation of this claim? Who exactly does he mean by "no one"? No one in his studio? No one listening to his show? No one in 1993? No one anywhere, ever?)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One of the qualities of a good writer is that their work generates good writing

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

I will continue to add to this list as I come across additional writing.

DFW writing available online

Interviews

Reviews

Obits and responses to DFW's death

Other lists of DFW links

Monday, September 15, 2008

Finally, a reasonable counter-argument

Intellectual property lawyer Paul Rapp argues against J.K. Rowling's victory in her lawsuit against the Harry Potter Lexicon.

Fair use cases have increasingly turned on whether the new work (here, Vander Ark’s book) is transformational of the first work. Here, the judge ruled that the encyclopedia was indeed transformational, just not transformational enough. The 62-page decision contains endless examples of “similarities” between Vander Ark’s book and the Harry Potter series—a painful thing to read, and when you think about it, kind of silly. It’s an encyclopedia, for crying out loud; it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to discover that it contains similarities to the thing that it’s, well, encyclopedia-ing. But the judge was bothered by Vander Ark’s verbatim copying, which he seemed to think was excessive, leading to the bothersome conclusion that had Vander Ark jumped through a bunch of needless hoops and had simply done more paraphrasing, he would have been alright.

The judge also put, in my view, way too much emphasis on the obvious facts that the Harry Potter books were fiction and that Vander Ark’s work was a profit-making endeavor in finding that there was no fair use of Rowling’s works. I think the judge also put too much stock in a couple aged decisions denying fair use in similar situations, one involving a Seinfeld trivia book and another involving a Twin Peaks fan book, both of which I think would be decided differently today given some more recent cases that have opened up the concept of fair use to be more consistent with today’s exploding remix culture.


There seem to be two big points here: 1. verbatim quotes are exactly what one would expect in an encyclopedia and 2. the precedents the judge cites are out-of-date in contemporary "remix culture." As you might gather from my earlier post, I'm in closer agreement on the second than the first. Rapp is dismissive of paraphrasing, but it's exactly that non-quoted "original commentary" that would have given Vander Ark an argument that he was adding something instead of rehashing the text. In this case, it's clear that extensive quoting is the untenable middle ground between what I would call "indexing"—providing a list of locations in Rowling's text for each entry, but not quoting the text itself—and analysis or "original commentary" that would have discussed Rowling's ideas and placed them within the text.

It's worth noting, if you read Rapp's full commentary, or most of the other coverage of this case, that it really doesn't matter that Rowling has a whole bunch of money and Vander Ark was a middle school librarian, or that Rowling claims that the lawsuit has given her writer's block. These are the dramatic details, but they are legally immaterial.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

DFW: 1962-2008

David Foster Wallace was found dead in his home on Friday. (Update 9/16/08: I've changed this link to the NYT obit. The original NYT news item on DFW's death is here.)

I'm at a loss. At his best, Wallace was one of our best and most intelligent, and most interesting contemporary writers.

Update: 12:29pm: Michiko Kakutani on DFW

Update: 6:09pm: Laura Miller on DFW

Update: 9/15/08, 11:29am: The NYT's Paper Cuts Blog on DFW

Update: 9/15/08, 1:21pm: DFW's 2005 Commencement Address at Kenyon College (text)

Update: 9/15/08, 4:17pm: DFW on Charlie Rose and DFW, Jonathan Franzen, and Mark Leyner on Charlie Rose

Update: 9/17/08, 7:29am: Testimonials on McSweeney's.net

Update: 9/17/08, 1:16pm: I've posted a new and more extensive list of DFW links

Friday, September 12, 2008

Even a stopped clock. . .



I have had a strong and a long relationship on national security. I've been involved in every national crisis that this nation has faced since Beirut. I understand the issues, I understand and appreciate the enormity of the challenge we face from radical Islamic extremism. I am prepared. I am prepared. I need no on-the-job training. I wasn't a mayor for a short period of time. I wasn't a governor for a short period of time.

Senator John McCain, October, 2007

Keep in mind that in this context that the mayor that McCain is referring to is Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City for eight years, and the governor is Mitt Romney, who was governor of Massachusetts for four years. Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla for six years, and has been governor of Alaska for a year and nine months.

(Quote via Andrew Sullivan, video via Sam Stein on the Huffington Post.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I think it's the right judgment, but that doesn't make me happy about it

J.K. Rowling has won her lawsuit to prevent publication of Steven Jan Vander Ark's Harry Potter Lexicon.

In not unrelated news, the online Harry Potter Lexicon is gone. Even the domain name appears to be available. I think this is a sad outcome even if, by my understanding of current copyright law, it's the right one. Rowling owns her characters, and most (printed) reference works dealing with copyrighted fictional characters are undertaken with the permission of and payment to the copyright holder. There are a number of gray areas, such as collectible memorabilia, where fair use holds, but at least in my mind, there is a huge difference, for example, between a photo guide to Mickey Mouse toys, or even an examination of the character of Mickey Mouse through an historical evaluation of variations in specific cartoons over time, and a book that provides "biographies" of Disney cartoon characters. (This is a simplified analogy, but Vander Ark seems to have lost his case because he was unable to demonstrate sufficient original commentary in his Lexicon to merit fair use protection of its publication.)

It's a shame that Rowling's victory seems to mean the end of the online Lexicon and not just the printed book, but in terms of maintaining the copyright, it may have been necessary. Vander Ark is correct that it is difficult to draw a meaningful line between the online Lexicon, which existed with Rowling's at-least-tacit approval, and even took in some basic level of revenue through advertising, and a printed edition. As a wanna-be author, I can understand the difference between allowing a tribute site to exist, and even take in enough money to pay for its server space, and between letting someone print and sell their own book using your characters, but, legally, copyright only exists if it is asserted and protected by the author. (This is the same reason that Band-Aid always includes the word "bandages" in their advertising. If "Band-Aid" were to be legally established as a generic term for what the British call a plaster, then everyone can call their products band-aids.)

Most people who construct sites like the Lexicon, including Vander Ark, include some sort of acknowledgment of the copyright holder and a disclaimer to the effect that the site exists because the copyright holder hasn't asked that it be taken down (along with implicit gratitude for the copyright holder's indulgence or benign ignorance). I don't know that this is the best of all possible worlds. In particular, some artists, like Prince, hold a tight grip on their material, perhaps even in excess of his legal rights. But absent legislation or tort precedent clearly delineating online copyright and fair use boundaries, we may have to continue to behave as if it were a print world.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Puck you

A few thoughts after some time to digest the Republican convention:
  1. Wouldn't you think it a bit off-putting to have a number of your major arguments not only based in ignorance, but actually depending upon the celebration of ignorance in order to be effective? I'm thinking of the denigration of the term "community organizer" in particular. Is there a more clear signal of the Republicans' ignorance of and disdain for the inner-cities than their ridicule of that title?

  2. I didn't watch Palin's speech, but listened to portions of it on the radio. After having watched film of her actual delivery, I'm far less impressed than I was initially. She has a gift for sounding natural, but her unwavering stare into camera 1 is an unmistakable sign of someone who is reading a teleprompter as if her life depended on it.

  3. Is no one else weirded-out over the appeal of the "hockey mom" image, or is this another pseudo-folksy appeal that depends on the ignorance of the audience? It's clearly meant to be an Alaskan twist on the common "soccer mom" trope, but having grown up in Hockeytown, there's a clear designation in my mind: the families whose kids were on the hockey teams were the more affluent families—the ones who could afford the equipment.

  4. I would have missed this one if the Detroit Free Press hasn't highlighted it as McCain's single mention of Michigan: "I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market." Isn't it tone-deaf for McCain to express concern for real estate investors after facing criticism for not knowing how many houses he owns?

  5. What does it say when nearly everyone, both for and against you, has more to say about your vice-presidential pick than they have to say about you?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What was that about foreign policy experience?

Somehow I missed this first time around:

Ms. Palin appears to have traveled very little outside the United States. In July 2007, she had to get a passport before she visited members of the Alaska National Guard stationed in Kuwait, according to her deputy communications director, Sharon Leighow. She also visited wounded troops in Germany during that trip. (emphasis mine)


Granted, even now it's technically possible to travel between the U.S. and Canada without a passport. At the very least, she had to fly over Canada when she attended the governors' conference in Texas this year and flew home while in labor with her son, Trig, and that has to count for something. But she doesn't even have a passport before last year? Come on.

Here's what commentary of more substance would look like

Feministing:

John McCain and Sarah Palin don't believe women have a right to choose. It's absolutely absurd for the campaign to emphasize the fact that Bristol "made this decision," and then push for policies that take away that choice.

In reality, Bristol's actual "choice" was probably not whether to terminate the pregnancy or carry it to term, but whether raise the child herself or put it up for adoption. But the reason that the McCain campaign chose to emphasize Bristol's agency in this decision was to reassure the public that this pregnancy is not coercive. They know the public wants to feel secure in the knowledge that it was Bristol's choice to keep the pregnancy. And coming from the McCain campaign, which opposes a woman's right to choose, that statement is disgusting.

The sort of political commentary you should expect from Wordwright

I have come to a decision. After reading the headlines and vetting the blogs and considering all the ramifications, I love Sarah Palin. Not because of her background or qualifications, which, let's be honest, no one really cares about, but because of the way that she keeps me drooling over every headline for some little tidbit of additional information. I love her because of the way that as her life gets dragged through the mud, she seems to think that more dirt is the solution. I love her because she gives Obama the opportunity to pull himself out of the fray even while he's unable to put a stop to it. I love her because James Dobson is willing to fight for her, and that means that he's afraid. I love her because of the way that she makes people squirm on both sides of the aisle.

Yes, I'll admit it. I have a huge political crush on her, and I want her to stick around.

What have we learned about her?

  1. In the late 80's, Palin was a TV sports reporter.

  2. Palin's husband, Todd, was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, which desires a referendum on Alaskan secession from the United States. Palin herself attended an AIP convention in 2000 and sent a video address in 2008. (Palin states that she attended the 2000 convention "as a courtesy" since she was mayor of the town where it was held.)

  3. She is either very creative or very uncreative in naming her children. Her oldest son Track is named after the sport or track & field. Really. Todd Palin: Sarah's parents were coaches and the whole family was involved in track and I was an athlete in high school, so with our first-born, I was, like, 'Track!'

  4. She is under investigation for firing Alaska's public safety commissioner, allegedly because he refused to fire an Alaska State Trooper who divorced Palin's sister.

  5. Palin responded to rumors that her 4-month-old son, Trig, is actually her 17-year-old daughter Bristol's child by announcing that Bristol is currently 5 months pregnant. This one is a doozy, in part because the denial is implicit and not explicit, and in part because hiding her daughter's pregnancy is actually the less weird explanation of Palin's behavior around Trig's birth, which included not announcing that she was expecting until she was 7 months along (which isn't weird except that no one had already guessed. At 7 months.) and getting on an 8-hour flight from Texas to Alaska (which included a layover in Seattle) after her water broke. Salon sums it up:
    Why, in refuting those original rumors, did Palin present as evidence the news that her daughter was pregnant, rather than simply handing over hospital documents and a birth certificate for Trig? Answer: It's a mystery! Why did she get on a long plane ride to Alaska after her water broke a month early in Texas? Answer: It's a mystery! Why was her staff surprised to learn that the governor was pregnant one month before she gave birth? Answer: It's a mystery!


I'm going to leave the serious commentary to others, and gleefully concede that only #4 from my list above has any real impact on Palin's ability to serve as Vice President of the United States of America. It is, however, blissfully entertaining, and leaves us with what, as Andrew Sullivan points out, is the most pertinent question of all. Did McCain not vet this person before offering her the job? And why on earth did she say yes?

Update 9/9/08: Item #2 originally cited an ABC news report that Palin was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party from 1994-1996. This report was based on an erroneous claim by the AIP's membership officer, and both the AIP and ABC have since issued corrections. I'm not sure that anyone actually reads my blog, but it behooves me to do the same.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ones and zeroes

Short Schrift has a great post on the possibility of the digital novel. Most interestingly, Tim observes that The Sopranos is a really interesting model of a "TV novel" not just because of its extended, in-depth characterization and plotlines, but because it is, at least in part, designed for DVD viewing.

Shows like The Wire [and The Sopranos] almost seem to work against their broadcast format -- until you realize that the show is watched almost as much on DVD, in a digital download, or on cable On Demand as it is by viewers who dutifully sit on the couch every week. It's a show designed to be watched a disc at a time rather than an hour at a time; the one-hour divisions are just convenient chapter breaks, giving you a chance to take a breath and get a drink before you sit back down and click ahead to the next one. (Also, like the novel's chapter and page, it gives you a convenient way to reference moments in episodes when you're talking about them.) Lost gives you cliffhangers; The Wire gives you catharsis.


I think that this is an important observation. One of the great innovations of the printed narrative is the control that it gives the reader over the experience of the narrative. The oral epic is something that is received—with the possible exception of the storyteller's patron, the audience is not in control of the time or manner of the telling, and since recitation is dependent on a number of mnemonics, moving back and forth at will within the text is difficult if not impossible. I would thus describe the "conventional" broadcast serial—as per Short Schrift, think Lost—as analgous to the oral epic. The audience is given bits and pieces at the storyteller's will, and is largely dependent upon a single specific broadcast schedule in order to recieve narration. Premium cable series like The Sopranos pointed to an alternative model even before DVD release, as episodes are broadcast multiple times in a short time frame (as opposed to once a week, and then possibly much later in rerun), giving the viewer much more opportunity to watch at will, or, even more importantly, to re-watch. (It must, of course be noted that a Lost/Sopranos broadcast/DVD opposition is far from pure, as any devotee of the Lost DVDs will rightly observe, but I think it remains accurate to observe that there is a way in which Lost is serialized and sequential that does not entirely apply to The Sopranos.)

As a writer with avant-garde ambitions (although, again, I certainly have more ambitions than accomplishments), I'm deeply interested in the idea of the digital novel. I think that one of the great challenges of contemporary narrative is the creation of the 21st Century novel in the way that Proust, Stein, and Joyce created the 20th Century novel. I've been amazed at the seeming inability of the internet, for its revolutionary impact of the way that we communicate and share information, to make more than a sidelong dent on literature, and I think that Tim's discussion and Robin's comment hint at why that may be.

The internet has absolutely replaced print as a repository of general reference information (even if Wikipedia has problems, why in the world would anyone buy an encylopedia, and even the OED has announced that it will stop updating its print edition), and it threatens to do the same for immediate information sharing (ie, it's close to killing the newspaper). Digital media has also revolutionized video creation and sharing. While the costs of creating even a digital video shouldn't be understated—you need a computer, an internet connection, and some sort of a camera—those costs are dramatically less than conventional film.

What the internet has largely not done is to change narrative or video in themselves. Digital media makes video creation and editing cheaper and more accessible, but it hasn't created new forms, especially long forms. Short format video has exploded, but it isn't exactly new. Likewise I think that a great deal of the enthusiasm for "hypertext" (such enthusiasm itself, it seems to me, a phenomenon largely of the early to mid-90s) is based upon a misperception. I would not be the first to observe that all text is linked text. The idea of the "endless chain of signifiers" is itself an early to mid-20th Century formlulation. I would like to make an argument that HTML hyperlinks are in fact a poor actualization of the idea of hypertext. Referentiality in the "ideal" hypertext is infinite. An HTML hyperlink leads only to a single location. There is no way for a hyperlink to enfold the infinity of referentiality. Imagine a hyperlink that led to a different location every time it was clicked, and you would a have a good idea of what would be required to make a start. (The hyperlink, perhaps, as the Google search term.) In this sense, even an index listing multiple sources is preferable to a single embedded hyperlink with a single embedded destination.

Either way, the internet does not really offer, in this sense, new capability to text. Although, in all fairness, neither does Ulysses. The question is really what the internet has to offer narrative, and while I'm eager to explore the possibilities, I'm also a bit skeptical. After all, be it video or text, the internet does not seem to be friendly to long format narrative.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Air conditioning killed Detroit

From "Does air conditioning make people vote Republican?" by Edward McClelland.

Mercedes-Benz built its latest plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., an industrial feat that would have been impossible without air conditioning. When General Motors introduced the Saturn, it built the plant in Smyrna, Tenn. Detroit, GM's hometown, has lost dozens of factories, and over a million citizens, many of them to air-conditioned cities. With its empty city blocks abandoned to pheasants and crickets, it now looks like a laboratory run of what will happen to the earth after the human race disappears.

Trying to get published: minefield or quicksand?

Having recently finished a first draft of my "Alphabet" project, I've started sending letters out to small magazines in the hope of publication. For the curious, feedback on the project has been good, but no bites yet. I do intend to put the full project out as a Revelator chapbook at some point, but there's no specific timeline for that at this point, in part because "the full project" is more than just my 26 entries.

Sending out submissions has me thinking about the publication process again. "The Alphabet" project itself doesn't really fit neatly into genre boundaries, which makes it a challenge to figure out whether I should be sending it out as poetry (I tend to think of it as prose) or fiction (it's not narrative—there are almost no characters, per se, and no plot). The entries tend to be short, and I have given thought to posting them as a sort of serial here on Wordwright, but I'm hesitant to do so for the same reason that I'm in no hurry to get the chapbook together at this particular moment.

Last spring there was some tension at the University of Iowa over a plan to make all Masters' theses freely available online. "All Masters' theses" would have included MFA theses from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and after severe protest from Workshop students, Iowa announced that they would not, in fact, make theses available online. (Via The Chronicle of Higher Education, subscription required.)

On the whole, I'm in favor of making scholarly work, including creative writing, as widely available as possible, and all else being equal, I agree with the argument that making creative writing available for free on line has a tendency to actually help sales of physical copies, especially for new writers looking for an audience. If I had been a student at the Workshop, however, I think I would have been one of the voices arguing against free online posting of creative theses.

One of the most challenging parts of the publication process for a writer, especially a new writer without either an established audience or an agent, is convincing a publisher to invest resources in actually publishing your work. Whether or not a free online edition of a particular book is actually competition for a printed edition, many publishers still believe that readers are unlikely to pay for something that they can download for free. Most first-time authors do not have the economic power to enter a negotiation with a publisher at that disadvantage.

Sadly, something similar holds true even for the small literary magazines (who usually don't pay contributors at all). Editors of small literary magazines rarely reap much financial benefit from their efforts, and so their primary motivation is to be able to share something with an audience first. Many such editors are likely to view work available online as "already published," and thus may turn their attention to other work.

This makes sending out submissions a very strange situation, especially for someone like me who has always been something of a self-publisher. I would really like the chance to share my work with anyone who would be interested in reading it, but in order to try and get my work to new audiences (through small literary magazines), I'm actually keeping myself from sharing it with at least a portion of the small audience that I already have (though this blog).

I still think that "The Alphabet" is wonderfully suited for serial publication on something like a blog, and it would make for a month of great reading on Wordwright. But I think that I'll wait for that first round of rejection letters to come back before I actually do it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Kwame Kilpatrick: the cliffs notes



Those of you who live outside Michigan may have seen the headlines that Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is in a bit of hot water. Here's a (relatively) brief summary of what's going on. (For an in-depth treatment, all of the Detroit Free Press's coverage is available here.)

Ages ago (in 2003), there was a rumor of a giant debauched party at the mayor's residence. A huge, Playboy-mansion-esque party. None of these rumors have ever been substantiated, but City police investigated, and Kilpatrick and his chief of staff Christine Beatty realized that the investigators were going to discover that they were having an affair.

So they fired the investigating officers.

The officers sued for wrongful termination. Kilpatrick and Beatty testifed in court that they were not having an affair and that the officers were fired for reasons unrelated to the investigation.

Kilpatrick lost the civil suit, a $6 million judgement.

While Kilpatrick was preparing his appeal, the officers' lawyer discovered text messages, sent on city pagers, demonstrating that Kilpatrick and his chief of staff were indeed having an affair, and thus that they had lied on the stand. Confronted with this information Kilpatrick settled the case, for $9 million (in city money) and arranged to have the messages kept secret.

Eight months ago or so, the Detroit Free Press got their hands on the text messages, and published them, leading to the perjury charges.

Kilpatrick has refused to resign, but he seems to be having trouble living up to the conditions of his bond. His personal travel was restricted, and he was supposed to give 48 hours notice to the court any time he needed to travel on city business.

Yesterday, Kilpatrick had a hearing because the court found out that he had traveled to Windsor on July 23 on city business without notifying the court. The judge found out about it by reading it in the newspaper. Days later. Which means that Kilpatrick not only didn't inform the court ahead of time, he didn't even bother to tell them after he got back.

The infuriating part is that all he would have had to do was make a phone call to the judge to let him know that he needed to make an emergency trip on city business.

Kilpatrick was jailed yesterday on the bond violation for the trip to Windsor, but an appeal judge this morning gave him a new $50,000 full-cash bond with no travel allowed and the requirement that Kilpatrick wear a GPS tether.

On July 24, the day after his trip to Windsor, Kilpatrick shoved a police officer who was attempting to locate and serve a warrant on a friend of Kilpatrick's. This took place at Kilpatrick's sister's house at 4:00pm on a Thursday afternoon. There has never been any explanation of why Kilpatrick was at his sister's house in the middle of the afternon in the middle of the work week.

Today, the Michigan Attorney General charged Kilpatrick with two felony counts of assaulting a cop. Which itself may be a violation of Kilpatrick's bond conditions in the perjury case, and may get him thrown back in jail.

And this is the sitting Mayor!

So the best-case scenario now would be for the governor to remove the mayor, which would leave the rest of us able to focus on the bribery accusations being made against City Council members.

God bless Detroit.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It just sucks, all around

Lansing voters rejected on Tuesday a millage proposal for capital improvements for the Capital Area District Library (CADL) by a margin of 54.5% to 45.5%.

I'm deeply disappointed with this proposal, not just because of the "why should I pay for something I don't use" rhetoric that gets thrown around every time the library or the bus system asks for funding, but because of the way the CADL shot themselves in the foot by putting the initiative on a primary ballot.

The millage request was a large one for an ambitious project—0.96 mills for a total of $93.6 million to "replace five library buildings, expand six more and renovate the other two." It would have been a tough sell even without a painful downturn in the housing market, and a controversy over an obscurity in state property tax law that has meant that many people have seen their tax bill increase this year even as the value of their house plummets.

Common wisdom seems to be that the CADL wanted to take advantage of the low turnout on a primary ballot in order to pass a funding increase that would have had no chance on a November ballot. Given the margin by which the proposal was defeated (and the fact that the numbers were even worse in the early returns), I'm not sure that the measure ever really had a chance, but voter suspicion is going to carry over to future funding requests, and make it even more difficult for the CADL to get funds to fix buildings which have mice, mold, and failing mechanical systems.