Wednesday, October 29, 2008


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 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. . .