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Archive for February, 2009

orwell“The longlists for the 2009 Orwell Prize for Political Writing were announced today, and for the first time the award includes a category for bloggers. Along with the traditional Book and Journalism submissions, this year the judges received entries in the form of YouTube videos and Twitter tweets. From eighty-three entrants for the Blog Prize . . . the judges selected a choice twelve, mixing the professional with the amateur, the politically affiliated with the politically free-wheeling:

“Alix Mortimer’s ‘The People’s Republic of Mortimer’; Andrew Sparrow’s Guardian Politics Blog; Chekov’s ‘Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness’; Hopi Sen’s Blog from the back room; Iain Dale’s Diary; Jack Night’s ‘Night Jack’; Mark Easton’s BBC News blog, ‘Mark Easton’s UK’; Neil Robertson’ ‘The Bleeding Heart Show’; Oliver Kamm’s Times Online blog; Paul Mason’s ‘Idle Scrawl’; The Heresiarch’s Heresy Corner; and Tom Harris’s ‘And another thing…’.

“While the Books and Journalism prizes have taken as their mantra Orwell’s ambition to ‘make political writing into an art’, the Blog Prize has looked to the day-to-day reflections in Orwell’s diaries for its criteria.” (via Granta)

[The March 12, 2009 issue of The New York Review of Books includes Julian Barnes’s essay, “Such, Such Was Eric Blair,” on George Orwell’s political writings. On his blog today, Andrew Sullivan writes of Barnes’s essay: “I’ve read a lot of Orwell and almost as much about him. This essay captures his Britishness – and avoids hagiography – as well as any I’ve read.”]

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porn-computer“Americans may paint themselves in increasingly bright shades of red and blue, but new research finds one thing that varies little across the nation: the liking for online pornography. . . .

“‘When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the same than different,’ says Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School.

“However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.

“‘Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by,’ Edelman says.”

For example:

  • Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year’s presidential election
  • Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don’t explicitly restrict gay marriage.
  • States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage,” bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed.
  • A similar difference emerged for the statement “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behaviour.” (via New Scientist)

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ryanair

Ryanair’s chief executive caused howls of protest today when he suggested that the airline may charge passengers £1 to use its toilets.

“Michael O’Leary said that the carrier had been investigating fitting coin slots to the doors of aircraft toilets, similar to those installed at train stations.

“‘One thing we have looked at in the past and are looking at again is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in future,’ he told BBC Breakfast this morning.

“‘We are always at Ryanair looking at ways of constantly lowering the cost of air travel to make it affordable and easier for all passengers to fly with us.'” (via Times Online)

[Because I can not stop humming the tune to “It’s A Privilege To Pee” from the Broadway musical Urinetown (set in a fictional metropolis where private toilets are outlawed and all the public, “pay as you ‘go'” amenities are operated by Urine Good Company and its evil CEO, Caldwell B. Cladwell), lyrics to the song can be found here.

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Obama GOP ReactionFrom TPM, evidence that the story told Tuesday night by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal during his GOP response to President Obama’s speech to Congress — “about how he backed a tough-talking sheriff’s efforts to rescue Katrina victims, government red-tape be damed [sic]” — was not true.

The full text of Governor Jindal’s speech can be found here.

obamacongressMeanwhile, Peggy Noonan saw Obama’s speech as a defining moment:

“A mysterious thing happened in that speech Tuesday night. By the end of it Barack Obama had become president. Every president has a moment when suddenly he becomes what he meant [sic] to be, or knows what he is, and those moments aren’t always public. . . .

“So with Mr. Obama, about four-fifths of the way through the speech. He was looking from the prompters to the congressmen and senators, and suddenly he was engaging on what seemed a deeper level. His voice took on inflection. He wasn’t detached, as if he was wondering how he was doing. He seemed equal to the moment and then, in some new way, in command of it.” (via Wall Street Journal)

A transcript of President Obama’s Address to Congress can be found here.

[As for that other influential GOP spokesperson, a video of “Joe the Plumber”‘s response to Obama’s speech can be found here.]

Update: (2/27) Jindal Admits Katrina Story Was False

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dumbodockstreet“The Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, has jumped into a contentious debate over a proposed development near the Brooklyn Bridge, saying that he supports the project but would like to see it modified.

“In a letter to the Department of City Planning, Mr. Markowitz wrote that he supported the proposed tower, called Dock Street Dumbo, which would include shops, rental apartments and a new middle school, but wants to make sure that the tower did not affect the public views of the bridge.” (via NY Times)

The New York Times article, which was posted on DumboNYC.com, also reported that Markowitz suggested the developer, Two Trees Management Company, make the tower taller — 25 stories instead of 18 — but Markowitz contacted the Dumbo blogger to correct the record, noting that his recommendation is not necessarily to build higher, but that as of right, Two Trees can build up to 25 stories on the site.

Markowitz’s office released a statement recommending that the City Planning Commission and the City Council support the multi-use concept proposed by Two Trees Management while rejecting the building as currently configured. Markowitz’s full statement can be found here (.pdf).

[It has not escaped notice by Dumbo locals that just last night, the borough president kicked off his re-election campaign at an art space in Dumbo owned by the Dock Street developer. Presumably cake was served at the event, which Markowitz worked hard both to have and eat.]

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lp-logo“Lonely Planet has imposed a pay freeze with immediate effect after announcing that 50 jobs have been cut. . . .

“The travel publisher, which employs 500 people worldwide has axed 10% of its staff. . . . [Acting CEO Stephen] Palmer said they had made some, ‘difficult decisions in response to the prolonged and deep economic downturn.’ He said, ‘no-one knows what the future holds or can make any guarantees, but this step is our best effort at protecting ourselves from further cuts.'” (via The Bookseller.com)

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“Joseph O’Neill’s novel ‘Netherland’ was named the winner of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation said on Wednesday. The honor for ‘Netherland,’ about a Dutch-born equities analyst, his British wife and their son, who live in New York during the Sept. 11 attack and its aftermath, is something of a comeback for Mr. O’Neill. The novel, though widely praised, was shut out in the National Book Awards and the National Book Critics Circle awards.” (via NY Times)

Michiko Kakutani’s New York Times review of “Netherland” can be found here.

[In many ways “Netherland” is a book about sports — in this instance cricket — and national identity; but the novel also contains some of the finest descriptions of ethnic New York City found anywhere. Related20 Are Detained After Cricket Attack (3/4/09, via NY Times)]

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watermelon

What’s up with California Republicans and all the Obama-watermelon references?

Dean Grose, the white, Republican mayor of Los Alamitos, California, has apologized to a local black businesswoman, Keyanus Price, to whom he sent an email depicting the White House lawn planted with watermelons. The picture included the caption, “No Easter egg hunt this year.” (via The Huffington Post)

obama-bucks

And let’s not forget the “Obama Bucks” pictured in a newsletter mailed by a California Republican women’s organization on the eve of the November election.

Maybe it was more than just policy differences that had California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger considering a switch in parties.

Update

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    “Every few years, someone counts up the titles covered in the New York Times Book Review and the short fiction published in the New Yorker, as well as the bylines and literary works reviewed in such highbrow journals as Harper’s and the New York Review of Books, and observes that the male names outnumber the female by about 2 to 1. This situation is lamentable, as everyone but a handful of embittered cranks seems to agree, but it’s not clear that anyone ever does anything about it. The bestseller lists, though less intellectually exalted, tend to break down more evenly along gender lines; between J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer alone, the distaff side is more than holding its own in terms of revenue. But when it comes to respect, are women writers getting short shrift?” (more @ Salon)

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    “These days, with a kitchen and a bit of ambition, you can start to make a name for yourself in Brooklyn. The borough has become an incubator for a culinary-minded generation whose idea of fun is learning how to make something delicious and finding a way to sell it.

    “These Brooklynites, most in their 20s and 30s, are hand-making pickles, cheeses and chocolates the way others form bands and artists’ collectives. They have a sense of community and an appreciation for traditional methods and flavors. They also share an aesthetic that’s equal parts 19th and 21st century, with a taste for bold graphics, salvaged wood and, for the men, scruffy beards.” (via NY Times)

    Related: edible Brooklyn

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    ghandi“Indians are expressing outrage over a New York auction that is set to sell some of the most personal belongings of India’s great independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi — the gaunt, bare-chested man whose ascetic life defied materialism.

    “The auction is a travesty for many Indians, for whom Gandhi is a godlike figure, and some in India’s Parliament have called for the government to either stop the auction or put in the highest bid to get back the nation’s iconic mementos.

    “The bidding for Gandhi’s distinctive metal-rimmed round spectacles, his leather sandals, a 1910 sterling Zenith pocket watch, and a brass bowl and plate is scheduled for March 5 and 6 in New York.” (via The Washington Post)

    Antiquorum Auctioneers, in their press release for the March sale, estimate the value of the c. 1901-1915 pocket watch at $20,000-$30,000 and note that Ghandi “gave it to his grandniece, Abha Gandhi, his assistant of six years, and in whose arms he died.”

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    As an early user and fan of Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader, I’ve wanted for the longest time to post something about the device, but never more than now, now that the Kindle 2 has been released and reviewed in various forums. Finally, Jon Stewart to the rescue.

    From last night’s The Daily Show, here is Stewart’s discussion about the Kindle 2 with Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

    Vodpod videos no longer available.


    Laughter aside, Roy Blount Jr., president of the Authors Guild, argues that “authors have a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s version of books.”

    Update

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    From today’s New York Times, Allison Arieff on San Francisco bookseller, collector and architectural book publisher William Stout and the old-fashioned pleasures of hunting in the stacks:

    “Stores like Stout’s (not to mention people like Stout!) are a rare breed these days: there are two floors bursting with over 200,000 books on everything from the sustainable houses of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt to Czech graphic designer Vitezslav Nezval’s ‘Alphabet’ from 1926 to the last sketchbook of Jackson Pollock to William Wegman’s whimsical ‘Dogs on Rocks.’ Some books are shelved in an orderly fashion, others are piled high, begging for the serendipity of accidental discovery. . . .

    “I love the tangents an afternoon spent searching the Internet can generate: a search for this leads to a blog on that which might lead to a book I’d not heard of or a film I want to see. But I realize as well that it’s contributing to a sort of collective ADD that makes ambling through aisles of a place like Stout Books feel that much more special, requiring an altogether different commitment of time, care and attention.”

    Related

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    googleUpdating my January 31st post, Google & the Future of Books: I received the following email today from Nancy Dolan at Kinsella Media, LLC, regarding the Google Book Search settlement –

    “Thank you for your blog post about the Google Book Search settlement.  The process of notifying authors and publishers about the settlement has begun.  If you would like to update your readers with the court-approved Notice, which summarizes the settlement, important terms, claims process, and key dates, it is available at http://www.googlebooksettlement.com/notice.html.  Rightsholders may now claim their works at http://www.googlebooksettlement.com.”

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    marijuana11“Could Cannabis sativa be a salvation for California’s fiscal misfortunes? Can the state get a better budget grip by taxing what some folks toke?

    “[Assemblyman Tom Ammiano] from San Francisco announced legislation Monday to do just that: make California the first state in the nation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.” (via LA Times)

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    texasborderbadge“In a controversial program aimed at enhancing border security, Texas sheriffs have erected a series of surveillance cameras along the Rio Grande and connected them to the Internet.

    “Thousands of people are now virtual Border Patrol agents — and they’re on the lookout for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.

    “Robert Fahrenkamp, a truck driver in South Texas, is one of them.

    “After a long haul behind the wheel of a Peterbilt tractor-trailer, he comes home, sets his 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound frame in front of his computer, pops a Red Bull, turns on some Black Sabbath or Steppenwolf, logs in to www.blueservo.net — and starts protecting his country.

    “‘This gives me a little edge feeling,’ Fahrenkamp says, ‘like I’m doing something for law enforcement as well as for our own country.'” (more @ NPR)

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    typewriterAhead of their publication later this year of six new short story collections, Harper Perennial has kicked off promotion of its “2009: Summer of the Short Story” campaign by launching a new blog, Fifty-Two Stories.

    As reported by Publishers Weekly, the publishing house announced “that each week in 2009 it is posting a new short story. Some are new stories from Harper Perennial’s original collections or from upcoming hardcovers; some are original contributions never before published anywhere; and some are backlist classics. . . .

    “Harper Perennial’s editorial director, Cal Morgan, selects a new story each week and posts it Sunday night. In January, Fifty-Two Stories featured stories by Mary Gaitskill, Tony O’Neill, Simon Van Booy and Tom Piazza. Last week, it posted a previously unpublished story from Louise Erdrich’s new collection, The Red Convertible, which Harper published in January. This week there’s a story by Willa Cather from The Bohemian Girl, a forthcoming selection of Cather’s greatest short works. Future selections include works by Katherine Dunn, Jess Walter, Mark Twain and Dennis Cooper.”

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    pessl2Writing in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Jacob Silverman denounces the “lazy and shallow tactic” of discussing an author’s looks in a book review. He recalls the often overheated commentary about Marisha Pessl‘s dust jacket photo in her 2006 debut novel, Special Topics In Calamity Physics, and takes Janet Maslin to task for her February 15th New York Times review of Miriam Gershow’s The Local News.

    [Related: “The dust jacket photo remains a crucial promotional device. In fact, says Antonia Hodgson, the editor-in-chief at the publisher Little, Brown, it’s more important than ever.” (more @ Looking the part, 4/10/09, The National)]

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    bookstore-sign1“Peter Olson, until recently the chairman and CEO of Random House, wrote in Publishers Weekly last month: ‘While 2008 ended on a disappointing and even discouraging note for many in the book industry, the outlook for the new year is even bleaker. One-time adjustments by retailers and underlying shifts in the structure of the book industry will make 2009 the worst year for publishing in decades.’” (via London Review of Books)

    Related

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    richrain“One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly ‘changed everything,’ slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable.” (via NY Times)

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