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The Unwelcome Guest

Donald Rumsfeld told graduating cadets at West Point yesterday that:

America should only have "our forces where they are wanted."

Okay, did you happen to save the invitation that the Iraqi people sent us, begging us to invade their country? No? Hmmm...must have gotten misplaced. I know how that is. My filing system leaves a lot to be desired, too.

Has anybody noticed how selectively the administration is choosing their audiences lately? Bush speaks before the Army War College and at the World War II Memorial dedication, and Rumsfeld speaks at West Point. Not exactly unbiased audiences. Bush might as well have made his speech last Monday to the Republican National Committee.

(Title borrowed from Woody Guthrie, who would undoubtedly be rather bemused by the current goings-on.)

May 30, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Headed for the Rocks

George Bush vows to "stay the course" in Iraq. John Kerry's reply:

"One thing I learned from the Navy is that when the course you're on is headed for the shoals, you have to change course."

May 27, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

H.L. Mencken on Democracy

From the Smart Set, April 1920 (compiled in The Vintage Mencken):

What I admire most in any man is a serene spirit, a steady freedom from moral indignation, an all-embracing tolerance--in brief, what is commonly called good sportsmanship. Such a man is not be mistaken for one who shirks the hard knocks of life. On the contrary, he is frequently an eager gladiator, vastly enjoying opposition. But when he fights he fights in the manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a longshoreman clearing out a waterfront saloon. That is to say, he carefully guards his amour propre by assuming that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and just as honest--and perhaps, after all, right. Such an attitude is palpably impossible to a democrat. His distinguishing mark is the fact that he always attacks his opponents, not only with all arms, but also with snorts and objurgations--that he is always filled with moral indignation--that he is incapable of imagining honor in an antagonist, and hence incapable of honor himself.

May 27, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vernon Jarrett

Clarence Page has a nice remembrance of Vernon Jarrett, the Chicago journalist and activist, in today's Chicago Tribune:

He was lying in his hospital bed on Chicago's South Side earlier this spring, the Rev. Jesse Jackson recalls, when family and friends asked him what he wanted. Despite the soon-to-be-fatal throat cancer that the veteran newspaper columnist was fighting, his wish was clear and direct, according to Jackson: "An absentee ballot."

That's Jarrett. It was primary election time. Illinois Democrats were about to nominate state Sen. Barack Obama to become, they hope, the nation's first black male Democratic senator in history and Jarrett, who always appreciated history, wanted to be a part of it.

...

A native of Tennessee who moved to Chicago in 1946 with the second wave of the Great Migration, Jarrett had an immigrant's impatience with those who squandered golden opportunities, especially opportunities to educate one's self and to vote. One gave you power to determine your own fate, he would say; the other gave you power to help decide the nation's fate. Too many of our forefathers had sacrificed their lives for us to squander that right, he would remind us young pups.

Now that's a true American. In the hospital, terminally ill, and what is he thinking about? Voting and participating in the democratic process that most of us take for granted.

In a city that takes its columnists and broadcasters seriously, Jarrett was to black Chicago what Mike Royko was to just about everybody: Whether you agreed with him or not, you felt like he was downtown fighting on your side, even when it seemed like nobody was.

May 26, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chilling Thought

"Our sons are our nuclear weapons."
--Palestinian man in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, whose two sons were killed by Israeli forces (as reported by NPR).

May 25, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wal-Mart's Piggy Bank: You

We have seen the enemy, and they is us. Plus our politicians, of course. From an article in Crain's Chicago Business:

Wal-Mart has won big in Illinois
By Steven R. Strahler
May 24, 2004

As the Chicago City Council prepares to vote Wednesday on whether to allow Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to open locations in the city, a study released Monday says that Illinois tops all states in subsidizing the No. 1 retailer’s expansion.

Illinois contributed a whopping $145.7 million in tax breaks, free or subsidized land and other handouts to 29 Wal-Mart deals since the early 1980s, according to Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group. Texas was a distant second, with $107.7 million earmarked for 30 deals, the study said.

Wal-Mart isn’t seeking any direct incentives for a proposed West Side store and another on the South Side, the city says. But the 50-acre South Side site, where Wal-Mart anticipates occupying a third of the 465,000-square-foot retail development, is earmarked for a $31.5-million tax-increment financing district (TIF). The TIF would help fund demolition of a steel mill and construction of a new road and viaducts. A City Council vote on the incentive hasn’t been scheduled. On Wednesday, the Council will address zoning changes associated with Wal-Mart’s proposals.

Nationally, more than $1 billion in incentives has been showered on 244 Wal-Mart projects, according to the Good Jobs First study. But, the study authors note, that figure could be the “tip of the iceberg,” considering the difficulty of compiling comprehensive statistics and what is described as Wal-Mart’s contention that it actively seeks incentives for about a third of its 3,500 stores nationwide.

(Full story)


Enough of this. I think it's time we--Illinoisans and Americans in general--stop giving handouts to this underdog little retailer. It's nice that we were able to get them a toehold in our local communities to enable them to run their quiet, unassuming little operations, be a responsible, union-friendly employer and co-exist peaceably with existing businesses. But now that the Beast from Bentonville is the world's largest company, I think they can get by on their own.

In fact, if Wal-Mart is really the responsible corporate citizen they claim they are, wouldn't the right thing for them to do be to repay the $1 billion to all the various municipalities, or at least a portion of it? The company is currently sitting on almost $4 billion. It would make a nice show of gratitude for all the towns which helped make its phenomenal success possible.

May 25, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Early Death of Lad Lit

Laura Miller has a nice piece on the "lad lit" pseudo-genre in the New York Times. Assuming that her claim "men make up as little as 20 percent of the readership for adult trade fiction" is correct, then her obit for the genre is dead-on accurate:

However realistic the chick lit heroine may be, her love object, the brass ring that makes all her misadventures worth suffering, is usually a figure of fantasy, an initially intimidating alpha male who secretly cherishes her wacky antics and inner goodness...Lad lit is intent on spoiling the fantasy...If female readers allowed themselves to believe that most straight men spend their time holding conversations with their penises, watching the Cartoon Network, fiddling with their rotisserie baseball teams and contemplating the fine art of passing gas on subway trains, romance--and perhaps even human reproduction itself--would grind to a halt.

May 24, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some Words of Wisdom, But Then...

I was just reading poems from A Children's Book of Verse for Maddie before her afternoon nap, and came across this fine piece:

A wise old owl lived in an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?

They're not all as pleasant as that one, however. For one thing, there seems to be a whole lot of corporal punishment going on, particularly the final line from a version of "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe" which I had never heard before, and probably for good reason:

She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Gender equality is generally an unknown concept, as well. It's not too difficult to tell who the "little hen" actually represents in the following:

I had a little hen;
The prettiest ever seen;
She washed up the dishes,
And kept the house clean.
She went to the mill
To fetch me some flour
And always got home
In less than an hour.
She baked me my bread,
She brewed me my ale,
She sat by the fire
And told a fine tale.

While at first I was impressed by a wife who brews her own ale, I quickly realized the rest of this ode wasn't particularly enlightened. I would imagine that feminist moms just skip this poem and read the next one to their impressionable youngsters.

May 23, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (5)

Dick Cheney's Reality

The Center for American Progress has an interesting piece on Dick Cheney. Sometimes I wonder if he's just out of touch, or if he's certifiably nuts.

Being Dick Cheney
In a series of public statements over the last few months, Vice President Cheney has given the American public a glimpse of how the world looks from his perspective. In Cheney World, Fox News is a bastion of journalistic integrity, Wal-Mart's poverty-level wages represent all that is good about the American economy, Don Rumsfeld's mishandling of/lying about Iraq makes him the best Defense Secretary ever, and Halliburton is a shining beacon of integrity even as it shafts American taxpayers and U.S. troops.

Full text

May 22, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lord of the Flies

I'm about three-quarters of the way through Lord of the Flies, and I'm enjoying it immensely. I can't believe that I've never read it until now. Where I just left off, things are deteriorating very rapidly for the castaways, and it feels like a major tragedy is imminent. In the earlier, foreboding passage below, Ralph has just begun to lose his self-confidence, and with it, his tenuous grip on the tribe and any semblance of order.

Wave after wave, Ralph followed the rise and fall until something of the remoteness of the sea numbed his brain. Then gradually the almost infinite size of this water forced itself on his attention. This was the divider, the barrier. On the other side of the island, swathed at midday with mirage, defended by the shield of the quiet lagoon, one might dream of rescue; but here, faced by the brute obtuseness of the ocean, the miles of division, one was clamped down, one was helpless, one was condemnsed, one was--

May 21, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joel R.L. Phelps

joelphelps

I'm obsessing quite a bit right now over Joel R.L. Phelps. I loved his debut album but haven't bought anything since, for reasons I can't adequately explain. He has a new record coming out, Customs, which apparently rocks much more than his last several subdued albums. From everything I've read about him, he just seems like a geniunely good man--refreshingly honest, humble and low-key.

If you want to get a feel for Joel's work, you can download "Goodbye Kelly Grand Forks" and stream the studio video of "What the Sargeant Said", both off of the new album, from his European label 12XU. Plus, KEXP in Seattle has an archived in-studio performance from last year with three nice tunes, his fansite has some older live MP3s from 1996 ("Rev. Robert Irving" is a personal favorite) and 12XU also has other audio items available.

But as invigorating as those rock tracks are, what I keep coming back to is the forlorn beauty of "When Will We", a non-album track recorded in a radio studio in 2001 with just Joel and his acoustic guitar. Gives me shivers, every time.

May 20, 2004 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

You Can't Go Home Again

Bob Mould's post proves this truism, once more.

May 20, 2004 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

The horror! The horror!

Charles Martin illustrates the eerie parallels between Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the Iraq situation in today's Salon:

"By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded," Kurtz postulates. One of his cohorts affirms, "Each station should be...a beacon on the road towards better things, a center of trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing." Conrad informs us, "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz."

(Sitting through the "Day Pass" webmercial to read the article is well worth the time.)

May 18, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disgraced? Disgusted?

"I have been disgraced and -- by what I've seen on TV, what took place in the prison."
--George W. Bush

I certainly hope this comment is nothing more than yet another example of Bush's limited vocabulary. Please, Mr. Bush, tell me that you actually meant "I am disgusted" (filled with disgust, appalled, revolted) rather than "I have been disgraced" (this scandal is really making me look bad).

May 18, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Guaranteed"

My short piece "Guaranteed" has been politely declined by The First Line so, as promised, I have posted it here. Oh, well. Onward.

May 17, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Grab whom you must. Do what you want."

"Our heads bow, our hearts ache over what a small number of them did at that prison."
--Colin Powell, speaking to Arab leaders in Jordan

"We find that we have...a few who have betrayed our values by their conduct. We know what our standards are. You know what you're taught. And the terrible actions of a few don't change that."
--Donald Rumsfeld, addressing an audience of military personnel

"According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation...encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq...

Fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were 'completely read into the program.'...

'The rules are "Grab whom you must. Do what you want."'...

The solution, endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents."
--Seymour Hersh, The Gray Zone

May 17, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Clear Channel's Hypocrisy

Howard Reich writes about the FCC's crackdown on "shock jocks" and broadcasted indecency in today's Chicago Tribune. Though the entire article is a very good read, one excerpt is particularly telling:

"I'm embarrassed to be here," said Clear Channel CEO John Hogan, during a grandiose apologia before a congressional subcommittee in February.

"I've read the transcripts of the Bubba (the Love Sponge) radio show. As a broadcaster, as the CEO and as the father of a 9-year-old girl, I'm ashamed to be associated in any way with those words. . . .

"I hope that the subcommittee will understand that the Bubbas of the world and the Howard Sterns of the world are the exception rather than the rule, and that they will no longer have a platform on our stations."

Hogan did not disclose, however, why his moral outrage was so late in coming, after Clear Channel had been airing Stern for years. Nor did he mention Britney Spears' recent concert tour--promoted by Clear Channel--during which silhouetted dancers mimed graphic sex acts.


Let me get this straight. It's not okay for radio jocks to air prurient material, but it's okay for Clear Channel to promote a tour by Britney Spears--who appeals primarily to teenaged girls--which includes onstage simulated sex acts. Can you say hypocrisy? Am I being too cynical in wondering if promoting concert tours is more profitable than broadcasting syndicated radio programs?

May 16, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Midwestern" Writers

Ah, those East Coast writers...Alan Cheuse's review of Kent Haruf's new Eventide in today's Chicago Tribune begins:

From Edgar Lee Masters to Sherwood Anderson, Midwestern writers have portrayed small-town America and its inhabitants with a certain affectionate ferocity. Novelist Kent Haruf has revived that tradition, except he has turned down the ferocity a great deal.

Almost five years ago, Haruf published "Plain-song," a rather humbly conducted, and quite ingratiating, depiction of several groups of appealing, small-town Colorado characters.

Huh? Colorado? Midwest? Based on his bio, Cheuse grew up in New Jersey and apparently hasn't lived any further west than Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cheuse's geographic bearings clearly echo the mindset depicted by Saul Steinberg's famous View of the World from 9th Avenue.

May 16, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pesky Pages

Maud Newton's recent post...

It, like, looks like a book, but without the pesky pages
Ostensibly "literate handbags," which "reclassify the beauty of vintage books by crafting their covers into distinctive purses," are represented by a shot of a purse made from James Michener's Hawaii.

...couldn't help but remind me of Eugene Pota, Joseph Heller's protagonist (and alter ego) in Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man, which I just read recently. Pota, an aging author seeking to recapture the fading glory of his debut novel with one last great work, finds himself utterly devoid of good ideas. The best thing he can come up with is the title A Sexual Biography of my Wife, which sounds quite intriguing; trouble is, Pota has absolutely no idea what the story would be about. His agent jokingly suggests that they publish a book with that title stamped in big letters on the cover, with nothing but blank pages inside. "Pesky pages", indeed!

May 12, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Rule Of His Will"

In 1866, in the Supreme Court case Ex Parte Milligan, Attorney General James Speed argued--in trying to justify President Lincoln's imprisonment of hundreds of dissenting citizens--that during wartime, the President should rightfully become "The supreme legislator, supreme judge, and supreme executive."

The Court wisely disagreed with this affront to civil liberties. Chief Justice David Davis wrote:

"The proposition is this: that in a time of war the commander of an armed force...has the power...to suspend all civil rights and their remedies, and subject citizens...to the rule of his will...If true, [our] republican government is a failure, and there is an end of liberty regulated by law."

Some things never change. John Ashcroft certainly agrees with James Speed. Hopefully the Supreme Court will agree with Chief Justice Davis and end the administration's ongoing assault on the Constitution.

(Via Nat Henthoff's fine article in the Village Voice.)

May 12, 2004 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Terminology?

Let's face it--the words "blog" and "blogging" are ugly, uncleverly derived and, well, ugly. (And "weblog" isn't much better.) I personally have tried to fit in to the whole weblog civilzation and just use the terms like everybody else. But my good friend Fred, who has been prowling the Internet for longer than almost anybody I know but has yet to get involved in the weblog scene, truly dislikes the two terms.

So, today, I asked him for suggestions for alternative terminology. His suggestion for replacing "blog" is "omphalos", which I really like for three reasons. First, it sounds very elegant, unlike the clunky and guttural "blog." Second, it is the Greek word for "navel" (which is appropriate, given the enormous amount of navel-gazing that bloggers engage in). Third, he points out that the letters form an acronym for "Often Mundane Prose Heavily Aired, Lacking Obligatory Substance."

All around, I think his suggestion is excellent. Any thoughts?

May 11, 2004 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (6)

Happy Mother's Day!

John Kass had a nice tribute to his mom in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. She clearly instilled in him the love of reading, which ultimately lead him to his writing career.

Another choice involved money, which we didn't have. Still, she insisted that my father spend $300 for the My Book House Books series, 12 volumes of classic stories and poems.

"We paid $9.69 a month for three years," she said. "We didn't have a dime. But I thought it was worth it."

Every evening at bedtime, she'd read to us from the special books. What we didn't understand then was that she never bought new clothes for herself. She had two dresses, but we didn't notice.

She'd buy us books and slip us money to buy books. Books were our one luxury.

May 10, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Quotation of the Month

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend, and inside a dog it's too dark to read." --Groucho Marx

(Via Booksense.)

May 8, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Secretary of Defense(less)

From an editorial in today's New York Times:

The world is waiting now for a sign that President Bush understands the seriousness of what has happened. It needs to be more than his repeated statements that he is sorry the rest of the world does not "understand the true nature and heart of America." Mr. Bush should start showing the state of his own heart by demanding the resignation of his secretary of defense.

This is far from a case of a fine cabinet official undone by the actions of a few obscure bad apples in the military police. Donald Rumsfeld has morphed, over the last two years, from a man of supreme confidence to arrogance, then to almost willful blindness. With the approval of the president, he sent American troops into a place whose nature and dangers he had apparently never bothered to examine.

May 7, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Zine Reviews

As if my life wasn't complicated enough these days (buying new house, tidying up old house for selling, packing up old house for moving, a week at Disney World, plus the incessant incoming tide of reading material), I recently received a shipment of zines from Quimby's. Thoughts and impressions:

Burn Collector #6: Al Burian's marvelous recollections of a maladjusted adolesence in Chapel Hill (including his discovery of coffee), plus the mind-bending pleasures of sleep deprivation.

The First Line (Vol. 5, Issue 2): Fascinating premise--the editor provides the opening line (this time: "The view from up here is incredible and makes me feel _____") and writers take the story from there. Fourteen writers contribute to this issue, most notably Daphne M.S. Repass' "The Castle" ("So we strolled--can you see it? A marine strolling through the park on a date. In spite of my pride and bravado, Noriko planned the day and lead us through it. And I willingly followed."); Chris Akeley's "Victory", a hilarious tale of middle-aged suburban rebellion; and one particularly memorable line from Wolf Finkbeiner's "Zero Mountain": "Zero Mountain overlooks Fayetteville. The darkness seems to hide the town's mediocrity; the streetlights give her glamour, and a little mystery, like a farm girl on prom night." (I've already submitted a piece for the Summer 2004 issue.)

Duplex Planet #168: David Greenberger's outstanding, ongoing project of interviewing nursing home residents. Entries range from charming reminiscences of everyday life (Sylvia Harvest: "I go to a department store and I walk from one end of the furniture department to the other. When I get tired I sit down, and then I go to another floor. And then I go to the ladies department, the jewelry department. Sometimes I buy something, and I have a place to go the next day, or two days later, to return it. I am known in every department store in New York City.") to responses to quirky questions (Q: "Why do they name hurricanes but not eclipses?" Rita Butler: "The more gentle things are, the faster they forget about 'em.") Warm, wonderful stuff.

The Minus Times #28: Esteemed lit journal, very indie rock in feel, right down to the faded-typewriter lettering and random pasted-in photos--the literary equivalent of lo-fi. Highlights included the ever-wonderful David Berman and his poem "The Irish Space Program" ("I turned on my heels and headed back, determined to eject that hermit from my thinking spot. Hatred came flipping down my forearms. Any refusal would be met with super-refusal...But upon returning, I found my pastoral arena was depopulated once again. I took a seat and turned an ear to the birds inside the sky. So only ten bad minutes had been appended to my life.") and Brent Van Daley's addiction narrative "Thin Is In" ("I saw Nick digging through an ashtray. His sunken eyes burned like matchsticks, his oily hair forever pushed back. There were two open sores between his middle and index fingers; his habit of nodding off with a lit cigarette. Unmasked, his face and the mask were the same. There was nothing to say. Chasing the dragon; I thought it was understood, the trick is not to catch it.").

Philadelphia Independent (August 2003): Curious alternative monthly which combines sharply-observed news (re former California governor Gray Davis: "He has the face of a very unassuming greyhound, does best with people who have already paid $1,000 a plate, and endeavors to be nothing more than the lesser of all evils. Davis possesses the curious combination of being completely introverted, while at the same time appearing to lack any sort of inner life."), personal essay (Rebecca Dalzell's "Twenty Years With Rita: The Babysitter Who Taught Me To Curse"), satire (Lord Whimsy's social-decorum primer: "It is always better to watch a game of croquet than to participate in one. Indeed, one may easily amuse one's self as a spectator by providing slurred, ribald color commentary--preferably within earshot of one's younger relations--whilst sipping one's fourth whiskey sour and quietly contemplating the atrocious arrangements of the host's flowerbed."), intriguing novel excerpts by Bryan Christy and Clark Roth, and underground comics. And it all comes in a massive newspaper broadsheet format--two inches wider than the usual--which makes reading on a cramped train tricky. A thouroughly enjoyable steal, for the price of just one buck.

May 7, 2004 in Zines | Permalink | Comments (2)

Herod and Mariamne

Lovely passage from Par Lagerkvist's Herod and Mariamne:

One may wonder why it was that she needed no temple; but neither do trees, flowers and the beautiful stones to be found along the shore.

She was like the trees. The wind is the worship that fills them, and to which at times--though not always--they listen. Their divine service is within themselves.

It may have been this to which she listened during those still and solitary days.

The book was quite good, with the prose being even more spare and unadorned than the numerous other Lagerkvist novels I've read. Which posed somewhat of a problem--while the what and who was easy to follow, the why was more of a challenge. Particularly the reason why Herod finally turned away from Mariamne, and resumed his loathsome and murderous ways. But overall I liked it, and it was an extremely quick read--only 116 pages, one-and-a-half spaced lines, and very plain language made for fast and effortless reading.

May 6, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

BookCrossing

Yesterday's mail brought an unexpected surprise--a free copy of Wild Animus by Rich Shapero. I had signed up to get a free copy who knows how long ago, but had forgotten all about it and certainly wasn't holding my breath waiting for its arrival. Sounds like an interesting story, which I'll get around to reading eventually. They're still listing the offer on the site, so if you're cheap like me, give it a shot and sign up.

I was into BookCrossing for a while, a few years back. It's an attractive concept, in theory--read a book that you love, and leave it somewhere for an unknown reader to pick up, read and hopefully enjoy as well. Sharing the love of reading, and all that. But ultimately the concept is flawed. Of course I want to share great books that mean a lot to me with friends and family--but what intrinsic award to I get out of it if I merely abandon the book on the remote chance that a complete stranger will find it and read it? I released seven books, with no success. After a while, it seemed like I was just throwing these books away, which is why the ones I released weren't exactly my cherished ones. With none of them being recovered, and failing to get any sense of community from the site, I haven't bothered with it for well over a year now.

If you look at various participants' pages, you'll see that recovery rates for books are very low. A lot of these books probably get thrown in the trash by diligent custodians, and many of the people that do "catch" books apparently don't bother going to the website and registering their find. Thus, the whole "reading community" idea that BookCrossing is trying to propogate never really materializes.

I'm sure the founder means well, but the idea just doesn't work.

May 6, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Shameless Commercialism

Our pending move has inspired one of my periodic remove-clutter-via-eBay purges. Up for sale this week is a batch of LPs--blues and Cajun--that I once loved dearly but haven't listened to in over fifteen years. Bargains are to be had. Buy now, dust off that old stylus, fire up the turntable and enjoy.

May 5, 2004 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disney's Corporate Censorship

From today's New York Times:

Disney Forbidding Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush
By JIM RUTENBERG


WASHINGTON, May 4 — The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday.

The film, "Fahrenheit 911," links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis — including the family of Osama bin Laden — and criticizes Mr. Bush's actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Disney, which bought Miramax more than a decade ago, has a contractual agreement with the Miramax principals, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, allowing it to prevent the company from distributing films under certain circumstances, like an excessive budget or an NC-17 rating.

Executives at Miramax, who became principal investors in Mr. Moore's project last spring, do not believe that this is one of those cases, people involved in the production of the film said. If a compromise is not reached, these people said, the matter could go to mediation, though neither side is said to want to travel that route.

...

A senior Disney executive elaborated that the company had the right to quash Miramax's distribution of films if it deemed their distribution to be against the interests of the company. The executive said Mr. Moore's film is deemed to be against Disney's interests not because of the company's business dealings with the government but because Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore's film, which does not have a release date, could alienate many.

"It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle," this executive said.

...

Mr. Moore, who will present the film at the Cannes film festival this month, criticized Disney's decision in an interview on Tuesday, saying, "At some point the question has to be asked, `Should this be happening in a free and open society where the monied interests essentially call the shots regarding the information that the public is allowed to see?' "
Disney's claims are certainly disingenuous. They claim to "cater to families of all political stripes," but apparently politically-liberal families are only allowed to see innocuous fare like Finding Nemo and Brother Bear, and not anything which casts George Bush in an unflattering light.

May 5, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (5)

John Biguenet

Picking up dinner on Saturday night, I caught the end of a reading of John Biguenet's "I Am Not A Jew" on the NPR program Selected Shorts. The story itself was rather striking, but what really grabbed me was the protagonist's name--Peter Anderson. This is the first time I can remember ever coming across my own name in a work of literature.

Researching further, I came across a strong review of Biguenet's story collection in which this story appeared, The Torturer's Apprentice in the New York Times. I'm definitely going to have to check this one out, and not just because of narcissism.

May 3, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Memo to George Bush

Letter to the editor in yesterday's Chicago Tribune:

I'm getting tired of apologists for our misadventures in Iraq minimizing the severity of the insurgency in cities like Fallujah, Iraq, claiming that the true measure of our success there should be the relative calm in other areas.

By that very same logic, we shouldn't have gotten too excited about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks because, after all America is a big place, and terrorists only hit New York and Washington D.C.

Howard West
Aurora (Illinois)

What do you know? Bush's anti-terrorism efforts have been a huge success, after all. Al Qaeda only managed to hit only two cities.

May 3, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pirate Radio

David Ulin reviews 40 Watts From Nowhere: A Journey Into Pirate Radio, by Sue Carpenter, operator of KBLT in Los Angeles in today's Tribune (registration required; sorry, as always). Ulin writes:

Radio, Carpenter tells us, "should be tied to its community . . . it should uplift its listeners by airing music they might not know they even want to hear." This is an essential point, for it suggests that rather than a form of theft, pirate radio is a way to "do" democracy, to offer a more diverse range of voices than the FCC allows. In that regard, it's a quintessentially American activity, progressive and populist--revolutionary even, in the most liberatory sense of the word.

I've always been interested in radio, having bravely overcome being force-fed WGN (and Wally Phillips in particular) as a child. And I've long been fascinated by pirate radio, and during my younger years of dramatically more ample idle time I even toyed with the idea of starting my own station. I always thought of pirate radio as a solitary, "lone voice in the wilderness" endeavor. But KBLT--with 100 deejays broadcasting 14 hours a day--is much more wide-ranging and ambitious than anything I ever envisioned.

I always wondered if, had I taken the plunge, there would have been anybody out there listening, or if anybody cared. Which, I suppose, is one thing that held me back from giving it a try. Then again, in that sense it's really no different than blogging. I'm putting these words and ideas out there, not knowing if anybody's reading, which I guess means I'm mostly doing it for myself. Just as running a pirate radio station would have had me broadcasting, sending my musical tastes and personal opinions out over the ethereal airwaves, not knowing if anybody was tuning in. And enjoying every minute of it.

May 2, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)