Archive for October 31st, 2008

Halloween Night

sunset flame has added a photo to the pool:

Halloween Night

Great atmosphere but it would take you all night to get half a bag of candy in this neighbourhood!

GSA giveaway update: all the copies are spoken for!

Hey all — Just a quick note to say that all the copies of The Rules for Hearts are now spoken for by and/or en route to gay-straight alliances in Omaha, Nebraska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Peoria, Arizona; Lethbridge, Alberta, and a few different GSAs in Edmonton, Alberta!

A special thanks to Kris Wells of the University of Alberta for helping to get the word out to the Canadians. :)

Moonlight Ride

sunset flame has added a photo to the pool:

Moonlight Ride

Wonder if he's read the Legend of Sleepy Hollow .....

Vintage Halloween Costumes

sunset flame has added a photo to the pool:

Vintage Halloween Costumes

The little gaucho is especially cute!

Self Portrait

Note to self: Look out the window to see if there are any really little kids waiting for treats before putting on the mask and opening the door :)



"Perhaps he'll hop into a pouch." (Courtesy of Wendy.)

The new structure

In the first of two Astral Weeks columns, I look at some interesting recent short stories. This installment: John Langan's "On Skua Island" and Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,' by Benjamin Rosenbaum" (that is the title!).

Halloween in Hell LA

Kid Clown

Spooking the spook

House of Spirits Halloween HeadSee No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil

“But maybe we have it wrong. The dead do not hate the living; love hates the dead for being dead and…”

“But maybe we have it wrong. The dead do not hate the living; love hates the dead for being dead and again and again summons them back because of this.”

- : Film Threat

RIP Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel is dead. And the radio world as we now know it has been permanently altered.

When I heard the news, I felt a horrible lump within me bunch up and plummet to the floor. I had been talking up Terkel only yesterday, openly contemplating to friends whether today’s podcasters and staid NPR types — who seemed narrowly concerned only with those caught within their fifteen minutes of fame — would even come close to Terkel’s deep and wide-ranging interest in people of all types. The only guy among my generation who has come close to Terkel is possibly Benjamen Walker, whose excellent Theory of Everything program is now sadly defunct. And over the past few months, I’d likewise been pondering whether I had an obligation to expand the range of my own program to include more people outside the cultural world.

Terkel demonstrated with his great journalistic genius that everybody had a hell of a story, that everyone was part of history, and that with enough curiosity, you could find the insight in damn near anyone.

He documented working people in a way that nobody on radio has been able to come close to in the past several decades. He provided an invaluable history of the Great Depression. One could listen to any of Terkel’s interviews and feel immediately humbled, almost insignificant by comparison. He brought so much life to the interviewing form, unfurling so many unexpected details in his subjects. The train hopper who described the way in which he packed hot dogs into his clothes to avoid starvation. The behavioral specifics devised and brought about by existing within an epoch.

Anybody interested in people would do well to revisit Terkel at length. This was a man who changed the rules of oral history. This was a man whose prolific professionalism simply asked us to look deep inside ourselves, and see the people around us. And I don’t know if we’ll see the likes of him again for some time. But his passing signifies that we all have to do much better.

The Congo War, take three?

Confused about what’s going on in the northern Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people who follow African issues closely were surprised to see fighting in the eastern DRC become so fierce so quickly. I suspect I’m not the only person tearing myself away from US elections coverage and trying to catch up on an extremely complex situation.

The very basic rundown: DRC has been nominally “at peace” since a ceasefire was signed in 2003 between most of the parties involved with the Second Congo War, often referred to as “Africa’s World War”. It’s a conflict that has cost the lives of over 5 million people, largely due to disease and poverty exacerbated by the fighting, rather than to direct violence. And the conflict has never really ended, despite reasonably successful elections in 2006.

The conflict, in part, is an outgrowth of the Rwandan genocide. When Paul Kagame’s forces chased Hutu militias out of Rwanda in 1994, they fled across the border into eastern DRC. This created one of the world’s most morally complicated humanitarian situations. People who’d fled Rwanda were refugees, and many legitimately feared for their lives, so humanitarian organizations felt compelled to care for them. But it became clear that these camps were housing and feeding militias, who were making raids across the border and continuing to kill Tutsis, which made some humanitarian organizations wonder whether they were helping perpetuate the conflict. (This is why we don’t set up refugee camps in war zones… but it’s very hard to figure out where those zones actually are.)

There are still Hutu militias in eastern DRC. And there’s a Tutsi militia as well, the CNDP, led by Laurent Nkunda. This group is nominally a self-defense miliia to protect Tutsi populations against the Hutu groups… but things are a little complicated in eastern DRC. This part of the country has amazing natural resources - a wealth of minerals as well as valuable timber - and anyone who’s fighting in eastern DRC is probably also attempting to gain a share of some of this wealth. When the Second Congo War ranged, it drew in Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, all of whom wanted a share of the booty.

So the current conflict is nominally between Nkunda’s forces, the CNDP, who are trying to root out a Hutu group called the FDLR. The FDLR is probably supported by the Congolese government, and so much of the conflict has been between the CNDP and the Congolese army. But the Congolese army is badly trained, miserably supplied and extremely ineffectual, and lots of army members have simply been running away. So the conflict has ended up being between the CNDP, who are marching into cities in eastern DRC and the UN’s forces - MONUC - who are in those cities trying to protect civilians.

This ends up being a deeply odd situation. Since the Congolese army won’t fight, CNDP - which many believe to be backed by Rwanda - is fighting the UN, which consists mostly of Indian soldiers. Oh, and because MONUC hasn’t been very effective at protecting civilians (in part because they’ve got the mandate of keeping a peace that doesn’t exist), they’re getting attacked by the civilians they’re supposed to protect.

Video from the fall of Rumangbo Station, the headquarters for Virunga National Park

If you’re an average Congolese living in north Kivu, the situation is very, very scary. Roughly 250,000 people have fled their homes, and many are seeking safety in the thick jungles of Virunga National Forest. The video above is from the official website of the forest, which does an amazing job of using digital media to share what’s going on in eastern DRC… and to raise money for the work rangers are doing in protecting natural resources in a very unstable war zone. Nkunda’s rebels have now seized the headquarters of the park - the team is now trying to find 50 rangers who’ve fled into the jungle, and are looking for places to make phonecalls and let their families know they’re alive.

Most of the 250,000 people who’ve fled don’t have a resourceful team of bloggers and videographers looking out for them, but it’s worth paying close attentions to the accounts from Virunda, because they give a sense for how desperate and precarious the situation is.

For more on the situation, which is fluid and changing:
The Economist has a pretty good overview, as does the Guardian, focusing primarily on international mediation efforts. Global Voices is covering the situation from the perspective of bloggers, mostly the Virunga crew. Sokari’s got a strong piece about western mineral interests in DRC that’s worth reading.

What Are Your Voting Stories?

Remember the long lines, malfunctioning voting machines, poorly-designed forms, and general confusion at the polling places in 2000 and 2004? Even with a third of the electorate voting early, an unprecedented turnout is expected this year, and it looks like we're heading for a repeat.

read more

Goodbye, Studs Terkel

The legend has passed. He was 96 and packed zillions of lives into a single one by reaching out to people of all stripes - rich and poor, black and white, male and female, old and young, conservative and liberal - all in a bid to understand the greater human condition, to hear this country sing in all its voices. He was curious and keen, insightful and kind, and if you haven't read WORKING, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.

Watch. Listen. Think.

What a goddamn loss.


I just got a new book on web development: The Substance of Style, by Virginia Postrel. One of the cover blurbs describes it as an analysis of a major new phenemenon: that people care more about how stuff looks.

To me this a book about the role of looks in software development. What is the value of looks to a user? How do I manage the tradeoffs between usability and style?

In the back of mind what I’m thinking about is Apple’s natural instinct for graphics, and the way they pushed the state of the developers’ art beyond Jakob Neilsen. Given that nothing ever ever ever trumps usability, and that excessive design always always repels users, how does Apple manage the balance so much better than other developers?

Typographic Presidential Ads

Looking back — way back — at the candidates, and all their typography. (Thanks to Teddy Blanks.) [JH]


I’m listening to a worthy mix MP3 titled A Deeper Groove, courtesy of a site called deepgoa. So far it’s a great list for getting me into the groove of work.



At the HarperTeen Myspace blog, I contemplate the possibility that I should NaNoWriMo...

The Bat Segundo Show: Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #245. Stephenson is most recently the author of Anathem. It is not known whether or not he “likes cake a lot.”

Condition of Mr. Segundo: He likes cake a lot.

Author: Neal Stephenson

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: Going back to the idea of the general reader, or the common reader — whatever we want to call the audience here — the philosophical proposition involving the fly, the bat, and the worm expressing basic cognitive abilities, and how cognitive abilities come together so that humans are a higher form of animal than other animals, this was a very clear way of expressing this particular concept of individual senses. And I’m wondering if this was something that you concocted. Or that you took from Kant. Because I actually tried to find a philosophical precedent for this as well.

Stephenson: It’s more from [Edmund] Husserl. So Husserl was an amazing guy who could just sit in his office and look at a copper ashtray, and then write at great length about all of the processes that went on in his mind when he was perceiving that ashtray, and recognizing it from one moment to the next as being the same object. And so he’s got a number of lengthy books about this, which, as you can imagine, are pretty hard to read. So the content of the dialogue, or the parable you mention — the fly, the bat, and the worm — really comes from him. But it’s me trying to write a somewhat more accessible version of similar ideas.

Correspondent: So you really wanted to be accessible in some sense, it seems to me.

Stephenson: In some sense, yeah.

Correspondent: Well, what sense exactly?

Stephenson: (laughs) Well…

Correspondent: If the reader doesn’t matter and, at the same time, there’s this accessibility here, it seems…what’s the real story? (laughs)

Stephenson: Oh no. The reader matters. The criterion is very simple. It’s got to be a good yarn. If it’s not a good yarn, then the whole enterprise fails. So I think that to have a good yarn, you’ve got to have characters that people are interested in. And they’ve got to get into situations that make for a good story. It’s okay to stop the action and have them sit down and have an interesting conversation. You know, for some reason, I always go back to the movie, My Dinner with Andre, which is a long movie consisting of two guys just sitting there talking with each other. But it’s a completely engaging and fascinating movie. That’s kind of an existence proof that you can build a good yarn that consists largely of people just having conversations. And so that was kind of my guiding — that was my guideline, I guess you could say, for trying to work that material in.

BSS #245: Neal Stephenson (Download MP3)

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Girl + garage punk + Mexico = Jessy Bulbo

Here is "Maldito," by Jessy Bulbo, a video faithful to the vibe of the old-school Mexican punk-rock moshing ritual. Check here to learn more. Jessy Bulbo plays at Foro Alicia on Nov. 7.

The Bat Segundo Show: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #244. Kurosawa is most recently the co-writer and director of Tokyo Sonata, a film that played the New York Film Festival and that will be released by Regent Releasing in the United States on March 17, 2009. For more information on this extraordinary film, please see our review.

We also wish to express our many thanks to translator Linda Hoaglund, who assisted us during the course of this interview.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Voiceless, per the requirements of a sonata.

Guest: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (director of Tokyo Sonata)

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: You have this train running behind the Sasaki home. And this suggested to me, along with the fact that you cut this film frequently crossing the axis in the editing — crossing the 180 line — it almost suggests an Ozu parody. Or the kind of movie that Ozu would have made if he were to live in our particular times. And I wanted to ask you how this visual style originated, as well as the subway line.

Kurosawa: (through translator) Yes, Ozu was the name I was most dreading hearing, if only because I’m such a huge maniacal fan of him. I really tried to shut him out of my brain. But I guess subconsciously a little bit of his influence remained.

Correspondent: Back to this notion. Ozu was not a part of developing this script? The subway line, I didn’t get an answer for the train behind the house. And I’m very curious about that. Because it very much reminded me of Ozu’s trains.

Kurosawa: (through translator) Actually, that train and the proximity to the house of the Sasakis was not in the script at all. It wasn’t intentional. As I wandered around Tokyo looking for the right home for the Sasaki family, there happened to be a train track next to that particular house.

BSS #244: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Download MP3)

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Dizzies Press Release: Andrew Gelman on Election Eve (Mon., Nov. 3)

Why doesn’t Joe The Plumber believe in the American spirit?

So if you’ll allow me one moment of shameless patriotism, I’d like take a moment to declare  that I am a proud American.

I’ve been thinking about this because  of Joe The Plumber. Forget all the foolishness about his book deal or potential endorsement contracts or whether he’ll run for congress. There’s an argument, or an idea, that always hovers around Joe and his ilk — and his ilk’s intellectual defenders in the intellectual and pundit classes — that’s always puzzled me:

Why are these people so cynical about Americans?

Let me explain what I mean.

First I’m going to say might sound jingoistic, or it might sound naively romantic, but: I actually believe in the American dream, and in the American spirit. That’s not meant to put down other countries; it’s meant to affirm that I believe that, whatever faults the U.S. has, our history is in fact full of amazing achievements, progress, inventions, breakthroughs, and innovation, in many fields. I actually believe there’s something truly special about America, and about Americans. It’s inspiring to think about.

So why doesn’t Joe believe in that spirit? Why don’t the people who defend and agree with his complaints believe in it?

I know they don’t believe there’s anything special about Americans, or the American spirit, because according to them, the most productive and creative citizens of our country will stop producing, stop creating, stop innovation, stop making progress, stop aspiring to live the American dream and change the world if their marginal tax rate rises a few points.

According to Joe and his allies, that’s all it takes to stop the American spirit in its tracks.

This gets expressed in various ways, like talking about how “the most productive members of our society” will be less productive they have to pay higher taxes. Or as this AP story summarized it recently: “In a country that believes in itself as a place where anybody who works hard enough can make it … there’s a certain wariness of taxes that might discourage hard work.” (Emphasis added.) That’s the root of what Joe-ologists claim: tax our country’s most productive people too much, and they simply won’t work as hard.

I don’t believe that at all.

Do you? Do you think that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Marc Andreeson or Mark Zukerberg, while dreaming up their various enterprises, stopped to figure out whether they thought the potential tax hit made it worthwhile? I don’t. I think they wanted to change the world.

I don’t exactly have posters of those guys on my wall; my point isn’t to say that they are heroes. They’re just easy examples because they’re widely lionized — often by the exact same people who claim that higher taxes make Americans work less hard, that they destroy the American spirit. So pick whatever example you want, from whatever period in American history you like. Sure the profit motive matters — and not just in the business world. But can you think of an example of a heroic American who simply wouldn’t have bothered to try and succeed, to make a mark, to change the world — if the tax code hadn’t been suitably generous?

What about the many immigrants who have come from all over the planet to chase the American dream, and have made innumerable contributions to the worlds of business, science, the arts, etc. — would their pursuit of greatness and success have withered in the face of an income-tax hike?

What about all the American innovators and creators and productive contributors to our society who made their mark when the tax rate was higher than it is today, or will be next year?

What, for that matter, about you? Do you aspire to some lofty achievement in whatever field you are in — to make a difference, to be remembered? And are you counter-balancing that against the tax implications? Are you saying, “Well I’d like to start my own company, or write a best-seller, or revolutionize my industry — but if income taxes are going up I just won’t bother?”

Personally, I’m trying as hard as I can to be as successful as I can, and I don’t envision a scenario where tax rates are going to stop me from that. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.

I just don’t believe that Americans, or the American dream, are as fragile as the Joe crowd suggests.

I think the American spirit has persevered against obstacles much more daunting than a few percentage points on the marginal tax rate. So I listen to and read Joe’s intellectual and pundit defenders who claim that American innovation can be squelched so easily, and I am optimistic: I am optimistic that they are wrong. Because unlike them, I really believe there’s something special about America, and the American spirit. Ultimately, their cynicism simply puzzles me.

What kind of Americans are they, anyway?

It’s alive!

The modern Prometheus, as played by Boris Karloff

Since its publication in 1818, many people have refused to believe that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley — as opposed to, say, her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley — wrote “Frankenstein,” the classic horror novel. (Some also call it the ur-science fiction novel.) A handful still deny it.

But now Oxford’s Bodleian Library has produced a scholarly edition of the book, edited by an English professor at the University of Delaware, Charles Robinson, that shows exactly where and how Percy added to Mary’s manuscript after she asked him to give it a once-over. His contributions amount to about 5,000 out of 72,000 words. Nor are they all improvements …

Dept. of Meta-Recommendation

Over at Critical Mass, Jame Marcus synthesizes
the responses by National Book Critics Circle members to a survey of
members about books they are reading lately and would recommend.

The best thing about it is that the responses are not tied to the fall publishing season.

Some new books are listed, of course. But so are titles by Robert Penn
Warren, Sinclair Lewis, and Richard Hofstadter — all of them topical
(sometimes too topical, alas) even if the authors aren’t turning in
appearances on CSPAN.


I am not a great reader of what are generally called political blogs, but I thought I would share a handful of politics-related points from blogs I do read regularly. Here are Caleb Crain on the campaign in posters, Colleen on why she votes and an announcement for an event prompted by my Columbia colleague and fellow-blogger Andrew Gelman's Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Andrew and a colleague will discuss the book and the issues it raises on the evening of Monday, Nov. 3 at 7pm at Book Culture in Morningside Heights.

Bills of mortality

From Will Slauter's Society of Fellows talk on reading and writing the plague.

Episode Three of The Acousmatic Theater Hour on WFMU

An hour of The Apologists, aka Tommy Smith and Joel Israel. Click here to listen.


I would just like to take this moment to wish everyone a perfectly great Halloween and, in case I don't get to see you tonight, let me tell you right now how much I love your Mad Men costume. Great suit! Great skinny tie! And wait a second, is that a part in your hair? Kudos on your attention to detail. The drink in your hand was also a nice touch at this holiday party with an open bar. Thanks for doing your part to keep away the ghouls.

(I just hope I'm the only one at the party tonight dressed as this.)

Ed Park is a Democrat, Part II

According to HTML Giant, Small Beer Press is having a sale to benefit the Obama campaign.
Possibly, this is moot. Obama is way up and has lots of money. And the election is next week. And. And. And.

But you might as well do it because the books are all also on sale. For $264 you can have hardcover copies of everything they have published.

For $78, you can have everything they published in 2008.

SBP titles include Kelly Link's books and the anthology Trampoline, which contains a story by yours truly.


[Image: Courtesy of the Zero Gravity Corporation, via the New York Times].

If Kevin Slavin and Sam Jacob had a baby – under the medical supervision of Alex Trevi – I think it would look like this, a new "space sport" being developed by the Zero Gravity Corporation:
    The game would be called Float Ball. It would combine elements of basketball, football and the Lionel Richie video for “Dancing on the Ceiling” into a sort of free-for-all, compelling weightless players to bounce off walls, obstacles and one another while herding weightless balls of various colors to either end of the playing space, which would be placed inside the cabin of a zero-gravity plane or, possibly, on the moon. Eventually, one day, if all went well, some sort of custom arena would be constructed. On Mars.
It's what the company calls SpaceSportilization – perhaps requiring an architectural design competition for that arena on Mars.
Read more at the New York Times.

The Here’s What’s Awesome Halloween Special

Space Invaders-themed pumpkin

Welcome to the Here's What's Awesome Halloween Special! Ring our doorbell by reading below - your treat is a set of awesome links.

Cloud... or Colossus?

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Presidential cabinet “dream teams”

Foreign Policy taps thinkers from both side of the aisle, from Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, to find out who they’d like to see in the next President’s cabinet. Refreshingly, the magazine skips over the question of who would be in the Oval Office, listening to the cabinet’s advice.

2008 Translations — Final Numbers?

It’s been a few months since I last posted an update to our ongoing “translation database” project. Over the past 10 months, I’ve been going through every catalog I can get my hands on, all reviews in Publishers Weekly, every new book announcement from Small Press Distribution, and e-mails from cultural centers and publishers from around the world in hopes of building an accurate list of all new works of fiction and poetry published in translation this year.

(Disclaimer: I only tracked new titles that had never been translated before, so no new translation of Kafka, no reprints, no paperback versions of previously published hardcovers, and no kids books or graphic novels.)

It’s gotten to the point where I’m not finding any new titles, and with our “Best Translated Book of the Year” award on the horizon, it seems like the perfect time to post the most up-to-date (and possibly final) spreadsheet of 2008 Translations.

As in the past, this file contains info on all 321 books I identified (258 fiction, 63 poetry), breaking the list down by country of origin, language of original, publishers, month published, etc.

At the start of this project, I naively predicted that there would be “420-450” titles by the end of the year. . . . Well, being off by more than 100 (or 25%) isn’t too bad . . . right?

So the number is even smaller than imagined. And assuming that Bowker’s numbers for 2008 are similar to 2007, these 321 titles represent 0.6% of all the new fiction titles being published in the U.S., and 3.3% of all literature titles. (I assume I know the difference in these categories, but Bowker’s info isn’t all that clear.)

Michael Orthofer wrote a great piece on this a while back, but the growth of works of fiction and literature published in 2007 is astounding:

According to Gallagher, among the major publishing categories, the big winners last year were once again Fiction and Literature. There were 50,071 new fiction titles introduced in the U.S. last year, up 17% from 2006, and the number of new titles in the category in 2007 was almost twice what it was as recently as 2002. Similarly, there was an 19% rise in new literature books last year, to 9,796, which followed a 31% increase in new literature titles in 2006. Bowker

As I mentioned above, we’re gearing up for our “Best Translated Book of 2008” award. This year we’re going to do things a bit differently. We will be announcing a longlist of 25 works of fiction in December, announce a shortlist in January, and a winner in February. (For poetry, we’ll announce a separate shortlist, since there’s a disproportionate amount of fiction titles, and merging the two into one list would do a disservice to the great works of poetry published this year.)

In addition to our panelists, we really want to enlist your help. So, if you have any titles you’d like to recommend, please post them in the comments below, or e-mail me at at rochester dot edu. We’ll include all reader votes in deciding on the longlist. And as we did last year, we’ll allow everyone to vote on the shortlist and will announce your choice along with the panel’s as the best translation of the year.

Point of clarification: what we mean by “best translated book,” is the best overall book published in 2008 in terms of literary quality and translation. In other words, we’re not looking for just the most skillful translation from last year, but the best book that was published in translation. A translated book is only as good as its translation, so we’re not ignoring the skill of the translator, but a quality translation of a flawed novel isn’t what we’re interested in.

Enough said for now . . .

Uke, toy piano, kazoo: an eternal golden braid

(Via Dzyd Pete)

Halloween Illustration

Neato Coolville has added a photo to the pool:

 Halloween Illustration

From The Lookies booklet 1949. Artist unknown.

Looking at the Dorfsman Archive

Armin Vit has posted images of some of Lou Dorfsman's best work from Cooper Union's Lubalin Study Center, including the epic "Field of Vision" and the moon landing commemorative book that I wrote about here. [MB]

Room 8 Cat Lecture

Roger Vargo of Explore Historic California will present a multimedia lecture on the Room 8 cat of Echo Park’s Logan Street Elementary School fame at the Echo Park Library on November 8 at 2 pm.

Roger let us know that “Room 8 was the most famous cat in Los Angeles. He lived at Elysian Heights School in Echo Park from 1952 until his death in 1968. He was the subject of a biographic book, appeared in LOOK Magazine and was in newspapers, radio and tv numerous times.

Beverly Mason, the principal of Elysian Heights, who was his biographer, benefactor and protector, was a USC grad (either just before or just after WWII), as were several teachers associated with the cat (Penne O’Mara, Sharon Kerr).

I’m proud to say I was a student at Elysian Heights and knew Room 8.

I have authored several pieces on Room 8 (Google “room 8 cat”) and will present a multimedia history of Room 8 at the Echo Park library, Sat. Nov. 8 at 2 p.m.”

True Meaning of Halloween

Happy Halloween, from The Onion:

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Not Too Big, Not Too Small, Just the Size of Montreal

Happy Halloween, everybody. A few choice links on this candy-filled day:

At the WSJ, Laura Miller dissects the still-burgeoning appeal of vampires.

Kelly Link picks five spooky books for Halloween.

Leslie Klinger is on the road promoting THE ANNOTATED DRACULA and talks with Marc Weingarten about all things Stoker. And at Jacket Copy, Carolyn assembles a list of potential literary Halloween costumes. (More here)

Generate your own Halloween costume

Another Stoker expert, Elizabeth Miller, talks with the Sun's Alan Parker.

Ron Charles goes on a literary Halloween tour.

Tonight McNally Jackson hosts a literary Halloween party.

The murky side of Dublin through its history books.

Christopher Borrelli on the Tale of Sleepy Hollow.

Christopher Walken reads "The Raven".

The Boss has a Halloween treat
for his fans.

Operation Boo is in effect.

And finally, watch out for that octopus! (via)

Notes on the Orphan Works Act

Mark Dery is an amazing writer. He wrote a measured and well reported article about the Copyright Right Orphan Works Act recently published in Print magazine. Kevin Geiger of Animation blog provides much needed clarity on the topic.
The Orphan Works Act is not perfect and does put an onus on content creators to get off their butts and register their works and start doing something with the automatic copyright protection privilege they’ve been enjoying since 1976. The old law put a publication requirement on works to earn copyright protection. In 1976 the law changed, granting instant copyright status to items the moment they were created without the publication requirement…in the bad old days artists had to officially publish their work and put the copyright notice on it every time it was published and renew the the copyright term every 46 years or else the work went into the public domain and librarians, historians, scholars and researchers had a clear signal to whether the work was in the public domain.

Now it’s kinda chaos with creators, many of them media corporations who obtain all rights from individual illustrators, designers and creators when they commission work or hire staffers, who won’t actively manage their copyrights, won’t actively market the rights in their work after first publication and cannot realistically negotiate a price when someone does want to reuse/license an old work, preferring to be passive aggressive when it comes to their business affairs. And, yes, I mean YOU, alarmist graphic designer/ studio owner.

There’s too much hysteria being generated by various graphic arts organizations that rile up their members without giving valid information. Misperceptions abound. For example, if you read the proposed bill carefully there is no requirement that you must register your work to keep it from being declared orphaned or in the public domain. There’s no requirement that you must attach your name to every item you make to keep it out of the public domain. Folks are conflating rhetoric as fact when it is not the truth.

Perhaps having to pay a fee to register the work will motivate you to use the myriad of automatic image resale options available on the web like Mochila, Fotosearch, Featurewell, IllustrationWorks, and neutralize greedy “serial infringers.” I sound harsh but I do have compassion for individual creators, I do. My sister is one.

However, I feel that bad actors are going to victimize individual artists with or without the Orphan Works Act. These outfits do it already and get away with it. How many illustrators, photographers or graphics designers have managed to prosecute unauthorized use of their work on a consistent basis? How much time and money have these folks invested in policing their works already? It’s been catch-as-catch- can and most folks just sit and stew about it once they find the infringement. I’ve sent thousands of cease and desist and infringement demands to stock agencies, discussion boards, film making entities and merchandising companies.

If these folks ignore current copyright right law restrictions, they are hardly likely to respond in the framework of the Orphan Works Act. On the other hand, there are millions of rights and reproductions specialists at universities, publishing houses, libraries, archives and museums that diligently try to obtain permission from rights holders. Furthermore, there needs to be some balance here. I do think rights holders should have to act affirmatively to enjoy the privileges of copyright protection. It is not the potential licensee who is the bad guy. The main problem lies in digitization technology and its ability to completely copy a 2 D surface and instantly distribute it a thousand different directions.

But at some point the creator must make a choice about when and how to use his or her work. A designer who works on a fee-basis with customers still struggles to hold onto the work. Just printing the work on a variety of media platforms exposes the creator to vulnerability. The client uses the image once but doesn’t return it to the artist. Third parties reuse the client’s product, including the art work. The creator rarely re -markets the image, preferring t o chase after new business. Once the creation is put in the stock or resale market it is vulnerable to inappropriate use or infringement. So the work gets locked away in a filing cabinet. Is that right? Shouldn’t the creator maximize the copyright privilege granted to him or her by the government. How many creators actually register their work with the copyright office? Most that I know just make the image or drawing for the client and send an invoice for payment upon approval. The work of such artists is just a vulnerable to infringement because unregistered works do not generate as much statutory penalty as required by law and often remains without much protection.

It’s impossible to figure out what works are in the public domain, too. There needs to be a centralized registry. In the old days, the Copyright Office published an index of public domain material. You can’t find that kind of access now. However, I am deeply in love with Tony Laidig’s The Public Domain Code Book, which provides some good info on locating public domain works out there but it’s not the same thing as a comprehensive directory or a published index of rights holders. I am on a museum IP mailing list and am shocked at how much time museum registrars spend just searching for rights holder contact information.If folks would just calm down and really listen to what is being proposed and who is proposing it, the bill may lend itself to compromise. The folks advocating for the Orphan Works Act are mainly scholars, archivists and educators. It’s the corporate interests holding the rights to material they don’t even use anymore that have the vested in interest in keeping items out of the public domain. They are just as guilty of riling up the class of individual content creators who are going ballistic over the revised bill.

Am I opinionated about this topic? You betcha. But I speak from experience as a media licensing attorney who staffed the alternative dispute resolution service at California Lawyers for the Arts for five years, an historian, author, archivist and magazine content rights manager.

And I’m not ashamed to say that I see these upcoming changes as a biz opportunity to help aggrieved rights holders protect their copyrights from the public domain monster and increase the flow of information, currently at a standstill over a fear of the unknown, opportunistic rights holder. Something’s gotta give…

Grand Idea Surrounding Crappy Content

Joe Wikert writes about the recent push at Thomas Nelson to engage with book bloggers.

I’m not sure how revolutionary it is to offer writers/bloggers a copy of a book if they will review/write about it (we call these review copies), but, you know, good job Thomas Nelson, this “free book” strategy got approx. 200 online reviews of The Faith of Barack Obama. Now, they have their sites set on a much grander scale—a Book Review Blogger program featuring 10,000 bloggers.

You can sign up here to participate:

Join Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers today! Any blogger can receive FREE copies of select Thomas Nelson products. In exchange, you must agree to read the book and post a 200-word review on your blog and on any consumer retail website.

(What do you think happens if you agree and then don’t read the book? Are you banned for life? Do you lose your blogging privileges?)

The real kicker is the book they’re launching along with this program: Lynne Spears’s Through the Storm about raising Britney and Jaime Lynn. Wow. Sign me up.

If you’re a blogger and would like something a bit more literary to read/write about, e-mail me at at rochester dot edu and I’ll send you whichever Open Letter title you’d like.

The Halloween Candy Code

The Halloween candy code. "For kids with an early curfew these codes were invaluable. Once we tagged a house, our peers could use our marks to reap the best full-size chocolate bars while avoiding Chex mix and dried apricots." (Via MeFi.) [MB]

Oprah Backlash

I wondered when someone would speak out against Oprah’s endorsement of the Kindle. From the Vroman’s Bookstore Blog:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or, I don’t know, focusing on the election or something, you probably know that Oprah is just crazy about Amazon’s ebook reader the Kindle. It is, in fact, her “new favorite thing in the world.” This is bad news for bookstores, as Amazon uses a special ebook format on the Kindle, one that only they can sell. In the past, Oprah’s book endorsements, in the form of her Oprah’s Book Club picks, have been a boon to bookstores everywhere, raising the profile of the titles and making bestsellers of authors like Dr. Oz and Wally Lamb. Most recently, her endorsement of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle helped boost sales during an otherwise slow month. That could all change with her endorsement of the Kindle. What happens to bookstores if all of Oprah’s fans start buying their books on the Kindle?


William Wharton is dead.

WSJ on Le Clezio

Richard Woodward has a really nice overview of Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clezio is today’s Wall Street Journal

Noting that at least a dozen of his more than 35 novels and story collections have been translated into English over the past 44 years, however, I could not help but wonder: Is a blinkered American literary scene to blame for his obscurity here?

To find out, I have immersed myself in his fiction, reading seven novels and two story collections — eight in English, one in French. I sampled his untranslated writings on cinema as well. Many works from the ’60s and ’70s have dated so badly — as he moved from existential despair to political outrage — that it took many cups of coffee to turn their pages. But most also contained passages of gorgeous writing — and one, the 1967 novel “Terra Amata,” was transcendent.

More philosopher than deviser of intricate characters or plots, Mr. Le Clézio is like a post-Darwin Rousseau, decrying the ruination of indigenous cultures around the world, often through the eyes of a child. At the same time, he is fascinated by the callousness of nature. In more than one novel he descends below grass level to record the brutality of insects.

Still, the book of Le Clezio’s that sounds most interesting to me is The Interrogation:

In his introduction, Mr. Le Clézio describes it as “the story of a man who is not sure whether he has left the army or a mental home.” Written in the shadow of Robbe-Grillet and Beckett, it simulates an unstable mind through abrupt temporal shifts.

And it’s described in the WSJ “Le Clezio Primer” as follows:

The Interrogation (1963): Organized into alphabetical fragments, the narrative concerns a damaged young man whose story is told, writes the author, “as a kind of game or jigsaw puzzle.”

Of course, it’s out of print . . .

Happy, Happy Halloween! Silver Shamrock!

Men wearing brassieres

What Would Don Draper Do?

(Via Jessica)

Men wearing brassieres

What Would Don Draper Do?

(Via Jessica)

One last thing on oil: The Chant, baby, chant solution

Speaking of oil … I just read the phrase “drill, baby, drill” for the millionth time, and it finally occurred to me to stop and think from whence this pro-oil chant is derived.

That would be, if I’m not mistaken, “burn, baby, burn,” a phrase associated with the 1960s riots. According to BlogCritics Magazine (about which I actually know nothing, it’s just the first useful thing that Google took me to), a 1965 Newsweek article about the Watts riots included “one of the first” print references to that phrase. BlogCritics continues:

Made infamous by the riots, [the phrase] was first used by a disc jockey known as Magnificent Montague when he was working in New York and Chicago in ‘63 and ‘64.  He’s shout it any time a piece of soul music got him excited, and he brought it with him to Los Angeles where his listeners appropriated it for the arson that marked the riots.  During those terrible days, his station manager and even Mayor Yorty asked Magnificent Montague to give up his slogan.  He did, at least while the fires were hot, changing to:  “Have Mercy, Los Angeles!”

At first I thought, well, obviously the people chanting “Drill, baby, drill” don’t know or aren’t thinking about the phrase they are referencing.

But another possibility occurs to me.  It’s obviously a fantasy that America’s much-discussed “dependence on foreign oil” is something that can be significantly changed by domestic drilling, no matter what deregulation occurs. But maybe the chanters know that  — and are invoking the rioters of the 1960s intentionally.

That is, maybe they simply believe in the power of destructive spectacle: If we burn it all down or in this case drill it all to nothing, then somehow, from the ashes, from the ruins, a productive revolution of some kind emerges at some unspecified time in the future. Or if it doesn’t, at least some kind of pent-up emotion, or rage, has been released and spent. And when that catharsis is complete, we can sift through wreckage and the ashes and the spent remains, and start over.

If so, I can only say quote the Magnificent Montague: “Have mercy.”

1902 Weight Loss Ad

Adlady45 has added a photo to the pool:

1902 Weight Loss Ad

Hall Chemical again! This January 1902 ad says these guys are TOO FAT. They better order some of those sample free boxes NOW.

More weight loss ads at

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