by Dennis Loy Johnson

15 December 2004 — For book lovers out there who are still stubbornly insisting that the rise of Christian fundamentalism homophobic right wing government is not necessarily a good thing, I bring glad tidings: You can do something about it and simultaneously take care of all your holiday book shopping needs, thanks to a new website that reveals the political donations of major retailers.
     For example, wondering whether to buy books online at Amazon.com or at BarnesandNoble.com? Does it make the decision easier for you to know that 98% of B&N's corporate political donations went to the Democrats, while 61% of Amazon's went to the Republicans?
     Or maybe you'll be encouraged to get offline entirely and shop at an old–fashioned brick and mortar store upon hearing the news that Borders gave 100% or its donations to Democrats?
     Those are some of the revelations to be found at Buyblue.org, a new website founded by a group of people who met through the political blog The Daily Kos.
     "It is about corporate transparency, but it is also about bringing political power back to individuals," one of the founders, Raven Brooks, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Brooks, a computer systems analyst in San Francisco, says, "Where you spend your money every day matters. Nine times out of 10, corporations act contrary to consumer interests, but we still patronize them and don't hold them accountable."
     Innumerable retailers are listed at the site, from Wal–Mart (red) to Foot Locker (blue) to Costco (blue) to Sears (red) and The Limited (red).
     The Amazon numbers may be the most surprising on the site, however. As one entry on Buyblue's blog notes—an entry entitled, "Say it ain't so, Jeff"—"It seems counterintuitive for a company patronized by so many progressives to turn around and donate their money to causes antithetical to their constituents' values."
     The entry also details what those constituents can do about it, however, and as it turns out, there's quite a bit more that can be done beyond merely shopping at a competitor whose views are more simpatico.
     For one thing, Buyblue provides visitors with a list of alternative retailers. And what if an Amazon customer, say, "also wants to lodge a protest at this company he has been supporting for years thinking they espoused progressive values?" There's information about how to do that, including the e–mail address of Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.
     And what if Bezos "chooses to respond with Amazon's customary 'don't let the door hit you on the way out' form letter as a reply"? Information is available about the companies that invest in Amazon, and how to contact them, too. There's also information about groups gathering to "protest Amazon's finance of a right wing agenda," and info about the boycott those groups are planning "in a couple of weeks."
     As the site explains, the theory behind Buyblue is that "when politicians and corporations collude to form policy very rarely are the long term effects on individuals taken into account. We need to change that and this is our seat at the table."
     Reasonably enough, the theory continues, "Corporations are profit–making machines that have no allegiance to law or country. The only way to make them act ethically is to make it profitable to do so. By withholding and subsequently returning our revenue we will provide the financial incentive necessary for to move corporations toward sustainability. By aggregating our effort through Buyblue.org we will be able to show them the exact amount of revenue they stand to win by acting ethically. This is no different than any other free market business negotiation."
     Of course, Amazon has avoided the seemingly logical dictates of sound economic principles before—they've survived for ten years without making a legitimate profit, after all. Still, it will be interesting to see what happens if their clientele is reduced to the folks they've been donating money to—you know, the ones who only read that one book.

Link to this column.

Previous column; IT IS WHAT IT IS: KID LIT ... Guest columnist Jackie Corley talks about her experience of the strange pressure put on young writers today to write like old–timers.

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Friday 17 December 2004

In Letters . . .
One MobyLives reader writes in to say we should look again at what the OFAC clarification may actually be obscuring, and another reader says buying blue is all well and good, but big corporations are still big corporations . . . in the MobyLives Letters section.

It's not the holiday traffic — Amazon system "deeply flawed," says critic . . .
The Seattle Post–Intelligencer's Kristen Millares Bolt visits the Amazon.comdistribution center in Fernley, Nevada, along with Jeffrey Wilke, the company's senior vice president of worldwide operations, and finds " thousands of employees are working feverishly in round-the-clock shifts to meet the Christmas–list demands of millions of holiday shoppers in the retail season's busiest hours." But in her report, Bolt notes that despite appearances at the distribution center, Amazon's website itself "has turned away the potential revenue of crucial shopping days with its share of problems." Mark Anderson, the "highly respected" publisher of the Strategic News Service's newsletter, tells Bolt, "The repeated problems I had on Amazon's Web site while trying to do my Christmas shopping indicated to me that their system was deeply broken, and that the problems were not caused by high traffic on the site." And Bolt reports a customer contacted her newspaper to report that she "may have seen another customer's order information." Echoing the words of company spokesman Craig Berman, who angered critics and analysts earlier with earlier denials of widely reported problems (see yesterday's MobyLives digest), v.p. Wilkes tells Bolt, "The site is complex, and sometimes stuff happens." Says Anderson, "Shame on them."

The continuing attacks on Gary Webb . . .
"After any suicide, survivors feel guilty," writes Scott Herhold in a San Jose Mercury News commentary on the late Gary Webb. Herhold, Webb's one–time editor, says, "I'm convinced that part of what made him great destroyed him. He was an immensely talented reporter, a good writer and a sometimes–difficult human being. In many ways, he represented the best of our craft — its compassion, its obligation to speak truth to power. His flaw was the flip side of his virtue. Once convinced he was right, Webb didn't budge." But Marc Cooper, in a searing commentary for his website and the LA Weekly, takes apart such defensive and critical obituaries of Webb—particularly the one that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (see Tuesday's MobyLives digest). First the L.A. Times helped kill off Gary Webbıs career," Cooper writes. "Then, eight years later . . . the Times decided to give his corpse another kick or two, in a scandalous, self-serving and ultimately shameful obituary. It was the culmination of the long, inglorious saga of a major newspaper dropping the ball journalistically, and then extracting relentless revenge on an out&3150;of&3150;town reporter who embarrassed it." Cooper notes internal CIA and Justice Department investigations "proved that the core of what Webb alleged was, indeed, true and accurate." Cooper also notes how the Mercury News "editors cowardly recanted his stories (which they had vetted) . . . ." Cooper suggests Webb's own comments in a recent interview were a more suitable obituary: "The reason Iıd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadnıt been, as Iıd assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job . . . The truth was that, in all those years, I hadnıt written anything important enough to suppress."

Hamill leaving Copper Canyon for anti–war work . . .
Esteemed poet and publisher Sam Hamill is leaving the Copper Canyon Press, "the publishing company he founded 32 years ago, to focus on his organization, Poets Against the War," according to a Peninsula Daily News report by Nick Koveshnikov. Hamill started Poets Against the War to protest a poetry symposium organized by Laura Bush at the White House last year on the eve of the Iraq war. He tells Koveshnikov he is leaving for "a cyberspace soap box for anti–war literary expression.'' Copper Canyon executives could not be reached for comment on what Hamill's departure means for the company.

J–Ray and Bernie the K, Day 3: World says, "Eeeuuuwww!" . . .
The tawdry affair between Judith Regan and Bernard Kerik, conducted in an apartment overlooking Ground Zero, continued to make headlines around the world yesterday. Despite issuing a press release about one of her new book as if it were an act of defiance—putting herself in the first sentence of the release, which was for a book related to the sensational Scott Peterson murder trial—Regan was also described as harried and harassed in another New York Post commentary by Andrea Peyser. In a continuation of her Tuesday column, Peyser says that after the breakup of the relationship, "Kerik snapped" and stalked Regan and her children. But, Peyser says, a spokeswoman for Giuliani Partners, where Kerik is a partner (other New York newspapers refer to the company as Guiliani–Kerik), calls the stalking charges "outrageous." Meanwhile, a day after right–wingers such as Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the story, commentators from the far left chimed in, too. Says a commentary at the World Socialist Web Site by Bill Van Auken, "That Kerik had affairs is not the issue, except perhaps in the context of the hypocritical 'moral values' campaign waged by his political benefactors in the Republican Party. What is important is Kerik's gross and brutal abuse of power." And the story is continuing to play out around the globe, as in an India Daily story: "The . . . affair with top publisher Judith Regan included trysts in an apartment first used by exhausted rescuers after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks."

Lebanese system sounds familiar . . .
For a Westerner, a review in Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper by Jessy Chahine of a new book by a popular author of political books gives a glimpse into some of Lebanese culture's key social issues. The book, General Theory on The Lebanese Constitutional Regime by Antoine Messarra, is "a scathing condemnation" of the Lebanese legal system and its legislative process. "The law has lost its characteristics as a legal reference that concerns equality, justice and peaceful settlements of conflicts," writes Messarra. "It has become a means of repression, exploitation, nepotism and political vengeance."

Now it can be told: Hawthorne proofs show "Hesther Pryn" character was originally named "Bernard Kerik" . . .
The oldest known copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a proof copy containing handwritten corrections by the author (see Monday's MobyLives digest), was auctioned Thursday for $545,100, nearly double the expected amount, according to an Associated Press report by Pat Milton. The amount, paid by "an American book dealer who requested anonymity," was "a record price for an American 19th–century literary work," according to Christie's auction house.

The language, enriched . . .
As Stephen Moss of The Guardian observes, in dictionary pages over the centuries, "language has been a battlefield." (He cites Dr. Johnson, whose dictionary defined oat, for example, thusly: "a grain which in England is generally given to horses but in Scotland supports the people.") Now, as Moss reports in this story, the Collins Dictionary will exploit such contentiousness "with the launch of an online Living Dictionary, in which netheads can suggest new words and argue over whether they should be added to the print version of the dictionary." Says the editor in chief, Jeremy Butterfield, "This is a completely new concept which will provide direct contact between the people who compile dictionaries and the end users." Up for two weeks, fights have already broken out. When one user suggest "Henmania" for "the hype surrounding the English tennis player Tim Henman," another user wrote in, "I can't stand this word, not because of the person involved, but because it's a non-word. If you add mania to Henman you get Henmanmania. Henmania is going crazy for hens." Wrote another, "Until Henman actual wins something I don't think he should have any word associated with him, unless it is the rather derogatory 'soft cock' that the Australians use to describe him."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Thursday 16 December 2004

J–Ray and Bernie the K, Day 2: Regan and Kerik revealed to be same person undergoing total self–infatuation . . .
"It was only sex," complains Rush Limbaugh in a tirade on his website ("Left Feeds Off Bernie Kerik Story As If Bill Clinton Never Happened") about the way "the media continues to focus" on the story of Bernard Kerik and his affair with right wing publisher Judith Regan. But the story continues despite Limbaugh's moralizing, and it's spreading around the world. Most of the stories, such as this report in Australia's Melbourne Herald, focus on three things: that the revelation of the affair is "a major embarassment for President Bush and especially for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani," and, as this story from England's The Independent notes, "the apartment in Battery Park City, now being described as a love nest," where the affair was conducted, "has views directly onto the hole at ground zero." Meanwhile, a report by Amanda Peyser in The New York Post—which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns HarperCollins, of which Regan's ReganBooks is an imprint—seems to have been fed to the reporter via an intermediary from Regan. In it, a supposedly "terrified" Regan—legendary in New York for her toughness—says Kerik is "maniacal" and "insane," and that he "had Regan followed," "showed up at her house," and "threatened her." On the other hand, Peyser says other acquaintances of the "power–addicted" duoe are "male and female versions of the same people." Peyser says "The yearlong affair, which began as Regan prepared to publish Kerik's memoir, was an open secret in town." It all ended, Peyser reports, when Regan got a call from another Kerik mistress whom she hadn't known about. Pyeser reports "Fiery Judith shot back, 'I don't feel as f–––ed as I did before you called. You're more pathetic than I am.'" Another friend tells Peyser that it revived the affair with Kerik. "She's very territorial," the friend explains. "'What's mine is mine. What's yours is mine.'"

If B&N can publish books, Random says it can sell them . . .
The world's biggest publisher may be about to go head to head with the company that calls itself the world's biggest retailer and the company that calls itself the worlds biggest bookseller: Random House CEO Peter Olson says the company is thinking of selling its books directly to customers online, "in competition with Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble," as a New York Daily News report by Paul D. Colford observes. The announcement was made breifly and with little detail in Olson's year–end letter to employees, and Colford says it could be a response to the ongoing and intensifying "role reversal at Barnes & Noble, which publishes more and more books under its own name. B&N has released literary classics, histories and novelty books, vying with traditional publishers for reader dollars." Spokesman Stuart Applebaum, meanwhile, says plans are not immediate, but "The key thing is we're not ruling it out."

Rumors about Webb death confirmed, denied . . .
"Facing a barrage of calls from the media and the public," the Sacramento County Coroner's Office has issued a statement confirming the rumors "flooding" its office: former investigative report Gary Webb, a supposed suicide, had two gunshot wounds to the head. Nonetheless, a Sacramento Bee report by Sam Stanton says the Coroner also insisted that "Information and evidence gathered at the scene of death, including a handwritten note indicating an intention on the part of the decedent to take his own life, resulted in 'suicide' as the determined manner of death." Webb's ex–wife, Sue Bell, also said she believed he had killed himself using his father's .38–caliber pistol. "The way he was acting it would be hard for me to believe it was anything but suicide," she said. She noted Webb "had been distraught for some time over his inability to get a job at another major newspaper." He had also experienced sadly hard times recently: "He had sold his house last week, because he could no longer afford the mortgage, and was upset that his motorcycle had been stolen last week," Stanton says. Nonetheless, Stanton reports Webb's reporting "spawned a following, including conspiracy theorists who have worked the Internet feverishly for days with notions that because Webb died from two gunshots he was killed by government agents or the Contras in retribution for the stories written nearly a decade ago." Neither Stanton's report nor the Coroner's statement seem likely to stem those speculations, however: neither one explains how a man can shoot himself in the head twice with a .38.

Treasury Department says OFAC! We made a mistake . . .
In seeming reaction to a suit brought by Nobel Peace Prize–winner Shirin Ebadi against the U.S. government for blocking the American publication of her memoirs, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control yesterday "eased a controversial ban on publications from Iran, Sudan and Cuba." According to a Reuters wire report, "The new rule allows U.S. publishers to engage in 'most ordinary publishing activities' with people in Cuba, Iran and Sudan, while maintaining restrictions on interactions with government officials and agents of those countries," and while "maintaining an embargo on official documents." Says a Treasury Department spokesman, undersecretary Stuart Levey, "OFAC's previous guidance was interpreted by some as discouraging the publication of dissident speech from within these oppressive regimes. That is the opposite of what we want."

Problems continue at Amazon, and in more ways than one . . .
Technical glitches are continuing at Amazon.com, to a degree that "have stopped some holiday shoppers from completing purchases," according to a Reuters wire story by Martha Graybow. One analyst, Gomez, Inc., which "tracks Internet shopping," said that during the last two weeks it was "unable to complete a transaction on Amazon about 12 percent of the time." "There have been a number of glitches," said a Vanderbilt University professor, Donna Hoffman, who co–directs the school's Sloan Center for Internet Retailing. She says, however, that "even if Amazon shoppers have encountered technical problems, most of them would be likely to come back to the site and complete their shopping after the glitches are resolved." A stock analyst, Martin Pyykkonen of Janco Partners, agrees with Hoffman that the problems may not be "a drag on the company's overall sales," but he also notes the glitches have "probably been more than just insignificant." Amazon spokesman Craig Berman, meanwhile, who angered some critics last week when he acknowledged a major outage only by saying "complex systems have problems from time to time," denied that there have been further problems and would not comment on the impact on sales. The company's stock, meanwhile, climbed two percent.

O, that I were a glove upon that hand, / That I might touch that cheek! / Except mine hand is stuck to this wall . . .
"The damage is evident and intolerable. We must do something," declared Francesca Tamellini, tourism councilor for Verona, Italy. So, the city has decreed: no more post–it slips or love notes attached by gum to the walls of the house that is believed to have been the inspiration for Juliet's house in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. According to a Discovery News report by Rossella Lorenzi, "Thousands of messages are overwhelming the 13th–century house of the Cappello family . . . The little slips, adorned with hearts, arrows or intertwined initials, are left anywhere: inserted between the leaves and branches of shrubs, or plastered with gum on the house's Gothic doors and on the walls, almost up to the legendary balcony where Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague revealed their love to each other." The notes are "creating damage and producing a rather disgusting view." So, after the walls are given a thorough cleaning, "Juliet will be given her own telephone number and email address. Lovers from all over the world will have to express their innermost feelings via text messages, which will be displayed on a giant screen inside the house." Not everyone likes the idea. "I agree that the chewing gum view is somewhat disgusting, but we cannot cancel this tradition altogether," says Guido Tomassia, head of the Juliet Club. "I think it is unromantic to see your intimate thoughts displayed on a giant screen. It would be much better to arrange wooden wall panels that could be replaced with new ones when full of messages," he said. Meanwhile, the town continues to receive approximately 5,000 letters a year addressed simply to, "Juliet, Verona."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Wednesday 15 December 2004

Significant advance from Judith Regan apparently earns her police badge . . .
Amidst the continuing flood of revelations about Bernard Kerik, the former New York City Police Commissioner and associate of Rudolph Guiliani who withdrew as George Bush's nominee for Homeland Security chief last week, a new report previously surfaces in The New York Times today: that Kerik used an apartment near the site of the World Trade Center that had been donated as a resting area for Ground Zero workers to conduct an extra–marital affair with his publisher, Judith Regan. Kerik subsequently rented the apartment when it went back on the market to conduct the affair, says the report, by Charles V. Bagli. A source tells Bagli that Kerik, "who is married with two children and lived at the time in Riverdale, the Bronx, began to meet there with Ms. Regan." The source says "that one bedroom faced the pit of ground zero, and that Ms. Regan visited it while Mr. Kerik was police commissioner, meaning between Sept. 11 and Dec. 31, 2001." Kerik refused to answer questions; the report makes no mention of attempting to contact Regan for comment. Nor does the report indicate Regan's marital status. Meanwhile, Bagli also reports that, on his last day as police commissioner, Kerik bestowed an honorary police badge on Regan. Bagli reports that "Questions have been raised in the past about the tradition of bestowing these ceremonial badges, and whether they create the appearance that those who receive them are in debt to those who grant them."

MORE: Judith Regan "paid an awkward visit to the White House yesterday" when she accompanied another of her authors, former Gen. Tommy Franks, and his family as he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush, according to a New York Daily News story by Russ Buettner and Maki Becker. Regan "even posed for a photo with Bush and the First Lady at the East Room ceremony," although beyond that "awkward photo op, Reagan steered clear of all cameras" and received "icy stares" throughout the "uncomfortable meeting."

UN whistle blower shown door after writing book . . .
A New Zealand doctor who has worked for the United Nations for twelve years and who decided to "blow the whistle" by co–authoring a book exposing "sex, drugs and corruption among UN peacekeeping forces" says he is being fired for speaking out. A New Zealand Herald report says Andrew Thomson's book, Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth, which was co–written with former UN colleagues Kenneth Cain and Heidi Postlewait, "talks about alleged corruption and failed leadership that contributed to disasters in Rwanda in 1994 and in Bosnia at about the same time," and also "documented allegations of mass rape by peacekeepers while working in Liberia." Speaking on NPR, Thomson said his dismissal "sent a terrible message." Referring to Kofi Annan, Thomson said, "On the one hand you can be in charge of the peacekeepers, as he was in the '90s when these catastrophes happened, and get promoted to the top job in the organization. But if, like myself, you work in those mass graves with the result of those catastrophes and then write about it, with the stories of all the victims and survivors I worked with, you get fired."

Shut up, mein Fuhrer . . .
"An attempt to get a new translation of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf into bookshops in Azerbaijan has infuriated Jewish groups and triggered the detention of the book's publisher," reports a BBC News wire story. Avaz Zeynalli, editor of the newspaper Xural, spent two years translating the book from Turkish into Azeri, and had published fragments in the newspaper during that time, but "by publishing the book in full, Mr Zeynalli may have broken a national ban on Hitler's anti–Semitic text." He was arrested briefly while "police raided the editorial office of Xural this week and impounded the copies of the book found there." Meanwhile, President Ilham Aliyev appeared on television meeting with a delegation from the Federation of Jewish Communities and telling them, "Ethnic and religious tolerance is high in Azerbaijan and everybody acknowledges that." Some, however, have been critical of the response against the book. The secretary of the Union of Writers, Rasad Macid, whi is editor of another newspaper, 525 Qazet, said, "I think it is important for our intellectuals to read such books." The leader of the Islamic Democratic Party, Tahir Abbasli, agreed, saying, " It is unacceptable for a democratic country to apply such methods."

Quack! Quack! . . .
A center of Islamic learning in Cairo, al–Azhar, which has the authority to ban books, has recommended that the Egyptian government ban a 19th century biography of the Prophet Mohammad by a scholar named George Bush, because it says "Muslims spread Islam by force and persecuted Christians." According to a Reuters wire story, the ban "applied to the original English version of The Life of Mohammad by the scholar George Bush, first published in 1830 and reissued in the United States in 2002." Although it is not clear if the writer is an ancestor of the current U.S. president, the report says at least one critical newspaper report "came with large photographs of George W. Bush and his father, former U.S. President Bush, and references to the Bush family."

College writers getting stupider . . .
Recent years have seen a large number of high–profile plagiarism cases amongst famous historians, such as Stephen E. Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, but those cases seem to have subsided. But a Chronicle of Higher Education investigation by Thomas Bartlett and Scott Smallwood "proves otherwise" — that is, that plagiarism cases in the academy may actually be on the rise. But while instances of plagiarism may be increasing, "Very few of them will ever be dragged into the sunlight," say Bartlett and Smallwood, "because academe often discourages victims from seeking justice, and when they do, tends to ignore their complaints — a kind of scholarly 'don't ask, don't tell' policy." Univeristy of George historian Peter Charles Hoffer tells them, "It's like cockroaches. For every one you see on the kitchen floor, there are a hundred behind the stove."

Shecky Rushdie does India . . .
A recent, rare trip to India by Salman Rushdie has drawn a lot of attention in the Indian press. It also seems to have pleased audiences. As Madhumita Bhattacharyya reports in a story for the Telegraph of India, Rushdie had trouble avoiding political questions, but he was also comfortable to make numerous appearances —"he has now left insecurity behind him," says Bhattacharyya, "on Thursday morning he passed through three bookstores for signings" — and seemed upbeat and cheerful in the face of tricky questions. "In the matter of the dispute between me and the Ayatollah Khomeini," he told one audience, "I would like to point out that one of us is dead."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 14 December 2004

RIP: Kyle Joseph Renehan . . .
The war came home to historian Ed Renehan last week. In a note at his website, he pays tribute to his cousin, 21–year–old Kyle Joseph Renehan, "A brave, idealistic young man — one of far too many who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of this country's flawed, doomed, and senseless mission in Iraq."

Hail & Farewell: Gary Webb . . .
It was one of the most sensational pieces of investigative journalism of the 1990s, and seemed to scoop the biggest newspapers in the country: Gary Webb's 1996 series for the San Jose Mercury News uncovering a CIA operation during the Reagan administration whereby "Nicaraguan drug traffickers had sold tons of crack cocaine from Colombian cartels in Los Angeles' black neighborhoods and then funneled millions in profits back to the CIA–supported Nicaraguan Contras." But the CIA director flew into L.A. to deny the charges, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and others wrote reports discrediting Webb's reporting. The Mercury News soon backed off from supporting its own reporter and, despite a steady, Pulitzer Prize–winning career, Webb was shortly thereafter was out of a job. "He never really recovered from it," said his ex–wife over the weekend, after Webb was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his apartment on Friday. An L.A. Times report says "He apparently killed himself," according to authorities. The Times report, which is by Nita Lelyveld and Steve Hymon, also notes that after the fiasco of Webb's "widely criticized story" (and some detailing of the Times' massive effort to debunk it), the paper notes Webb continued to get into trouble at his next job, as an investigator for state government, with, first, an "investigation into then–Gov. Gray Davis' controversial award of a $95–million, no–bid contract to Oracle in 2001," and then when in another investigation he "wrote a report accusing the California Highway Patrol of unofficially condoning and even encouraging racial profiling in its drug interdiction program." According to the Times, "Earlier this year, Webb was one of a group of employees fired from the Assembly speaker's Office of Member Services for failing to show up for work." The story in the Mercury News, Webb's old employer, says merely that he was laid off from the government job, and that his cocaine–CIA story "came under fire by other news organizations," and that the paper decided it "did not meet its standards," after which Webb "resigned." The MN story, by Jessica Portner, also notes comments by Tom Drassler, who now works in the state Attorney General's office, but who had worked with Webb on the Oracle investigation and others for the state Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Dresslar said of Webb, "He had a fierce commitment to justice, truth and cared a lot about people who are forgotten and society tries to shove into the dark corners,'' and that Webb's passing was "a great loss for the journalism community." Portner notes, however, that the comments were made by someone who was "distraught." A Sacramento Bee report by Sam Stanton and Sandy Louey tells things a little differently, however. It notes that, for one thing, Webb lost his state government job when a new legislative leader took over. As for the controversy over the cocaine–CIA story, Stanton and Louey say Webb contended the Mercury news had prevented him from filing follow–up stories, and that he always stuck by his reporting on the story, to the point of writing a book about it all, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, in 1999. The SacBee report also quotes Dresslar, without speculation on his state of mind, as saying of Webb, "He was a hard–core, no–fear investigative reporter. He wasn't afraid to stand up to whatever authority. I was proud to work with him and call him a friend."

Bookcrossing founder missing . . .
It happened last month, but word is finally sweeping the book community: Dan Clune, one of the inventors of the BookCrossing phenomenon, is missing. As this special website put up by his family and friends notes, Clune, who had recently moved to Sandpoint, Idaho from New York City, had gone out to a bar with some friends and, upon leaving, had gone back into the bar to get a sweatshirt he'd forgotten. That's the last they saw of him. The search continues, and a reward has been posted, but police, family, and friends are baffled.

Resistance is futile . . .
"This is the day the world changes," says John Wilkin, a University of Michigan librarian. "It will be disruptive because some people will worry that this is the beginning of the end of libraries. But this is something we have to do to revitalize the profession and make it more meaningful." As Michael Liedtke reports in an Associated Press wire story, Wilkin is one of the librarians working with Google in an attempt "to establish an online reading room for five major libraries by scanning stacks of hard–to–find books into its widely used Internet search engine." The company announced an agreement late yesterday, says Liedtke, that gives Google "the right to index material from the New York public library as well as libraries at four universities — Harvard, Stanford, Michigan and Oxford in England." As Liedtke also observes, "The project gives Google's search engine another potential drawing card as it faces stiffening competition for Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN. Attracting visitor traffic is crucial to Google's financial health because the company depends on revenue generated by people clicking on advertising links posted next to the main body of search results."

MORE: A front–page New York Times report by Ed Wyatt and John Markoff adds that "Because the Google agreements are not exclusive, the pacts are almost certain to touch off a race with other major Internet search providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo. Like Google, they might seek the right to offer online access to library materials in return for selling advertising, while libraries would receive corporate help in digitizing their collections for their own institutional uses."

Operation Homecoming but not too soon? . . .
Taking a look at Operation Homecoming—the government program being underwritten by Boeing, whereby professional writers visit military bases to teach writing, with the aim of collecting the work in an anthology—Phil Sheehan thinks he has a solution to some of the criticisms being raised by Eleanor Wilner, Aleksandar Hemon, and others. The complaints are that Iraqis aren't represented, and that if it takes over a year to make the book, soldiers serving beyond that year aren't represented, either. In a commentary at Some Old Guy, Sheehan suggests a companion volume of Iraqi writings underwritten by Haliburton. As for the American soldiers serving after the book is published, he suggests, "Instead of that single volume, publish a new anthology every year. We could have Iraq Homecoming 2004. Then Iraq Homecoming 2005. Then Iraq Homecoming 2006. Then Iraq Homecoming... who knows how far the series will run? The latest Panglossian hypothesizing by The Small Donald is that we'll be out by 2008 . . . however, you'll have trouble finding any serious military authority — save those now mired there themselves — who expects we'll be able to leave in less than ten years . . . ."

Sheepish in Wolfe's clothing . . .
"He has acquired a reputation as a master of modern American literature with his scathing caricatures and social observations," notes The Independent's Danielle Demetriou. "But Tom Wolfe has not, it appears, mastered the art of describing an activity that appears in almost every work of fiction — sex." Which is why yesterday Wolf won the Bad Sex Award for passages in his new novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. As Demetriou's story explains, the award from England's Literary Review is for "the most cringeworthy, clumsily written and embarrassing extracts describing something akin to sex." Judges cited one passage in particular: "Slither slither slither slither went the tongue. But the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns — oh God, it was not just at the border where the flesh of the breast joins the pectoral sheath of the chest — no, the hand was cupping her entire right — Now!"

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 13 December 2004

Love child of Strom Thurmond and black teeage maid to publish memoir . . .
The secret daughter of Senator Strom Thurmond—who once ran for president as a segregationist—and a 16–year–old black maid is publishing an autobiography in which she says she confronted her father with his racism and his response left her thinking, "I wasn't sure if this was my father talking or the ghost of Adolf Hitler." According to an Associated Press wire story by Amy Geier Edgar, Essie Mae Washington Williams, who was 78 when she startled the world by revealing, just after his death last year, that Thurmond was her father, "deals frankly with her relationship with the one–time segragationist" in the book, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daugher of Strom Thurmond, forthcoming in January from ReganBooks. She says their meetings were always formal events. "He never called my mother by her first name. He didn't verbally acknowledge that I was his child. He didn't ask when I was leaving and didn't invite me to come back. It was like an audience with an important man, a job interview, but not a reunion with a father," she writes. But she also says he supported her, sent her to college, and never asked her to hide her identity. "It's not that Strom Thurmond ever swore me to secrecy. He never swore me to anything. He trusted me, and I respected him, and we loved each other in our deeply repressed ways, and that was our social contract."

Plus, they took away one of his wives . . .
"A longtime Mormon educator who wrote a book questioning the historical accuracy of church history was temporarily suspended from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints at a hearing Sunday," according to an Associated Press wire story by Travis Reed. Grant Palmer, retired after serving 34 years as "an LDS director or educator," says "his extensive background in history and church service, and a growing inability to reconcile glaring discrepancies between the two, drew him into [writing the book]." In the book, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Palmer "suggests that Joseph Smith didn't actually translate the Book of Mormon, as LDS faithful believe, 'by the gift and power of God' from an ancient set of golden plates. The book suggests Smith wrote it himself, leaning heavily on the King James Bible, emotional Methodist tent revivals, Masonry and other personal experiences in a highly superstitious era of American history."

Elementary, my dear Watson: He was a crackpot . . .
"The mysterious death of Britain's leading Sherlock Holmes expert appears to have been a bizarre suicide plot deliberately based on one of the cases tackled by the fictional detective himself," says a wire report from the Agence France Presse. The report says Richard Lancelyn Green "appears to have dressed up his suicide as murder in an attempt to get at an enemy from beyond the grave." Lancelyn Green, 50, was said by friends to have been "bitterly depressed after learning that a collection of papers belonging to the creator of Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was to be broken up and sold at auction. [Lancelyn Green] had spent two decades trying to track down the archive so as to write a definitive biography of Conan Doyle, and decided to take his own life, also implicating the American he blamed for breaking up the collection."

Celebrating one killer poet . . .
In honor of the 150th birthday of Arthur Rimbaud, 14 French and African writers recently held a conference in the Ethiopian town of Harar, where the poet settled for ten years after "turning his back on writing." According to an Agence France Presse wire story, the French cultural counsellor Jean–Baptiste Chauvin explained that "The idea is to return to the place where Rimbaud lived, to revive the memory and connect the two images of him: that of a poet in France and a trader in Ethiopia." Harder to connect is Rimbaud the poet with something that the AFP report underplays: that Rimbaud was a gunrunner. Meanwhile, "There are few remaining traces of Rimbaud in the town," says the AFP, "and many of the town's residents confuse the poet with the American film character 'Rambo'."

Americans take note: This could take a while . . .
America isn't the only major country undergoing a percieved wrestling match between the secular and the religious. Poet Mani Shanka Aiyar outlines a similar rift in Indian cultural life in his newest book, Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist. As this review by Saeed Naqvi from Outlook India reveals, he opens the book setting himself up in dialogue with a Muslim who "highlights how Islam is understood and misunderstood in Indian public discourse," but then "sets himself up in bold relief as the 'secular fundamentalist.'" But he goes on to detail how the struggle for a secular society has been going on for far longer in India than in the West. According to Naqvi, "Aiyar pulls no punches in demolishing the communal case that India became free not after 200 years of British rule but after a thousand years."

Manuscript reveals it was originally "The Aqua Marine Letter" . . .
It was a generous gift that went unappreciated: When, in 1886, a relative of Nathaniel Hawthorne donated the corrected page proofs of The Scarlet Letter to the historical society of Natick, Massachusetts, the manuscript—which included numerous corrections and comments in Hawthorne's own hand—was placed in a drawer and forgotten. It wasn't discovered until earlier this year, 118 years later, when, according to this Associated Press wire story, trustee Roger Casavant came across it. Says Chirs Coover, the senior rare books specialist at Christie's, "This is unique. No other proof pages of any of Hawthorne's novels or stories survive." Says scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli, it's the "only set of proof pages of any of the classic 19th century novels. Apart from what they tell us about Hawthorne, it's a key document about publishing at that time."

Scientists say Crichton's hot air is root cause of global warming . . .
As The Guardian's Patrick Barkham puts it, Michael Crichton is "most famous for his far–fetched tale of how dinosaurs could be brought to life with DNA from mosquitoes trapped in amber." But now, the author of Jurassic Park "has written a thriller about ecoterrorism which the critics say is equally fantastic in its refusal to accept that global warming is a clear and present danger." As Barkham writes in this Guardian story, Crichton's new book, State of Fear includes "a 14–page bibliography and a five–page authorial note explaining his extreme scepticism about global warming." Crichton calls theories of global warming the "interminable yammering of fearmongers" and writes: "The current near–hysterical preoccupation with safety is at best a waste of resources and a crimp on the human spirit, and at worst an invitation to totalitarianism." Meanwhile, Barkham reports "Scientists and environmentalists greeted his arguments with derision yesterday," including the global warming sceptic he quotes, Bjorn Lomberg, who "dismissed" Crichton's calculations. Tony Jupiter, the director of Friends of the Earth, commented that "It's interesting to see how climate change sceptics have truly entered the world of fiction . . . The fact that these arguments are presented as a novel puts them in their correct place in society."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

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This week's fiction:

"Crank Call"
by Thomas J. Hubschman
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"Brain Spiders"
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"Not Pee Wee"
(from Grain)

(from Briar Cliff Review)

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