Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday in the Park

Never mind the apologists for Andrew Breitbart  trying to sell us the story that he was duped by his ‘source’. Chief among these apologists is Ann Coulter. Before trying to convince us that it is “somebody else’s fault” that Breitbart and Fox didn’t check their source, shouldn’t they remember what happened to Dan Rather and 60 Minutes after they used forged documents as a basis for a story about George Bush's National Guard non-service? Any serious journalist will tell you that one of the first responsibilities is to check your source. Of course, accepting Fox as responsible journalism or Breitbart as the same would take a lot of doing lately.

Breitbart's fraud video validates what Fox" already fervently believed about the Obama administration". As Chris Martinez points out in his Blog Inside Out The Beltway, it was the "proof" of the black version of institutional racism” they had been waiting for all this time. It didn’t take very long to uncover their fear and loathing as a trumped up charge. Right wing activists hell-bent on discrediting and destroying the first black president - wingnuts whose  slanders and propaganda are legitimated and turned "mainstream" by attention-hungry media organizations and, most of all, a full-time, round-the-clock, right-wing opposition research and propaganda operation posing as a cable news network.

Fox and the like are such hate/fear mongers that instead of uncovering proof of racism as many honest media have about some Tea Party leaders, and the Tea Party’s failure to “refudiate” the racists that they have attracted (with the exception of the expulsion of Mark Williams and the Tea Party Express ). They are left to manufacture lies and sell them to their rapt viewers in prime time.

I can only believe that there are enough scared white folks out there that want to believe that the survival of the country depends on keeping minority groups “in their place” and anytime those groups gain a position of equality, it couldn’t of been on merit, but had to be a conspiracy. Never mind that it is almost impossible for reverse racism to exist. Racism itself depends on “having power”. The power to oppress, the power to deny a job, equal pay, equal benefits, equal housing,equal standing in society. Sure, there are bigots (as opposed to racists) in every ethnic group. As some fear mongers would have us believe about the New Black Panther Party. But the NBPP doesn’t have the power to oppress, they only have the power to intimidate. And not much of that. The only racism in this country that has that power to oppress is white racism. And maybe that is what the right wing is afraid of. With a black man in the White House, they are loosing their grip on that power.


The Dirty Lowdown

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chuck Palahniuk’s 'The Love Theme of Sybil and William',

Chuck Palahniuk is perhaps one of Portland, Oregon’s best kept secrets, okay, so he lives “near Vancouver” which is “near” Portland. Any how, if you have never read his work, then you might as well flip over to day time reruns of Bay Watch, because you just won’t get it.

Chuck is one of the only guys I know of who was a male escort….okay, it was at a hospice, so not only can he write like nobody around today, he has a heart of gold. Most of you will remember “The Fight Club” his first successfully published novel (although not his First Novel…more later) which was turned into a Smash/Flop (opened number one at the box office but died afterwards) starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. This flick turned into a cult movie and was based on an earlier attempt at a book, called Insomnia: “If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Already”. You might remember that the main character in “Fight Club” Played by Edward Norton, was an insomniac.

After Insomnia  he wrote a book that was rejected as “to disturbing”. That book was titled “Invisible Monsters” The story revolves around  a disfigured woman, a transsexual named Brandy Alexander, and the wedding day of Ms. Evie Cottrell, whose house get burned to the ground. The narrator is horribly disfigured after being shot in the face during an apparent road rage/random act of violence incident, and ends up loosing the lower jaw. The story is very nonlinear and there are more strange, if loveable and despicable, beautiful and ugly, people involved. Identities are so confusing (and metaphorical) at times you need a score card, but bottom line it makes you think again about what is weird, normal, ugly and beautiful. Chuck wrote “Fight Club” to be even more disturbing, so naturally the suits liked it! Still one of his strongest works in my mind.


Anyway, Chuck just posted "The Love Theme of Sybil and William" ', the second published short story, (before even Fight Club) Guess what I'm reading this afternoon?


The Dirty Lowdown

Elizabeth Warren Best Choice the Lead Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection


Elizabeth Warren has devoted much of the past three decades to studying the economics of middle class families. In the wake of the 2008-9 financial crisis, she became the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to investigate the U.S. banking bailout (formally known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program). In that role, she has provided a critical check on the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has been a leading advocate for accountability and transparency.

Steve Clemons has a post about her and a link to a petition urging the Obama Administration to nominate her for this position.

Elizabeth Warren

You can find his article here and the petition here I’d urge anyone who advocates a strong presence to police Wall Street and the Banking Industry to protect the working middle class to sign this.


The Dirty Lowdown

Friday, July 9, 2010

Can’t Tell The Players Without A Score Card (eReaders)

The eReader business is really heating up. The price wars are in full battle regalia and some old soldiers are falling in the trenches while others are just now getting into the fray. Amazon and their Kindle still seem to be in the lead, but depending on how and what you use to measure the market, Apple and the iPad are hot on their heels. Borders has just mustered their army with the Kobo, and other “generic” and one off players are loosing ground and don’t seem to stand a chance other than as low price side line players.

As this battle for market share, negotiations with traditional publishers over royalties, and other things not necessarily important to the reader seem to become more important at least behind the scenes, and in some cases, as in all wars, may swing the tide of battle more than the “weapons’ themselves. Amazon has now opened a service for publishing eBooks that is very lucrative to an ambitious author who not only has the energy and know how to write a decent book, but to market it, edit it (or hire a free lance editor) and design the cover art (or hire that task done too). If there is such an author, and there is at least one, J.A. Konrath, then he stands to reap a much larger percentage of the profits. Others, like Apple with the iPad are raising the stakes by making eReaders at least as appealing in aesthetics as any high tech piece of furniture, and as sleek and beautiful in design, if not in function and flexible use.

Barnes and Nobel seems to still be a viable player, with a very nice feature rich eReader, even if it doesn’t come in as many flavors as the Kindle or the Sony offerings. And now, Borders has come to the battle, almost reluctantly it seems. The Kobo is a decent eReader if a bit of a basic device. They do offer some services that make it appealing.

An aside here, picking and choosing an eReader is a matter of what you are looking for. For instance, there is no denying (or avoiding with all the press) the iPad. But for me the iPad has some serious problems. Since they didn’t go with an eInk screen (all the other makers buy the low powered, low energy usage black and white screens from eInk that also happen to be easy on the eyes and you can see them as well as the printed page even in direct sunlight) their iPad has to be recharged significantly more often-ten hours as opposed to 10 days to 2 weeks. It is also useless outdoors except at night, not something o take out to the pool or to the beach. Also the iPad is heavy at 1.5 to 1.6 pound, with the next heaviest at around 12.5 oz. Imagine trying to hold the large print dictionary with one hand for any length of time. The iPad to me anyhow, is more a Rolls Royce of Netbooks-those low priced, light weight laptops with limited functionality. I have heard that it is not easy to type on, and most owners I have talked to, while praising it, have said they still will use their MacBook or Desktop (either Mac or PC) just as much as before.

The thing that separates the rest of the warriors here, is mainly features and services. How the navigation works (touch screen as opposed to mouse like buttons or even a keyboard) is the memory expandable-The Kindle is not, but do you need to carry more than 1500 books? How about can you play MP3’s while you are reading, and lets not forget content delivery. We have 3G (cell phone) for free, WiFi - you need be near a hot spot either in public or at your house, the the “local delivery options-USB and Blue tooth-in either case you need to down load your selections from the bookstore of your choice to either your Smartphone or PC, then send them to your eReader. So, you have to decide, do I want a “heavy eReader that I have to recharge daily and won’t be much use out side, but it checks e-mail, plays iTunes and can do some word processing and other things I’d normally have to fire up my laptop or desktop for. Or do I want a single (mostly) function device that I hardly have to worry about charging more than two to three times a month, fits in my pocket, and can be read outdoors. Do I need the ability to purchase books at three a.m and have them delivered via 3G in a matter of minutes, or can I put up with going to my PC or Phone, down loading it and transferring it. Do I want to be able to play music too. Where do I shop for books the most often? All of these questions are up to the individual reader, just as choosing a car would be. What's right for you?

To an extent, there seems to be nothing left to fight about, except for seeing if the market will ever come up with a standard for format. and how many additional service can they throw in.  Kindle has their proprietary AMZ format and of course, Apple has theirs. Interestingly enough, before the iPad I though Amazon was going to have to abandon  their proprietary format to stay in the lead, but Apple jumping in with their own “closed” format seems to of almost propped up Amazon in that side line war. All the other combatants have given ground on this issue and have adopted one or all of the “standards” – ePub and/or PDF. Also, even the proprietary player offer free apps so that you can shop their stores and still read your books on your PC/MAC, Smart Phone, Laptop or Tablet. Same with Adobe in the case of Digital Editions and Google (who seems more bent on supporting “standard formats” than entering the device war, with their Library Software. I want to note here that while Amazon is the largest on line retailer and B&N the largest “real” retailer, Google has probably digitized more books, and most of those offerings were already in the Public Domain (free) but has a presence in the newer book world.

Below I have compiled a sort of matrix of all the major players and their devices. Complete with Technical Specs, Features, Pros and Cons, Pricing etc…it might make it easier to tell the players apart. If you’d like a copy of the original Excel spread sheet contact me and I’ll be glad to e-mail it too you. If you think I should add a device, let me know that as well.


The Dirty Lowdown

Here is a link to the Excel Doc on my SkyDrive"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thoughts on the future of books and reading

As anyone out there who knows me could tell you, I have a voracious "Need to Read". I don't read just to escape, or relax, or pass the time either. I love anything from ancient obscure history to technology to modern fiction. I am the only person that I know that actually has read Einsteins "Relativity" from front to back, and then wrote a book report on it (I was a weird kid).

And its not just the books or the content, the story or the lesson. I love the look of books. Since I was a kid I have belonged to book clubs, browsed book stores and spent my hard earned dollars, been a sucker for every club selling "Leather Bound" classics "Gilt Edged" pages and the illustrated, illuminated and autographed. I love to see them on the shelves throughout my house. When I visit a friends house, the first thing I look for (if they don't have old Fender Guitars on display) is their book cases. I think less of friends that don't have book cases or at least a copy of something on display.

Something else anyone who knows me could tell you is that I'm a techie. Yet, I have never owned a digital watch....So, knowing that you could probably deduce that if you need an answer and technology could give it to you, I just might be the guy to talk to. But I won't try and tell you that technology is the be all or the end all.

So, when I started reading about eBooks, all the different eReaders etc...that started coming out a few years ago, I just didn't see them ever replacing "Real Books". The formats weren't compatible from provider to provider. The things were hunky and clunky and were about as kin to a book as a stone ax is to a rifle. Now the "next generation" is out there, and not surprisingly, they are starting to look and feel more like traditional books. The formats aren't proprietary (as much and they can usually be converted to whatever format your Reader takes), you change pages with a motion close to what you'd use on a real book. Also the features are starting to become attractive, or at least more practical. They are sized from the dimensions of a typical magazine or text book to the size of a paperback. And no matter how many books you store on it (the nicer ones will hold over 1500 books!), it still weighs about the same as your average periodical. You can also have delivered every morning, wirelessly, dozens of news papers! Where was this when I was in college schlepping more weight in texts than I did in Vietnam carrying a radio, rifle, pack and various letters from home?

Some other features that are real attractive are they are adding wireless download capability. For Free! You can shop the book store, and purchase the book and have it in your hand from almost anywhere, in 60 seconds all free, not even the cost of a text message on your phone. Imagine sitting in the bath tub on a Saturday morning,or on the beach, cup of coffee setting precariously on the edge of the tub or Mai Tai using a hole in the sand as a cup holder. You just finished the latest Stephen King and you are dreading breaking the mood to go down stairs or back to the hotel room and finding your next need. Take a sip of coffee (I'll stick to the Mai Tai), browse the online store, and bing! There it is before the coffee gets cold or you have dripped or tracked sand all over the carpet. The newer Kindle II or the latest Nook from Barnes and Noble will also store some MP3s and play your music in the back ground. I really like listening to Bud Powell when I read Hemmingway and The Stones when I read Robert Crais...

So, this latest gadget might just convert this guy the way digital watches never could....maybe. You still can't swat a fly with it...well you could but chances are if you did it'll cost you another $250.00 and reading in the tub means paying especial attention to not falling asleep since I seriously doubt dipping your eReader in the bubble bath is covered under the warranty.

But beyond the practical, what do these things mean for book lovers, authors and publishers? Well, the publishers and their employers will still have a job. They can publish just as well in e-format as in paper. I am doing some casual asking around as to how, money wise it might affect authors, but I suspect it won't hurt them and indeed, may allow some authors that self publish to reach a broader audience and even sell more books, at least until the novelty wears off. Also, a lot of established authors are converting there works that have been long out of print to E-Format so they are available again even if they won’t reach the NYT Best Sellers list this time around, the writer can make money off of it even tho’ the publishers aren’t interested in a reissue.

But beyond the principles, The guy (or gal) that wrote the book, the guys and gals that published the book and the audience that reads and enjoys the book, how does it affect the rest of the supply chain? One positive is that it'll take trees out of the equation..Well, the Big Guys that have a book store in every Mall in America will probably just morph into the guys that are supplying the eBook for the most part, but what about the small specialty stores? You know the ones that have quaint shops selling "just mysteries" or "just self help" books? I remember when iPods and downloading electronic music killed the neighborhood record store. And before that, when LP's were replaced by CD's. I remember in the 60's when half the fun of buying the latest Beatles release was in browsing the record store, and getting the clerk (who loved music as much as you did) to play a dozen new releases that your paper route money could never afford. Then taking it home and reading the liner notes until you had them memorized.

I do the same with books. I read the prefaces, The blurbs, the reviews, the back pages that tell you where Berry Eisler went to school or what Michael Connelly did before Harry Bosch. They tell me the order of Hemingway wives, and what his kids are doing now and how to make a Daiquiri. I went to signings, just to hear the authors talk, even when my puny GI paycheck wouldn't stretch for another hardback this month (at least if I didn't want to cut into my beer budget), I'd get in line and see if I could get an autograph on a dog eared paperback. Yeah, I loved the stories, loved the places they took me, taught me, exposed me to. But a lot of what I loved and still do is/was that atmosphere. The people that created or related the stories would visit my town, my bookstore. Would act friendly to the person that owned/ran that book store where I had gone from Lad A Dog and Superman Comics to Faulkner, Frost and Steinbeck and , maybe that owner/clerk that got to exchange jokes with Pat Conroy was someone you went to church with, or drank with on Saturday night. How cool was that?

I guess what worries me is that those personal touches, those things that made me a reader will go away. Oh, I'll still buy the books, the magazines, no matter what form. And I’ll still search out the first edition hardbacks to display like art in my home. I might even finally get a digital watch to go along with my eReader....nah! But what about the kids out there. Will as many of them get hooked on the written word without that atmosphere. Maybe I'm just afraid they'll fall in love for different reasons than I did and invalidate my love? And will the death of the independent specialty book store be an end of an era? I think so.

I guess I survived the death of the LP and the CD and liner notes, but I still want to go to signings, lectures, and smell the ink on the pages. I may not show up on time, since I don't have a digital watch but I know how to make a perfect Hemingway Daiquiri.