Various Stuff

No Kindle for me

I love the idea of the Amazon Kindle.  My mother has one and loves it, the screen is easy to read with, and you can download books immediately. I was considering purchasing one. However, the fact that the Kindle's DRM only allows you to download a particular book a few times killed that impulse.

I wonder if the Kindle will end up being like the original Macintosh computer, which popularized image-driven home computers but was so restrictive and expensive that it was eclipsed by Windows PCs. I also wonder if people who have been buying ebooks for their Kindles will start running into this issue more and more in the years to come, particularly when they upgrade to a new Kindle or an alternative system and the DRM keeps them from moving their books to these platforms. I mean, if someone came into my house and tried to take my books we'd have violence. How is it any different when someone does this same theft electronically?

For now, I'll stick with dead tree books.

Rude Pundit Lee Papa takes interviewing to lows

I've long been fascinated by bloggers who scream and shout over every little perceived online grievance. Would these people behave the same way--biting and crying and moaning and complaining--if they interacted with people outside the one-way blind of the blogosphere?

In the case of one blogger, the answer is yes.

Lee Papa is famous for his blog The Rude Pundit, which proudly aims to lower the level of political discourse. Papa was recently interviewed by poet and critic Dan Schneider, who runs the website Cosmoetica. Now Dan's done interviews with a whole mess of top-notch people, including philosopher Mark Rowlands, novelists Charles Johnson and Daniel Wallace, poet James A. Emanuel, and many more. A quick run through of his interviews will show anyone that these aren't your typical fluff-filled media gabfests--these are in-depth explorations of what these deep thinkers believe. If you don't want to do one of these type interviews, then don't do it. But I guess that's not how the Rude Pundit works.

So Papa does the interview. Said interview is published. Then Papa goes berserk, calling Dan a "wannabe Harlan Ellison" and that Papa will now publicly proclaim that "...the interview is your raving fantasy based on a few words Isent you." To rebut Papa's statement, Dan posts their entire email correspondence online so people can judge the situation for themselves.

My take: The Rude Pundit doesn't like debating the big issues when he can't use his blog as a one-way megaphone for shouting. But go draw your own conclusions.

New publisher and editors for storySouth

Seven years ago, I founded storySouth with my co-editor Jake Adam York. While I've really enjoyed working on this literary journal, the time has come to move on. Anyone wanting all the details can read my introduction to the current issue of storySouth.

storySouth's new publisher will be Spring Garden Press, a well-regarded literary publisher in Greensboro, North Carolina. storySouth'snew editor is Terry Kennedy, the Associate Director of the MFA Writing Program at UNCG Greensboro and the editor of Spring Garden Press. Joining him as fiction editor is Drew Perry, a UNCG alum who teaches fiction writing at Elon University. Julie Funderburk, who previously served as one of storySouth's associate editors, will be the poetry editor, while Andrew Saulters, who created the websites for the UNCG MFA Program, The Greensboro Review, and Spring Garden Press, will be storySouth's new designer.

I will continue to run the magazine's Million Writers Award, but otherwise all the current storySouth editors will be fading into the journal's background. Thanks to all the writers and readers who have supported the journal over the years. But also realize this isn't the end of storySouth--instead, this change is an exciting new start. In the coming months Terry and his crew will be rebuilding and improving the journal, all while continuing to keep the focus on promoting the best new writings from the new South.

10 Worst Predictions for 2008

For all those who still believe pundits know what they're talking about, I present the 10 Worst Predictions for 2008. My favorite screw-up is from Jim Cramer, responding to a viewer's e-mail on CNBC's Mad Money:

"Peter writes: 'Should I be worried about Bear Stearns in terms of liquidity and get my money out of there?' No! No! No! Bear Stearns is fine! Do not take your money out. … Bear Stearns is not in trouble. I mean, if anything they're more likely to be taken over. Don't move your money from Bear! That’s just being silly! Don't be silly!"

Maybe Jim Cramer will consider having Peter on his show. They could team up and explain why only a fool would make financial decisions based on what a TV talking (or in this case, screaming) head says.

storySouth poem in Best American Poetry 2008

The poem "Homage to Calvin Spotswood" by Kate Daniels, published in the journal storySouth, has been selected for the Best American Poetry 2008. Many thanks to guest editor Charles Wright for selecting the poem. And an equal thanks goes out to my storySouth co-editor Jake Adam York and, in particular, our poetry editor Dan Albergotti. They are totally responsible for selecting Daniels' wonderful poem.

Seven years ago Jake and I founded storySouth. In the years since, we have been honored to be the home for many of the best writers the new South has to offer. Now storySouth is entering a new phase of its development. While I can't reveal the specifics at this moment, let me simply state that change is coming and its a big change for the better. I hope to reveal more details in a few weeks.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Poetry "Best Sellers"

I'm not trying to pick on the poets and poetry lovers out there. I write poetry on occasion, and read the genre with a passion. As a writer, I can truly say here's nothing harder than compressing language into that perfect blend of syntax and meaning which makes up a great poem.

But today a friend e-mailed me a link to the Poetry Foundation's list of poetry best sellers. I began browsing the contemporary poetry best seller list to see what books were popular with readers. However, very quickly my bullshit meter began going off. There are books on the list which have been out for years and shouldn't still be listed as best sellers. So I did a little digging. What I found out is that the Poetry Foundation must have a different definition of "best seller" than the rest of the world.

First off, the facts. As of the week of Nov. 2, 2008, the number one contemporary poetry bestseller is Ballistics by Billy Collins. However, if you head to the listing for the book, you will see that the book's sales rank is only 5,236 (as of the date and time I wrote this). According to this analysis of the sales ranking, that means Billy Collins' book only sold 15 to 20 copies through Amazon over the entire last week. The number two book on the list, The Niagara River by Kay Ryan, had a sales rank of 22,024 (meaning 1 to 5 books sold the last week through Amazon), while the number three book (The Truro Bear and Other Adventures by Mary Oliver) had a similar sales rank as Ryan's book.

Worse, the Poetry Foundation's list of Small Press Best Sellers number one seller for October is from Unincorporated Territory by Craig Santos Perez, which isn't even available through Amazon. The number 2 seller isAction Kylie by Kevin Killian, which has a sales rank of 1,417,289.

Now granted, these numbers only focus on sales. And since Amazon doesn't reveal exactly how its sales ranking compares to book sales numbers, all of this is estimated. But if these really are the types of numbers seen through the biggest bookseller in the United States, sales through all other bookstores can't be that high. (For another analysis of Amazon's sales rank, go here. According to this alternate estimate, these poetry books may have slightly higher sales numbers. But as the author of the analysis states, a book must have a sales rank under a 1,000 to be seriously successful title, while a rank of 10,000 or more means a book is "no bestseller.")

This analysis isn't meant as an attack on any of these poets or their books. I understand that poetry doesn't sell as well as fiction, nonfiction, or, based on these numbers, just about anything else in the book store. But for the Poetry Foundation to label these types of numbers "best sellers" is misleading. I mean, in poetry the specific words you use matter. Don't use the term "best seller" when a book only sells a few copies a week.

BTW, not all the Poetry Foundation lists are misleading. On their list of Children's Poetry Best Sellers, the number one book is the 30th Anniversary Edition of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. When I last checked that book's sales ranking, it was a very respectable 284, meaning that 150 to 200 copies were sold in the last week through the online bookseller. I'd call that a true best seller (although the number still pales compared to fiction best sellers). But I doubt the Poetry Foundation wants to trumpet the fact that a dead poet's wonderful collection of poems for kids is out selling the country's top contemporary poetry book by more than a 10 to 1 ratio!

Artist or ape? Faulkner or machine?

Here's a great little quiz I discovered, in which you try to decide which of the examples of abstract art are actual masterpieces created by great artists, and which were painted by actual apes.

I only scored 33%, meaning I missed most of the questions. Fortunately, the one picture I actually liked turned out to be by an artist, so homo sapiens didn't totally suck.

Take the quiz here.

The site also has a William Faulkner quiz where you try to decide if a sentence is something Faulkner wrote, or if its simply a machine translation of random German text. I refuse to reveal what my score on this quiz was.

Her dying wish to vote

As this political season winds down, I hope that people will keep some perspective on why we go through this turmoil every four years. Voting is the greatest of civic virtues. However, in the heat of a political campaign, with mudslinging and attacks all around, it's easy to forget why people throughout history have struggled and fought so they can have a voice in their government.

One person who truly understood the power of voting was an amazing woman it was my honor to briefly know: Suzanne McDaniel Hayes.

Suzanne has been fighting terminal cancer for the last two years. As the end of her fight neared, she told her doctor she didn't care what he did to prolong her life, just as long as "I live to vote." Suzanne was able to vote by absentee ballot last Wednesday. She died on Saturday. Suzanne lead an amazing life right up until the end, and what an example she set for all of us on how voting is a sacred duty.

To learn more about her struggle to vote, listen to this public radio interview or this American Public Radio article (which includes links to photos).

My deepest sympathy goes out to her husband Bill and their three kids.

The touchiest subject in America: bicycles vesus cars

It's been a while since I've found a good mystery, but try this one on for size: What's the one subject you should never bring up in polite society in the United States? The one subject which will instantly polarize a room and causing screaming, over-the-top displays of histrionics?

The 2008 presidential election? Hillary versus Obama? Abortion? Global warming? Nope. Try asking whether bicycles and car should share the road. A post two days ago in Columbus Underground has generated over a hundred comments from both sides of this cultural divide (this on a community board where a handful of comments is the norm). Similar online food fights on this same subject have been documented around the country. So I'm wondering why no politician has stepped forward to leverage this insane hatred into a new political movement. I can see it now. Soon, identifying yourself as a pro-cyclist will be the surest way to show your liberal credentials, while conservatives will prostrate themselves before the voters of the pro-car circuit.

The mysterious Star Trek singing curse

SF Signal has the clip of George Takei of Star Trek fame singing "On the Road Again." While the clip from "Secret Talents of the Stars" is already making the rounds because of Takei's, err, unique take on Willie Nelson's classic song, the good news is that the song helped kill this horrid reality show after only one episode. And in even better news, this performance means Takei can take his place alongside his more famous Star Trek stars. After all, who can forget the classic musical album "Spaced Out: The Best of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner." Perhaps the three of them should do a concert tour.

Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother

Even though the name Florence Owens Thompson probably isn't familiar to you, you've likely seen her famous portrait by Dorothea Lange. Titled "Migrant Mother," this photograph is one of the iconic images of the Great Depression. Now, via Wikipedia, you can read about the life of the woman behind the photo. You can also learn more on the wonderful website created by her grandson Roger Sprague. As he states, the image came from a migrant camp where Florence and her family were living.

Then a shiny new car (it was only two years old) pulled into the entrance, stopped some twenty yards in front of Florence and a well-dressed woman got out with a large camera. She started taking Florence's picture. With each picture the woman would step closer. Florence thought to herself, "Pay her no mind. The woman thinks I'm quaint, and wants to take my picture." The woman took the last picture not four feet away then spoke to Florence: "Hello, I'm Dorthea Lange, I work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the plight of the migrant worker. The photos will never be published, I promise." Florence said, "Okay, if you think it will help." The woman turned, walked away, got in her car, and was gone. The next day the promise was broken: Florence's picture taken by the well-dressed lady was on the front page of all the newspapers. (Source: Migrant Mother website)

One of the recurring mysteries of life is to see an old photograph and wonder about the life of the person captured in that one brief moment of frozen light. Thanks to Wikipedia and the internet, Florence Owens Thompson's amazing life doesn't need to be a mystery to anyone.

Medical marijuana as anger management tool

I guess this is another trend which science fiction totally failed to predict: medical marijuana as an anger management tool. The jaw dropping information comes at the end of an Associated Press report on vending machines in L.A. now dispensing medical marijuana.

A man who said he has been authorized to use medical marijuana as part of his anger management therapy said the vending machine's security measures would at least protect against illicit use of the drug. "You have kids that want to get high and that's not what marijuana is for," Robert Miko said. "It's to medicate."

Fiction rarely tops the weirdness and mysteries of real life.

Matthew Cheney on muses and ghosts

Matthew Cheney has returned to blogging after taking a break following the sudden death of his father (I offer my sincere sympathy to him on his loss). Cheney's new column for Strange Horizons deals with both his father's death and their mutual love of movies. The essay is extremely moving and observant, especially as Matthew notes how movies were one of the few things in life which brought the two of them together. The essay's ending will leave you with a massive lump in your throat and an overwhelming desire to immediately call your own father.

Blogs of the fallen

As more people post their lives online through mediums like blogs and MySpace, what will happen to all their words when they pass away? I started pondering this question after visiting the blog of Julia Campbell, a Peace Corps Volunteer murdered earlier this year in the Philippines. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who survived a possibly fatal accident while serving overseas, I've always honored those Volunteers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to others. The Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project was created by the family of PCV Jeremiah Mack, who died in Niger in 1997. The Project is a touching and appropriate way to honor these Volunteers; the project is also raising funds for a permanent memorial in Washington, D.C.

Julia Campbell's blog remains online, her most recent entry written a few days before her death. There are hundreds of comments for that last entry as people create their own memorial honoring Julia. I wonder, though, what will eventually happen to blogs like this? Are they like the ribbons people tie around trees in honor of the missing and dead--markers which eventually disappear with the passing of time? Or will someone (or more likely, some archiving program) eventually save all these blogs, preserving a record for those who one day want to look back and learn about who we were?