Tuesday, January 31, 2006

No Indictments, No Convictions

Republicans are once again criticizing Democrats for being the party "with no convictions".

Given the current legal troubles surrounding Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Scooter Libby, Jack Abramoff, et al, I'd say that's not altogether a bad thing...

State of the Union Drinking Game

This from Beekslayers, where Admiral Don stole it from somewhere else...

Sure, 2 drinks for every mention of “God” will get you loaded — but where’s the sport? We thought we’d add a couple variations:

# Every time Bush mentions Iran: 1 drink
# Hamas: 1 drink
# North Korea: 1 drink
# Bush begins a sentence with “British Intelligence…”: Drink an entire bottle of whatever you were drinking three years ago, throw it at the TV
# Bush mentions the people of New Orleans: Cry into your beer, then drink it.
# Bush mentions the people of New Orleans in a positive light: Shot of bitters.
# Bush mentions Hurricane Katrina: Tell person sitting next to you that you’ll refill their glass, then leave town for a couple days.
# Bush mentions Hurricane Katrina in a positive light: Check the label.
# Every time Bush makes reference to a previous President’s SOTU address: 1 drink.
# If the reference is to a Democratic President’s speech: 2 drinks.
# To Grover Cleveland’s 1888 address: Finish the bottle.
# Bush mentions Coretta Scott King: pour out a 40 on the curb.
# Chris Penn: Pour out a 40, a steak, and a milkshake on the curb.
# “Health Savings Accounts”: Enjoy the freedom to choose a drink you can’t afford.
# Bush ends the speech with “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”: A billion drinks.


Earlier today I wrote a note questioning whether America is, as George Bush asserts, a nation at war. Having seen today's Mike Luckovich cartoon I stand corrected. Under George Bush, America certainly is a nation at war -we are at war with competence, science, education, free speech, morality, our children's economic future, and the Freedoms our ancestors fought and died for.

So I stand corrected.

Bush is on in just 8 hours. Is it too early to start drinking?

Don't Try This at Home...

A Massachusetts man was killed over the weekend while trying to run his snowmobile across Lake Winnipesaukee... which was not frozen at the time. Apparently the practice of trying to cross open water in a snowmobile is called "skimming" and is illegal in New Hampshire, because a very large percentage of those who try to do it die. Here's something to think about- in New Hampshire just about anything goes. They emblzaon their license plates with "Live Free or Die". If New Hampshire finds something so dangerous and stupid that they make it illegal, maybe that should tell folks something...

What if we held a war and nobody came?

Well, Our Beloved Leader does his annual speech thing tonight. On NPR this a.m. they were playing the opening lines from the past few year's speeches, and one single thing stood out- the man keeps referring to America being "at war". James Carroll wrote an excellent column yesterday pointing out that this is not actually right. George may enjoy calling himself a "Wartime President", and it is an illusion that has certainly come in handy as justification for his attempts to twist the Constitution, but is he in fact a wartime President, and are we at war?

To recount Carroll's points quickly- if we are at war, whom are we at war with? Iraq? Iraq is a preumably freindly government at the moment, we are not at war with Iraq. The insurgents in Iraq? The insurgents in Iraq are not at war with the US- they make no claims on our terrritory, have evinced no wish to overthrow our government, and have no wish except to see foreign troops get out of their country.

So are we at war with Al Quaeda? Well, maybe we should be, but as Carroll points out "Al Qaeda is a free floating nihilism, not a nation, or even a network"; Osama Bin Laden may well be our enemy, but we are not "at war" with him. When is the last time we actually managed to fight him? Osama Bin Laden is, in fact, an international criminal and should be hunted down and treated as such. That would not, perhaps, be in the best interests of the Bush Administration, since it seems to be working pretty well for them to keep this "War" thing going. As Carroll sums it up-

"Bin Laden was a self-mythologized figure of no historic standing until George W. Bush designated him America's equal by defining 9/11 as an act of war to be met with war, instead of a crime to be met with criminal justice. But this over-reaction, so satisfying at the time to the wounded American psyche, turned into the war for which the other party simply did not show up. Which is, of course, why we are blasting a substitute Iraq to smithereens.

Iraq is not a war, because, though we have savage assault, we have no enemy. The war on terrorism is not a war because, though we have an enemy, the muscle-bound Pentagon offers no authentic means of assault.

In each case, Bush is presiding over a self-serving delusion, in concert with a self-emasculating Congress, his partners as would-be war profiteers. Anticipating tomorrow night, one could say Bush will, on this question, be lying to the American people again. But that would presume he is not first lying to himself. State of war? No. State of the Union? Catastrophe, pure and simple.

Monday, January 30, 2006

2006 Campaign Posters

This just in- a copy of the sooper-dooper secret poster now being worked on in the back rooms by Karl Rove and Dik Cheney for the upcoming 2006 Congressional Elections-

Sunday, January 29, 2006

You say Tomato...

NPR just had a story about tomatoes. An expert said that 70% of Americans put their fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator.

My god, I canna believe such stupidity. Refrigeration kills the flavor enzymes. I mean, c'mon folks. You don't have to like heirloom tomatoes (though if you have not tried them, you are really missing something). But putting them in the refrigerator? 70%???

No wonder George Bush is President.

Is ABC News Cursed?

If nobody else on the internet has asked this question, let me be the first, purely in the interests of really, really poor taste and stupidity. But still...

Does it seem to anyone else that God loves the anchors of ABC's World News Tonight so much that he calls them all home to him early?

Let's roll the videotape-

In 1978 ABC renamed its broadcast "World News Tonight" and named Frank Reynolds, Max Robinson and Peter Jennings as co-anchors. All three men were crackerjack journalists of high ability.

In 1983 Reynolds died at age 59 from bone cancer.

In 1988 Max Robinson died, at age 49, of AIDS.

In 2005 Peter Jennings died of lung cancer at age 67.

ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, a highly qualified reporter, was recently named as his permanent replacement, along with Elizabeth Vargas. Today the vehicle Bob Woodruff and a camerman were riding in was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq and Woodruff was seriously injured, with shrapnel wounds to the head.

He's apparently going to be ok, which is great news, but still... given the history of misfortune the job brings, maybe if you're gonna be the anchor of World News Tonight, you might want to stay out of places like Iraq.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Is He Dead, Jim?

I saw two funny death-related snippets yesterday that seemed worth passing along. Somewhere, someone (my brain was not working 100% yesterday) was trying to clarify the extent to which an idea or option was "dead" (Mideast Peace Process, the Constitution under Bush, sumthin' or other...) and he asked "Is it Elvis Dead or Disco Dead"?

In other news, in a Boston Globe article about the return of Theo Epstein, another baseball GM, who knows Theo, said that he always viewed Theo and the Sox parting ways as "like a Mafia Funeral. I'll believe he's really not coming back when I see the body in the coffin at the cemetery".

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Hundred Grand Don't Buy What it Used To...

I did not watch or listen to ChimpBoy's press conference this a.m. (there are limits to what I can stomach before lunch, while sober), but I am amused by some of the headlines this afternoon. One of the stupidest, most assinine "privacy" moves by Bush & Co. is to refuse to release any pics of Bush with Jack Abramoff. I mean c'mon, guys. What are you afraid of? According to Bush, he hardly knows the guy-

"But I've never sat down with him and had a discussion with the guy," Bush said. "I frankly don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him."

Fair enough. Except that Jack Abramoff was a "Pioneer" during Bush's election campaign, meaning he donated a hundred grand. That means one of two things- either the President is a liar (well, ok, he is, but let's ignore that for a moment), or all the guys who donated mucho bucks to the Bushy campaign so they could have access to the President were sold a bill of goods. I.e, they were lied to.

Liar, or liar?


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Random Mutterings

I stole this "random thoughts" format from Mike's blog yesterday. I make no apologies.

Theo is back with the Red Sox. First he was here, and there was no problem at all with his new contract, and then suddenly on Halloween he was gone, and in a gorilla suit, no less, and never ever coming back. Now he's back. Theo and the rest of the dudes at Yawkey Way just used up a lot of the goodwill they got over the last few years. It's time for somebody there to begin acting like an adult.

The WB and UPN networks are combining to be one new network. Cool. That means not watching any of their damn shows will only take half the time, right?

You may have noticed that I signed up to run an advertisement in a box at the top of this blog. It's not to generate money, I mean what do they pay in the event someone actually clicks the damn thing, a tenth of a cent? I am amused, though, by looking to see what the computer has chosen to link to my blog each day based on the last day's topic. Yesterday it was squirrel proof bird feeders. That amuses me. Hey, so little else does these days, it's something, anyway.

I see the Kuwaiti Parliment just voted unanimously to remove their new Emir from office as "unfit". How come they get to do that and we can't?

I know how to make the process of picking a new Supreme Court Justice more dignified -let the Republicans and Democrats each choose ten names, put them on a Big Wheel and let Vanna White spin it to see who gets the seat.

CBS has pulled the plug on the West Wing. In other words, they cancelled the President because of poor ratings. How come they get to do that and we can't?

I see Google has knuckled under to China's demand that it censor its results in return for being allowed access to the Chinese market. I thought that Google's fundamental policy was "Don't be evil"? I guess that's going to be modified to "Don't be evil, unless we can make really big bucks out of it".

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Who'se Mad as Hell Now?

Today's column by Capitol Hill Blue publisher Doug Thompson reveals that he has been placed on the government's "no-fly" list. Is it my imagination, or are there a large number of American names on that list which just happen to belong to critics of the current Administration?

Doug Thompson is on it, but Pat Robertson isn't. Ted Kennedy is on it, but Tom Delay isn't. Hmmm... Tricky Dicky had an enemies list too, but at least he didn't use it to prevent his critics from traveling.

Life in America has come to resemble a Marx Brothers movie, but without the laughs.

The President of the country is keeping his opponents from using airplanes to travel -does that sound right to you? And yet where is the outrage? Where are the people leaning out their windows and screaming "I'm mad as Hell, and I won't take it anymore!"

I'll tell you one place they're not -flyng in airplanes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Georgian Irony

I see the President is going to spend the entire week touring the country, speaking before hand-picked audiences, trying to sell folks on his Sooper-Dooper-Secret, completely illegal warrantless-spying-on-Americans program. I wish him more luck flogging that one than he had in similar tours flogging Social Security Reform and a new tax code.

Oh, why lie? No I don't.

If you went to the White House website recently, not only did you get spyware installed on your computer, but you also saw that PresidentPretzel took the opportunity to issue a proclamation about National Respect for Life Day or some such thing yesterday. The proclamation starts like this-

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States..."

Say what you will about George, he's apparently maintained his sense of irony.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Squirrels, birds & lunch

Ah, squirrels. Back in the city we were infested with squirrels and pigeons, and city squirrels are about the nastiest, scruffiest looking critters you can imagine. Out here in the country they are at least cute, even if they do go through a lot of bird seed. One tactic we've been trying is to set up a squirrel feeding area away from the bird feeders, which works, sort of. They finish that off and then go for the bird's stuff...

I wrote this a few years ago, in a different back yard, after a particuarly satisfying (or gross, depending on your viewpoint) incident involving a squirrel and a red tailed hawk...

There's a squirrel sitting on the fence
going Naw! Naw! Naw! at the birds.
The birds flap their wings
and do silly things
but the squirrel isn't disturbed.

He's munching their corn
and he's eating their millet,
he's gulping their thistle
and he's nibbling their suet,
he's wolfing down bird seed
one type at a time,
as the birds all watch
and go out of their minds.

So squirrel just sits
on the fence post and lunches,
looking quite debonair
as he rests on his haunches;
but a high flying hawk sees
the squirrel out there,
away from his tree,
not safe in his lair.

And if bird food is squirrel food,
it's not so absurd,
that squirrels can be bird food,
for just the right bird.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Take Note, Web Searchers

It is interesting to note the little-noted sidelight to the current brouhaha over Google's fight with the Government over the Goverment's demand for millions of search records. That sidelight is that, while Google refused the absurd and dangerous request, Yahoo, MSN and AOL all stripped and rolled over for Big Brother faster than Paris Hilton would for a video recorder.

Thanks for protecting the privacy of your users, AOL, Yahoo & MSN! It'll be a cold day in Miami before I do any searches on your sites.

The Problem with Science Fiction

The problem with science fiction is that it never shows you how we got where we went. Think about it. All that imagining strange future worlds where everything has changed, for better or worse, but no clue about how we got from where we stand today to that point. Isaac Asimov touched on the journey a little in “Franchise”, a story about how “elections” in a Democracy came to mean quite literally, “one man, one vote”, with computers extrapolating the rest, but for the most part science fiction writers simply present an alternate future without wondering at all how we got there. Don’t get me wrong, I like science fiction. I don’t read a lot of it nowadays, but when I was in grammar and high school I read quite a bit of it.

It would be useful, though, for some science fiction writers to address how we get from Point A (the Present) to Point B (the Future), because history, like the ground when viewed from a high-flying airplane, rarely seems to be changing that much as you live through it moment by moment. We tend to miss the really important points of divergence, or at least underestimate them. Republican Rome did not change to Imperial Rome in a day, and even after Augustus became Emperor, they still had a Senate. Sure, some Senators whined that by giving ultimate power to the Emperor they had crossed an important, dangerous bridge, but did your average Roman-on-the-street really see it?

Societies do not slip from Republics to dictatorships all at once, it’s a process, and I suspect it is a process that feels pretty good to a majority of the citizens at the time. Dictators promise peace and security and safety, and who doesn’t want that? It’s easy enough to see in retrospect where a Society went wrong, but I’ll bet that at the time it was not nearly as obvious, at least to most people. Sure, there are always a few looney tunes who cry that the sky is falling, but since in the normal run of political discourse there are always a few partisan looney tunes wailing that the sky is falling, how is one to tell when it really is? Fear is a great motivator for people to seek safety, and those tiny little baby steps toward security are seductive and easy, and nobody can imagine that any of them will hurt anything very much, right?

Insecurity is always a hard mental place for people to be, at least for any sort of extended period of time. Most people give at least lip service to Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both”, but when faced with such choices on a daily basis, most folks seem to opt for security, at least if they are scared enough, and I suppose that is natural. Unfortunately, every once in a while you get one of those unfortunate conjunctions of extreme events and a group of extreme leaders, and then bad things can happen, especially if those leaders want more power and are willing to use their citizen's fears to get it.

And one awful day we all wake up and wonder how we got where we went.

OK, enough. Tomorrow I write about squirrels.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cats, Lost Books & Things that go Bump in the Night

Pyewackett has finally persuaded us to give her a part-time job as a Supervisor in the receiving Department...

I again used the Foolproof, Never-Fails Method(tm) of finding a lost book- buy another copy.

A month ago I turned the office and rest of the house upside down looking for my copy of “The Elegant Auctioneers”, a history of auctions in America, which I needed for some cataloging I’m doing. I knew it had been unpacked because I had a distinct memory of reading from it the first few nights we were here during the Summer. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I finally ordered another copy off the web, which of course meant that my copy would turn up as soon as the new copy arrived and that’s the way it worked- found it this morning while straightening up the bedroom. It was at the bottom of the pile of books on my bedside table.

Maybe the Red Sox can use that method to find themeselves a new Center Fielder.

It's finally stopped raining, but while it lasted I thought we were going to float away. The winds were howling too, which can be quite something in a big old house late at night. Bump. Thump. Bump... That's why we have two cats- if you hear an unexplained sound late on a stormy night and the first cat is asleep on your lap, it could always have been the other one...

I'm scared of something that's not there,
(it's hiding under my bed)
My father says it's just the night air
making the branches sway and wave-
but I know it's big and red.

It has six horns and warts and lumps
and it's not in my closet
going "Bump" Bump" Bump".
And my Mom, who really cares,
promises it's not at the top of the stairs.

It's not in my toy chest or dresser drawer,
I don't see it's shadow on my floor,
I'm not scared silly, right to my core,
Of the thing with bumps that's big and red,
that isn't hiding under my bed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cheryl Wheeler & The Lord of Darkness

Amy and I went to the Cheryl Wheeler show at the Iron Horse in Northampton the other night. It was a full house and we shared a table with an icy Yuppie Couple From Pluto who were obviously too good for the likes of us, and were sandwiched in next to a large table of drunk, rowdy, middle-aged lesbians. Unfortunately they didn’t have room for us to join them.

Cheryl Wheeler, who is a very funny performer, said that she has thought about doing political songs, but whenever she sits down to write something about the current Administration she gives up because she gets stuck on-


I dunno... it’s got a nice beat and I’ll bet you could dance to it.

I just made the mistake of looking at today’s news headlines-

The Lord of Darkness, aka “Vice”, is over in the Middle East, plotting with our “friends” the Saudis to find new ways to screw America, Paula Abdul got a bad manicure that has temporarily sidelined her from American Idle, Fox canceled ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, and William Shatner just sold a kidney stone he passed last fall for $25,000.

Is it bedtime yet?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hidden Hooks & God's Will

One of the things I love about bookselling is the moment of the unexpected “find”. That is, when you’re cataloging a book and you suddenly run across information that changes your perspective on it or gives you a great selling “hook” you had not anticipated. I had two examples this weekend. One was an Americana title that had a small bookplate in it for a book collector named Grenville Kane. Kane was a very wealthy New York collector during the Gilded Age, and the majority of his Americana and Incunabula (books printed before 1500) are now at Princeton. Kane was also a founding member of the "Tuxedo Club", a group of wealthy New Yorkers who gathered in the Summer at a private upstate New York enclave called “Tuxedo Park”. One day one of the members came back from England where he had had dinner with the Prince of Wales, who had worn a new-fangled, short-tailed dinner jacket. The Club members, including Grenville Kane, liked the “mod” jacket so much that they started wearing copies at High Society New York gatherings. The new style caught on, and the tuxedo was born...

The second book was a fairly common 1929 title on historic interiors, featuring 80 color prints of grand interiors from the 18th and 19th centuries. A sort of ho-hum book, except this copy had the rubber ownership stamp, and ink ownership signature, of Joseph B. Platt, who was the Interior Art Director for the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Rebecca”, and also worked on the interior set design for “Gone With the Wind”.

Stuff likes this makes bookselling about the most fun you can have without getting in trouble with the HomeLand InSecurity Dept. Well, that’s not true. There’s plenty of things in bookselling that can get you into trouble with the HomeLand InSecurity folks.

There’s a new bookselling blog out there today- Bibliophile Bullpen, put together by JGodsey of the SicPress blog.

On another topic entirely, fair is fair. If we can call Pat Robertson nutty as a fruitbat for saying the Hurricane Katrina was God's revenge against New Orleans for putting up with homosexuals, then we have to say that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is just as nutty for saying that the hurricane was God's wrath against America for invading Iraq. What passes for political discourse is flaky enough these days without dragging God's Righteous Wrath into everything. Let's have some dignity, fellas.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


My campaign to name our new place Foggygates continues. We're in a bend in the river and almost every morning, no matter what time of year, the fog comes up from the river and rolls across the fields and barns. In the Summer it's pleasant, but at this time of year it gets old fast...

The silent winter fog steals in,
River’s breath, the color of gin;
Creeping, peeking,
Oozing, sneaking,
Stealing through the iron branches;
Icy water drip drip drip.

The barn was there,
And now it’s gone;
Smothered, swallowed, by the gauze.
Silvery, silken puffs just linger;
Cottony death,
with ice-cold fingers.

Now up above
The sun cracks through,
Shooting golden, molten hues
Cotton ghosts dissolve and flee,
Barn and tree and I are free
To see the last cold fingers die.

While overhead
the first hawks fly.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I'm King of the World!

I just got an email that was too good not to share. I finally got around to buying the 2nd Amilia K. Spicer cd yesterday, and if you order from her website it sends you to a place called cdbaby.com, which is apparently a distributor for independent artists. So that was cool, I ordered her cd and one other, and then today the "we shipped your order" email came in, and this one made me smile-

Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

Qty Description Price Total
=== =========== ===== =====
1 BAR SCOTT: grapes and seeds $13.00
1 AMILIA K SPICER: seamless $15.00

Sub Total $28.00
Shipping $4.00
Grand Total $32.00

Your CDs have been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with
sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CDs and polished them to make sure they were in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CDs into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved 'Bon Voyage!' to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Thursday, January 12th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did.

Your picture is on our wall as "Customer of the Year". We're all
exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you once again,

Derek Sivers, president, CD Baby
the little CD store with the best new independent music
phone: 1-800-448-6369 email: cdbaby@cdbaby.com

- - - - - -

I'll go back there, you bet!

If you haven't heard Amilia K. Spicer, you are missing something. I saw her a few years ago at Passim in Cambridge and have been a fan ever since. Just never actually bought my own copy of the 2nd cd, which I have pictured here. Both her cd's are aaaawsome.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Get Over It.

So we have a new brouhaha over “untrue” memoirs, this time by 12-step critic James Frey. I’ll have to admit- up until the story broke I didn’t know James Frey from Glen Frey and I’d never heard of his book. Sure, if an author says he was arrested six times I’d prefer to find out later that this was actually true, but let’s face it, the simple truth of the matter is that most memoirs play fast and loose with the facts. Recently released recordings have shown that Henry Kissinger’s memoirs were something like 90% fictional. “All Creatures Great and Small” apparently took liberties with the truth in the interests of good storytelling.

And isn’t telling a good story what books are all about, anyway? If you go to the trouble of writing a memoir you probably have a story to tell, a point to make, or an ax to grind, and it may be good and it may be bad, but I’ll bet very few people manage it by sticking 100% to the facts of the matter. I’m not even sure it’s possible- heck, we all believe a lot of things about ourselves and our experiences that end up not being true. Self-delusion, selective memory; when it comes to facts versus memory we’re a lot like the blind man being presented with a single part of the elephant. One’s life, from within one’s own mind, is mostly a matter of point of view and opinion, isn’t it?

That’s not to say there are no gradations. Making up a long rap sheet when you apparently did not have one is a bit bizarre, to say the least; most people would usually fake it in the opposite direction. But Frey had a point to make with his book, which was that 12-step programs are not necessary for everyone to overcome addiction, and the real question is, did he get it across effectively? Given the campaign by the 12-steppers to pound the bloody corpse of his literary reputation into the mud, I’d say his book hit a few nerves, which makes it worthy of something, even if not a prized spot on the non-fiction shelf. And as a 12-step critic pointed out elsewhere, if he told a few whoppers in the process that just puts him in the same boat with your average 12-step member.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Something different

This entry was typed while being helped by Freckles, one of our two cats (“pids”, as we call them). Any typos were conceived under duress.

I was going to write about “booksellers” offering (as opposed to “selling” –there’s a big difference) books which are currently in-print for $30.00 for $300.00 on ABE, but maybe not tonight. You all know that the internet is a cesspool of slimeballs already, right? It’s not just on FleaBay that you will be taken to the cleaners. So why go on about it? Phooey. Let’s talk about something else. I feel like a poem-

The silver setting sun rides close
upon the wind of echoed
ghosts and gremlins burning
in the ground, alike, alas,
but not yet bound as birds
that sing, against their tree
as blue skies haze a timeless grey.

The grey of maples,
marked with scars
shining in among
the stars as splinters echo
through the night;
the grey and yellow
splinters bare
against the chill
night's frosty air
which wraps our knees
against our coats,
we huddle close, our
breath makes ghosts,
the starlight beckons,
a timeless hymn
sung by the free
uncaring void which
a flaming spark
to light our
ghostly breaths
in grey.

sit with me
'till break of day.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Spiced Wine, Casey at the Bat & the Pats

Funny, the things you learn when browsing web stats. We have an entire website filled with hundreds of pages filled with book listings, and the two pages that have routinely logged the most hits are the pages on Casey at the Bat and spiced wine. Nothing wrong with that- the entire point of having such pages is to drive traffic and it’s nice to see that they are.

Of course the other point to having pages like that is that they’re fun to do, and my Boredom Tolerance Threshold is quite low, which is another way of saying it’s more fun to goof off than work. Besides, there’s a certain satisfaction to knowing more about the printing and binding variants of the first anthology appearance of “Casey at the Bat” than anyone else in the world.

The chili is in the pot, the beer is in the fridge, and we’re ready for Round One of the NFL Playoffs. Go Pats!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Literacy, George Bush & Beer

Alistair Highet has an interesting column in this weeks’ “Valley Advocate” about the new Fed. Study that shows that only 31% of college graduates are literate enough to read the label on a pill bottle, down from 41% in 1992. He goes beyond the Blame Game that so many indulge in regarding this question (though he does throw in an obligatory whack at increased internet use as one possible cause) to ask the deeper question about exactly why this is important, beyond our innate moralistic sense that tells those of us who do read that everyone else SHOULD READ, DAMMIT!, whether they want to or not.

As he points out- “it is through books that we come to appreciate that others have trod the same path that we have, had the same doubts, the same pain. We come to understand that we are part of a human community and that we are not the center of the frigging universe. You have to ask, too: whose interest does it serve to have an increasingly large population of self-obsessed illiterates?”

Good question, that. I have a guess.

And speaking of George Bush- no, I’m not going to talk about The Beloved Leader today. Back to something that has no relationship to our President at all –namely, literacy. It’s easy enough to blame rising internet use, and point out that people, especially of college age, are spending more time there than they are spending in the library. But what exactly is it that most of them do on the internet? They read. They may not be reading Silas Marner (as if anyone ever did read Silas Marner. Back in 1975 when my class had to read it, only about 4 of us UberDweebs actually did; it's a good book, by the way, you should read it sometime), but they are probably reading, and writing, a good deal more than kids were back in 1992.

The problem with blaming the internet for declining literacy is that there is no control group. It could just as well be argued (as I just did) that internet use actually heightens literacy, and that if the internet had not been invented, we’d be sitting here in 2005 with only 21% of college grads able to read that pesky pill bottle label.

Which brings up another thing that bugs me about the reporting of this study. The thing that I found most appalling was that back in 1992 (well before the ‘net) only 41% of college grads could read that frigging pill bottle label! The drop from 41% to 31% does not trouble me nearly as much as the fact that both numbers are well under half of all college grads -college grads, for fuck’s sake, who apparently were too illiterate to read their own diplomas.

My cat is more literate than that.

I’m not sure, once you get that far down, that 41% vs 31% means all that much.

Maybe it’s a matter of context. I’ll bet more than 31% of ‘em could read and interpret a beer bottle label.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Reading Lists, Booksellers & Naked Women

I saw a new weather description this morning. I keep a “sticker” from Weather Underground on my desktop home page that gives the current local temperature and weather conditions. At 8:06 this morning it was 28 degrees with “light freezing fog”.

I was browsing Anirvan Chatterjee’s blog over at Bookfinder yesterday, and he was breaking down the statistics on all the books he read last year by male author vs. female author, fiction vs. non-fiction, liked vs. disliked, and so on. What was most startling about the whole thing was that he managed to read 103 books! Ye Gods and Kinky Witches! His worst months were May and November with only 4 books each month, his best month was July, with 14. That’s understandable- with nothing else to do I can do a book every day or two, but when does anyone ever have that kind of time for more than a few weeks?

I suppose it’s one of those odd things about the book business- the popular view of the bookseller is that he or she sits around the shop all day reading good books and having great literary discussions with customers. In fact, many booksellers are so busy buying, processing, cataloging and selling books that we don’t have time to actually read any of them. As to literary discussions, many booksellers wouldn’t know who Hester Prynne was if she walked into their shop, stripped naked, and started doing lewd thing with the coffee maker.

Booksellers do read a lot- we read auction catalogs and other bookseller’s catalogs, and reference books. I must have read parts of a hundred books last year, as well as hundreds of articles, essays and web stories while researching specific books I was cataloging. But that isn’t the same as sitting down and reading a title cover to cover just for fun. How the heck do you find the time to get through 100 books a year for fun?

The secret is probably to always carry the damn book with you and open it whenever you have a spare moment. I already use a similar strategy while on the stationary bike- I keep one book by the bike, that I can only read while exercising. Murder mysteries and good military history seem best for the bike. I don’t necessarily want to bike today, but I do want to get to the next chapter. Lemme tell you -that sorts the good books from the bad pretty fast. When my 30 minutes seems like 300, it’s time to switch titles.

Now reading- “Disarmed –The Story of the Venus de Milo” by Gregory Curtis. It’s got a picture of a naked woman on the cover, which is very Tres Chic (that’s French for "bare breasts"). Daedalus still has some at $5.98.

Now Wondering- What does Laura think every morning when George gets up, puts on his bunny outfit and sacrifices live chickens to Satan in the White House bathroom? Doesn't it occur to her that it might be time to call someone? Even Martha Mitchell made a phone call, for crying out loud.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Well, Duh...

And another year gets underway with chaos in Iraq, the President lying left and right, and “booksellers” on the booklists kvetching about “mega-listers” who might possibly be selling new books more cheaply than they would be, if they deigned to sell such stuff. In other words- Welcome to the New Year, Just Like the Old Year.

Today's news stories make me feel like we need a visit from Obvious Man from the Non Sequitur comic strip.

First at bat- Oh my God, get me the smelling salts- there's a new study showing that hauling your kids around in an SUV is no safer than hauling them around in a car! It seems that simply because an SUV can crush a car like a sardine can does not mean it has (unlike the President) become impervious to the Laws of Gravity and Physics. Turn an SUV quickly doing anything over 20 and it will roll over faster than Monica Lewinsky after an evening of daiquiris. Forget the selfish , anti-social "fuck you" message being given by the parents who declare that they are going to make their kids safer by driving around in a tank even if it costs you your life when they lose control and flatten you like a cow pattie ; it's the sheer stupidity and self-delusion of the whole thing. Let's face it- SUV's attract rollovers like trailer parks attract tornadoes. Was there anyone on the planet who didn't realize that? And yet people persist in deluding themselves.

Then there’s this story from today's Boston Globe-
New study contradicts advice on low-carb diets- Women lost weight on low-fat regimen. "In recent years, some diet gurus have contended that a low-fat diet leads to weight gain, but a new study of nearly 50,000 older women finds that replacing some fats with carbohydrates actually helps control weight”. Geez. Eating less fat will not make you gain weight? Wow.

What these stories seem to have as a common theme is people's overwhelming desire to delude themselves if it will make them feel better. Sure SUV's roll over like ten-pins, but I feel safer... maybe eating more fat will make me lose weight...

It's that sort of thinking that got us into Iraq, and saddled us with four more years of ChimpBoy.

And speaking of the President- George has again proven that, while the Constitution is well worth running roughshod over all our civil liberties to protect, he Himself can ignore it, and any other law, whenever he pleases. Remember that anti-torture bill John McCain fought so hard for, the one Dick Cheney lobbied so hard against? Remember when Bush signed it last week? What you did not hear about was a rider he signed at the same time that says he can ignore the new law if he feels like it. Is it time to impeach this guy? That may be a question for Obvious Man…

Now Listening To: "The Essential Johnny Cash"
Now Reading: fewer fucking newspapers
Now Drinking: not nearly enough

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bookselling in 2006, Baby Bunnies & Tinkling Under the Stars...

People on the bookseller email lists are wondering what the year 2006 will bring to “Online Bookselling”. While it's important to look at specific sales venues and try to analyze how they will change in the coming year, the problem is that too many "internet booksellers" ask that question, puzzle over an answer, and then stop. Bad idea. The moment you limit yourself to that single question you have defeated yourself as a bookseller. “What will 2006 bring to bookselling?“, without the qualifying adjective, is the question we should ask. Anyone who insists on confining themselves to selling books only online deserves what they get at the hands of the “Big A’s”, as they are called (Amazon, Alibris and ABE).

And they can yammer all they want about “independent” sites such as TomFolio and IOBA, it all still amounts to making themselves dependent upon the whims and caprices of things outside their own control. Booksellers sell books, by whatever means and on whatever venue. I know very few successful, full-time booksellers who can afford to limit themselves to a single venue, be it the internet, shopfront, book fairs, or catalogs, anymore. And why should they? With so many options and venues available, the world is our bloody oyster. They need to go out and sample some, instead of sitting at the keyboard whining about how they got no Alibris orders today.

New Year’s Eve in Northampton was very scenic- Amy and I went with some friends to eat dinner at the Hotel Northampton and got a table in an alcove with windows on three sides overlooking Main Street. With the snow coming down, and the Calvin Theatre sitting there just up the block, and people walking around, it looked just like a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life”. One scene I don't recall being in the movie involved the couple who, too drunk to stand up straight, supported themselves on the iron fence railings out front for about half an hour. Oh well. Old Man Potter was missing from our evening as well -I’m not sure where Dick Cheney was, but he wasn’t there. (Does anyone really know where Dick Cheney is? Maybe he’s back home in Wyoming, pulling the feet off live baby bunnies or something).

Interesting story over on Capitol Hill Blue today about Bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora. Just shows to go ya- if you piss all over the permanent experts in your agencies, they'll leak all over you in return.

For some reason that reminds me of a story a friend from Texas told me last year about a trip to somewhere out West where it was God-awful cold. He was staying at a house on the edge of a cliff in January or summat, and to amuse himself he went out on the balcony one night and took a piss over the railing, and then listened as the insta-frozen stream literally "tinkled" to the rocks below.

Well, I found it amusing.

Now on the cd player: Carlene Carter, "Little Love Letters", That'll get your dancing shoes moving...

Now (well not now precisely, but last night, and later today) drinking: Paper City Brewery "Holyoke Dam Ale". Damn, it's good. (sorry...)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

My 2006 Resolutions

Figuring that good intentions must be worth at least a little something on the great Cosmic Scales of Justice and Retribution, I hereby offer my New Year’s Resolutions for 2006:

The next time Johnny Damon calls and leaves a message saying he needs advice about something “really important” I’ll call him back quicker.

During 2006 I shall not once refer to George Bush as “the most brilliant man in the known Universe, with the wisdom of ten Solomons”.

No watching Home Shopping Network “Diamonique Festivals”, trolling eBay for vintage “Sing Along with Danny Bonaduce” albums, or boring people by telling them what an under-appreciated sport “Extreme Lawn Mowing” is.

When the President calls begging me to tell him how to clean up the mess in Iraq, I will just hang up the phone.

No 3 a.m. fried-tripe-and-jelly sandwich binges in 2006. Free-range, macrobiotic tofu toast is also gone from the menu. Damn.

It's time to give up waiting for J-Lo to call.

Dick Cheney is no longer invited to our Fourth of July Bar-b-Que; I don’t care if he does offer to bring “truckloads of Coors” and “some really hot babes from the Justice Department”.

If Mick Jagger asks me, I will tell him the truth- it’s time.

Condi Rice is no longer invited to our Fourth of July Bar-b-Que; I don’t care if she does offer to bring “truckloads of Coors” and “some really hot babes from the Justice Department”.

And finally, this is the year not to take up cross-training for the Iron Man Triathlon, learn a new language, listen more carefully to others or watch less television.

I do so resolve.