Sunday, August 23, 2009


For reasons incomprehensible to me, the print news media often refer to Helen Vendler as America's leading poetry critic.

This morning's NEW YORK TIMES features a review of the new Wallace Stevens Selected Poems by Professor Vendler.

Speaking of the poems in Stevens's first volume, Vendler has this to say:

"Harmonium contains one of the saddest of Stevens's poems, 'The Snow Man,' in which a man realizes that he must make something of a permanently wintry world of ice, snow, evergreens and wind, attempting to see 'nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.'"

To which I can only respond, "have you read the poem?!"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


It was a public place. Politicians came and went doing the business of government. Citizens milled about, waiting their turn to put questions to the powerful.

Then they showed up; men carrying guns. Such a thing had never before been seen here, even though it was THE WEST.

No, I'm not talking about President Obama's recent address in Arizona, attended by a dozen men displaying their high-powered weaponry. I'm recalling an incident four decades back, when the Black Panthers appeared carrying guns at the capital of California.

Robert Williams had already published his book, Negroes with Guns, making the fairly straightfoward argument for self defense, and now the Panthers had taken his call to heart, and had taken their guns to lobby their law makers.

You know what happened in the wake of that photo op. The legislature quick, fast and in a hurry changed California's laws to prohibit the Panthers from showing up in public with guns in hand. The FBI kicked into action, got Cointelpro on the case, and the death toll among the Panthers began to climb precipitously. When black Americans showed up to make the argument that "free men own guns; slaves don't," the political structure of America did everything in its power to put a stop to the spread of that thought, 2nd amendment be damned.

I think we all know what likely would have been the response had a dozen or so black men carrying semi-automatic weapons shown up at any of President Bush's town hall meetings. For that matter, I think we know what the reaction would be if MOVEON.ORG started using its web site to encourage people to show up at Republican congressmen's town halls packing heat.

IN CONTRAST what was the response of Republican senators and congressmen when asked about these events on last Sunday's talk shows? Mostly along the lines of, "well, we have to respect their second amendment rights."

Friday, August 14, 2009


The great Les Paul is gone at 94 -- Seems like only yesterday we were all listening to the crowd of brilliant musicians who gathered for his 90th birthday tribute --

I'm going to crank up my Paulverizer and give a listen to Les Paul and Mary Ford doing HOW HIGH THE MOON --

Thursday, August 13, 2009

more e-book news

Sony has announced plans to begin selling their ebooks in the "ePub" format, an open format created by a coalition of publishers. They will also, following one of the few good examples set by Apple, stop attaching their propietary anticopying software to their ebooks.

This will bring true portability to books purchased from the Sony ebook store.

I haven't had a chance to test the ePub format, so can't predict if it will become the MP3 of reading. And since we already had some pretty good open source text formats anyway, I remain suspicious of the whole thing. Still, I can hope this move will pressure Amazon and others away from the suicidal path they have set ebooks on. There has never been anything about the codex that prevents you from passing one along to a friend, xeroxing it, or even scanning it into your computer and translating it to some super-portable format like PDF or Open Office. Book sales may not be what publishers would like, but it doesn't seem that my ability to scan my book and then read it on my Kindle is doing substantive damage to publishers' profits.

If publishers and sellers will agree upon a truly open, standard format, I will purchase far more ebooks in addition to the large number of hard copies I will continue to buy every year. They need customers like me. I can be readily replicated.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Racism and the Town Hall Disruptions

Yesterday I noted the gunman who showed up at the New Hampshire town hall meeting on health care. He was carrying a sign that bore the same quotation Timothy McVeigh had on his shirt when he was arrested for the Oklahoma City bombing. As if that weren't sufficiently scary, another gunman turned up at a forum in Arizona.

Meanwhile, back in the heartland, more evidence of just how post-racial America has become.

You probably saw the news footage that was all over the networks last night of an angry black woman being taken away from the health care forum hosted by Senator McCaskill. If, like me, you'd been watching the event when it happened live you would also have seen a white person being led away in the opposite direction. None of the news services I checked in with last night provided any context for the footage they were showing, and none seemed willing to show enough of the footage so that viewers would see that there was also a white person being escorted away by the guards. And so, the context-free imagery most of the nation was left with was simply that of an angry black woman who had to be led away from the meeting.

Not till today did any of the news services bother to tell the whole story.

If you follow this link you can see the entire video of what happened.

You will see an African American woman sitting down and placing a rolled-up poster on the chair in front of her. A photographer comes over taking pictures, and the woman starts to unroll her sign so that he can get a picture of it. At that point, a white person comes from across the aisle, snatches the sign away and starts to rip it up. The owner of the sign rises and confronts her, and gets taken away by the cops.

So what was this all about?

The rolled up poster was a picture of Rosa Parks.

The reason it was rolled up was that the woman had been greeted with jeers and insults when she held the sign up on her way in.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Many of us have been taken to task by commentators on the right for calling those who have been taking over health care reform town halls "thugs."

I don't know what else to call this guy. He showed up outside President Obama's town hall this morning carrying a 9mm -- a legal thing to do in New Hampshire, but an odd comment on health care reform.

It only took minutes for one conservative blogger to claim that this guy must be a federal agent (because he had an ear piece), though that claim didn't survive long in the face of televised interviews with the gunman.

There are those of us who want to have reasoned debate about competing models of health care reform. There are others among us who bring guns to the scene.

I thank god and the secret service that this man did not shoot anybody. I worry that someone with unconcealed ideology and a concealed weapon may appear at one of these events.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Here are the photos from this year's Santa Barbara Fiesta days -- Each year the community comes together to, er, break confetti eggs on each other's heads -- ya gotta love tradition - -

Thursday, August 06, 2009


This week Sony rolled out a new version of their e-book reader. This one is a "pocket" edition, comes in three colors (blue, rose & silver) and has enough memory capacity to hold approximately 350 books. [This business of advertising how many "books" a reader can hold is about as sensible as the way the MP3 player industry always brags about how many "songs" their devices can hold. This measure means nothing whatsoever to those of us whose collections include shorter and longer musical or literary selections. But since the iPod buisness has brought us to this pass, we'll probably be stuck with it for a time.]

Sony also has plans to produce a decive with a six inch display with slots for memory sticks and cards.

Meanwhile over at Barnes & Noble, there are plans to market a reader from Plastic Logic that I understand will be button-free.

All this is to the good. But it will make little difference until these companies and the publishing industry wake up to the lessons of the music industry. Readers want to be able to read the texts they've purchased (like those they produce themselves or get from their friends) on any available platform: a variety of dedicated readers, their home computers and laptops, their smart phones.

If the industry doesn't abandon proprietary formats and digital rights management software, they are quite likely to kill the nascent e-book market as effectively as Beta Max was snuffed out by VHS.