Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar Review: Is "Not Bad" Good Enough?

Just posted a new film review over at the MovieSucktastic blog. Why don't you go on over and take a look. You know you want to.

Avatar Review: Is "Not Bad" Good Enough?

Posted using ShareThis

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Publishers Scramble to Horde e-Book Profits

Sony <span class=Librie eBook Reader" style="border:none;display:block" width="180" height="240">Image by Josh Bancroft via Flickr

The old-school publishing companies have been waging an ongoing battle on multiple fronts these days, all of them with different aspects of the same mortal enemy: the dreaded e-Book.

And they thought self-publishing was becoming a pain in the ass.

There has been a lot of news regarding powerful brick-and-mortar publishers and their constant struggle to catch up with and wrestle into submission the ever-increasing market for electronically formatted books. What didn't seem like a serious threat to them in the past has suddenly become a serious threat to the status quo (much like self-publishing), and the race is now on to head this new threat to the kingdom off at the pass.

Much of the news regarding these recent attempts has covered what appear to be different aspects of the battling formats. You have major publishers like Simon & Schuster announcing a set time delay between hardcover releases and their e-Book versions. Then there are the publishing companies that are desperately attempting to convince authors (and the families of deceased authors) that older publishing rights contracts imply their ownership of electronic versions of books even though they were written before e-Books existed. Beyond these major issues, smaller individual battles rage on with specific agents and authors. And let us not forget the constant wrangling with Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Nobles' Nook over content and accessibility.

As disparate as these fights might seem, however, they all boil down to one solitary bottom line; the bottom line. You know, money.

It has been a harsh time for publishers. Revenues have dropped drastically for all forms of publishing, from magazines and newspapers to textbooks and literature. The global economic recession has seriously reduced disposable incomes, making printed materials more of a luxury item these days. The rising costs of published materials hasn't made this any easier. When a thirty-two page comic book costs as much as most of us remember paying for a two-hundred page paperback novel, casual reading just doesn't seem so casual anymore.

Then there's the new technology. We're in the Information Age, after all, when information of all kinds is readily obtainable in multiple electronic formats, only a mouse-click away. Reading for research or recreation can be done from wherever you are sitting right now. We've reached a moment in time where people can browse vast collections of documents and written works on
their phone while on a bus. Even going through a tunnel. Now that's impressive.

But this isn't about free information, no matter what some publishers might say. Some might take up the music industry's torch by claiming that sharing of materials online hurts the industry, but that argument never holds water when they still manage to bring in billions of dollars in revenue. Besides, you don't hear any complaints about used bookstores stealing food from the mouths of publishing industry families. And libraries have been giving it away for free for years.

So what's the argument then? For the most part, it comes down to the publishing industry's unwillingness to change their pay model to represent the new technology. We saw the same thing with the massive writer's and actor's strikes a few years back. Now it is time for book publishers to step up and take the heat.

When publishing and selling a book, most of the major costs involve the physical creation and transportation of the actual book. You have to print vast quantities (that's a lot of ink and paper and glue), store them (prime real estate), and ship them (books are heavy). What is left, administrative costs and creative artist compensation, is purely negotiable.

The problem is that when it comes to the new e-Books, even though elimination of the physical costs have left the purely negotiable part of the equation as the bulk of the cost, publishers still aren't negotiating. Many out-of-print books are now being made available in e-Book form, but at prices close or equal to original print-book cover prices. New releases might be offered at more respectable $9.99 price ranges, but after that the costs can almost double for older and not-in-demand (see: non-celebrity authors) titles. Any used bookstore owner will tell you that this pricing model is ass-backwards.

This adherence to the old rules also has authors and agents bothered as well. Author's royalties are remaining at roughly the same percentage for e-Books, despite the considerable lack of publishing overhead. For the e-Books selling at the old prices, this equals a massive increase in profits for the publisher, and the author left with same amount of scraps. Now take that new release selling for $9.99 instead of the $27 (!!!) hardcover price. The author's percentage is down to nearly a third of what it would have been, while the publisher's reduced overhead still has their profit margin comfortably close to what it was before.

As publishers desperately try to rewrite old contracts and keep new releases off of Kindle and Nook eReaders, it can be easy to assume that these are the actions of an industry struggling to survive in a new age. But this one book you definitely can't judge by its cover, as the truth is far simpler. They are greedy. Like the music industry and film industry before them, they are trying to reap the benefits and rewards of a new age of digital entertainment without giving the artists involved with these creative properties their fair share.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Santa Clause Does Not Equal Economic Recovery

Wow! So inventories and sales didn't drop as much as we expected! And China is exporting more toxic lead-painted toys then anticipated to our crowded bargain-basement department stores! On top of that, people are apparently buying more flat screen televisions and iPods during the biggest consumer shopping season of the year, ignoring crushing debts and skyrocketing food and utility costs in a desperate attempt to enjoy the holiday season. The economy MUST be doing better!

What is wrong with us? There is something seriously wrong with us; as a country, as a people, as a whole.

Home foreclosures continue to climb, reaching record-breaking numbers one year after another. Many (if not most of these) are do due bankrupting medical bills piling up and destroying families and homes, most of which ironically are medically insured. There are millions of people without medical insurance to deny their coverage for them. The number of children going hungry in what used to be the greatest industrial nation on Earth is growing at an alarming rate. And throughout all of this, our government continues to spin its wheels blindly, either unwilling or unable to pass any meaningful legislation to solve, curb, or even address these problem.

But forget all of that. Target's "$5 Appliance Sale" was a smashing success! Things must be getting better! Snuggies for everyone!

There is something seriously, horrendously, tragically wrong with us.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, December 4, 2009

Don't Panic

On the road yesterday, I was listening to the soundtrack from the film adaptation of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and it got me to thinking.

Awhile ago, while wasting the precious minutes of my life on Twitter or Facebook or some such thing, I was asked which fictional character I most identified myself with. Not taking nearly as much time to think about it than I would like to admit, I replied that I most identified with Arthur Dent from the Hitchhiker's series. It was an honest answer, and I quickly forgot about it and moved on to the next time-wasting social networking endeavor.

My answer to that question popped back into my head while listening to the film's soundtrack. It started to raise more questions in my mind? Why did I identify with Arthur Dent on a personal level? What was it about this decidedly unremarkable character thrust into amazingly remarkable situations that made me relate to him? For that matter, why was Douglas' Addams' Hitchhiker's series so popular in the first place? What was the appeal, to them and to me? It had to be more than just the humor, didn't it?

I gave it some thought.

Obviously, I can't speak for the millions of other Douglas Adams fans. But I think that what is most enduring and captivating about Arthur Dent's plight is that he bespeaks a universal truth; that most of us feel trapped in a world devoid of any real sense or logic. As much as we might try to build our little realities around us where everything makes sense and has a reason, the randomness and irrationalities of the rest of the world always manages to come crashing into our breakfast nook when we least expect it. Whether you find yourself watching the news, navigating a tax return form, or trying to get a permit to build a fence on your own property, it can be easy to find yourself overwhelmed by exactly how oblivious and illogical the real world can really be.

The Hitchhiker series embraces this troubled world view and elevates it to the next level. Most science fiction stories tend paint a tantalizing picture of a cosmos filled with technological marvels, sprawling utopias, and an almost endless number of mind-bogglingly intelligent races more than willing to tell the human race how stupid it is as a whole. A wondrous galaxy filled with answers, solutions, and simplified existences.

But is it only wishful thinking to assume that other the species potentially living among the endless stars might have a better grasp of common sense than we do? What makes us think that a technologically advanced species light-years ahead of us both mentally and emotionally wouldn't also manage to complicate their lives as thoroughly as we seem to? Would thousands of additional centuries of evolution actually erase the existence of bureaucratic red tape?

Douglas Adams was fond of claiming that he got the idea for the show while backpacking through Europe. One night while staring up at the stars, he would say that he idly wondered what it would be like to Hitchhike not just across a continent, but across the cosmos. While this story would change from time to time, it occurs to me that his original thought while gazing at the night time stars must have actually been "What if the rest of the universe is as screwed up as we are."

Its a good question, the horrifying answer to which became Arthur Dent's reluctant and seemingly never ending quest. Sometimes, it can be easy to feel as if you are trapped in that same bizarre reality, with no true escape of hope of sanity in sight.

So I guess that's why I identify with Arthur Dent. Because feeling like you are the only sane person in the galaxy is rarely a satisfying experience.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nabakov's Unfinished Work Sees Publication

Vladimir Nabokov, who lived and completed his ...Image via Wikipedia

During the final years of his life, Vladimir Nabokov continued to write. He spent those years working on "The Original of Laura," outlining jotting notes on index cards. One of his final wishes was that his wife and son should burn the cards upon his death.

It turns out that deathbed wishes aren't that important to some people; Nabakov's final work is seeing print nearly thirty years after his death.

"The Original of Laura" will be published in two formats. One will contain reproductions of the english-language index cards, while a Russian volume will contain a translated version in a more traditional text format.

Regarding his decision to ignore Nabakov's final wishes and have his last lingering literary work published, his son Dmitry writes in the preface that "I think my father or his shadow would not be against of letting Laura to freedom if it has already lived for so long." Considering his original wish was that Laura not be freed, but rather burned to death, this is somewhat debatable.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

GOP Releases Unrealistic, Unpassable Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 09:  Senate Minority Le...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The New York Times (or, as witty wordsmith Mark Levine would call them, The New York Slimes) has an article out regarding the alternative Health Care bill the Republicans have finally released after almost a year of claiming that they could do better.

Short story: they really can't.

Heralding the slim volume's 230 page count as a testament to the Bill's simplicity, one could be forgiven for assuming that the pages contained nothing more than the phrase "Same Shit, Different Day" typed over and over again. While it isn't quite that bad, the result is almost the same.

The first thing that really jumps out is how the GOP rarely manages not to contradict themselves these days. For instance, Republicans have been stomping around claiming that the Democrats obsessing on 36 Million uninsured people was a waste of time considering what a small percentage of the population. Not content on merely contradicting themselves when they claimed that insuring this inconsequential percentage would in turn bankrupt the country, they have turned around and proposed a bill that would only insure 2 Million Americans, which apparently isn't too small for them to worry about.

Smugly waving around their response to the resounding criticism that the GOP was criticizing something without offering their own suggestions, John Boehner (pronounced Boner) and others proudly declared that the Republican plan increases incentives for people to use health savings accounts, caps non-economic jury awards in medical malpractice cases at $250,000, provides various incentives to states with the aim of driving down premium costs and allows health insurance to be sold across state lines.

Let me break that down for you:

1. Increase incentives for Health Savings Accounts: Give the banks more money to play with, and still be unprepared for a major health emergency, but at CD rates.

2. Cap non-economic jury awards in medical malpractice cases: You can sue the doctor that maliciously botched your son's operation for the cost of the hospital stay, but your pain and suffering from his death is only worth a quarter million, tops. This is a good thing, however, as it makes providing inferior and potential lethal medical care less of a burden on the hospital's shareholders.

3. Provide incentives to drive down premium costs: Make medical insurance mandatory, then fine poor people for not buying into it.

4. Allow health insurance to be sold across state lines: Deregulation. Works every time. Right?

My favorite part of the article, however, is this insanely humorous little nugget:

House Republicans, including their leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, have said that they did not intend for their legislation to expand insurance coverage, because they viewed that goal as unaffordable. Instead, they said the bill was tailored narrowly to reduce costs. According to the report by nonpartisan budget office, the Republican bill would reduce future federal deficits by $68 billion over 10 years, compared to a reduction of $104 billion by the House Democrats’ legislation.

So, expanding health care (the whole idea of creating a new Health Care Bill, by the way) was deemed to expensive, so the concentrated on cutting costs, the end result being that they still somehow managed to reduce the deficit 36 Billion less than the "unaffordable" Democratic bill.

Honestly, who could possibly argue with logic like that?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Scalia Defends Cross On Public Land, Demonstrates Own Willfull Ignorance

Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court justice.Image via Wikipedia

Scalia Defends Cross On Public Land, Claims It Represents Everyone

It truly amazes me sometimes how willfully arrogant conservative pundits and lawmakers can be when confronted with the legitimate concern of separating Church and State. During a discussion about the cross that the Veterans of Foreign Wars built 75 years ago atop an outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia whined and complained about not understanding what all of the fuss was about:

"It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead," Scalia said. "What would you have them erect?...Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"

If Scalia was being even remotely honest with himself and his audience, he would have recognized that drawing a firm line on the separation of Church and State is not only done to avoid the government from offering any direct legitimacy to one religion over another, but to avoid even appearing to do so. Obviously, no one is claiming that the VFW was attempting to force Christianity upon the world. But the government has an obligation to avoid even the unintended suggestion that it endorses a specific religion.

The arrogance, however, comes from the feigned ignorance of why anybody would even complain about it. The argument always goes along the lines of "It wasn't meant to be taken that way, so what's the big deal with leaving it up?" Of course, the question never asked in response is that if it really isn't that big of a deal in the first place, what's the big deal with taking it down? The same people that will fight tooth and nail to prevent a simple cross being removed from public property are the first to act in mock surprise when someone expresses the opposite. Tolerance supposedly only works one way.

"I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion," Scalia complained. Of course he thinks that. And if this was about him, that might mean something. But this is about taking into the consideration the feelings of all the people who have loved ones buried at the cemetary. According to him, forcing some families to mourn their dead under a foreign religious symbol is reasonable, but giving them a neutral ground to do so is somehow absurd.

His argument about an amalgum of all religions in a monument is even more outrageous, but equally as popular. He jokes about the absurdity of trying to represent every conceivable world religion in a monument, purposely distracting from the true point that needs to be underlined, which is that you don't need to represent any religion in order to memorialize and remember those who have fallen in service of their country. To argue otherwise simply because the religious icon be displayed just happens to belong to your own religion goes beyond willful ignorance and arrogance.

Posted using ShareThis
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Performed by Bela Lugosi, Edited by S. Michael Wilson

Some of my favorite news updates involve my own work. Yes, it is quite selfish. But there's nothing I love more than sharing my latest projects with people who might enjoy them.

In this case, I wanted to share the cover of my next book, Performed by Lugosi (due out in December), which is going through the final stages with my publishers, Idea Men Productions. This is looking to be the final version. What do you think?

Performed by Lugosi takes a closer look at several of Bela Lugosi's films that were adapted from or inspired by classic works of literature by some of the greatest authors of our time, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not only are the similarities between the stories and films examined, but Lugosi's performances, career, and personal life at the time of the productions is also discussed. This is going to be a great cross over book for people who enjoy classic genre fiction as well as classic cinema.

I'm not going to promote too much more about the book until the release date firms up, but I thought this would be a fun sneak peak. Be sure to let me know what you think.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Book Review: The President's Vampire by Robert Damon Schneck

In the past, I have often found that many books and anthologies on unexplained phenomena and bizarre events are either sensationalized accounts with vague descriptions and no concrete details, or dry and inspirational regurgitation of other source materials with more footnotes than original material. So it was with great pleasure that I discovered Robert Damon Schneck's book The President's Vampire.

Schneck's approach is far from exploitational. His attention to detail and devotion to searching out the truth behind the sensational and unverified leaves no doubt to the author's curiosity or credibility. Exhaustive and well-documented historical research is devoted to every subject, even when possibly debunking an even more remarkable aspect to a story. But neither is his writing boring or overly-clinical. Schneck's academic yet personal approach to his subject matter does not hide an almost uncontainable passion for the unusual and unexplained phenomena he writes about, and more importantly, it does not detract from how fun and compelling his writing is.

Most chilling and disturbing is the final chapter, Bridge to Body Island, an examination of a

OuijaImage via Wikipedia

friend's recollected close call with a supernatural bogeyman. Many authors would present the tale on its own with perhaps a few embellishments for dramatic effect. Schneck, however, tells the story (which is genuinely creepy and unsettling) and then proceeds to examine the possible explanations for the events that took place, including research into possible real-world connections. His historical and scholarly comparisons and explanations are as captivating as the story itself, and do nothing to prevent readers who have used a Ouija board in the past from losing sleep.

That is where Schneck's approach to such Fortean tales as God Machines and Presidential Pardons for Vampires is a step above other authors in the field. He might not hold a flashlight under his face while leaning over the campfire to tell a spooky story, but that is because more often than not, the facts are far more disturbing. Robert Schneck delivers them, and thankfully so.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

White Pride? Officer Who Arrested Gates Refuses to Apologize

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.Image via Wikipedia

Everyone's heard the story by now. Renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. gets a visit from police officers after someone reports a someone trying to break into Gates' home. The perp, as it turns out, is Gates himself, who locked himself out of his home. On the off chance that the well-dressed sixty year old man that answered the door for police might still be some kind of burglar, Gates was asked to prove his residency. At the end of the debacle, during which the noted literary critic and intellectual demanded the police officer's name and badge number, he was arrested for "Disorderly Conduct."

Of course, when I first heard the news, I immediately thought of the Dave Chapelle routine about black homeowners and their reluctance to call for police in major cities like New York or Los Angeles. "Open and shut case, Johnson! Apparently this black guy broke in and hung up pictures of his family everywhere!"

There's been a lot of debate over the whole thing, of course. Whenever a minority is victimized or singled out in some fashion, whether initially justified or not, there is going to be a heated debate. One side will insist it is indicative of institutionalized racism and unfair treatment of minorities by racist cops, whether the person was guilt or not. The other side will rabidly defend the innocence of the police despite any evidence to the contrary, and complain about political correctness and affirmative action. Even the President of the United States of America weighed in on this one, calling the arrest "stupid" and taking the institutionalized racism side. Of course, since Obama is America's first Black President, it makes sense that he would have to give his opinion on the major news story.

But of course, the part of this story that surprises me the least is that the arresting officer, James Crowley, refuses to apologize.

I've known police officers, both directly and through family members, and one major gripe they've always had is the negative attitude that the general public feels towards them. Its a justified complaint; spending your life in service of the public, only to have that public constantly dismissive and suspicious of you, can be a major emotional drain. But no matter how many positive and even outright pro-police propaganda television shows and films are cranked out, public opinion of the police in general is on the negative side. For the men and women in law enforcement, that kind of publicity can make you wonder if the job is worth it.

So who do you blame for negative public opinion of the police? For a start, idiots like James Crowley. Of course, that's a little unfair to Crowley; he isn't the first cop to refuse any civil response to an awkward situation, and it isn't just individual officers spreading that kind of pig-headed stubbornness around. When Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot forty-one times by NYPD officers because they claimed his wallet looked like a gun, there was no humility on display in their public statements to the press. Granted, no one expected them to throw their own officers under the bus. But not only did they continuously defend shooting an unarmed man forty-one times as a reasonable response and well within the line of duty, they (meaning the

New York City Police DepartmentImage via Wikipedia

NYPD as a whole) also never showed any real remorse for Diallo's death. And they sure as hell never apologized for accidentally killing the man.

Is this kind of bully-boy arrogance really necessary? I'm not saying that cops should run around saying Please and Thank You and asking permission for every little inconvenience. But when someone like James Crowley pulls an obviously ego-driven bonehead move like arresting someone in their own home for being 'belligerent', especially when the racial ramifications of the misunderstanding are painfully obvious, would it really be damaging to police department's public image to shout out a quick "Oops, my bad?"

Sadly, that's not an isolated incident, and not nearly the worst example to be made. I could spend pages listing children and elderly people being tasered to death and being placed in fatal choke-holds, unwarranted brutality and abuse at the hands of chest-thumping 'roid gorillas with badges, gross mishandling of innocent people by the system at a bureaucratic level, and an endless stream of harassment of private citizens for purely personal, political, or ethically unsound reasons. Not all of these examples take place in New York, California, and Texas, either. Honest.

Many will argue that cops shouldn't have to say "I'm sorry." My response is that nobody has to say "I'm sorry," but they tend to do so diplomatically when mistakes have been made. And my warning is that, if you are going to fight the occasional act of grace and courtesy so vehemently, then I don't want to hear you asking why so many people distrust, fear, or outright hate the police. You know why.

Posted using ShareThis
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Review: Chronicles of the Undead by A.F. Stewart

Author A.F. Stewart has managed to accomplish a none-to-easy task in the realm of the vampire novels. She has managed to create a unique and captivating voice in a realm populated mainly by Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton clones substituting melodramatic whining and gratuitous sex for depth and substance.

Chronicles of the Undead
offers the reader a closer look at the lives of two Victorian era vampires residing in London, and the people whose lives intersect with theirs, through a series of diary entries. The diaries cover the span of thirty-three years, during which the various authors reveal their own fears and desires through the recording of their thoughts and the descriptions of daily events told through the filter of their own perceptions.

The author's adherence to the diary format seems a little light at first, but after awhile the lack of overly descriptive narrative and meandering dialog becomes a welcome absence, as the characters distill themselves and make the gradual discovery of who and what they are even more interesting. Also, the book's division into entries from different diaries lends a contrast to the writing and perspective that prevents the format from stagnating.

If there is to be a complaint about Chronicle of the Undead, it is that the diary format unavoidably makes for a quick read that leaves the reader somewhat unsatisfied. But then again, good books always leave the reader hungry for more.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Review: Woodsburner by John Pipkin

Historical Fiction is probably one of the harder genres for an author to succeed in, especially when it is not written as a sub-genre of Mystery, True Crime or Romance novels. Taking historical people and events and placing them within a fictional narrative can be a precarious balancing act; too much historical accuracy can weigh down a story, while taking too many liberties can unintentionally turn the whole thing into a farce. Tackling a historical literary figure can be even more daunting, as readers familiar with the author's works will no doubt possess their own vision of his or her personality.

With this in mind, John Pipkin took a perilous task in hand when he decided to pen a fictionalized account of Henry David Thoreau's accidental act of wildfire arson in Woodsburner: A Novel. His theory that Thoreau's unintentional decimation of 300 acres of woodland forest might have sparked the emotional and philosophical journey that would inspire much of his later works (most notably Walden) is intriguing. But Pipkin's interest isn't merely academic; Woodsburner strives to understand and examine the spiritual journey that would sprout from such a traumatic event, and on this level he succeeds.

The pace and tone of Woodsburner matches the style of its subject. Not a thrilling page-turner, it is instead casual and reflective, admiring the landscape (of both the Massachusetts wilderness and mid 1800s) the as it examines and dwells upon it. Switching the narrative between three other main (fictional) characters besides Thoreau as the fire spreads and builds gives the reader a perspective of perceptions and realities that aids in the illustration of Thoreau's personal journey, and helps to further explore the time period. In short, Pipkin handily succeeds in turning a historical footnote into a provoking and engaging novel.

Woodsburner has enough heart and soul for readers interested in the motivations and decisions characters make, flavor and detail for people looking for the historical perspective of the time period, and penetrating prose for those hungry for a more personal look at a famous literary figure.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review: Still Life by Joy Fielding

With over twenty books under her belt, Joy Fielding is bound to improve with every novel, yet occasionally produce work that feels like it is a step backward to her faithful readers. Still Life: A Novel, while well-written in spite of a tricky Plot device, still manages to fall short of what Fielding fans have come to expect.

The gimmick of having the books narrator spend the majority of the novel non-communicative yet fully aware of her surroundings in a coma, attempting to solve her attempted murder and prevent a successful second go at it, seems intriguing and inventive at the start. It is.

But the longer you read, the more you begin to realize that you've heard this story before. There isn't much extraordinary material in the book to separate it from other variations on the same theme, including the ever popular "ghost attempting to solve own murder" yarn, no matter how well Fielding handles the self-imposed restrictions of the plot device. Add to that a few instances of non-essential back stories that serve little more purpose than running up the page count, and you can't help shake the feeling that, as competent and well-written Still Life might be, it might have been better served as a short story.

Much like the book's heroine, Still Life manages to exist somewhere between a dead bore and a living, breathing work. You may not hate it, but chances are you won't love it, either. Call it a mystery on life support.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, July 10, 2009

United Breaks Guitars, Caves to Youtube Video

Just another example of the old story of Airline damages luggage, luggage owner seeks restitution, Airline tells valued customer to get bent.

However, in this case the airline was United Airlines, the luggage was a $3,500 guitar, the luggage owner was Dave Carroll, member of the Sons of Maxwell band, and his response to being told to get bent was to go viral with a Youtube video about his (and his Taylor guitar's) treatment by United's crack customer service team, even going so far as to mention his final contact, Ms. Irlweg, by name.

Surprise, surprise. Months of desperate phone calls and conversations to countless United Airlines officials gains nothing but indifference and rejection. But a music video about the problem with 1.3 Million Youtube hits and major news coverage later, and United Airlines suddenly cares about repaying a customer for the damage done to his luggage.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bernard Goldberg is a Whore

I have a habit of switching back and forth between MSNBC and Fox News when I'm working on

An example of The O'Reilly Factor's Talking Po...Image via Wikipedia

a project and need some background noise. One casual flick of the remote's Recall button at the first sign of a commercial gives me a steady stream of hackneyed biased journalism from both sides of the political spectrum while I tend to more serious matters.

This information serves no purpose other than to explain how I managed to catch Bernie Goldberg on The O'Reilly Factor last night.

O'Reilly appeared to be weighing in on the excessive media coverage of the Michael Jackson Memorial by spending an excessive portion of his show covering it. Not satisfied with just one overwhelming irony, O'Reilly also argued with black author Marc Lamont Hill that the black community shouldn't be heralding Jackson as a black entertainer because he had white children, that there was no racial component involved with Michael Jackson's success because he helped break down racial barriers, and then went on to complain that not enough people were talking about Jackson's child molestation charges during the memorial coverage, even though a year or two ago he had told Hill that mentioning allegations of racism during the week of Jerry Falwell's death was out of line.

Then, just for fun, he trotted Bernie Goldberg out to complain about the media.

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Bernie Goldberg is a political commentator that spends the majority of his time complaining that the mainstream media (or MSM, if you must) is overwhelmingly liberal, socialist, and godless. In short, he's just like every other conservative political commentator, with the exception of being so good at his job that he actually inspired one nutjob to go on a killing spree.

During their Michael Jackson Memorial discussion about how shameless and pathetic all of the Michael Jackson Memorial

In Scream, Jackson and his sister Janet angril...Image via Wikipedia

coverage was, Bernie referred to all of the reporters and journalists covering the event as "hookers."

This isn't a shocking accusation. In fact, it's typical of Goldberg's criticisms of any news coverage he finds unfavorable. It is also an accusation lifted from his new book, "A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media," which is (surprise, surprise) a harsh indictment of the media unfairly favorable coverage of Barrack Obama. In the book, Bernie calls Chris Matthews "...a journalist hooker putting out for Obama from the moment the senator showed some leg.”

Now, I am not interested in defending the integrity or honor of the mainstream news media. I don't think there's too much to defend. But Bernie Goldberg's comment caught my attention enough that I looked up and watched the rest of the interview. So I noticed that Bernie Goldberg's book was being plugged on the bottom of the screen during the entire interview.

Bernie has every right in the world to hawk his book, and to make television appearances with the intention of hawking his book. No criticism there. But let's level the accusatory playing field here. Bernie Goldberg accuses television journalists of being whores because their main goal has

Cover of Cover via Amazon

been to attract a wide audience for their respective stations by discussing the Michael Jackson Memorial, with the intention of making money through high ratings. Bernie Goldberg then appears on television to attract a wide audience for his book by discussing the Michael Jackson Memorial, with the intention of making money through high book sales.

If A equals B, and B equals C, then A must equal C. Bernie Goldberg is a whore. Even worse, he's the kind of whore that parades up and down the street berating the other whores for being so cheap and easy. He's not just a whore; he's a nasty whore.

Of course, if Bernie is a whore (by his own definition) for selling his political opinion, where does that leave bloggers like myself, who spout their own narrow political opinions for anyone with the bandwidth and patience to read them? I can't speak for others, but I can certainly tell you that I am no whore; I collect no revenue for what I do. That makes me a slut.

I can live with that.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Acme Screws Over Employees

I received an email from a friend of mine whose employers have suddenly decided to take advantage of the poor economy and dismal job market and force a non-negotiable contract down their Labor Union's throat. This is becoming pretty common these days; it is getting to the point that Unions aren't even doing a good job of protecting employees. I'm just going to reprint her email in its entirety and let it speak for itself...

So, a couple of weeks ago, June 9th, I believe, we all got phone calls from the Union president stating that Acme had taken a blatantly initimidating step in the negotiating process by sending "us" their "Last, Best, and Final Offer". See, we've been working under an extension of our old contract since February of 2008. The company and the union met 39 times between then and now, and the biggest sticking points were raises, health benefits and pension. That same night we all got phone calls from Acme President Judy Spires explaining that the LBAFO was being sent to us, that it would be in everyone's best interests for us to accept it, and thanking us for all that we do. Since then we've gotten letters and phone calls almost daily from both the company and the union. Every day people from all over Acme Markets have been in our store meeting with us one-on-one and in small groups to answer any questions we have and again explaining to us that this is it--there will be no better offer, and in fact, if we vote against this offer, than the offer could get progressively worse. We've had packets mailed to our house, we've had DVDs mailed to our house...

Unfortunately the Union is spread much thinner, so they've not been as big a presence in the store. We have a meeting tonight at the Spectrum to both vote on the contract and to vote on whether to temporarily raise Union Dues for everyone in UFCW to help us out (read: if we strike) like we all did when Alberston's California workers were on strike for four months several years ago. IN FACT, the company has brought in union workers from California to tell us all how if they had that choice to make again, they'd take the contract. So we're all traipsing downtown tonight, but really, with thousands and thousands of people invited, how are we really going to get all our questions answered? It's going to be more like a free-for-all...

I've read the LBAFO. On the surface, while it ain't great, it ain't horrible, either. The company is calling it a flat contract--no loss, no gain. They're taking money from one place to put it another place (they want to offer us cheaper lump sums instead of raises to offset health care and pension costs). I realize how great I've had it all these years not paying ANYTHING for my health care coverage, so I would absolutely be willing to pay the $20.00 per month they're asking (don't tell anyone I admitted that). The problems with the offer, as I see it, are as follows:

1) There are several instances where it simply says "Delete Article XYZ in it's entirety" without any mention of what the article is. Then when you go look it up in the current Collective Bargaining agreement you realize that it's something really important like Death Benefits or rules governing when one can retire, or something saying that they're going to eliminate all "past practices"--stuff that we've fought really hard for in the past.

2) The language is deliberately vague. There have been several instances in these meetings that we've had with the company in which I or my fellow associates have pointed this out and asked targeted questions that the company people have actually had to go get answers for. I don't trust this at all.

3) The new contract basically screws new associates. Is this a huge problem for me? Sorry, no, as long as these new associates have a clear understanding of what they are getting into when they are hired. They make nothing extra Sundays or Holidays, they will pay more for their health care... However, this is a problem for the Union. I see this as slightly hypocritical, as the union charges new associates for their dues the second they start working for us, even though they aren't members for 60 days, but whatever.

4) The final part of the LBAFO states that should the company be required by law to pay more into our pension than they're bargained for, then the money WILL be taken from our agreed-upon lump sum payments AND from even further reduced payments per associate to the Union for our Health Care. Which means that we could end up with no raise or lump sum payments at all and even more drastically-reduced health care coverage then is already in the cards.

I'm not a moron. I know how some people perceive Unions. I also know that these same people often forget that it was grassroots Union organization that laid the groundwork for their own decent wages, working conditions, and health benefits. The problem here is that most of us "little people" feel betrayed by both our company AND our Union. We had NO IDEA that this was coming. We've been humming along, doing the best jobs that we can, and BAM! I feel like the company is blackmailing us with the fact that the economy is in the toilet and economic times are horrible, and I feel like the Union is overlooking what's best for its members because Acme workers are it's biggest membership, so they have a lot at stake here.

So, the company has said that they are not locking us out. The doors will be open on July 10th, and our jobs/work will be available to us. However, once that date passes, they will, piece by piece, be implementing the LBAFO. The union has said that we are not voting to strike tonight. However, if we vote NOT to ratify the contract tonight, what, then, would be the next step? Or, if we DON'T strike, how will the Union view those associates who DO report to work on July 10th? We aren't crossing any sort of picket line, but... The ONLY way we can collect unemployment is if we are locked out, and the company knows that. Just one more way they have us over a barrel.

I've had several people tell me to take these events and use it as the impetus to move on and get out. And you know, that'd be great--if I had ANY sort of savings to fall back on, or if my household was NOT currently a two-Acme-income household. That'd be great if I came from a really rich family and could count on financial help from my relatives during what might play out. I could make all the lemonade I wanted. But you know what? I don't. So yeah, I'm on daily, trying to "impetus" my ass off, but that's not really helping right this very second. This is a job I've held for over 21 years. It might not be the best job in the world, and it certainly might not be the most mentally challenging, but it's a job, and in these tough times I am grateful to have it. The thought of being out of work and trying to take care of my family scares the CRAP out of me.

Oh, and it's interesting to watch how these very facts are dividing my fellow associates. People who live with their parents, or who have parents who are finacially able to make sure that they won't end up in the street, or people with spouses with really terrific and stable non-Acme jobs are all gung-ho to vote "NO"! The rest of us aren't so sure...

So, that, in a nutshell, is what's been going on. You can read about it in the Inquirer online if you search "Acme", and you can go to for the company's views and for the unions. I'll update you once tonight's meeting's held. Should be awful.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]