February 2012 Archives

Lauryn Oates writes in "Killing for a Book" about the latest incident of religious bloodshed:

To date, nine people have been killed in violent demonstrations across Afghanistan in reaction to the discovery by some Afghan labourers that two Americans were [unknowingly] incinerating bags of books that included copies of the Quran. [...]

But the absurdity here is that there are sufficient numbers of Afghan men who allow themselves to get so wound-up over an accidental desecration of a symbol of their religion, that they feel compelled to take to the streets, armed with stones and/or other weapons, with the intent to maim and to murder. That is what's appalling. That is what's absurd.

She continues by noting that "we ultimately fail to see the utter senselessness of taking human life on account of harm to a book:"

Further violence in the foreseeable future may be prevented by exceptional care by US and other foreign forces in Afghanistan in their handling of Qurans. But this isn't a real solution, leading to real peaceful co-existence. A real solution is one where the pious learn to live with sometimes having their sensitivities offended, rather than erupting into rabid tantrums so severe they resort to carnage and inhumanity; and where outside observers are brave enough to put a plug on their cultural sensitivity when things go too far.


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In the paper-vs-digital debate, Tim Parks notes that ebooks can't burn. "I want to go beyond practicality to the reading experience itself, our engagement with the text:"

What is it that these literary men and women are afraid of losing should the paper novel really go into decline? Surely not the cover, so often a repository of misleading images and tediously fulsome endorsements. Surely not the pleasure of running fingers and eyes over quality paper, something that hardly alters whether one is reading Jane Austen or Dan Brown. Hopefully it is not the quality of the paper that determines our appreciation for the classics.

Could it be the fact that the e-book thwarts our ability to find particular lines by remembering their position on the page? Or our love of scribbling comments (of praise and disgust) in the margin? It's true that on first engagement with the e-book we become aware of all kinds of habits that are no longer possible, skills developed over many years that are no longer relevant. We can't so easily flick through the pages to see where the present chapter ends, or whether so and so is going to die now or later. In general, the e-book discourages browsing, and though the bar at the bottom of the screen showing the percentage of the book we've completed lets us know more or less where we're up to, we don't have the reassuring sense of the physical weight of the thing (how proud children are when they get through their first long tome!), nor the computational pleasures of page numbers (Dad, I read 50 pages today). This can be a problem for academics: it's hard to give a proper reference if you don't have page numbers.

But are these old habits essential? Mightn't they actually be distracting us from the written word itself? Weren't there perhaps specific pleasures when reading on parchment scroll that we know nothing of and have lived happily without? Certainly there were those who lamented the loss of calligraphy when the printing press made type impersonal. There were some who believed that serious readers would always prefer serious books to be copied by hand.

I read this passage with particular enjoyment:

The literary experience does not lie in any one moment of perception, or any physical contact with a material object (even less in the "possession" of handsome masterpieces lined up on our bookshelves), but in the movement of the mind through a sequence of words from beginning to end. More than any other art form it is pure mental material, as close as one can get to thought itself.

83-year-old Betty Dodson, author of the almost 40-year-old book "Sex for One," has released it as an ebook with the comment that "I think the value of the book is that it broke through a lot of people's guilt." Salon interviewed her, and here are some choice bits and pieces:

Do you think there's less guilt associated with masturbation now?

I don't think we've made any progress. If anything we've gone backwards.

Why do you think that jerking off is still funny to people?

We make things funny when we are embarrassed. When we are embarrassed about something, we laugh. And if you laugh at something people are embarrassed about, you're hip. We are ashamed of our bodies. We are ashamed of sex. We are ashamed of pleasure. The reason masturbation is so political is because if we take control of our sexuality, the church loses its power over us. The government loses power over us. We become free-formed thinkers.

There is certainly something to be said for self-sufficiency.

Paul Waldman analyzes the let's-drug-test-the-unemployed mania, as embodied in Mitt Romney's assertion that "People who are receiving ... government benefits, we should make sure they're not using those benefits to pay for drugs." Waldman takes a page from Jonathan Swift, asking "why stop at people on unemployment?"

After all, I don't want my tax dollars going to anyone who might possibly be on drugs. So let's make the board of directors and senior executives of every company that has a government contract pee into a cup (those folks at Lockheed Martin get an awful lot of our money, after all). And how about hedge fund managers--they benefit from the preferential "carried interest" loophole, meaning they pay Romneyesque low tax rates on their income. Unzip and give us a sample before you head to the Hamptons for the weekend, buddy. I'm sure we won't find any cocaine use among that crowd! And what about the mortgage interest deduction? We the taxpayers pay a portion of tens of millions of people's mortgages. I can't stand the idea that some of those people might be on drugs, so they better get tested, too. [...]

Demanding drug tests from government contractors or people who take advantage of tax deductions would be crazy, of course. On the other hand, testing people on welfare or people who are unemployed makes perfect sense. Why? Because they're poor.

Waldman notes that "this is what real class warfare looks like:"

This is how people with power tell people without power that they're nothing, that in order to access even the most modest help they'll have to submit to a ritual of abasement, treated like criminals and forced to hand over their bodily fluids.

The NYT breaks the sad news that DC plans to defile the memory of Watchmen, one of the few generally recognized classic graphic novels. A group of seven mini-series under the collective title Before Watchmen "will expand on the back stories of the costumed vigilantes like Rorschach and Nite Owl." (h/t to Comics Alliance for linking to the official DC announcement.)

Alan Moore, author of the original graphic novel, calls the plans "completely shameless" and adds that he's not objecting for pecuniary reasons: "I don't want money. What I want is for this not to happen." Similarly, Wired's Scott Thill laments that such artistic necrophilia "has become indispensable in an culture industry that long ago stopped calling derivative a dirty word."

This is all that I have to say:


update (2/6):
Dork Tower had the same idea:


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