Jeff Bezos: Not Even a Dime

Rick Simonson: “More than ever, it would then seem, it is time to publicly raise the question as to why Amazon has done nothing, absolutely nothing, in the way of overt philanthopy. Mist Place talked with various people in the non-profit community – everyone is perplexed at Amazon’s absence, its total, niggardly abdication of this role. It is perhaps only for a lack of media attention – and a kind of calling-out, or shaming – that this isn’t being addressed publicly. One person talked with knows two of the people on Amazon’s board, who know well the way of corporate giving, and say they even have gotten nowhere in inquiries. Mr. Bezos, in at least one online account of some time ago, asked about philanthropy, treated the question only in terms of his own wealth.” (Thanks, Vladimir!)

Anne Lamott Censored by Creighton

From Publishers Lunch:

Fans of Anne Lamott in Omaha have rallied to secure an appearance by the author in the wake of an abrupt cancellation by local Jesuit institution Creighton University. The school had invited Lamott long ago for a paid appearance on September 19 as part of their annual Women and Health Lecture Series, and an overflow crowd of 1,200 had already signed up to attend.

But a group of local Catholics “deluged” the Omaha Archdiocese with phone calls and e-mails earlier this month in protest over Lamott’s personal views on assisted suicide and abortion. Creighton officials had already asked Lamott if she would “stay on topic” with the theme of lecture series, according to her lecture agent Steven Barclay, and she had reassured them that she “didn’t need to be a spokesperson on [the controversial] topics.” (Lamott indicated the same directly to the Omaha World-Record.)

Nonetheless, Creighton decided to cancel the engagement–after first asking if Lamott would back out, but Barclay indicated that she never cancels a booking. Lamott also declined to keep the lecture fee that was owed to her. Creighton spokesperson Kathryn Clark told the local newspaper, “We have decided that the key points she makes are in opposition to Catholic teaching. That makes her an inappropriate choice.”

Despite whatever local pressure was brought to bear on Creighton, there was equal if not greater support for having Lamott appear. As Barclay notes, “She’s a real galvanizing force in the progressive Christian movement. Those people were outraged and I think rightfully so.” Rev. Nancy Brink of Omaha’s North Side Christian Church quickly organized a coalition of six local churches, which has secured a larger 2,000-seat venue where Lamott will now speak on the same day.

The article that Michael Cader references doesn’t appear to be on the Omaha World-Record‘s site. So I did some digging on my own.

I was particularly baffled by this quote from Kathryn Clark: “We have decided that the key points she makes are in opposition to Catholic teaching. That makes her an inappropriate choice.”

Curious about this, I contacted Creighton directly. I was unable to get Kathryn Clark on the phone, but I was able to cajole the kind student who answered into giving me Creighton Public Relations Director Deb Daley’s cell phone.

I asked Daley what specific key points were in opposition to Catholic teaching. Instead of directly answering the question, Daley insisted, “We at Creighton University actually recognize that many different points of view exist.”

Well, then why not a different point of view like Lamott’s?

“We were concerned that by sponsoring a lecture, people would misconstrue that we were endorsing her.”

Apparently, Creighton got cold feet because Lamott had written about helping a friend commit suicide, people would somehow believe that Creighton was directly supporting this idea. I asked why these circumstances mattered so much in relation to Lamott. Daley said that it was the “sponsored lecture” categorization of the event that Creighton had difficulty with.

But what made a sponsored lecture any different from anything else delivered in front of an audience — like, say, a professor talking about a particular topic or point of view in front of his students?

“We provide a forum for opposite points of view,” said Daley again, clinging to this sentence like a piece of driftwood in river rapids.

I explained to Daley that a “forum for opposite points of view” simply wasn’t the case at all if she was preventing Lamott from speaking. I asked, if Lamott’s alleged pro-suicide position was indeed the issue, why Creighton didn’t just have someone appear who was against suicide appear alongside Lamott. That way, all points of view would be preserved and there would be no confusion over which particular point of view Creighton allegedly “supported.”

But before I could get an answer to this question or ask Daley why she had banned Lamott’s appearance when Lamott had agreed to stick to talking points, Daley then told me that everything that needed to be said was in the papers and ended the call.

So here we have an alleged “university” championing “all points of view,” but who is terribly afraid of a speaker associated with a point of view, even though the speaker had promised not to dwell on the point of view in question.

Sounds like censorship to me.

Confessions of a Political Fraud

More and more, I’m finding myself to be a political fraud. Here I am, ostensibly progressive, and yet silently buffeting a nation in which the invasion of civil liberties and waterboarding as a legitimate interrogation technique are accepted as if they were no more injurious than an insect crawling up one’s forearm. Here I am, reading about Darfur and feeling somewhat complicit in remaining relatively silent about the homicidal fracas and in not writing a letter to a representative who is allegedly supposed to represent me, but who will likely do nothing. What power do I really have? If I attend a protest against the war, what good will this really do?*

It’s clear that the arrogant tyrants in power are quite content to keep fingers in their ears and sing, “La la la, I can’t hear you” for the next two years while Rome burns. It’s clear that the Democrats, who have now had almost a year to stand up to these tyrants, are no less self-serving in their failure to act than the supposed party of corruption. It’s also clear that the American public is more content to feel smug and somehow better than these apparent buffoons in power by watching some “satirical” news report delivered by Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. But when the chief news outlet that questions authority is framed within a comic context, does this not, on some level, treat the issue as pedantic? Should we not be outraged by people dying or falsely imprisoned brown-skinned people being tortured or our conversations being recorded without our permission rather than remain emotionally detached, staring down these developments with nothing more than the false comfort of irony? And how is watching television doing one’s part as a citizen? Is the American liberal’s default setting merely to take in disturbing information over a nice breakfast, furrow his brow, and then go about the business of paying his bills?

Understand that I don’t recuse myself at all. I am that guy. And I stand here guilty and defenseless for failing to do my part. Please lay into me. And while you’re at it, lay into yourself. I’m very much that American liberal who does nothing. Or to be a bit more generous, close to nothing. Sure, I’ll send emails and letters to people every now and then. Sometimes, they’ll write back. Sometimes, particularly on the local level, they’ll be a small victory. Sure, I have voted in every election since I came of voting age. Sure, I’ll think about politics, but I often keep these thoughts to myself. Because I have no wish to be a chowderhead contributing to that sweltering and insufferable Babel tower of predictable platitudes and ill-informed rhetoric. Is this wise or is this evading political responsibility? I have no desire to be part of a mechanism in which one must remain firmly locked in one’s views, in which one cannot question the very principles that one is supporting, and in which one cannot change one’s mind. I have developed a rather odd temperament in recent years of remaining somewhat opinionated, yet quite capable of dramatically shifting my views when someone has presented me with additional information. My peers and pals, who are getting married and having babies and abandoning politics with a nonchalance even more celeritous than mine, wish to settle for domestic lives. There is little room for a more global gravity. And that’s fine, I suppose. These are their choices. But surely someone can step in who doesn’t sound like a mahcine reading boilerplate from a monitor.

I’ve pondered running for political office — on some local level. Friends, aware of my persuasive panache, have suggested that I go to law school. But I would rather use my powers for good. Having seen so many idealisitic politicians give into the inevitabilities of this corrupt system, I don’t want to be that latter day politician who pretends that there is no ideological trajectory. So what’s left? Writing about this? Confessing one’s political inadequacies on a blog? Voting in the elections and persuading other people to vote? Given the great monster ensconced in DC, is this really adequate enough? Am I some new version of what Goldhagen called an “willing executioner?”

The question I ask is whether we are now in an unprecedented period of American history, where the problems we now face us are far more significant than anything we’ve experienced in quite a long time, where the very fabric of this country has been damn near permanently stained, and where being cheery, as I often am, or latching onto entertainment, as I often do, is really the right thing to do when we may very well be perched on the point of no return.

* — I used to be an active protestor. But I developed an antipathy to protesting when I attended an antiwar protest five years ago. I followed a splinter group through San Francisco, and watched as two ruffians, apparently there to protest against violence, beat down a homeless man who would not join their march. I felt sickened because I did not help this homeless man, who was terrified and cowering from further flails, and because I did not go after the two thugs who beat this man down. Does this incident speak for all protests? No. But it did leave a despicable taste in my mouth — both in regard to the nature of protesting and my own surprising stance. I wondered if my own failure to act, to check up on this homeless man, and to get him help if necessary, was part of the same blind herd mentality that had riled up this throng and caused two to go over the edge. I had not submitted to casual violence. But I did certainly submit to apathy. In joining a protest, one must subscribe to some common goal. But does one become overly accepting, perhaps too accepting, of aberrations? Are certain distasteful qualities revealed in the act of the protest? I think so, and I plead guilty. I should have acted and didn’t. And I have regretted that unfortunate evening countless times, and will likely continue to regret it.

Roundup

Those Who Asked for Teresa Weaver’s Job to Be Saved Are “Competitors”

The September/October 2007 issue of Poets and Writers includes an interview with Teresa Weaver, in which she is asked about the future of book reviewing and gives this answer:

I have to say I don’t feel optimistic about it, as far as newspapers go. I think magazines are going to have to step in and pick up some of that slack. A lot of it is a resource problem: Newspapers are struggling right now, they’re redefining themselves, and there’s a lot of discussion going on everywhere about what direction they should take. I line up with the school of thought that newspapers should consist of more opinion, commentary, and analysis that people can’t get anywhere else, rather than trying to compete with the Internet on breaking news.

Beyond my concern that the two “sides” of this battle are on opposite ends of the fence (So we’re competitors now, eh? As someone who writes for both online and print, I’m wondering if I should cut myself in half or something.), I must say that Weaver comes across as decidedly ungrateful about the very medium — and its concomitant petition — that was used to generate awareness about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s books section.

Without Written Permission

Techcrunch’s Duncan Riley unearths this YouTube morsel (the irony here being that uploading such a clip to YouTube also requires written permission from the NFL). The NFL is now stating that one cannot discuss a football game without written permission. It was bad enough that we couldn’t videotape football games without written permission — although, to my knowledge, there have been no smoke-filled speakeasies involving clandestine game watching and secret passwords, perhaps because the participants have remained circumspect about such iniquitious dens. Now the NFL hopes to legislate conversation around the water cooler. (Whether they actually pursue lawsuits for this sort of thing requires additional research.) Beyond the fact that this violates the spirit of fair use (much less fails to account for the realities of spontaneous conversation), it nevertheless demonstrates the arrogant and anti-First Amendment attitudes taken by some organizations, in which a reasonable protection of trademarks and copyrighted material is undermined by the natural human dissemination of names and content.

Here are some questions: Does the NFL want their teams talked about? Do they want to control the precise circumstances in which a person wears an Oakland Raiders jacket? Will they likewise curtail journalists and bloggers from writing about football players because they don’t have written permission? (And, if so, will they require tight journalistic credentials with set terms for how one writes about sports?)

Might the Blogosphere Meet the Bill?

“American creative energy has always teetered on the brink of insanity. ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and ‘The Night Chicago Died’ have, alas, common DNA, the DNA for ‘joyfully reckless confidence.’ What I propose as an antidote is simply: awareness of the Megaphonic tendency, and discussion of same. Every well-thought-out rebuttal to dogma, every scrap of intelligent logic, every absurdist reduction of some bullying stance is the antidote. Every request for the clarification of the vague, every poke at smug banality, every pen stroke in a document under revision is the antidote. This battle, like any great moral battle, will be won, if won, not with some easy corrective tidal wave of Total Righteousness, but with small drops of specificity and aplomb and correct logic, delivered titrationally, by many of us all at once.”

– George Saunders, title essay from The Braindead Megaphone

She Does Sing “Rehab” After All

Amy Winehouse’s father-in-law is now leading a campaign to boycott Winehouse’s music until she seeks treatment for drug addiction. This is certainly an ethical dilemma but, at the risk of parroting Bill Hicks, has it not occurred to this gentleman that the drugs might actually be helping the music? While I certainly hope Ms. Winehouse conquers her demons, give me a coked out Amy Winehouse over that clean-cut assclown Justin Timberlake any day of the week. Timberlake is about as rock ‘n roll as a Pat Boone heavy metal cover. Winehouse has more soul in her left pinky.

Roundup

  • I’ve just learned that the Terre Haute bloggers are now planning a six-week symposium entitled How to Discourage Reading Through Soporific Lectures. They are currently lining up speakers. If you are a bland individual who has not laughed once in the past six years or you think jellybeans are extraneous or you think people should read their books in the same manner in which they are prescribed Brussels sprouts for dinner, please let them know. They are hoping to find the most boring and ponderous people for their lecture series. Bonus points if you ain’t gettin’ any. (And it also appears that a symposium on nose picking is also in the works. These are exciting times!)
  • I’m going to try to confirm this myself, but Levi reports the sad news that Philomene Long has passed away.
  • John Holbo notes that a Jack Kirby biopic is greatly overdue.
  • Well, why would you audition Elizabeth Crane anyway?
  • Apparently, books strike fear in the prison system. Or maybe thye’re afraid that the convicts will become too smart. Never mind that the prison-industrial complex is allegedly supposed to rehabilitate. (Why else refer to them as penitentiaries or correctional institutions?) It’s worth observing that a little known piece of California progressivism, put into action by San Quentin librarian Herman Sopector, called bibliotherapy enabled Eldridge Cleaver to write Soul on Ice. I first learned about all this when reading Joseph T. Hallinan’s excellent book, Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation. For furtherreading on the subject, check out Eric Cummins’ The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement. (Recent news via Quill & Quire)
  • Carolyn Kellogg is now a teacher! I hope we get some long-form teaching narratives soon.
  • RIP Edward Seidensticker.
  • Three words, Adam: FedEx Home Delivery. There’s no way you can purge them all — as I sadly learned — and this is the cheapest option.
  • The economics of pop music. (via Kevin)
  • Jeff VanderMeer on choosing an agent.
  • Ethan Persoff talks about his dirty comics collection.
  • Jane Austen’s latter years will be the subject of a new BBC drama. In fact, there are now so many dramas covering so many years of Jane Austen’s life that the producers of Teletubbies are also contemplating a drama. The new project, It is a Perambulator Universally Acknowledged, will cover Austen’s existence between one and three years old.
  • And slap me on the wrist and call me an apple turnover! I completely missed this Jose Saramago profile.

Please Get In Touch Off-Blog

If there are any NY-based blog readers fluent in Japanese, please get in touch with Sarah off-blog. If there are any Japan-based blog readers fluent in New York, please get in touch with me off-blog. If there are any NY-based blog readers fluent in Esperanto, please record your words and send me a link to an MP3 file. If there are San Francisco-based bloggers who want to tell me what I’m missing right now, please get in touch with me off-blog and send cruel JPEGs of gigantic burritos. If there are any experienced New Yorkers who want to try and put me in my place, please get in touch with me off-blog and use a cat o’ nines if you must. If you are a deviant longshoreman, I can think of several places you can get in touch with me off-blog, although I won’t tell you what to do or where I am, but I’ll set you up with someone who will probably be interested in what you’re looking for. If you are a deviant longshorewoman, you can’t get in touch with me off-blog because I’m dating someone right now, but see the previous sentence. If you are neither deviant nor a longshoreperson, then please get in touch with someone off-blog as soon as possible because you’re missing out on some of the fun things in life. If you don’t get in touch with someone off-blog, then please find a way to touch someone who doesn’t have a blog without any sexual harassment. If you speak a language that no blogger has heard of, please get in touch with someone who knows how to start a blog because it’s probably an exciting tongue. If you are a wearing a toque to cover a bald spot, please have someone off-blog touch the top of your head because it’s probably not as bad as you think it is.

When Johnny Mnemonic and the Matrix Stood Still

Variety: “Twentieth Century Fox has set Keanu Reeves to star in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ its re-imagining of the 1951 Robert Wise-directed sci-fi classic. Reeves committed over the weekend to play Klaatu, a humanoid alien who arrives on Earth accompanied by an indestructible, heavily armed robot and a warning to world leaders that their continued aggression will lead to annihilation by species watching from afar.”

To consider why this is such a blasphemy against the great 1951 film, watch the film in its entirety here. Reeves is clearly no Michael Rennie.

In the meantime, Return of the Reluctant has intercepted an excerpt from the revised script.

HILDA: How dare you write on that blackboard! Do you realize the Professor has been working on that problem for weeks?

KLAATU: Dude, chill. I am Klaatu. Suddenly, I’m responsible for the entire fucking world, if…if my head doesn’t blow up first.

HILDA: I am not a dude! How did you get in here? And what do you want?

KLAATU: We came to see Professor Barnhardt. There is no spoon.

HILDA: He’s not here. I think you better leave now.

KLAATU: Whoa! Here’s like something the prof could use.

HILDA: A guitar pick?

KLAATU: Mick Jagger gave it to me. I want him to have it.

HILDA: What does a guitar pick have to do with the professor’s formula?

KLAATU: Had a summer job breaking and entering. I think the professor will want to get in touch with me.

HILDA: What business does an intellect like Professor Barnhardt have with a surfer mentality like yours?

KLAATU: There’s a piece of silicon in the back of my brain. I want a full restoration! I want it all back! Whoa!

Roundup

  • It’s now an ungodly hour in the early morning and I’m currently more inclined to Lindy hop than sleep. Guess it’s time for a roundup!
  • Not a single word? Uh, not quite. These folks appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #46!
  • Two paragraphs of a review devoted to acknowledgments? Sorry, Mr. Ames, this is not really a review. And it isn’t because Mr. Ames and I disagreed on the book in question.
  • In the current Believer: Nick Hornby and David Simon. Next up: Garrison Keillor and David Mamet, where the latter will ask the former why he can’t say “fuck,” much less any word, with anything approaching cheerful conviction. (via Pinky’s Paperhaus)
  • After the Quake will be produced for BBC radio. (via Matthew Tiffany)
  • TONY‘s James Hannaham ponders publishing’s troubling racial disparity. (via Tayari)
  • Laila on NPR.
  • Take it from this Gibson reader, Mr. Asher. It was certainly a terrible job. “Inhabitants?” Uh, there was only one character in Pattern Recognition allergic to trademarks. The Times regrets the error.
  • You can see just about anything — however illusory — when banging out a generalization-laden essay.
  • James Wood is the most feared man in American letters? Get real. He’s a mere nitpicking titmouse. To be afraid of Wood is like having minor chest pains while passing the Grey Poupon from one Rolls Royce to another. If such a perception is even half-true, then the time has come for the literary world to get the wind knocked out of its too comfy constituency.
  • Emdashes has collected a helpful list of stories that first appeared in The New Yorker. My vote: John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.” I doubt very highly that anything as remarkably inventive as that story will ever appear in Remnick’s pages.
  • Believe it or not, there was a time in Dwight Garner’s career when he wasn’t a corporate tool. Case in point: this highly entertaining John Updike interview from 1996 that even has Updike revealing his feelings about Nicholson Baker, even if Garner can barely contain his antipathy for John Barth.
  • What happened to Ellison’s post-Invisible Man work? The WaPo goes fishing. (via Out of the Woods Now)
  • The Guardian reveals the longlist for this year’s First Book Award.
  • BODY: You are getting very sleepy. ME: Okay, I will try to sleep now. But where were you a few hours ago? BODY: Waiting for you to stop thinking. Was it necessary to look at all those YouTube clips of things resembling amateur cooking shows? ME: I can’t help it if the brain keeps going! I’m just naturally curious. BODY: We’re a service industry, you know. ME: A service industry of one! I have to get up in a few hours! BODY: Oh, you can hack it. Jesus, you’re neurotic about all this. You shouldn’t have taken a nap. ME: You were the one who hijacked ontological operations! BODY: You are getting very sleepy! ME: Thanks, body. Thanks a lot.

New Book from Nicholson Baker!

Red alert! Months after I asked what had happened to the fantastic novelist Nicholson Baker, we now have an answer! Nicholson Baker is coming out with a new book. Human Smoke is due from Simon & Schuster on March 11, 2008. It is 800 pages — an unexpectedly expansive volume, categorized under 20th century history. I will be investigating additional details and reporting back anything I can find out.