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Wednesday, Aug 1, 2007

The tug of war continues over students’ free speech and press rights.

First, the good news: In Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) signed a bill on July 13 that, for the first time ever, protects under one statute both high school and college students’ right to a free press. The law states, “student journalists are responsible for determining content of school-sponsored media.”

The bad news is not far behind. According to The Student Press Law Center (SPLC), the law was the subject of plenty of debate and revisions. A SPLC press release states, “The House Judiciary Committee amended the HB 3279 by removing ‘advertising’ from a list of protected student expressions for high school students and deleting a clause that would have allowed for the awarding of attorney’s fees and costs to students who successfully sue their school for violations of the law. The Senate Judiciary Committee removed a provision that designated college publications as ‘public forums’ and discarded a guarantee that student media advisers who refuse to censor student publications cannot be fired or transferred.”

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Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007
by Connie Ogle
First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel

First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel
by Jasper Fforde
Viking ($24.95)

There is simply so much you don’t know about fiction: Thomas Hardy’s novels used to be hilarious, but someone made off with the humor. There was once a shocking outbreak of sensible behavior in Othello. Only 15 pianos exist in literature, and so they must be endlessly shuffled from Bleak House to The Mill on the Floss to Heart of Darkness and so on. Mistakes happen; one piano ended up in Miss Bates’ parlor in Emma, and Frank Churchill had to take the rap for dumping it there.

Such unsettling events occur regularly in the Bookworld, born in the furiously agile imagination of Jasper Fforde, creator Thursday Next of Jurisfiction, a literary detective whose adventures stretch uproariously across four novels (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten). Fforde has shaken up genres—fantasy, comedy, crime, sci fi, parody, literary criticism—and come up with a superb mishmash with lots of affectionate in-jokes for any book lover.

In the aptly titled First Among Sequels—tough call, but there’s a good chance it’s the best of Fforde’s novels—Thursday is no longer working SpecOps, or at least not to her husband Landen’s knowledge. He thinks she’s laying carpet, but she’s still leaping in and out of assorted prose and contending with non-literary mayhem. The genre wars continue, with Racy Novel’s threats to drop a dirty bomb into “Mrs. Dalloway.” Time may be coming to an end. The ruling Commonsense Party is running up an ominously high Stupidity Surplus (“Instead of drifting from one crisis to the next and appeasing the nation with a steady stream of knee-jerk legislation and headline-grabbing but arguably pointless initiatives, they had been resolutely building a raft of considered long-term plans that concentrated on unity, fairness, and tolerance”).

Worst of all is the introduction of Reality Book Shows, which will rewrite the classics based on audience approval. First up: Pride and Prejudice.

Fforde, also author of the even sillier Nursery Crimes series, is not even close to running out of targets. His satire is relentless and inspired; even his throwaway one-liners hit home: “The MAWk-15H virus has once again resurfaced in Dickens, particularly in the Death of Little Nell, which is now so uncomfortably saccharine that even our own dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell complained.”

Thursday may face a threat against reading in the Bookworld, but in the real world, thanks to the witty Fforde, she can rest assured that the demise of the book has never seemed more unlikely.

Connie Ogle
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

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Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007
by Phil Rosenthal and Michael Oneal

CHICAGO - Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion conquest of Dow Jones & Co. is all but complete.

After an operatic, months-long battle of wills with the wealthy Bancroft family, which has controlled the business news empire for more than a century, Murdoch’s hefty $60-per-share offer finally prevailed on Tuesday. Ultimately, an agreement to pay the family’s advisory fees trumped fears that Murdoch might corrupt their birthright, one of the most respected and powerful news organizations in the world.

The victory of Murdoch’s News Corp. marries the staid, establishment publisher of The Wall Street Journal with a global media maverick and his company best known as purveyor of newspapers such as The New York Post and television shows such as “The O’Reilly Factor” and “The Simpsons.”

That coupling has sent chills through the world of establishment journalism and raised anew a question that has bedeviled the industry in recent years as audience and advertising revenue decline: Why can’t even the best newspapers find a way to pay for themselves?

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Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

Some important forwarded information

Protest the Corporate Take Over of Harlem

Rally and Demo for Bobby’s Happy House
Protest the Eviction of Harlem’s
1st Black own business on 125th St.
Friday, August 3, 2007
5 PM to 7 PM
2337 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
(Between 125th & 126th Streets)

Legendary record producer Bobby Robinson, now 90 years of age opened Bobby’s Record House, the first Black owned business on 125th Street in 1946. Robinson, a prominent African American independent record producer established six record labels between 1952 and 1962, Red Robin Records, Whirlin’ Disc Records, Fury Records, Everlast Records and Enjoy Records. Robinson produced numerous million-selling records by such notable performers as Wilbert Harrison, The Shirelles, Lee Dorsey, Dave “Baby” Cortez ande Gladys Knight & the Pips’ first hit, “Every Beat of My Heart”.

At issue is whether or not Bobby’s Happy House and other local Black businesses can remain in the “Harlem Has Arrived” corporate takeover of the world renowned community once called the “Black Mecca” in the US. For sure, the subsidized corporation takeover of Harlem is moving full speed ahead with the complicity of presidential hopeful Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Board of Trustees of Columbia University, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and elected officials. Estimates are that over 50 local Black businesses have been forced out of Harlem and more will follow with the $50 million sale of 112-118 West 125th Street, 250 West 125th Street, 301-303 West 125th Street and 2331-2349 Frederick Douglass Boulevard not to mention new developments that are coming: Hotel 124 at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue;  21 stories Harlem Parks at 125th Street and Park Avenue;  a retail complex at 261 W. 125th St;  and a retail tower at 125th Street and Lenox Ave with luxury apartments. Columbia University’s bold land grab of over 17 acres in West Harlem and Mayor Bloomberg’s Uptown New York calls for the use of eminent domain to force local businesses to sell to private owners. And the legendary Copeland’s restaurant will host its last Sunday Gospel Brunch on July 29th. With all of these developments coming the number of jobs for the majority local Black population will be minuscule while undocumented workers will be exploited to the hilt! The Real Deal of course is money and backroom deal, all at the misery of the poor and working class. The real estate industry is projecting commercial prices over the next 18 months reaching as high as $2,000 per sq. ft.  The pressure is on and we are fighting back. But WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT! JOIN US ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 3RD.

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Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007

Chris O’Brien, who’s written a book about beer and sustainability issues, told me about a trip he had taken to Chico, California, where he visited the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. It doesn’t publicize its efforts very much, but Sierra Nevada, it turns out, is fairly committed to environmentally-sustainable business practices, as this section of the brewery’s website makes clear. It wasn’t the easiest thing to find there; you have to peel a few layers back before you find the tab somewhat cryptically marked “Our Environment,” which takes you to the page that details the brewer’s efforts to supply its own energy and produce energy from its waste product and recycle and so on, all without compromising its product or its ambitions—currently Sierra Nevada is one of the largest craft brewers in the U.S. and its product has become fairly ubiquitous.

As Chris was telling me about this, I wondered, Can Sierra Nevada continue to expand its market share without undermining its environmental commitments? The question that seems to me central to sustainability and business is whether the pursuit of economies of scale doesn’t at some point require a business to sacrifice its commitment to sustainable practices, which seem to prescribe limits beyond which energy consumption and labor exploitation and various forms of resource arbitrage become inevitable. If consumers all decided they approved of Sierra’s methods and wanted to show it by consuming its product, it would become threatened by its own success, or become so expensive that it would reinforce the idea that conservation is a luxury of conscience for the well-to-do.

One could argue that the limits on a business’s ability to expand are organic ones, natural, constituting the natural size for human communities, but technology muddles the demarcation of these limits. Also, now that we are accustomed to globalized culture—the availability of the world’s output just about anywhere, the triumph of logistics and container-based shipping, etc.—it would be hard to experience a truly local culture as natural, to see the return to localized idiosyncrasies (which have always been typified for me by local music scenes) as anything but a loss in the richness of the fabric of life. Of course, it is easy to posit arguments about how local culture is actually richer, thicker with community involvement, community specific customs and mores—the lost folk culture I was lamenting in an earlier post. It also would make travel much more meaningful, because it would be much harder to replicate the consumption patterns one is familiar with elsewhere. A return to local culture might even displace the centrality of consumption to much of our leisure time experience.

But I know I would react badly to the loss of access to goods from abroad; I would feel deprived, even cheated. And it is hard to sell deprivation and lack of choice as a kind of liberation, though in trivial non-material cases, it sometimes can be; removing optional paralysis can sometimes lead to a lot more personal productivity, a lot less time wasted on choices that seem important but really route ones energy away from the activity the choice is supposed to facilitate and back toward a debilitating self-consciousness and endless procrastination: what will people think of me if I wear this shirt? What will they think if I read this book on the subway? You can use a prolonged decision making process to avoid doing anything while flattering yourself that you are wrapped up in important deliberations. I spent days agonizing over what kind of laptop to buy, dwelling on all the specifications and how they would impact my fantasy of using it to get all this work done out and about. If it weighs under 5 pounds, will I carry it with me more places to get things done? How much memory should it have, in order to run which applications simultaneously? Will I need it to be powerful enough to run audio editing and recording software, so I can use it as a portable studio? I thought a lot about these things, elaborating daydreams where the computer would enable me to complete all these aborted projects while spontaneously generating all these new and ever more absorbing ones. But now that I’ve bought one, all I do with it is connect it to my TV to watch downloaded shows.

The problem with taking away consumer choice in favor of local, sustainable business practices is that living with consumerism has instilled in us its values, which equate freedom of choice with freedom in general, so that an “arbitrary” limitation on our access to things—for arbitrary will be how it would seem, now that we are familiar with what can be made possible, with the great diversity that can be brought to our store shelves—seems like an encroachment on our rights as American citizens. We also prefer purchasing power as a proxy for a political power because it exempts us from coming up with a coherent ideology. It also reinforces another value pervasive in consumer societies, the primacy of individualism. Where consumerism reigns, individualism is less a matter of being able to do whatever you want without interference than it is synonymous with the ability to assemble a unique collection of goods that one owns personally and which seem to constitute one’s unique social identity. It’s easier to feel autonomous when your social role—who you are in your community—is determined not by what you are capable of doing or what you are permitted to contribute but by what the magic of the economy allows you to buy for yourself. This arrangement allows for the illusion of much greater independence from those around us; you can walk into a mall and experience the fantasy of being able to become whoever you want, immediately, through a series of well-considered purchases.

So in prioritizing sustainability and localized production over expanded consumer choice and identity construction, different values would have to be disseminated. Privileging local community and small-scale sustainable economies would have to seem like something other than vain utopianism (local communities, theoretically invested with richer and more-binding traditions, could possibly be more repressive than decentralized “open” societies) or nostalgia for a less complicated time. And people would have to reconceive the ways in which they understand their own potential and value—not in terms of how many options they can supply themselves with but in terms of how satisfying the relationships in their lives can be made (or some such rot).

That’s where Chris, if I understand him correctly, believes companies like Sierra Nevada can play a part. He found it odd that Sierra Nevada wouldn’t make more of an effort to link its product with the environmentally conscious manner in which its made. This might serve to take the taint of wishful thinking away from such sustainability projects as the one Sierra Nevada is engaged in and make it clear that it could be a feasible and natural part of the economy with which we are familiar. But the minute the brewery begins promoting itself as a green business, it instrumentalizes environmentalism and makes it serve as marketing tool, a reputation builder, rather than an end in itself. This could have the effect of alienating the very audience who remains skeptical of environmentalism by making it seem the province of the privileged, the latte liberals, the coastal elite, etc. They won;t buy into sustainability once it seems like its something people want to congratulate themselves for, once it seems a means to an individualist end—this seems to take the narcissism of consumerism and larders some hypocrisy on top. To put it in terms Jon Elster uses in Sour Grapes, a reputation for environmentalism is a necessarily a by-product and not something that can rightly be the aim of a set of practices. Publicity would undermine the perceived purity of Sierra Nevada’s motives. Instead, it must rely on people like Chris to spread the word of its greenness for it, protecting it from seeming to exploit environmentalism, reducing it to a trend. But then, any advocates must also be careful not to become too strident as well. Elster cites Stanley Benn, who argues that “political activity may be a form of moral expression,” but this must be tempered with care that it not become merely moral self-expression, “middle-class radicalism” as most forms of commodified rebellion expressed in shopping endorsements or lifestyle choices turn out to be. As Elster points out, “there is no such activity or kinesis as ‘acquiring self-respect,’ in the sense in which one may speak of the activity of ‘learning French.’ ”

The point here is that one must be a true believer to make proselytizing a worthwhile action; the minute one begins to consider how what one is doing makes one come across as the sort of person who does such things, then all is lost. One becomes a vanguard hipster who’s trying to pass for a fellow traveler—the social relations at stake are reduced to ego politics, and one’s praxis is a dim reflection of the system one pretends to want to change; one become a second-rate entrepreneur marketing a self-image. When the sincerity of your motives are in question, even if it is it seems as though it is through no fault of your own, you risk doing active harm to the cause you espouse—like Janeane Garafolo on the campaign trail in 2004. And once you become overly self-conscious about the effects you are trying to achieve, and how it reflects on you personally, your motives are suspect. What sets someone like me apart from someone like Chris is that I am riddled with these kinds of thoughts constantly, cursed with perpetual self-consciousness, while he strikes me as someone who never questions his causes or puts him own interests out in front of them. Were I to consciously try to emulate his m.o. though, I’d be compounding my probelm, still trying to achieve through direct action a state of mind that is essentially a by-product of thinking entirely of something else.

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