Friday, May 04, 2007

FEMA's latest brand of descrimination

Someone at the ASPCA forwarded to me the FEMA housing contract dated February 2007. Of course, many people are still homeless due to the hurricanes of 2005; in addition to the obvious loss of homes, many rentals have escalated in price because of the premiums being paid by relief workers and by FEMA itself, so there is a huge logjam of people unable to move out of the system. Here's one way to move them out:

"3. The following breeds are not permitted at any FEMA mobile home or travel trailer site: Akita, Boxer, Chow, Doberman, Pit Bull, Rotweiller, American Staffordshire Terriers, English Staffordshire Terriers, wolf hybrids or any other breed with dominent traits geared toward aggression. Additionally, many of these animals have lock jaws that increase the risk of harm during a bite."

The last line is particularly telling, since it isn't supported by any biological evidence. Many insurance companies have been refusing homeowners insurance to the same list of dog owners. But since both FEMA and insurance companies are in the business of denying coverage, I think the list of dogs is their polite way of stereotyping people who they believe are risks in other ways. As PETA likes to say, there's only one kind of person who owns a pit bull: gang members and drug dealers. And that is a polite way of saying...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Difference Between printed newspapers and blogs

The New York Times today has an interesting story on the death of traditional book reviews which mentions the petition (see below) and the NBCC. The reason I know about this article is that I bought the newspaper today, along with the Times-Picayune, while having a cup of coffee. The Times reporter argues--with a lot of talking heads concurring--that people need to let go of traditional venues for book reviewing. And it is true that bloggers and websites are able to address books in a way that physical publications cannot. But reading these two newspapers today reminded me of the way in which we can discover things on the physical page that we would miss in any other medium. In the New York Times today, I discovered articles on a gelato renaissance in Manhattan, the behind the scenes struggles of the James Beard Foundation, the voiceover work of Liev Schreiber, and lots of opinions on the takeover of Dow Jones by Murdoch (don't even get me started.) In the New Orleans paper, there was a great cover story about the meeting of two descendants of the Homer Plessy segregation case, which began in 1892 on the train tracks just a few blocks from my house. And there were stories on the artists selling work at Jazz Fest this year, and a great story on Walter Issacson by our own book review editor, Susan Larson.

All of these stories are available online--but I doubt I would have clicked on the links to them if I hadn't thought ahead of time that I'd find the stories interesting. In fact, I wouldn't have predicted much interest in any of these stories, but there they were, spread out in front of me, with great photos luring me in to the text.

When I was growing up, in the middle of Pennsylvania, I read the New York Times Book Review each Sunday. And through those reviews, I first read a number of books I would have never heard about growing up in the middle of Pennsylvania: Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York; Jean Stein's Edie; Julian Barnes History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters;etc. I suppose if the internet were alive back then, I might have learned of them, or I might have found even better books in their place. Or...I might not have been introduced to the idea of actively reading at all, beyond the books that were assigned to me in the classes I took at a public high school. So, what kind of life would I have had? Maybe a more practical one that what I've got now--but certainly not more interesting.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Death of book reviews=The Death of books...

It was explained to me sometime deep in the past that people only risk participating in a rebellion or protest when they feel they have nothing left to lose. That's why most people don't speak up against actions taken against other people. They might not even complain about actions being taken directly against them. "Things could be much worse than what we're proposing," is the answer one local developer loves to give when anyone offers the tiniest criticism. And so, for years, book critics and people in the book industry have been talking about the cultural danger of shrinking book review coverage in the nation's newspapers. If the pages don't generate top dollar ad pages, they are cut, and if they are cut, books get ignored, and if books get ignored...You get the picture. "What can we do?" we have all asked, but rarely has anyone come up with an answer.

Now, with the news that the Atlanta Journal Constitution is cutting their influential book review section, people are finally taking action. Hopefully not too late. Over at the National Book Critics Circle blog, they've been having what amounts to a deathbed vigil, with some really fantastic posts, theories, suggestions and interviews from editors and authors all over the country. This includes anInterview with the Times-Picayune's book editor Susan Larson.

Meanwhile, if you can't make it to the public protest planned for Thursday, you can sign the online petition.

How I Missed the First Weekend of Jazz Fest

The New York Times has an nice story today about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and what it means to the city these days. I actually didn't make it up to the Fest during the first weekend. Friday I had another event at Douglass High School in the morning, followed by teaching at NOCCA in the afternoon, so I would have missed the one act I'd been looking forward to that day: T Bone Burnett. On Saturday, I was teaching at NOCCA again, followed by some afternoon meetings, followed by Otto's first birthday. On Sunday I thought I'd finally get there, and particularly wanted to see Gillian Welch and Jill Scott, not to mention my friends and neighbors the Hot 8 Brass Band. But when I woke up I couldn't get two key concepts out of my head: 1) It was very hot, and 2) It was the first day in a very long time that was completely free from any commitments. And so I did nothing.