Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Google Books and the Universe

This article in the New Yorker today got me thinking about the nature of the book, about the idea of ownership, whether it be by author, publisher, or the public. When we publish a work, there are certain legal restraints and parameters that belong to that work for a half century or so before it becomes public domain, but, as information becomes more necessarily digital, does that system of publishing, ownership, and authorship threaten to make itself obsolete?

At the center of the debate is Google Books, and their lofty goal (which I totally give the thumbs-up to, however, Idiolexicon takes no stance) of scanning every page of every book ever published, and entering them all into a searchable internet database. A decade from now they hope to have essentially a universal database of all written human knowledge. They've paired with several public and private libraries to scan any and all books and editions which are public domain, as well as having made deals with most every major publisher for the rights to scan new books as they're released. The problem, which is currently making its way to the courts, is that middle ground of books, mostly things published from 1950 to the present, whose copyrights haven't expired, but are currently out of print.

One of the complainants in the lawsuit, The Authors Guild, is fighting Google on its methods, claiming it violates copyright law, and this, the methods, begin to devolve the nature of citation, fair use, and the nature of the book. Essentially, Google scans the entire book into its database page by page, however those complete digital books are not available to the public. What is available to the public are searchable text compiled from every book ever written. Basically a Luxes-Nexus not limited to scholarly journals, but encompassing entire libraries worth of information. According to the Authors Guild, the act of digitizing these books completely, whether or not the entire book is then made public, violates copyright and library fair use laws. Publishers also fear that this method of dissemination would allow the creation of pirate books. Google responds that scanning entire books and making only portions available for information seekers falls under fair use, and the method of disseminating the books doesn't matter (and also, and this is my stance and by no means Google, I welcome a world where pirate copies of Williams' "Spring and All" trade hands on the black market.)

It's an interesting debate over an interesting cause. A searchable library of every published word. When we publish a book, be it creative or scholarly, what expectations do we have for its ownership? As writers we want our words read by as many people as possible, and personally I believe any system that streamlines that availability is a system worth building. I know it isn't as cut and dry as that, and there are many equally valid dissenting opinions. It's a debate worth having, as we see the publishing industry floundering, and successful media expanse into the digital domain. Evolution tells us that the species which survive aren't necessarily the strongest or fastest. but the ones least resistant to adaptation and change. Maybe I view publishing too strictly through the lens of poetics, but poetics are important to me, and I want anyone and everyone to have easy access to poets and their work.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Recommended Reading

Shake -- Poems by Joshua Beckman

Elliot passed this book along to me at an Arielle Greenberg reading two weeks ago, and I'm grateful. The poems are self assured, certain. Beckman staples statements and series of images, all odd and amazing in their own right, into construction-paper garland. There's a wonderful beat underwriting his measured line. He uses this measure to link his surreal generalization in a way that informs the subtle and infrequent facts of life which bleed in from the margins.

Beckman uses linebreak as punctuation so fluidly that you're unware you're missing out on commas and periods until several poems have passed you by. His repetition draws emphasis to phrase and layers beat, forming the lines into a music, a kick-ass electroacoustic composistion bouncing around the stereoscopic speaker system in your head. This, married to the form changes from section to section, mold wit, beat and image into a wave, a current of peaks and valleys giving the line space to breath one moment, then crushing it into distilled constriction the next.

The book is made of three disinct, powerful movements. Shake draws life from that construction-paper garland of statement and image. "Let The People Die" stalls the form to draw the most from the repetition, meter, and taste of the language. "New Haven" frees the line from constriction, and flips the sentence on it's head. As parts they form a beautiful and exquisite corpse, given a heartbeat of strict meter, and fed the mad lightnings of surrealism, imagism, and cubism, they become an undead poetry monster. This book kinda rocks.



Sunday, January 28, 2007

Looking Forward To It (Or: In Defense of Milkshake)

Milkshake of course being my nickname for Peyton Manning.

I haven't watched or read a moment of football coverage since the Conference Championships last Sunday. Twenty-four hour sports coverage, especially during the biweek preceeding the Super Bowl, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gives us something to do on our six hour Jet Blue flights from New York to Oakland. On the other hand, it gives literally hours upon hours of stories about Peyton Manning accomplishing what his father couldn't; Rex Grossman's role as the Bears' biggest weakpoint; Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith as the first black head coaches to reach the Super Bowl; Peyton Manning accomplishing what his brother never will; Rex Grossman as the Bears' greatest strength; Peyton Manning vanquishing his post-season demons; uncertainty as to which Rex Grossman will show up; Peyton Manning; the return of the Monsters of the Midway; Tony Dungy expulging his post-season demons; Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback since reconstruction.

You get the idea. All across America, people have decided this season that they're sick of Peyton Manning. They're sick of his ads, his hype, and his constant presence in every NFL discussion on every major network. Well not me. Last week when most everyone everywhere was decrying another Patriots-Colts AFC championship game, I was happy to know that I was watching two of the greatest teams of all-time playing head to head in another epic game. I'm a Patriots fan, having grown up in New Hampshire, and at the end of the game when the Colts came back to win it on the last drive, I was happy. I'd watched my team lose in one of the greatest pure football games I'd ever seen. And even though all my friends in Chicago will never speak to me after this post, I was happy knowing Peyton Manning could finally win his ring.

The only reason people are sick of the guy, and this is my theory, is because his commercials are almost always followed by Chevy commercials paired with that obnoxious John Mellencamp song. When you watch one of the greatest regular season (and soon post-season) quarterbacks of all time poking fun at himself (who doesn't love "Let's go insurance adjusters, let's go!!), and the last thing you're left with is, "this is arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr countryyyyyyyyyyy" of course it's going to leave a bad taste in your mouth. This is the double-edged sword of overexposure in the twenty-four hour sports news cycle. Overexposure is the only thing anyone can really claim they dislike about Peyton, and that has hardly anything to do with him. He and Tony Dungy (the coach who made the frikkin' Buccaneers respectable, the frikkin' Bucs!) turned the perennial bottom-of-the-bucket-since-Unitas Colts into one of the greatest teams of all time, and they did it with hard word, preperation, and a team of guys who don't play ego (save one Idiot Kicker who shall go nameless.)

After watching the Colts and Patriots in so many clashes these past seven years, I stopped disliking the Colts as a rival and started respecting them as one. Don't blame Peyton Manning for the twenty-four hours sports news cycle. Make a vat of chili and watch one of the greatest QBs of all-time try to win one against one of the greatest defenses of all time, with the first two black head coaches to ever lead their teams to the Super Bowl watching on. Who would you rather have raise the Lombardi trophy next weekend, the goofy king of diligence of preperation, or Rex-cellence, who admitted he didn't prepare or play to win during the last game of the season?

It'll finally shut all the talking heads up, stifle the constant criticism that comes with falling one game short, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but, Go Colts.


Friday, January 26, 2007

The Language of Wartime

Two things happened today that got me worrying about the Neo-Con war doctrine again. The first was the revelation by Senators Chuck Hagel and Joe Biden that when the White House first asked the Senate for war-powers to invade Iraq, their original request was to allow the use of military force across the Entire Middle East, from Lebanon to Pakistan. This was followed by Bush's decree that US troops were to kill and/or detain any Iranian found in Iraq. This worries me, one, because Iran and Iraq are treatied allies who now share resources and people, and two, it could easily cause an international instant to provoke Iran in an attempt for the Bush administration to circumvent the Congress.

I find it both frustrating and fascinating the way in which language is used, and has always been used, to frame arguments and shift facts away from truth. The largely conservative idea that the truth of something and the facts of something are largely seperate is just a jumping off point. The debate over President Bush's descision to send more troops to Iraq (which he has done several times already in the course of the war, with no success) is a great example: Democrats use the word "Escalation" to describe it, and always in the context of the war. Republicans use the term "Surge" to describe it, and always in the context of Baghdad. On CNN the other night, a Republican Rep attacked Dems who were against increasing the troop level as "Blocking Reenforcments," a charge that plays both to the conservative language game and to the false notion that the left is against the troops.

And finally, with regards to both war and my own personal language. I'd said that the Pentagon's new super weapon was laughably G.I. Joe-like, and it is, and even still it's the wrong G.I.Joe-like direction to go in. The next generation of warfare is going to be largely urban and antiinsurgent. Our Pentagon Engineers should really be concentrating on building something like the A.G.P. from Destro's Genadiers. Seriously. That or B.A.T.S.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

News Roundup:

It looks to me that Pentagon Engineers used to play with the same GI Joe vehicles I did.

Also, if you weren't watching CSPAN today (seriously, right?) the banter between Senators Levin and McCain in the Armed Services Committee meeting over the escalation of US Troops in Iraq basically broke down into, "Bench marks!? Don't talk about kiddin' me? Bench Marks?!"


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

News Roundup:

This past sunday, the Patriots and Colts played one of the greatest AFC Championship games I've ever seen; the 2008 Presidential field was blown open with announcements from Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden and Edwards, and Governers Vilsak and Richardson on the left, and Mayor Guiliani, Governers Romney and Huckabee, and Senators McCain and Brownback; and I finished a Camden Joy novel while preparing one of the most delicious white pizzas ever tasted. Congress demanded the White House complete the International Intelligence Estimate it's been delaying for years. Vampiric Conservative columnist Robert Novak said something NOT biased and basically electioneering.

FOX News' smear/lie that Senator Obama attended a terrorist training camp was debunked as Tony Dungy's face was plastered all across America's TV screens. And speaking of Obama, he and Russ Feilgold finally pushed much needed ethics legislation through. Two Ohio GOP election workers were convicted of pre-rigging the 2004 Presidential recount in Ohio,which, by the way, still reeks of the stolen show in Florida last time around. As Ohio's vote-count was coming in, Bush was told he'd lost the election by his team, and to their shock, he didn't seem concerned. Forty minutes later, the vote-count drastically swung is way, with heavily GOP districts turning out at 70% of voters, and Democratic districts turning out at 3% of voters. Hmmm. Also, Senate Republicans, who were so adamant against the filibuster last year that they threated to change Senate rules to eliminate it, today filibustered a bill to raise the minimum wage.

It's wonderful when so many disparate things come together to complete a weekend. Also, the State of the Union would be three, four, maybe five times more fun to watch if Stadler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show were seated in the gallery with Mrs. Bush and Dikembe Mutombo. Not that Dikembe Mutombo didn't make all the pomp and golf clapping worthwhile.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Perpetual Motion Roadshow #40

Idiolexicon will be back from Winter Break with some new poems on Monday. Maybe there'll even be some surprises over the weekend. Meanwhile, go to this:

Perpetual Motion Roadshow #40

...Jan. 13-18th the Roadshow features...

seductive mesmerizer
from New York City!

ethereal-floaty-pop singer
from San Jose!

subgenius street performer
from Little Rock!

Vancouver: Sat. Jan. 13, 7pm. Spartacus Books (319 W. Hastings, upstairs) w/ cookie cannibal poet Shannon Maguire and puppeteer of the absurd J-Ray!
Portland: Sun. Jan. 14, 7pm. Chance of Rain Café (1522 SE 32nd Ave)
Ashland: Mon. Jan. 15, 7pm. The Beanery (1602 Ashland Street)
Berkeley: Tues. Jan. 16, 7pm. The Long Haul (3124 Shattuck Ave)
San Francisco: Wed. Jan. 17, 7:30pm. Modern Times (888 Valencia Street) w/ nerdcore poet Stephen Michael Meads!
San Jose: Thurs. Jan. 18, 8pm. Anno Domini (366 South First Street)

All shows are pay-what-you-can.

Jane Ormerod was born on the south coast of England, crossed the Atlantic in 2004 and now lives in New York City. Originally a painter, she switched to writing as a result of a bet. Her work tends to be found in publications with grubby, rock 'n' roll titles, e.g. Dirt, Arsenic Lobster, Failbetter, Stained Sheets, Word Riot and Unpleasant Event Schedule. A recent performance review in Art Comments described her as "descriptive yet judicious and yet seductive". That's a lot of yets.

Lisa Dewey, San Francisco Bay Area artist and owner of indie label Kitchen Whore Records, began playing shows in 1990 and has since released four albums, two EPs and a book. Her latest record, Busk (Bella Union/Kitchen Whore), was released in the spring of 2004. As with the previous release, Weather Changer Girl, this record contains the work and assistance of the legendary Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins). Together, Lisa and Simon have produced another masterpiece of female vocals over beautiful guitar melodies. It’s dreamy, multilayered, atmospheric, gorgeous pop with favorable comparisons to the Cocteau Twins and Everything But The Girl.

Janor Hypercleats was born in New Orleans in 1959. In 1980, he became nationally known as a performer when he headlined the first Subgenius Convention in Dallas. He was one of the authors of The Book of the Subgenius, published in 1983 by McGraw-Hill. Throughout the '80s and '90s, he performed around the country with the Church of the Subgenius. He was the co-author of four Subgenius Books published by Simon and Schuster in the '80s and '90s. In 1998, he left the Church of the Subgenius and became a street performer under the name Mr. T.V.

Yeah, three totally awesome people. And if you come to the San Francisco edition, you get an Elliot Harmon hosting and a Stephen Meads to boot.

Be there. Bring a friend and an enemy.

(More info, flyers, etc.)

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