Archive for May, 2012

This Is News: Shiloh Turns 6, Wears Brother’s Pants

Posted in Internet, Media, This Is News?, Uncategorized on May 27, 2012 by JE Cornett

America is divided into two camps this weekend: those who are celebrating Memorial Day, and those who are celebrating the birthday of that most American of concepts, Shiloh Jolie Pitt.

Mind you, I wouldn’t have a clue that the blessed day was nigh if every web portal I’ve encountered in the past three days or so hadn’t reminded me. In the event that this had somehow escaped your notice, Shiloh’s birthday is a matter of great importance.

I’m not even going to dwell on what’s wrong with us as Americans that enough of us are interested in a child’s 6th birthday that we’ve pushed her into Google and Yahoo’s top search terms for the past 24 hours.

No, what I’m more worried about is this article by Katherine Perricone, bless her heart, who, if you want to preserve some corner of your soul by not reading the article, has this to share on the matter of interest of Shiloh’s birthday:

With two older brothers she idolizes, it’s impossible for Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, the daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who turns 6 on Sunday, not to mimic their style — but the little tomboy actually raids their closets! Over the past few years as she’s traded dresses for cargo pants, Shiloh has stepped out all over the world in fashions her brothers Maddox, 10, and Pax, 8, have already rocked.

That’s right. It’s not enough that we as a nation are concerned about a 6 year-old girl’s birthday that we’re all running to the interwebs to find out about it. We’re also worried about the fact that she’s, horror of horrors, wearing her brothers’ hand-me-downs. Because if some of us were not worried, then Katherine Perricone, whomever she may be, would not be going through paparazzi photos from the past six or seven years with a gimlet eye toward the pants that Maddox and Shiloh Jolie Pitt wear.

In a land of 40+ oz. soft drinks, handguns at Wal-Mart and the Kardashians, this is a new low.

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Your Tweets Make Me Sick

Posted in Internet, Social Media, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 25, 2012 by JE Cornett

Cory Booker

Quick — which of the following statements is an excerpt from Newark, NJ mayor’s Twitter feed, and which are the ramblings of teenage girls on Twitter?

“Starting to realize who my REAL friends are…

“Sorry I make u sick… Best we can do is learn from our mistakes, not let them stop u but make u stronger.”

“There’s always 2 sides 2 every story.”

I’m going to let you stew on that for a moment. Cuz I no its hard 2 tell which is which.

I’m sure Cory Booker is intelligent. I’m sure he’s as qualified for his job as any other mayor in the United States. But if I lived in Newark, whether I voted for Booker or not, I’d be mortified, because this is how Cory Booker reacts when he feels besieged by Democrats and Republicans alike after he decrying Democratic attacks against presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

It’s bad enough when an elected official is engaging critics via a Twitter feed, but when his tweets read exactly like the tweets my teenage nieces and their friends send, I cringe for my country. As my mother would say, “that’s just tacky.”

Cory Booker (and every other elected official/adult/person who should know better):

If you must tweet, and I’m not entirely convinced that you must, seeing your Twitter feeds more as vanity or a continuous stump rather than any public service, could you please make the effort to compose tweets that are not:

  • grammatically egregious,
  • as petulant and silly as those of a pissed-off 16 year-old girl,
  • trite and stupid,
  • cringeworthy.

Better yet, just don’t tweet at all. Kthnxbye?

By the way, the one in the middle belongs to Booker.

Deathmatch: Paper Vs. E-Readers for Non-Fiction

Posted in E-books, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by JE Cornett

Source: flickr.com via Jeanna on Pinterest

 Ian McShane is paper, his bearded opponent an e-reader. Let’s see who wins!

We’ve all got a friend or an acquaintance who’s great for the good times, but flakes out a little when things get complicated or tough. The one who’s pretty, but a little ditzy, or super-friendly but hard to pin down. Trendy as hell, but not necessarily classy.

That friend, dear readers, is my Kindle. Oh, and my Aluratek, too.

I had suspected all along that my new friends Kindle and Aluratek would prove unreliable and intractable when I asked them to spend time with non-fiction, but I found their company with traditional regencies, 33 1/3 volumes, pulp fiction and essays so pleasurable that I cast my misgivings aside.

But when I recently returned to my first love, non-fiction, I found that my new friends were just too techy. And that is where my e-readers and I had, in Southern parlance, a falling out.

My flaky friends Kindle and Aluratek make reading annotated non-fiction much harder than it needs to be. Footnotes at the bottom of a page ruin pagination, or disappear altogether. Flipping to the back of the book to read a section of the bibliography, then returning to your original location in the book is like playing hide and seek. Same with looking something up in an index, because the pages as listed in the index rarely correspond with the pages as they are displayed. And don’t even get me started on “locations” rather than pages. I’m sure there’s some reason why locations are preferable to pages in the e-book world, but I have yet to discover that reason.

Of course you could always highlight or bookmark the section you want to return to, right? Yes, but that necessitates navigating various menus until you locate the highlight/bookmark.While we’re on the subject of highlights and bookmarks, why are they so difficult to create on a Kindle Touch screen? I accept that this may be operator error, but that makes the task no less a hassle.

These are all tiny problems, but they do not begin to address the biggest advantage an annotated non-fiction book has over the same book on an e-reader: flagging.

I don’t even begin a good non-fiction book without my trusty Post-It Flags . I even have a system for flagging; pink for themes/people/items/ideas I want to research more about. Green for books/movies/music I want to check out.  Yellow for phrases I like or quotes/information I want to look up in the bibliography. For someone who absolutely refuses to mark a book with ink, flags have made it possible for me to read a non-fiction book without keeping a notebook handy to make notations on every single thing I want to find out more about or remember.

While I know that it’s theoretically possible to do this type of flagging or notation in e-readers, the thought of it makes my head numb. I can’t figure out why anyone would want to, when it’s so easy to stick a bright neon flag on a page, or flip back and forth between the bibliography or index and the selection you’re reading. For a device that is dedicated to the idea of making reading easier and more convenient, e-readers simply can’t compare when it comes to annotated non-fiction.

Just to be certain that I was not condemning non-fiction on e-readers due to my own prejudices, I asked someone who is currently reading more non-fiction than he likely wants to–my much younger (and therefore more techy) brother who is in law school.

Textbooks, which are the pinnacle of annotated non-fiction, are becoming increasingly popular in e-book format, so I asked him about whether he used e-texts, and if so, whether he did so using, in his case, the app on his iPhone.

Surprisingly, he said he only used an e-text if there was no paper copy easily available, or if it was something he didn’t foresee using extensively. When he does use an e-text, he almost always does so on his computer. He cited almost to the word the same complaints that I have, especially the difficulty in making and accessing notes in the text.

As someone who reads mostly non-fiction, the conclusion that e-readers just aren’t up to the task of handling annotated non-fiction was a hard one to accept.  Despite coming late to the e-reader party, I’ve grown terribly fond of my e-readers. So naturally I racked my brain, trying to think of ways that the Kindle and Aluratek–nay, all e-readers–could be improved upon to make non-fiction easier to read thereupon. Alas, I came up with nothing that’s preferable to my current method.

So there you have it. As far as I–and my little brother–are concerned, paper wins big over e-readers for non-fiction. But I forgot one of the very best reasons why:

Source: 30.media.tumblr.com via Jeanna on Pinterest

If you, like me, flip to the photograph section before starting any biography or other non-fiction book, then there’s no comparison between paper and e-readers (unless, maybe, you’re reading on a color tablet). Especially when it’s a gorgeous still from the movie Laura featuring my boyfriend Dana Andrews. Sigh…

Browse On By — What I Love This Week

Posted in Browse on By, Uncategorized on May 18, 2012 by JE Cornett

Source: etsy.com via Jeanna on Pinterest

It’s been another wild week, so I haven’t done much this week. Eh. Here’s what I did happen upon and love:

There are a bunch of movie nerds in the world. Some of them have converged at Sound on Sight. They’re writing a lot of great stuff about great, overlooked movies.

Books are changing, publishing is changing, and it’s all enough to make your head hurt. Lawrence Block addresses all the above on his Goodreads blog.

I loved Barbara Samuel’s 1990s-era contemporary romance novels written under her pseudonym Ruth Wind. She writes a wonderful blog about writing called A Writer Afoot.

Did you know that the New York Public Library has a fabulous online image gallery?  They also have a great online shop.

At the Pop History Dig, there’s huge archive of essays and articles from years past about years past. For Mad Men fans, the section about advertising is especially fascinating.

N+1 asks the very pertinent question, “what’s up with all the silly girly sites?

Does Anyone But Me Care About Discontinued Syndicated Newspaper Columns?

Posted in Internet, Media, Newspapers, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2012 by JE Cornett

If she’s looking for a syndicated newspaper column, she may be out of luck.

Everyone knows that the Sunday paper is the best paper of the week. Editors save their best stories for Sunday, thin sections like Arts & Entertainment and Classifieds grow to healthy proportions, and the syndicated columns, where you can get advice and information about everything from in-laws to set-in stains, flourish. Scratch that last part. Syndicated columns are disappearing from newspapers and newspaper websites in droves. But does anyone care?

Syndicated columns are the orphans of the newspaper world, dependent upon a host of adopted relatives who put them up for awhile, then push them aside. The purpose that syndicated columns serve is a curious one; while syndicates ostensibly exist to provide a wider audience for columnists, the reality is that they provide relatively low-cost content to newspapers looking to fill column inches. Or they did back in the good old days when newspapers had column inches to spare.

With advertising revenues dropping dramatically and readers fleeing from paper media to online sources, newspapers are growing thinner and thinner, more focused on local news and the larger national/international stories. As papers grow thinner, syndicated columns and columnists disappear.

I’ll readily admit to being one of those people who’ve abandoned print newspapers. The best newspaper in my state doesn’t have daily delivery in my area, so I’ve relied on the online version for years. As a former newspaper reporter, I was fed on a steady diet of the syndicated columnists that we ran in the papers owned by the holding company. After I left, I kept up with these columns, from the Universal Press Syndicate, through the syndicate’s website (I won’t link to the site because I don’t want to be responsible for the 5000 pop-ups that would attack your computer subsequently).

Between the time that I first began reading the Universal Press columns online and today, the output has evolved. The list I offer is by no means all-inclusive, but I’ve stricken through the columns that are no longer offered, bolded the ones that are long-running, and italicized the newer additions:

Dear Abby

The Last Word in Astrology

Scott Burns

Smart Moves

Focus on the Family

Kids Talk About God

Tell Me A Story

Cookbook Nook

7-Day Menu Planner

Supermarket Sampler

Mr. HandyPerson

On Computers

Pet Connection

William F. Buckley Jr.

John Leo

David Shribman

James J. Kilpatrick

As I See It

Ann Coulter

Maggie Gallagher

Ted Rall

Richard Reeves

Georgie Anne Geyer

News of the Weird

Figuratively Speaking

Creating Spaces

Ask the Headhunter

On Ethics

National Perspective

Donna Brazile

Sweet Land of Liberty

Gene Lyons

Byron York

The New Republic

Even with the new additions tacked on to the bottom, Universal’s stable of syndicated columns has dwindled, but they’ve also taken on a new tone. While I had noticed the trend, it wasn’t until I made this list that I realized that the majority of the added columns are opinion, mostly political, while the majority of the discontinued columns are how-tos, help, and reviews.

Yet I’m not surprised. The content of the discontinued columns reflects the change in how we gather this information. Pre-Internet, finding reviews or how-to advice meant turning to the newspaper, a magazine, or a reference book. Today, the very idea of waiting for a newspaper column to address a problem is not unlike turning to Pony Express for email delivery.

The change in the Universal stable is also indicative of the larger shift in newspapers, especially the smaller, local papers that carried these columns. As they lose both advertisers and readers, smaller papers increasingly fill what small dead space is left with information they do not have to pay for, or, in many instances, information they’re being paid to run, in the form of announcements and sports schedules and other items that used to be used as filler.

Despite being dropped by newspapers, the advice/how-to/other lifestyle column hasn’t gone away — only the idea that it must be syndicated. The Washington Post, for all its troubles (financial and otherwise), has embraced the lifestyle column in the only way that it can work now, putting it online, where newer agony aunts and household heroes like Karla Miller and Amy Dickinson dole out advice next to Heloise and Carolyn Hax, two mainstays of Post advice columns. For those who can’t wait even a day for advice about burning problems, Hax, Dear Prudence and others offer live chats.

Still, the Post‘s confidence in online lifestyle columns can be viewed through two lenses, one that sees it as the natural progression of news media, and another that sees it as the dying gasp of a dinosaur desperate to stay relevant in a changing media landscape. Syndication isn’t the only thing the Internet is making obsolete; now that anyone with ten minutes to set up a webpage can spread their wisdom, the types of lifestyle columns we used to look for in papers are now the provenance of bloggers, or aggregate sites.

One such example is The Hairpin, an aggregate aimed at the very audience that years ago would have flipped first to the lifestyle section of the paper, the 20-40 year-old female. The Hairpin even features its very own Heloise for a generation that likely never heard of her, Jolie Kerr,aka “A Clean Person,” who offers advice on household matters of import ranging from a puked-on purse to a semen-stained recliner to funky-smelling jeans. It’s territory Heloise couldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole in a column that’s going to run in a mid-sized weekly paper, and that alone may explain more about the death of syndicated columns than any other financial or logistical shift.

As with much else on the Internet, the law of diminishing returns also applies to lifestyle and other advice. For every Jolie Kerr, there are a thousand people offering unclear, dangerous, or just plain bad advice, and, despite Google’s attempts to thwart them, at least as many content farms hiring freelancers to churn out the answers to all your burning questions, even if it means re-churning answers already found at another content farm.

It all makes you long for the days when you knew whose advice to trust. While I’d take Jolie Kerr’s word for almost anything (I’ve been a little worried about some jewelry cleaning advice I saw there once, but then I’m pretty uptight about my jewels), it’s probably because it’s the stuff my mother taught me — semen-stained upholstery excluded, of course. As for other rogue advice-givers, I’m not as trusting.  At least with syndicated columns, there was the comfort of knowing that an army of editors and fact checkers had laid eyes on it before it reached print, weeding out anything too dangerous. Just reading that so-and-so tried this or that to get the cat pee odor out of carpet is not enough for me, although that make speak more for my source-snobbery than any fear of ruined carpet.

With newspapers as we know them in their death throes, it may be fiddling while Rome burns to mourn the syndicated lifestyle columns. The reality, however, is that the disappearing syndicated column signifies something much more frightening — we’ve already established that we’ll take advice from anyone willing to dish it out. Will we also take news from anyone who reports it?

Browse On By: What I’m Loving This Week

Posted in Browse on By, Internet, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2012 by JE Cornett

Source: thekittencovers.tumblr.com via Jeanna on Pinterest

Most of this week has been spent drooling over Dana Andrews. Simple as that. In the few moments I’ve managed to drag myself away from the TV/e-reader, here’s what I’ve been wasting my time on:

I’m a crazy cat lady. I’m also a music nerd. The love child of my fetishes is The Kitten Covers. I’m just pissed that someone else thought of it first (and has the talent to pull it off).

In the dark days before I fell in love with my new boyfriend Dana Andrews (damnit, why are all the good ones married/ancient/dead?!?!), I used to watch a lot of PBS. If you love American Experience, get on over to the American Experience site, where you can watch almost every AE episode ever, plus — big, big, big plus — see tons more supplemental information about nearly all of the episodes. It’s like that rabbit hole I told you about, only Internet.

Since we’re in the mood for movies, don’t let’s watch bad ones. Before you watch, go to DVD Verdict and read my pal Amanda DeWees’ reviews. Not just because I like her, either. Some of the reviews are better than the movies, seriously.Like this one. Oh, and Amanda talks a bit about her reviewing days at her own site.

Think you and your juvenile delinquent friends invented graffiti, old-timer? Hardly. From Anne Glover’s swoon-worthy Regency Reads site, I learned about some really degenerate Romans and Englishmen who just couldn’t get enough of defacing public structures. Only they did it with a chisel. Kind of makes your stupid spray paint cans look amateur, doesn’t it, homey?

At New Domesticity,Emily Matchar is making old domesticity as irrelevant as your graffiti. Not really. She’s just writing thought-provoking posts examining the current trend towards homemaking amongst post-feminist generation. And don’t even start with your “post-feminist” crap — those are Matchar’s words, not mine.

That’s all for now. I’ve got more drooling to do.

Where You Find It: Baby Alligators and Bibliographies

Posted in Biography, Literature, Magazines, Movies, Music, Non-Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2012 by JE Cornett

Dana Andrews and Anne Baxter on the set of “Swamp Water.”

The argument could be made that the best non-fiction acts as a funnel, winnowing down into an expertly pieced mosaic the information the sources about the subject present. And the quality of the finished work is, of course, a direct reflection of the quality of the sources.

The bibliography of a well-researched book is a work of art in and of itself, acting as both a road map to the finished book and a treasure map to a voracious reader.  Consider the case of Swamp Water, Hollywood Enigma by Carl Rollyson, and Vereen Bell.

One of the best sections of Hollywood Enigma, Rollyson’s biography of actor Dana Andrews, covers the 1941 film Swamp Water. It’s an obscure film despite its pedigree as one of the first American films by renowned French director Jean Renoir. I’d never even heard of the film, nor did I know that the source for the movie was a novel by an all-but forgotten author, Vereen Bell.

Bell, a Georgia native, began his career writing for religious and juvenile magazines. He worked briefly as an editor of American Boy/Youth’s Companion before returning to Georgia to try his hand at freelancing. During the late 1930s, he sold outdoor stories to Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post, and wrote two novels, Swamp Water and Two of a Kind, that first appeared as serials in the Post.

Swamp Water, the story of a boy and his prized hunting dog finding trouble in the Okefenokee swamp, was published as a novel in 1940 by Little, Brown. The book was an instant success — a second print run was ordered a month after the first. According to the Georgia Encyclopedia, Bell sold the movie rights to Twentieth Century-Fox for $15,000, which is where the story gets even more interesting.

A quick turnaround for a purchased property like Swamp Water was not unheard of during the studio era  of film-making, but Swamp Water might have set a new standard for speed. The film was in theaters by 1941, no mean feat when one discovers, as I did via Hollywood Enigma, that the movie was filmed on location in Waycross, Georgia.

Renoir, new to Hollywood and riding on his reputation as one of French cinema’s best-known directors, insisted that a portion of the film be shot in the Okefenokee. In June, 1941, Renoir, along with Dana Andrews who played young Ben, the dog who played Trouble (and his trainer), and a small crew, descended upon Waycross for filming. Locals appeared in the film as doubles for male characters, and the Okefenokee played itself.

Rollyson’s account of the filming led me to some fascinating information about the film and its premiere, the best of which appears on the Georgia Encyclopedia. As Megan Kate Nelson writes on the entry for Swamp Water:

After the Hollywood crowd left, Waycross residents began to campaign to host the movie’s premiere. They besieged Twentieth Century Fox executives with requests, and even sent Darryl Zanuck and others live baby alligators with tags affixed to their necks saying, “Even the gators in Okefenokee went to the premiere in Waycross.” Zanuck gave in and notified Lamar Swift, manager of the two movie theaters in Waycross—the Ritz and the Lyric—that he could have the premiere, slated for October 23, 1941. Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge declared the day of the premiere “Swamp Water Day” in the state, and Waycross merchants decorated the streets and their stores. A parade, special dinner, and wagon-ride preceded the premiere. Vereen Bell was the guest of honor.

What I sought, in seeking all this information about Swamp Water, was more information about Bell. As someone with a degree in English with a concentration on early 20th-century Southern American literature, I was embarrassed that I had to learn of Bell’s work — and the peculiar history of Swamp Water — in a biography of a film star.

Bell’s relative obscurity, however, may have less to do with popular neglect than with tragic circumstance. He wrote one more novel after Swamp Water before enlisting in the Navy at the outset of World War 11. In 1944, at the age of 33, he perished at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

But my discovery of Bell is the beauty of a great bibliography. The best bibliographies demonstrate an author’s struggle to understand his subject, to make sense of the subject in terms of both the immediate and as a part of a larger whole. As he struggles, he casts wider and wider nets around the subject, nets that may drag in seemingly unrelated, but important information.

Even when the subject itself seems shallow, the sources that make up the finished product may have delved deeply into aspects that are not readily apparent. Nowhere is that more true than in non-fiction about American film and film stars; movies were so pervasive in the culture and sociology of the first half of the 20th century that almost any well-researched book on the subject unearths a wealth of diverse, fascinating sources.

Even a scant bibliography can be a thing of beauty. Non-fiction and biographies of early silent film figures and 1960s-1970s era musicians, for instance, are often thin on contemporary print sources; as emerging forms, few major publications covered early silent film or rock music. The best contemporary reviews, interviews and articles about 1960s rock music were often found in music magazines and small regional papers that didn’t survive the era, and these magazines and papers are sometimes as intriguing as the biography subjects themselves.

Take this Ellen Herst article about the parallels between Charles Manson and folk musician/ostensible cult leader Mel Lyman. The article, found in an online bibliography about Lyman, was taken from Boston After Dark, a precursor to The Boston Phoenix and its many offshoots. A Wikipedia entry about The Phoenix reveals the much more interesting story of The Real Paper, which was formed by displaced/disgruntled writers from The Phoenix.

The bibliography can be a book’s best aspect, surpassing the quality of the writing or the subject. Such is sometimes the case with Greil Marcus’ books; while Marcus’ books themselves are wildly uneven, but almost any of his books are worth buying for the bibliographies alone. Marcus may not always pull the rabbit out of the hat, but the hat is full of tricks, any of which may be better than the rabbit itself.

Bibliographies are so valuable to me that I sometimes wonder what’s missing. What did the author come across, during his research, that didn’t make it in? What information that disproves the thesis/did not seem important/was too vexing to parse is missing? What didn’t the author discover about the subject?

Depending on what the reader knows about the subject, this can change the perception of the book itself radically; while researching a project about author Caroline Gordon’s Penhally, I came across two books by the same author that should have included Gordon’s fiction in a discussion of the way the Virginia Cavalier ideal shaped Southern literature. The author’s complete omission of Gordon raised troubling questions for me — did the author’s research somehow fail to turn up Gordon’s fiction, which could be the sign of poor research, or, as a male author, writing mainly about other male authors, did he simply discount Gordon’s contributions? The answer may be simpler; upon further investigation, I realized that the books were written before widespread use of the Internet, and in a period when most of Gordon’s fiction was out of print.

If the Internet itself is the ultimate bibliography, it’s one without context. A Google search for “dana andrews biography” will turn up a lot of stuff and nonsense about Andrews’ most popular films and aspects of his life, but few that I explored feature any mention of Swamp Water, much less Vereen Bell or his writings. And that, ultimately, is what makes the author-created bibliographies a much better jumping-off point for learning. Instead of relying on the (questionable) intelligence of an algorithm, you rely on the dogged pursuit of an author to learn about his subject. That’s never a bad place to start.