Friday, November 30, 2007

Beast of the Month - October 2007

Beast of the Month - October 2007
Erik Prince, Chairman & CEO, Blackwater USA

"I yam an anti-Christ... "
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"

"Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men..."
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

September was a month of dubious anniversaries for the Bush Team. For one it was the sixth year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, attacks which created the "War on Terror" that has morphed into the Quagmire in Iraq. It was also the second anniversary of the shocking aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which has become, along with Iraq, the most cited example of the failures of Bush and cronies. Through the company known as Blackwater USA (whose CEO is Erik Prince, The Konformist Beast of the Month) the two events have a very noted link.

Before September, Blackwater wasn't a particularly well known group. This all changed when, while escorting a US State Department convoy through Baghdad, Blackwater security opened fire on a crowd, killing 17 and injuring another 24. Despite Blackwater's claims that they were responding to gunfire, eyewitness and video evidence contradicts this, and indicates the mass slaying was inspired by trigger-happy Blackwater personnel. An Iraqi Interior Minister report concluded the shootings began when a solitary Toyota car with a couple and child inside didn't clear path for the convoy, resulting in the death of all three passengers. (Following the assault, the car caught fire, burning the baby to its mother's body.) Despite the excessive response to a phantom menace, which apparently included fire from above via Blackwater helicopters, Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh declared: “There was not shooting against the convoy. There was no fire from anyone in the square.” The Iraqi report bluntly concludes that “the murder of citizens in cold blood in al-Nissour area by the Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against the civilians just like any other terrorist operations.” Despite all this and the intense desire in Iraq for justice, no criminal charges have been filed yet.

Incredibly, this may not be the most in-your-face crime perpetrated by Blackwater personnel. That would've happened last year on Christmas Eve, when a drunken Blackwater member gunned down a security guard for Iraqi's Vice-President. Normally, the crime of shooting someone while drunk is only acceptable if your name is Dick Cheney, but thanks to Blackwater and US Government stonewalling, no charges have yet to be filed ten months later. Other allegations against Blackwater include charges of arms smuggling into Iraq, weapons which were later transferred to Kurdish terrorist networks. Meanwhile, they face wrongful death lawsuits filed by families of dead contractors, who claim that cost-cutting moves by Blackwater to increase profits contributed to their deaths. They cite Blackwater's refusal to buy armored vehicles, a move which saved $1.5 million but likely led to the deaths of personnel.

How has Blackwater gotten away with it for so long? Much of the credit must be given to Mr. Prince, the billionaire former Navy SEAL officer. As a special forces soldier and korporate titan, he combines the twin images of comic super villain Lex Luthor as both a Superfriends-era jumpsuit-wearing man of action and an eighties Trump-esque megalomaniac mastermind. (Or, for you Simpsons fans out there, a real life Hank Scorpio.) To say Prince is well-connected is an understatement: his father, the late Edgar Prince, founded the Family Research Council with Gary Bauer, the Christian right-wing lobbying organization that rivals the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition in influence. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is the wife of the heir to the Amway pyramid scam fortune. He was a White House intern under Shrub's daddy (though he isn't kind to Bush I era in interviews: "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with -- homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kinds of bills.") Even today, he and his family are big-time financiers of the right-wing Christian movement. Given all this, it’s understandable why all investigations of Blackwater criminality and negligence have been hampered by stonewalling from the US State Department, CIA and Pentagon.

But to focus just on Prince may lose sight of the big picture: what he and Blackwater are doing (profiting off of misery in Iraq) hardly makes them lone wolves in this endeavor. As noted by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine, Blackwater is merely a large cog in a much larger machine of korporate profiteering in Iraq. Taibbi describes Operation Iraqi Freedom as "a sort of Willy Wonka's paradise for contractors, where a small pool of Republican-friendly businessmen would basically hang around the Green Zone waiting for a contracting agency to come up with a work order." Bechtel, DynCorp and Donkey Dick's former employer Halliburton all have profited handsomely off the scam. Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (unloaded in April due to activities that even sullied the Halliburton name) is of special note for its kreepiness. According to Taibbi, "KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as 'sailboat fuel.'" This, along with overcharging the government for services while screwing American soldiers with shoddy equipment, is the modus operandi of these korporate mercenaries.

And, in the case of Blackwater, we are indeed talking about actual mercenaries. Paul Krugman of the New York Times describes the Bush Team's use of Blackwater "security" as soldiers a "hired gun fetish" that runs counter to the stark warnings of Machiavelli nearly 500 years ago. The Prince is hardly an obscure book in the field of political science: that they chose to go down the mercenary path implies either a BushMob arrogance that lessons of history don't apply to them, or perhaps that the whole Iraq Quagmire was a scam to begin with to plunder the US treasury with a long, expensive failure.

Which leads to the other big failure of the Bush years, Hurricane Katrina. Two years later, vast areas of New Orleans still have not been rebuilt, but that hasn't stopped korporations from plundering the tragedy for profit. The most noted profiteers, unsurprisingly, include Halliburton, Bechtel, Dyncorp and, of course, Blackwater. Perhaps the most repulsive contract pays Blackwater security to guard homes in NOLA poor and working class areas (mainly consisting of African-Americans) so the residents can't return, forcing them to stay in FEMA trailers while their homes (which in many cases are in great condition) remain unused. The purpose, alleges journalist Greg Palast in his usual blunt style, is to use Katrina as a pretext to evict impoverished minorities from their land so it can be redeveloped by wealthy businessmen for immense profit. As one victim of the fraud put it, "They wanted them poor niggers out of there and they ain’t had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers, you know? And that’s just the bottom line.”

Will there be any justice for the victims of Blackwater, whether in Iraq or Louisiana? Probably not: certainly the Bush Team has no interest in punishing their korporate kronies. And even if (as it now looks to any oddsmaker) Hillary becomes prez in 2008, don't expect things to change much: Mark Penn, Ms. Clinton's chief adviser, is CEO of Burson-Marsteller, the PR firm retained by Blackwater to battle their sudden onslaught of bad press. As any mercenary knows, it's good for business to have business relations with all sides in a battle.

In any case, we salute Erik Prince as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Erik!!!

Benen, Steve. "Blackwater ‘May Be Worse than Abu Ghraib.'" The Carpetbagger Report 26 September 2007 <>

"Blackwater Faces Arms Smuggling Probe." MSNBC 21 September 2007 <>.

Broder, John M. "Ex-Paratrooper Is Suspect in a Blackwater Killing." New York Times 4 October 2007 <>.

Chatterjee, Pratap. Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004.

Krugman, Paul. "Hired Gun Fetish." New York Times 28 September 2007 <>.

Glanz, James and Tavernise, Sabrina. "Blackwater Case Will Go to Iraqi Criminal Courts." New York Times 22 September 2007 <>.

Palast, Greg. "They Wanted Them Poor Niggers Out of There." 30 August 2007 <“they-wanted-them-poor-niggers-out-of-there”>.

Scahill, Jeremy. "Blood Is Thicker than Blackwater." The Nation 8 May 2006 <>.

Scahill, Jeremy. Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York, Nation Books, 2007.

Taibbi, Matt. "The Great Iraq Swindle." Rolling Stone 23 August 2007 <>.

Tavernise, Sabrina and Glanz, James. "Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First." New York Times 19 September 2007 <>.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

EW'S 2007 ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR,,20152943_20153269_20161218_25,00.html


It would be so easy to explain why J.K. Rowling is 2007's Entertainer of the Year with numbers, not words. The numbers, after all, are so much fun to tally and goggle at: $15 billion (the estimated total revenue generated by the Harry Potter industry); nearly 400 million (the number of Potter books sold worldwide); $4.49 billion (the total worldwide box office gross of the five Harry Potter films, allowing the series to zip past Star Wars and the James Bond films this summer to become the most lucrative movie franchise in history). And let's not forget 1, 2, 3, and 4: the places Rowling holds on the list of the fastest-selling books in the not-very-long history of measuring fast-selling books.

But Rowling never relied on mathematics to gun the motor of the 4,100-page narrative she brought across the finish line this year. So we suspect that she would dismiss the foregoing account as rather dull: Mugglish rather than magical. And although we now know that she is fond of uplifting, even sentimental endings (as long as the joy is qualified by the memory of sorrow and the sentimentality is honestly earned), at this point even she might find her own biography a bit too happily-ever-after; you know, the one that begins in the early 1990s with a young single mother banging away at a manuscript in Scottish cafés, wondering if she could turn her idea into something.

So we'll keep it simple: J.K. Rowling is our Entertainer of the Year because she did something very, very hard, and she did it very, very well, thus pleasing hundreds of millions of children and adults very, very much. In an era of videogame consoles, online multiplayer ''environments,'' and tinier-is-better mobisodes, minisodes, and webisodes, she got people to tote around her big, fat old-fashioned printed-on-paper books as if they were the hottest new entertainment devices on the planet. Let's also credit her for one more thing.

What she spent the last 17 years creating turned out to be completely original. Several years ago, when Rowling's series started to get popular enough to attract attention from the kind of critics who don't usually grapple with popular fiction, she was practically smothered in faint praise that evolved into a low drone of condescension as time went on. Of course, the books are skillful, went the murmurs, but really, isn't this woman merely an adept pickpocket, someone who's synthesized a little bit of Tolkien and a dash of C.S. Lewis and some Lloyd Alexander and a wealth of British-boarding-school stories into a marketable but derivative new package?

No. As it turns out, the Harry Potter books are much richer than their progression from lightness to darkness, from childhood to adulthood, from the episodic simplicity of chapter-books to the heft and sweep of epic novels, and in their constant, book-by-book recalibration of what their readers were prepared to absorb, they've proven unlike anything else in a century of children's literature. Can there be any remaining doubt that Rowling meant every word when she said, some time back, that she planned every aspect of her story ''so carefully I sometimes feel as though my brain is going to explode''? The planning clearly paid off, not only in the blossoming of the books into a worldwide cross-cultural phenomenon but in the widespread declarations that greeted the July publication of volume 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Rowling had created something timeless, a tale that children would read 25 and 50 years from now.

Timelessness is nice, as far as it goes (although it's an awfully hard assertion to prove before any actual time has passed). But as a compliment, it fails to give Rowling her due for something just as tricky: timeliness. The most enduring works of fantasy fiction have always begun by being firmly rooted in their own moment, not by shooting for immortality. A century ago, when L. Frank Baum was writing his books about Dorothy Gale and the land of Oz, the contrast between a windblown, uneventful, monochromatic world of middle American farmland and the exoticism and magic and horror and danger of cities that seemed impossibly far away didn't require a leap of imagination for his readers; they were living it. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia were both forged in the fire of World War II; the notion that the fate of the world was at stake in an epic battle between good and evil, and the explicit connection between wickedness and a deranging lust for power, was as alive in the newspapers as it was in the stories they told. And George Lucas' first Star Wars trilogy dovetailed so neatly with the rhetoric that marked the final years of the Cold War that politicians of every stripe continue to appropriate it. Not only has Hillary Clinton referred to Dick Cheney as Darth Vader, but President Bush has suggested that the vice president doesn't even require a costume for the impersonation.

To see how apt a product of our era the Harry Potter books are, you have to take the series apart a little before putting it back together. Now that the long-awaited last words (''All was well'') are official, Harry's saga seems like one 7-volume novel (especially since it's been repackaged in a mammoth faux-Hogwarts-trunk cardboard box; look for a sudden spike in parental lower-back injuries around Christmastime). But the Potter books really read as two distinct trilogies — the first one episodic, light-spirited, and aimed largely at children, and the second, much longer and darker one designed for a general fantasy audience that includes both adults and kids and demands a more sustained attention span and a willingness to grapple with the kind of horror that can't be wanded away by spells and charms. Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is the sinew that connects the first trio of books to the second; it's the one that starts with a long, larky trip to the Quidditch World Cup that turns nightmarish, and concludes with a chapter tellingly entitled ''The Beginning,'' a road sign letting readers know that they are about to be taken into a tougher, grimmer, more frightening place.

The first four Harry Potter volumes arrived in U.S. bookstores at a breakneck pace between September 1998 and July 2000. And then, after ''The Beginning,'' came a wait that tested legions of faithful readers: three years. Rowling keeps most details of her plotting process in her own chamber of secrets, unveiling the occasional tantalizing nugget about her decision-making on her website or during an interview or public appearance, but rarely getting specific. Like any terrific storyteller, she knows the value of leaving certain things untold. So unless she decides to spill the many-flavored beans herself, all we can do is guess what happened. Three years bisected by 9/11; three years during which Rowling remarried and had an actual, nonfictional son of her own; three years spent toiling on an installment of her saga so long that she admitted it drained her energy.

The result was a book that ushered readers, even her youngest ones, into a sadder, bleaker fantasy world to match the real one in which they were by then already living. The final three books are bloodier, more wrenching, and more explicit in their parallels to and reflections of the Bush/Blair landscape (book 6 even begins with the Muggle prime minister brooding while England sleeps), and more intense in their depiction of the cost of war. Given Rowling's outspoken progressivism (of which the outing of Dumbledore is only the most recent manifestation), that shift in emphasis can't have been an accident. While cultural commentators of all varieties were busy arguing about the definition of the ''post-9/11 novel,'' Rowling was putting them right under our noses. Six years on, the first generation of kids to grow up with 9/11 as just another bewildering fact of life is now entering high school. It's not a stretch to say that their ideas about war, about leadership, about the dangers of consolidation of power and of dictatorship, about the importance of dissent, and about heroism and sacrifice, have been shaped at least in part by Rowling. Not to mention their concept of freedom of speech. When her novels make their annual appearances on lists of the most frequently banned books in America, she calls it a great honor and tells the kids who visit her website of Ralph Waldo Emerson's credo ''Every burned book enlightens the world.''

None of which would be as much of an accomplishment if the books weren't also such enthralling fun. Rowling's writing is distinguished by its great and sustained generosity — toward her readers and her characters — and the books she spent so long creating are entertaining enough to satisfy anybody who reads them in order to flee the cares of the everyday world, even if what looks like a chance to disapparate ultimately lands us in a universe very much like the one we were trying to escape. As odd as it may sound, Rowling is a realist. Even when the incantations are flying (not to mention the people), she stays focused on the humanness of what she's writing about: the cost of pride and stubbornness and vanity, the toll of living in fear, the ache of loss, the search for home, the pain of holding a lifelong secret, the need to be loved, the quest to find out who you truly are. Maybe timelessness isn't such a bad word after all.

We'd be remiss if we didn't credit some supporting players in this the ultimate year of Potter, notably audiobook master Jim Dale, the only man in the world whose claim to have read every word of all seven books is factually provable; producer David Heyman, who has managed the rare feat of making a movie series that has improved with time (director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg's distillation of the gargantuan Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this year was particularly adroit); and Daniel Radcliffe, who has turned out to be as creditable an embodiment of Harry as anyone could wish. But we're sure they'd admit they owe it all to Jo Rowling. ''J.K.,'' by the way, is the remnant of her British publisher's fear that boys might not want to read an adventure book by a woman, an idea that truly does seem to belong to a previous century.

And now, perhaps we'll leave her alone for a while. Rowling has said that she's working on a couple of new ideas — one for children, one not. ''The idea of just wandering off to a café with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for a while is just bliss,'' she remarked in July. So if you happen to be walking by a coffeehouse in Scotland anytime soon and you spot a 42-year-old blond woman with a pen, a pad, and an expression of intense concentration, do her a favor and don't interrupt her. She knows what she's doing. All is well. —Mark Harris

Can It Kindle the Imagination?

Can It Kindle the Imagination?
We read the fine print on Amazon's new gadget.
By Steven Levy
Nov 19, 2007

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says that the Kindle may be the most important thing he's ever done. But how well does it work? As the first journalist to get his hands on the device, I found it fit my hands pretty well. It's comfortable to hold, and the huge NEXT PAGE and PREVIOUS PAGE buttons on the sides make it easy to keep reading at a steady pace. On the other hand, the prominence of those buttons makes it almost impossible to pick the Kindle up without inadvertently turning a virtual page.

Navigation through the various features is via a novel system centered on a clickable "select wheel" that moves a silvery cursor up or down a slim bar, like an elevator moving through a shaft. It's dead simple to master, but a little slow.

The real acid test was whether the Kindle was capable of transporting a reader into that trancelike zone where the world falls away. My suspicion, since I've had a Sony Reader (which uses the identical E Ink technology), was that it would, and I was right. I read a Dan Silva thriller, Richard Russo's new novel and Eric Clapton's unsatisfying memoir, and didn't feel I was missing anything that I would have gotten in a "real" book.

It's also exciting to get a daily dose of The New York Times and other papers. But the interface for newspaper reading is disappointing—you have to painstakingly go through article lists, and often the stories are insufficiently described. Still, getting the Times in one burst on a daily basis, no matter where you are, is closer to getting a hard-copy delivery than picking out articles on the Web, and it costs $13.99 a month, compared with the $50-plus I pay for home delivery. Do the math.

The real innovation of the Kindle is connecting by its wireless Whispernet, which works well from pretty much everywhere. When you go to the Kindle store, you are greeted like an old friend, since your Kindle account is linked to your Amazon buying history and recommendations. Not every book I wanted was there (paging Philip Roth), but plenty were, and the $9.99 price for best sellers and new books makes purchases more attractive. The coolest thing you can do with a Kindle, hands down, is buying a book—just click BUY and, bang, you have the book in less than a minute.

Though the copy protection doesn't affect book-reading, it is limiting, and annoying. You can't print out a passage, e-mail it to a friend or copy it into a document. You can't lend a book to someone, or sell it after you're finished.

Searching—inside books, inside the device, in the store and on the Web—is speedy and easy. You can do Web browsing on a Kindle, but it doesn't display pages well. (No YouTube, as the device doesn't support animation.)

I didn't scientifically test the battery life, but I found that when you're warned that you have only 20 percent of your power left, you should recharge immediately, because when it goes, it goes quickly, and there's nothing more frustrating than a device that plays dead. And yes, you can replace a battery, for about $20.

The Kindle, mainly because it is not just a device but a well-designed cog in a coherent and useful service, is a high point so far in electronic reading. Deciding whether it's worth the $399 price tag is a classic early-adopter question: if history has any validity, you'll eventually be able to buy an improved version for less. But I'd say that any voluminous reader, particularly one who travels, would be delighted to receive a Kindle by the fireplace this holiday season.

The Future of Reading

The Future of Reading
Amazon's Jeff Bezos already built a better bookstore. Now he believes he can improve upon one of humankind's most divine creations: the book itself.
By Steven Levy
Nov 17, 2007

"Technology," computer pioneer Alan Kay once said, "is anything that was invented after you were born." So it's not surprising, when making mental lists of the most whiz-bangy technological creations in our lives, that we may overlook an object that is superbly designed, wickedly functional, infinitely useful and beloved more passionately than any gadget in a Best Buy: the book. It is a more reliable storage device than a hard disk drive, and it sports a killer user interface. (No instruction manual or "For Dummies" guide needed.) And, it is instant-on and requires no batteries. Many people think it is so perfect an invention that it can't be improved upon, and react with indignation at any implication to the contrary.

"The book," says Jeff Bezos, 43, the CEO of Internet commerce giant, "just turns out to be an incredible device." Then he uncorks one of his trademark laughs.

Books have been very good to Jeff Bezos. When he sought to make his mark in the nascent days of the Web, he chose to open an online store for books, a decision that led to billionaire status for him, dotcom glory for his company and countless hours wasted by authors checking their Amazon sales ratings. But as much as Bezos loves books professionally and personally—he's a big reader, and his wife is a novelist—he also understands that the surge of technology will engulf all media. "Books are the last bastion of analog," he says, in a conference room overlooking the Seattle skyline. We're in the former VA hospital that is the physical headquarters for the world's largest virtual store. "Music and video have been digital for a long time, and short-form reading has been digitized, beginning with the early Web. But long-form reading really hasn't." Yet. This week Bezos is releasing the Amazon Kindle, an electronic device that he hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0. That's shorthand for a revolution (already in progress) that will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish. The Kindle represents a milestone in a time of transition, when a challenged publishing industry is competing with television, Guitar Hero and time burned on the BlackBerry; literary critics are bemoaning a possible demise of print culture, and Norman Mailer's recent death underlined the dearth of novelists who cast giant shadows. On the other hand, there are vibrant pockets of book lovers on the Internet who are waiting for a chance to refurbish the dusty halls of literacy.

As well placed as Amazon was to jump into this scrum and maybe move things forward, it was not something the company took lightly. After all, this is the book we're talking about. "If you're going to do something like this, you have to be as good as the book in a lot of respects," says Bezos. "But we also have to look for things that ordinary books can't do." Bounding to a whiteboard in the conference room, he ticks off a number of attributes that a book-reading device—yet another computer-powered gadget in an ever more crowded backpack full of them—must have. First, it must project an aura of bookishness; it should be less of a whizzy gizmo than an austere vessel of culture. Therefore the Kindle (named to evoke the crackling ignition of knowledge) has the dimensions of a paperback, with a tapering of its width that emulates the bulge toward a book's binding. It weighs but 10.3 ounces, and unlike a laptop computer it does not run hot or make intrusive beeps. A reading device must be sharp and durable, Bezos says, and with the use of E Ink, a breakthrough technology of several years ago that mimes the clarity of a printed book, the Kindle's six-inch screen posts readable pages. The battery has to last for a while, he adds, since there's nothing sadder than a book you can't read because of electile dysfunction. (The Kindle gets as many as 30 hours of reading on a charge, and recharges in two hours.) And, to soothe the anxieties of print-culture stalwarts, in sleep mode the Kindle displays retro images of ancient texts, early printing presses and beloved authors like Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen.

But then comes the features that your mom's copy of "Gone With the Wind" can't match. E-book devices like the Kindle allow you to change the font size: aging baby boomers will appreciate that every book can instantly be a large-type edition. The handheld device can also hold several shelves' worth of books: 200 of them onboard, hundreds more on a memory card and a limitless amount in virtual library stacks maintained by Amazon. Also, the Kindle allows you to search within the book for a phrase or name.

Some of those features have been available on previous e-book devices, notably the Sony Reader. The Kindle's real breakthrough springs from a feature that its predecessors never offered: wireless connectivity, via a system called Whispernet. (It's based on the EVDO broadband service offered by cell-phone carriers, allowing it to work anywhere, not just Wi-Fi hotspots.) As a result, says Bezos, "This isn't a device, it's a service."

Specifically, it's an extension of the familiar Amazon store (where, of course, Kindles will be sold). Amazon has designed the Kindle to operate totally independent of a computer: you can use it to go to the store, browse for books, check out your personalized recommendations, and read reader reviews and post new ones, tapping out the words on a thumb-friendly keyboard. Buying a book with a Kindle is a one-touch process. And once you buy, the Kindle does its neatest trick: it downloads the book and installs it in your library, ready to be devoured. "The vision is that you should be able to get any book—not just any book in print, but any book that's ever been in print—on this device in less than a minute," says Bezos.

Amazon has worked hard to get publishers to step up efforts to release digital versions of new books and backlists, and more than 88,000 will be on sale at the Kindle store on launch. (Though Bezos won't get terribly specific, Amazon itself is also involved in scanning books, many of which it captured as part of its groundbreaking Search Inside the Book program. But most are done by the publishers themselves, at a cost of about $200 for each book converted to digital. New titles routinely go through the process, but many backlist titles are still waiting. "It's a real chokepoint," says Penguin CEO David Shanks.) Amazon prices Kindle editions of New York Times best sellers and new releases in hardback at $9.99. The first chapter of almost any book is available as a free sample.

The Kindle is not just for books. Via the Amazon store, you can subscribe to newspapers (the Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Le Monde) and magazines (The Atlantic). When issues go to press, the virtual publications are automatically beamed into your Kindle. (It's much closer to a virtual newsboy tossing the publication on your doorstep than accessing the contents a piece at a time on the Web.) You can also subscribe to selected blogs, which cost either 99 cents or $1.99 a month per blog.

In addition, the Kindle can venture out on the Web itself—to look up things in Wikipedia, search via Google or follow links from blogs and other Web pages. You can jot down a gloss on the page of the book you're reading, or capture passages with an electronic version of a highlight pen. And if you or a friend sends a word document or PDF file to your private Kindle e-mail address, it appears in your Kindle library, just as a book does. Though Bezos is reluctant to make the comparison, Amazon believes it has created the iPod of reading.

The Kindle, shipping as you read this, costs $399. When Bezos announces that price at the launch this week, he will probably get the same raised-eyebrow reaction Steve Jobs got in October 2001, when he announced that Apple would charge that same price for its pocket-size digital music player. No way around it: it's pricey. But if all goes well for Amazon, several years from now we'll see revamped Kindles, equipped with color screens and other features, selling for much less. And physical bookstores, like the shuttered Tower Records of today, will be lonelier places, as digital reading thrusts us into an exciting—and jarring—post-Gutenberg era.

Will the Kindle and its kin really take on a technology that's shone for centuries and is considered the bedrock of our civilization? The death of the book—or, more broadly, the death of print—has been bandied about for well over a decade now. Sven Birkerts, in "The Gutenberg Elegies" (1994), took a peek at the future and concluded, "What the writer writes, how he writes and gets edited, printed and sold, and then read—all the old assumptions are under siege." Such pronouncements were invariably answered with protestations from hard-liners who insisted that nothing could supplant those seemingly perfect objects that perch on our night tables and furnish our rooms. Computers may have taken over every other stage of the process—the tools of research, composition and production—but that final mile of the process, where the reader mind-melds with the author in an exquisite asynchronous tango, would always be sacrosanct, said the holdouts. In 1994, for instance, fiction writer Annie Proulx was quoted as saying, "Nobody is going to sit down and read a novel on a twitchy little screen. Ever."

Oh, Annie. In 2007, screens are ubiquitous (and less twitchy), and people have been reading everything on them—documents, newspaper stories, magazine articles, blogs—as well as, yes, novels. Not just on big screens, either. A company called DailyLit this year began sending out books—new ones licensed from publishers and classics from authors like Jane Austen—straight to your e-mail IN BOX, in 1000-work chunks. (I've been reading Boswell's "Life of Johnson" on my iPhone, a device that is expected to be a major outlet for e-books in the coming months.) And recently a columnist for the Chicago Tribune waxed rhapsodically about reading Jane Austen on his BlackBerry.

But taking on the tome directly is the challenge for handheld, dedicated reading devices, of which the Kindle is only the newest and most credible effort. An early contender was the 22-ounce Rocket eBook (its inventors went on to create the electric-powered Tesla roadster). There were also efforts to distribute e-books by way of CD-ROMs. But the big push for e-books in the early 2000s fizzled. "The hardware was not consumer-friendly and it was difficult to find, buy and read e-books," says Carolyn Reidy, the president of Simon & Schuster.

This decade's major breakthrough has been the introduction of E Ink, whose creators came out of the MIT Media Lab. Working sort of like an Etch A Sketch, it forms letters by rearranging chemicals under the surface of the screen, making a page that looks a lot like a printed one. The first major implementation of E Ink was the $299 Sony Reader, launched in 2006 and heavily promoted. Sony won't divulge sales figures, but business director Bob Nell says the Reader has exceeded the company's expectations, and earlier this fall Sony introduced a sleeker second-generation model, the 505. (The Reader has no wireless—you must download on your computer and then move it to the device— and doesn't enable searching within a book.)

Now comes the Kindle, which Amazon began building in 2004, and Bezos understands that for all of its attributes, if one aspect of the physical book is not adequately duplicated, the entire effort will be for naught. "The key feature of a book is that it disappears," he says.

While those who take fetishlike pleasure in physical books may resist the notion, that vanishing act is what makes electronic reading devices into viable competitors to the printed page: a subsuming connection to the author that is really the basis of our book passion. "I've actually asked myself, 'Why do I love these physical objects?' " says Bezos. " 'Why do I love the smell of glue and ink?' The answer is that I associate that smell with all those worlds I have been transported to. What we love is the words and ideas."

Long before there was cyberspace, books led us to a magical nether-zone. "Books are all the dreams we would most like to have, and like dreams they have the power to change consciousness," wrote Victor Nell in a 1988 tome called "Lost in a Book." Nell coined a name for that trancelike state that heavy readers enter when consuming books for pleasure—"ludic reading" (from the Latin ludo, meaning "I play"). Annie Proulx's claim was that an electronic device would never create that hypnotic state. But technologists are disproving that. Bill Hill, Microsoft's point person on e-reading, has delved deep into the mysteries of this lost zone, in an epic quest to best emulate the conditions on a computer. He attempted to frame a "General Theory of Readability," which would demystify the mysteries of ludic reading and why books could uniquely draw you into a rabbit hole of absorption.

"There's 550 years of technological development in the book, and it's all designed to work with the four to five inches from the front of the eye to the part of the brain that does the processing [of the symbols on the page]," says Hill, a boisterous man who wears a kilt to a seafood restaurant in Seattle where he stages an impromptu lecture on his theory. "This is a high-resolution scanning machine," he says, pointing to the front of his head. "It scans five targets a second, and moves between targets in only 20 milliseconds. And it does this repeatedly for hours and hours and hours." He outlines the centuries-long process of optimizing the book to accommodate this physiological marvel: the form factor, leading, fonts, justification … "We have to take the same care for the screen as we've taken for print."

Hill insists—not surprisingly, considering his employer—that the ideal reading technology is not necessarily a dedicated e-reading device, but the screens we currently use, optimized for that function. (He's read six volumes of Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" on a Dell Pocket PC.) "The Internet Explorer is not a browser—it's a reader," he says. "People spend about 20 percent of the time browsing for information and 80 percent reading or consuming it. The transition has already happened. And we haven't noticed."

But even Hill acknowledges that reading on a televisionlike screen a desktop away is not the ideal experience. Over the centuries, the sweet spot has been identified: something you hold in your hand, something you can curl up with in bed. Devices like the Kindle, with its 167 dot-per-inch E Ink display, with type set in a serif font called Caecilia, can subsume consciousness in the same way a physical book does. It can take you down the rabbit hole.

Though the Kindle is at heart a reading machine made by a bookseller—and works most impressively when you are buying a book or reading it—it is also something more: a perpetually connected Internet device. A few twitches of the fingers and that zoned-in connection between your mind and an author's machinations can be interrupted—or enhanced—by an avalanche of data. Therein lies the disruptive nature of the Amazon Kindle. It's the first "always-on" book.

What kinds of things will happen when books are persistently connected, and more-evolved successors of the Kindle become commonplace? First of all, it could transform the discovery process for readers. "The problem with books isn't print or writing," says Chris Anderson, author of "The Long Tail." "It's that not enough people are reading." (A 2004 National Endowment for the Arts study reported that only 57 percent of adults read a book—any book—in a year. That was down from 61 percent a decade ago.) His hope is that connected books will either link to other books or allow communities of readers to suggest undiscovered gems.

The connectivity also affects the publishing business model, giving some hope to an industry that slogs along with single-digit revenue growth while videogame revenues are skyrocketing. "Stuff doesn't need to go out of print," says Bezos. "It could shorten publishing cycles." And it could alter pricing. Readers have long complained that new books cost too much; the $9.99 charge for new releases and best sellers is Amazon's answer. (You can also get classics for a song: I downloaded "Bleak House" for $1.99.) Bezos explains that it's only fair to charge less for e-books because you can't give them as gifts, and due to restrictive antipiracy software, you can't lend them out or resell them. (Libraries, though, have developed lending procedures for previous versions of e-books—like the tape in "Mission: Impossible," they evaporate after the loan period—and Bezos says that he's open to the idea of eventually doing that with the Kindle.)

Publishers are resisting the idea of charging less for e-books. "I'm not going along with it," says Penguin's Peter Shanks of Amazon's low price for best sellers. (He seemed startled when I told him that the Alan Greenspan book he publishes is for sale at that price, since he offered no special discount.) Amazon is clearly taking a loss on such books. But Bezos says that he can sustain this scheme indefinitely. "We have a lot of experience in low-margin and high-volume sale—you just have to make sure the mix [between discounted and higher-priced items] works." Nonetheless the major publishers (all of whom are on the Kindle bandwagon) should loosen up. If you're about to get on a plane, you may buy the new Eric Clapton biography on a whim for $10—certainly for $5!—but if it costs more than $20, you may wind up scanning the magazine racks. For argument's sake, let's say cutting the price in half will double a book's sales—given that the royalty check would be the same, wouldn't an author prefer twice the number of readers? When I posed the question to best-selling novelist James Patterson, who was given an early look at the Kindle, he said that if the royalty fee were the same, he'd take the readers. (He's also a believer that the Kindle will succeed: "The baby boomers have a love affair with paper," he says. "But the next-gen people, in their 20s and below, do everything on a screen.")

The model other media use to keep prices down, of course, is advertising. Though this doesn't seem to be in Kindle's plans, in some dotcom quarters people are brainstorming advertiser-supported books. "Today it doesn't make sense to put ads in books, because of the unpredictable timing and readership," says Bill McCoy, Adobe's general manager of e-publishing. "That changes with digital distribution."

Another possible change: with connected books, the tether between the author and the book is still active after purchase. Errata can be corrected instantly. Updates, no problem—in fact, instead of buying a book in one discrete transaction, you could subscribe to a book, with the expectation that an author will continually add to it. This would be more suitable for nonfiction than novels, but it's also possible that a novelist might decide to rewrite an ending, or change something in the middle of the story. We could return to the era of Dickens-style serializations. With an always-on book, it's conceivable that an author could not only rework the narrative for future buyers, but he or she could reach inside people's libraries and make the change. (Let's also hope Amazon security is strong, so that we don't find one day that someone has hacked "Harry Potter" or "Madame Bovary.")

Those are fairly tame developments, though, compared with the more profound changes that some are anticipating. In a connected book, the rabbit hole is no longer a one-way transmission from author to reader. For better or for worse, there's company coming.

Talk to people who have thought about the future of books and there's a phrase you hear again and again. Readers will read in public. Writers will write in public. Readers, of course, are already enjoying a more prominent role in the literary community, taking star turns in blogs, online forums and Amazon reviews. This will only increase in the era of connected reading devices. "Book clubs could meet inside of a book," says Bob Stein, a pioneer of digital media who now heads the Institute for the Future of the Book, a foundation-funded organization based in his Brooklyn, N.Y., town house. Eventually, the idea goes, the community becomes part of the process itself.

Stein sees larger implications for authors—some of them sobering for traditionalists. "Here's what I don't know," he says. "What happens to the idea of a writer going off to a quiet place, ingesting information and synthesizing that into 300 pages of content that's uniquely his?" His implication is that that intricate process may go the way of the leather bookmark, as the notion of author as authoritarian figure gives way to a Web 2.0 wisdom-of-the-crowds process. "The idea of authorship will change and become more of a process than a product," says Ben Vershbow, associate director of the institute.

This is already happening on the Web. Instead of retreating to a cork-lined room to do their work, authors like Chris Anderson, John Battelle ("The Search") and NYU professor Mitchell Stephens (a book about religious belief, in progress) have written their books with the benefit of feedback and contributions from a community centered on their blogs.

"The possibility of interaction will redefine authorship," says Peter Brantley, executive director of the Digital Library Federation, an association of libraries and institutions. Unlike some writing-in-public advocates, he doesn't spare the novelists. "Michael Chabon will have to rethink how he writes for this medium," he says. Brantley envisions wiki-style collaborations where the author, instead of being the sole authority, is a "superuser," the lead wolf of a creative pack. (Though it's hard to believe that lone storytellers won't always be toiling away in some Starbucks with the Wi-Fi turned off, emerging afterward with a narrative masterpiece.)

All this becomes even headier when you consider that as the e-book reader is coming of age, there are huge initiatives underway to digitize entire libraries. Amazon, of course, is part of that movement (its Search Inside the Book project broke ground by providing the first opportunity for people to get search results from a corpus of hundreds of thousands of tomes). But as an unabashed bookseller, its goals are different from those of other players, such as Google—whose mission is collecting and organizing all the world's information—and that of the Open Content Alliance, a consortium that wants the world's books digitized in a totally nonproprietary manner. (The driving force behind the alliance, Brewster Kahle, made his fortune by selling his company to Amazon, but is unhappy with the digital-rights management on the Kindle: his choice of an e-book reader would be the dirt-cheap XO device designed by the One Laptop Per Child Foundation.) There are tricky, and potentially showstopping, legal hurdles to all this: notably a major copyright suit filed by a consortium of publishers, along with the Authors Guild, charging that Google is infringing by copying the contents of books it scans for its database. Nonetheless, the trend is definitely to create a back end of a massively connected library to supply future e-book devices with more content than a city full of libraries. As journalist Kevin Kelly wrote in a controversial New York Times Magazine article, the goal is to make "the entire works of humankind, from the beginning of recorded history, in all languages, available to all people, all the time."

Google has already scanned a million books from its partner libraries like the University of Michigan and the New York Public Library, and they are available in its database. (Last week my wife searched for information about the first English edition of the journals of Pehr Kalm, a Swedish naturalist traveling in Colonial America. In less than two seconds, Google delivered the full text of the book, as published in 1771.)

Paul LeClerc, CEO of the New York Public Library, says that he's involved in something called the Electronic Enlightenment, a scholarly project (born at the University of Oxford) to compile all the writings of and information about virtually every major figure of the Enlightenment. It includes all the annotated writings, correspondence and commentary about 3,800 18th-century writers like Jefferson, Voltaire and Rousseau, completely cross-linked and searchable—as if a small room in a library were compressed to a single living document. "How could you do that before?" he asks.

Now imagine that for all books. "Reading becomes a community activity," writes Kelly. "Bookmarks can be shared with fellow readers. Marginalia can be broadcast … In a very curious way, the universal library becomes one very, very, large single text: the world's only book."

Google's people have thought about how this connectivity could actually affect how people read. Adam Smith, product director for Book Search, says the process is all about "getting rid of the idea that a book is a [closed] container." One of his colleagues, Dan Lansing, describes how it might work: "Say you are trying to learn more about the Middle East, and you start reading a book, which claims that something happened in a particular event in Lebanon in '81, where the author was using his view on what happened. But actually his view is not what [really] happened. There's newspaper clippings on the event, there are other people who have written about it who disagree with him, there are other perspectives. The fact that all of that is at your fingertips and you can connect it together completely changes the way you do scholarship, or deep investigation of a subject. You'll be able to get all the world's information, all the books that have been published, all the world's libraries."

Jim Gerber, Google's content-partnerships director, suggests that it might be an interesting idea, for example, for someone on the liberal side of the fence to annotate an Ann Coulter book, providing refuting links for every contention that the critic thought was an inaccurate representation. That commentary, perhaps bolstered and updated by anyone who wants to chime in, could be woven into the book itself, if you chose to include it. (This would probably make Ann Coulter very happy, because you'd need to buy her book in order to view the litany of objections.)

All these ideas are anathema to traditionalists. In May 2006, novelist John Updike, appalled at reading Kelly's article ("a pretty grisly scenario"), decided to speak for them. Addressing a convention of booksellers, he cited "the printed, bound and paid-for book" as an ideal, and worried that book readers and writers were "approaching the condition of holdouts, surly hermits who refuse to come out and play in the electric sunshine of the post-Gutenberg village." (Actually, studies show that heavy Internet users read many more books than do those not on the Net.) He declared that the "edges" of the traditional book should not be breached. In his view, the stiff boards that bound the pages were not just covers but ramparts, and like-minded people should "defend the fort."

That fort will stand, of course, for a very long time. The awesome technology of original books—and our love for them—will keep them vital for many years to come. But nothing is forever. Microsoft's Bill Hill has a riff where he runs through the energy-wasting, resource-draining process of how we make books now. We chop down trees, transport them to plants, mash them into pulp, move the pulp to another factory to press into sheets, ship the sheets to a plant to put dirty marks on them, then cut the sheets and bind them and ship the thing around the world. "Do you really believe that we'll be doing that in 50 years?" he asks.

The answer is probably not, and that's why the Kindle matters. "This is the most important thing we've ever done," says Jeff Bezos. "It's so ambitious to take something as highly evolved as the book and improve on it. And maybe even change the way people read." As long as the batteries are charged.

Manson Accused Of Buying Skeleton

Things you didn't know you could find in the Sharper Image catalogue...,,30200-1294097,00.html

Manson Accused Of Buying Skeleton
Friday November 23, 2007

Shock rock singer Marilyn Manson has been accused of squandering his band's profit on a child's skeleton and masks made of human skin.

Keyboardist Stephen "Pogo" Bier filed a breach of contract lawsuit in August in which he accused Manson of taking cash belonging to the rest of the band to pay for the "sick and disturbing" purchases.

His lawyer Keith Fink has now filed additional papers adding to a list of artefacts bought by the goth singer- many of which are illegal in the US.

As well as the skeleton and masks, Manson is said to have bought a range of stuffed animals, including a grizzly bear and two baboons.

He is also accused of using band funds to pay for a collection of Nazi memorabilia.

Swastika wall tiles with matching custom rugs and Nazi government coat hangers owned by Adolf Hitler are allegedly on display in Manson's Californian mansion, according to legal papers.

When interviewed on MTV after Bier filed the original lawsuit, Manson said: "The fact that he's claiming that I've treated him unfairly, financially, is really ridiculous."

"And I would never spend my money on a Chinese girl skeleton. That would be crossing the line. It's a Chinese boy, for the record."

Bier is seeking damages and lawyers fees from millionaire Manson as well as his slice of the successful band's profit.

Eagles: Long Road Out of Eden, Just Released

Eagles: Long Road Out of Eden, Just Released (2-CD Set, 20 Songs)
The Eagles

20 Songs
Released November of 2007
New Studio Tracks

The Rolling Stone says,

"Long Road Out of Eden," the ten-minute centerpiece of this two-CD, twenty-song album, epitomizes everything that is familiar, surprising, overstretched and, in many ways, right about the entire set. The song echoes the title hit of 1976's Hotel California, the Eagles' defining monument to mirage, money and no escape. But this time the desert is overseas and oil is the new champagne. When drummer Don Henley sings, "Now we're driving dazed and drunk" in a grainy, plaintive voice, it is an entire nation at the wheel, "bloated with entitlement, loaded on propaganda."

That is brassy censure from a band that, in the Seventies, embodied Hollywood vainglory, shining its klieg-light guitars and vocals on the low roads through high living with an often wicked insight that only comes from knowing each mile intimately. But there is a potent restraint to "Long Road Out of Eden," in the bleak, hollow mix of acoustic guitar and electric piano in the verses and the overcast sigh of the harmonies. There is empathy, too, for the soldier on night patrol, with dirty work to do and everything to lose. "I'm not counting on tomorrow/And I can't tell wrong from right," Henley sings. "But I'd give anything to be there in your arms tonight." That's not self-interest -- just the purest need.

An online reviewer:

"28 years after their last studio album, four remaining Eagles release a new album. Long Road out of Eden features 2 discs and 20 new tracks. Disc 1 is described as being a re-introduction to the band with the opening track a post nuclear vision of Seven Bridges Rd, followed by a song they forgot to record 35 years ago "How Long" by long time friend JD Souther. This stamps Eagles all over it and just gets better each time you hear it. Harmonies and all the little things which most bands would overlook, make this a classic already in the Take it Easy, Already Gone genre. Next up is Busy Being Fabulous which is an update of Those Shoes with a killer chorus and typically cynical Henley lyric. Has the Eagles sound. Next is a weepie with a countrified Frey vocal. Quite nice, Walsh steps up next with Guily of the Crime, whilst being pleasant is a little removed from the other material on this disc. Next up is the first of Tim Schmit's spots with a brilliant (single written all over it)I Don't want to Hear Anymore, is simply brilliant. Won't fit on contemporary radio but anyone reading this won't care anyway. Disc 1's highlight follows with Waiting in the Weeds. How to describe this song? It starts of as an acoustic, black, Henley vocal and shifts into an epic from 1st Chorus/Bridge on when Schmit/Frey's harmonies kick in. Its low fi, acoustic guitars and mandolin, but segues into something much more, the lyrics tell so many stories with multi dimensions and layers. By the end of the 7 minutes its a totally different beast, with an undeniable stamp of class. This track makes the 28 year wait all worth it."

Another online reviewer:

I grew up in the 70's listening to the Eagles. Loved the older stuff; not such a fan of The Long Run. The first time i heard this album, 5 or 6 songs jumped out at me & i didn't like 3 or 4 others. Having heard this 2 more times now, my opinion has completely changed. The 2 & 3 part harmonies are fantastic. As it has been stated in other reviews, there are many moments when you think back to older Eagles songs. But this release clearly reflects the aging of the members. There is a fantastic sense of loss on may of the songs. Clearly these songs were written by folks aware of the passage of time; there is a softer, sadder almost melancholy feeling to some of the songs. My favorite song on the discs is Waiting in the Weeds. Didn't like Long Road out of Eden at first, love it now. Also like How Long, What Do I Do ..., No more Cloudy days, Love to Watch a Woman, Center of the Universe, It's your world now. After listening to this disc, it makes me wish these guys had written more music. There just isn't anything this good being written today.

Wii edges up to Xbox 360 in total market share

Wii edges up to Xbox 360 in total market share
Holiday season a pivotal phase
Friday, November 23, 2007

In the battle for supremacy in the video-game world, Nintendo Co.'s Wii has now matched the Xbox 360 in total market share, despite the Microsoft Corp. console's one-year head start.

But the Xbox 360 is still maintaining a sizable lead over the console that might be considered its more direct competitor, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3.

That's the statistical backdrop as the competition enters a pivotal phase -- Friday's start of the holiday shopping season. A large portion of video-game console sales are traditionally made in November and December.

This holiday season will provide clues to how the market will shake out in the long run, now that the Xbox 360 and PS3 are in better supply, and prices have come down somewhat.

"You'll be able to see who's gaining traction and losing traction," said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities. However, Pachter predicted that the 2008 holidays will be even more competitive if the Wii is in better supply and if prices of all three consoles drop further.

The Wii, which sells for $250 and features a motion-sensitive controller, sold 13.2 million units worldwide as of September, Nintendo said. Microsoft reported that the Xbox 360 -- in models priced from $280 to $450 -- had sold 13.4 million units at the time. Then, in October, U.S. sales of the Wii exceeded Xbox 360 sales, according to the NPD Group. Combined with the Nintendo console's strength in the Japanese market, that effectively would bring the two into a dead heat in cumulative sales.

The PlayStation 3, which sells for $400 and $500, has sold 5.6 million units worldwide, a company spokesman said. Sony's PlayStation 2 dominated the previous console generation.
P-I reporter Todd Bishop can be reached at 206-448-8221 or Read his Microsoft blog at

Plans Of GOP Cancer Survivors Won’t Cover Cancer

Health Plans Of GOP Cancer Survivors Won’t Cover Cancer Survivors Like Themselves

Last month, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani began running radio ads in which he used his experience as a survivor of prostate cancer to bash government provided universal health care plans. Using misleading statistics, Giuliani claimed that if he had gotten the disease in a country with government-based health care, “chances of surviving” would have been much slimmer:

I had prostate cancer, five, six years ago. My chance of surviving prostate cancer, and thank God I was cured of it, in the United States: 82 percent. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England: only 44 percent under socialized medicine.

Giuliani says he prefers a “free market” approach that uses tax incentives to encourage Americans to enroll in private health plans. But, as the Los Angeles Times reports today, Giuliani’s plan would be unlikely to cover cancer survivors such as himself:

But under the plans all three have put forward, cancer survivors such as themselves could not be sure of getting coverage — especially if they were not already covered by a government or job-related plan and had to seek insurance as individuals.

“Unless it’s in a state that has very strong consumer protections, they would likely be denied coverage,” said economist Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, who has reviewed the candidates’ proposals. “People with preexisting conditions would not be able to get coverage or would not be able to afford it.”

Along with Giuliani, the plans of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), who also are both survivors of cancer, would likely exclude Americans such as themselves.

According to experts who spoke to the LA Times, it will take 5-10 years for insurance companies to consider providing coverage to cancer survivors. For example, a prostate cancer survivor like Giuliani “could be covered after five years of being cancer-free, at a 40% higher premium” — five years that is, if they had a “less severe form of the disease.”

Though each of the candidate’s campaigns say they are considering options for closing the gaps in their plans, tax credits and subsidies are unlikely to “cut it.” “If” someone has “a history of severe medical problems,” says Stuart Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Giving them $5,000 doesn’t really help them to afford insurance.”

Posted by Matt November 20, 2007

Musharraf Plays Bush for a Fool

Musharraf Plays Bush for a Fool
By Prof. Marjorie Cohn
Global Research, November 20, 2007

Pakistan 's President General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3rd after the Pakistani Supreme Court indicated it would overturn the results of an illegitimate election that would have extended Musharraf's term as president. Musharraf quickly fired the Supreme Court justices who planned to rule against him. And his declaration of emergency attacked the entire population of Pakistan by suspending fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty, freedom of speech, assembly and association, and equal protection of the law.

As a result of Musharraf's action, Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry is being held under house arrest, and over 2500 lawyers in different parts of Pakistan have been detained. The detainees include the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and officials of the Democratic Lawyers Association of Pakistan. The government also ordered that journalists who brought "ridicule or disrepute" to Musharraf could face three years in prison.

The real motivation for Musharraf's declared emergency is not to defend the country against "Islamic extremists," as he claims, but to maintain Musharraf in power. He acted to prevent public protests that lawyers and political parties were organizing. And his scheme is working. Musharraf's new brand-new, hand-picked Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Musharraf can remain in power for five more years.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is scurrying around in damage control mode. Musharraf's actions would be very embarrassing for Bush -- if Bush were the type of guy to get embarrassed. After all, Bush has been claiming for the past several years that he wants to spread democracy throughout the Islamic world. Somehow, Musharraf's declared state of emergency, followed by mass arrests of his political opponents, doesn't seem very democratic.

Bush dispatched Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Pakistan to talk sense to Musharraf. Negroponte urged Musharraf to end the state of emergency. But Bush's man didn't complain about Musharraf shutting down the Supreme Court and replacing it with his loyalists. Negroponte also failed to tell Musharraf to release the judges and lawyers from prison. So much for democracy and an independent judiciary.

The recipient of nearly $11 billion of U.S. aid since 9/11, Musharraf will cover for his benefactor Bush to keep him from losing face in light of the Pakistani strongman's blatant and tyrannical power grab. Musharraf has agreed that parliamentary elections scheduled for January will proceed and that he will take off his military uniform after the sham elections are held. Of course, Musharraf's jailed political opponents will likely find it difficult to campaign effectively for seats in parliament while incarcerated under a state of martial law.

American citizens whose tax dollars are being used to prop up this ruthless and corrupt regime should demand an accounting of how their money is being spent.

Bush claims that Musharraf is an indispensable ally in his "war against terror," and that money sent to Pakistan supports that goal. It appears from my vantage point, though, that Musharraf is playing Bush for a fool. Musharraf tells Bush he will help destroy the Taliban. However, Pakistani Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote in the November 18 Los Angeles Times that some people in Pakistan believe Musharraf is "secretly supporting the Taliban as a means for countering Indian influence." Moreover, if Musharraf wants to regain and maintain support of the Pakistani people, he will continue to support the Taliban. Hoodbhoy also wrote, "Most Pakistanis see the [Taliban] as America 's enemy, not their own. The Taliban is perceived as the only group standing up against the unwelcome American presence in the region." According to Hoodbhoy, "For more than 25 years, the army has nurtured Islamist radicals as proxy warriors for covert operations on Pakistan 's borders in Kashmir and Afghanistan ."

Hoodbhoy's remarks are corroborated by Adrien Levy, co-author of "Deception: Pakistan , the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy." Levy told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, "The [Musharraf] agenda is to destabilize Afghanistan , to create a government there which is favorable to Islamabad . These are goals which are actually contrary to the goals - very largely contrary to the goals of the West. Yet," Levy, said, "this slowly moving car crash of the U.S. pumping billions of untraceable cash into the Pakistan military has continued since 2001 and we're left with the position where Pakistan is devoid of democracy, democracy is weakened and feeble, and we have just increased instability, quite honestly."

If Congress stands by and does nothing to cut off the funds to Musharraf while he maintains martial law in Pakistan , it will confirm our worst fears that Democrats and Republicans alike are making a sham of our democracy.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the President of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law. Her columns are archived at

Spitzer spikes fare hike

Spitzer spikes fare hike
Tuesday, November 20th 2007

Reacting to public pressure - including the Daily News' Halt the Hike campaign - Gov. Spitzer announced Tuesday there will be no increase on the $2 bus and subway fare for at least two years.

"We will save the $2 fare," Spitzer said at a press conference this morning, where he was joined by MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger and MTA CEO Elliot Sander.

Spitzer said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority updated its budget forecast and found revenues were $220 million higher than expected - and will use it to save the base fare through 2009.

"Based on the current economic climate that has so many New Yorkers feeling squeezed, it seemed only proper that this amount be returned to the riders," Spitzer said.

The announcement comes several weeks after The News launched its campaign to halt a planned increase for bus and subway fares and tolls on MTA bridges and tunnels.

Scores of lawmakers - including powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - and even some MTA board members have joined in asking for a delay.

"We truly have been listening," Sander said.

The MTA claimed it needed to generate an additional $580 million in higher fares and tolls in 2008 and 2009 , a 6.5% increase, because of large deficits in 2009 and beyond. Officials for months have said the MTA now has a large surplus and can balance next year’s budget without increases.

Spitzer said using the additional revenues means the MTA has to raise only $360 million. He said the agency would do that through "significantly smaller" hikes to certain types of discount cards, while keeping the base fare at $2.

The MTA had floated two proposals to raise fares. Both would have raised the base fare $2.25, but one called for adding a new pay-per-ride MetroCard that would lower fares for riders who travel during off-peak periods.

Greg Palast Election Files

You're not supposed to see this: all the Greg Palast reports originally broadcast on BBC Television - and the reports they haven't broadcast yet - on the Theft of the Election of 2000. Of 2004. And 2008.

The "Election Files" - the film available only on DVD to supporters of the Palast Investigative Fund .... including never-broadcast interviews with fired US prosecutor David Iglesias, with Bobby Kennedy Jr. blowing the whistle on the vote rustlers, and close ups of Karl Rove-bot Tim Griffin, the caging man, in tears. (You don't want to miss that.)

Watch Palast get busted by Florida State smokies in Katherine Harris' office and YOU decide if, as Harris says in the film, "American democracy has triumphed again."

DON'T whack your goofy brother-in-law with a drumstick just because he says Bush beat Kerry fair and square. Stuff his turkey with the Palast Election Files.

For a donation of at least $50, we'll get it into your hands within two weeks, SIGNED TO YOU PERSONALLY by award-winning investigative reporter Palast.

With the hour-long film are bonus tracks: the confidential documents of the Bush gang. AND Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiam") reading, "KERRY WON NOW GET OVER IT." Plus Alec Baldwin reading, "Jim Crow in Cyberspace."

Make a tax-deductible donation of at least $75, and we'll add in, signed, Palast's brand new film on DVD, "The Assassination of Hugo Chavez." It's the story of our NEXT oil war reported in advance.

"Palast is America's top investigative reporter - and the funniest," says Randi Rhodes. Find out what's so funny - and so terrifying ... give the gift of truth.

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Military exoskeleton becomes a frightening reality

Thanks to Scott Rose of for the following...

Sarcos' military exoskeleton becomes a frightening reality
Nov 25th 2007
Joshua Topolsky
Filed under: Robots, Wearables

Have you been waiting for a legion of half-man, half-machine storm troopers to descend upon your city and blaze a round of hellfire in all general directions? If you said yes, that's kind of weird. At any rate, you can consider yourself one step closer to cyborg annihilation thanks to a company called Sarcos and its semi-scary exoskeleton -- which will make any regular old soldier into a Terminator-like killing machine (as far as we can tell). Sure, they demo the unit lifting heavy equipment and reducing fatigue of the user, but we know what this thing is really for -- and it doesn't involve food drops...

Tags: bionic, cyborg, exoskeleton, killing machine, KillingMachine, military, robo assist, RoboAssist, sarcos

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Supreme Court to rule on right to keep handguns,1,4804010.story?coll=la-headlines-frontpage

Supreme Court to rule on right to keep handguns at home
Justices will review an appeals court decision that struck down a 31-year-old Washington D.C., ban on pistols.
By David G. Savage
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 21, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court set the stage Tuesday for a historic ruling on whether the fiercely debated 2nd Amendment protects the rights of Americans to keep handguns at home.

The justices said they would review an appeals court decision that struck down a 31-year-old ban on handguns in Washington, D.C. The case will be heard early next year and decided by next summer.

While outright bans on the private possession of guns are rare, many cities and states regulate firearms. If the high court rules in favor of gun owners, the decision could open the door to challenges to regulations and restrictions on firearms across the nation.

In their appeal, District of Columbia officials say their ban on easily concealed handguns dates back to 1858. And they argue handguns are involved in most violent crime. Under the city ordinance passed in 1976, residents may keep shotguns or hunting rifles at home, but these weapons must be disassembled or have trigger locks. Handguns are illegal, except in the hands of police officers.

Six city residents challenged the ordinance as unconstitutional and said it denied them the right to have "functional firearms" at home for self defense.

The 2nd Amendment is among the best known parts of the Constitution. Its familiar words say "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." These words seem to protect the right to have a gun, just as the 1st Amendment protects the rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

In the past, many judges have dismissed the 2nd Amendment as archaic and limited to protecting a state's authority to maintain "a well-regulated militia," a phrase from the opening clause of the amendment. The 2nd Amendment's full text is: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Although it has been hotly debated for years, the 2nd Amendment has had remarkably little impact in the courts. The ruling in March that struck down the D.C. handgun ban marked the first time a federal court had declared that a gun law violated the 2nd Amendment.

In its only ruling dealing directly with the 2nd Amendment, the Supreme Court in 1939 upheld a man's conviction for transporting a sawed-off shotgun across state lines and said these weapons had nothing to do with maintaining an effective state militia.

In their appeal, lawyers for D.C. cite this 1939 decision and argue that the words and history of the amendment show it was concerned with state militias, not individuals with guns. For example, the phrase "bear arms" is a military term, they say. The amendment "does not protect a right to own a gun for purely private uses," they maintain.

Aimed at individuals

But in recent decades, both the National Rifle Assn. and several constitutional scholars have argued the "right to keep and bear arms" was intended from the beginning to protect the rights of individual Americans to defend themselves.

In March, Judge Laurence H. Silberman said it did not make sense to view the 2nd Amendment as a protection for states, not individuals. "The Bill of Rights was almost entirely a declaration of individual rights, and the 2nd Amendment's inclusion there strongly indicates that it, too, was intended to protect personal liberty," he wrote for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Among the city residents who challenged the D.C. ban as unconstitutional is Dick Heller, a courthouse security guard who carries a handgun while on duty and wants to keep one at home.

"I want to be able to defend myself and my wife from violent criminals, and the Constitution says I have a right to do that by keeping a gun in my home," Heller said Tuesday. "The police can't be everywhere, and they can't protect everyone all the time."

In agreeing to hear the case, District of Columbia vs. Heller, the justices issued an order saying they would rule on whether the city's handgun ban "violates the 2nd Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes."

Wayne LaPierre, vice president of the NRA, predicted the court would proclaim that gun rights are protected by the Constitution. "I feel confident they will agree with the millions and millions of Americans who always believed this was an individual right. I think they will say the government cannot come between law-abiding citizens and their firearms," he said Tuesday.

LaPierre said Chicago and New York City also have strict handgun ordinances that could be struck down if the D.C. ban is voided by the high court.

'Judicial activism'

Gun-control advocates said they hoped the Supreme Court would reject what one called "an example of judicial activism at its worst." Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Silberman's opinion "ignored long-standing Supreme Court precedent, discounted the express language of the 2nd Amendment, and substituted its policy preferences for those of the District's elected representatives."

The ruling in the D.C. case will be "the most important decision on guns in nearly 70 years and may be the most important ever regarding the 2nd Amendment," Helmke said.

But a Supreme Court ruling upholding gun rights would not necessarily void all manner of regulations involving firearms. Silberman's opinion agreed the government is not "absolutely barred from regulating the use and ownership of pistols. The protections of the 2nd Amendment are subject to the same sort of reasonable restrictions that have been recognized as limiting, for instance, the 1st Amendment."

Silberman said the law can certainly forbid certain persons, such as felons, from having guns. Moreover, rulings from the 19th century seemed to say "concealed weapons" can be outlawed, he said.

However, it is unreasonable and unconstitutional to forbid citizens from having handguns at home, Silberman concluded.

City officials and their lawyers argue that the D.C. gun regulation is reasonable because it allows residents to have rifles or shotguns. They also argue that the 2nd Amendment only prohibits Congress from passing national restrictions on gun ownership and doesn't apply to local governments.

Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said he hoped the high court would uphold the city's ordinance. "The council enacted the handgun ban more than 30 years ago because it would reduce handgun violence," he said. "It has saved many lives since then and will continue to do so if allowed to remain in force."

Loremo debuts 150 mpg concept car in Geneva

Loremo debuts 150 mpg concept car in Geneva
Posted Feb 27th 2006
by Stuart Waterman
Filed under: Concept Cars, Economy, Hybrids/Alternative, Geneva Motor Show

German startup Loremo AG will debut its concept car at the Geneva Motor Show this week. "Loremo" is derived from "low resistance mobile," and embodies the company's philosophy of efficient transportation that consumes minimal resources during both production and operation. In practice, this means lightweight, aerodynamic vehicles with phenomenal fuel efficiency.

The Loremo will be offered in two models, the LS and GT. The LS is powered by a 20 hp, 2-cylinder turbodiesel, while the GT gets a 50 hp, 3-cylinder unit. Both are 2 2, mid-engine/RWD configurations with a 5-speed gearbox. The GT will go from 0-62 mph in 9 seconds, but the real strength of the Loremo is fuel efficiency - the GT consumes only 2.7 liters per 100 km, while the LS needs only 1.5 liters/100 km. According to my calculator, the LS will go over 150 miles on a gallon of diesel! More after the jump.

Light weight and low drag are the watchwords for Loremo - the LS weighs only 990 lb, with a Cd of 0.2.

According to Loremo, the LS will be priced at about $13,100, while the GT will sell for less than $18,000. The company calculates the all-in operating costs (depreciation, maintenance, insurance, fuel) of the LS model over six years to be a parsimonious 23 cents per mile. Unfortunately, the Loremo isn't scheduled for production until 2009.

Opec urged to end use of dollar

Opec urged to end use of dollar

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has called on Opec members to stop pricing oil in "worthless" US dollars.

"They get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper," he told reporters at the close of a two day meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Saudi Arabia.

The fall in the value of the dollar has weakened the purchasing power of Opec members and helped push oil prices to nearly $100 a barrel.

Ahmadinejad is to meet Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, later on Monday to discuss the issue.

Chavez echoed Ahmadinejad's sentiment, saying "the empire of the dollar has to end".

Opec's summit in Riyadh ended on Sunday with leaders divided over whether to dump the dollar as a currency to price and sell oil.

Both Iran and Venezuela have proposed trading oil in a basket of currencies to replace the falling dollar, but a final statement from Opec after the meeting did not include any reference to the weakening dollar.

Instead Opec vowed to keep providing Western consumers with an "adequate" supply of oil.

Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally of the US, had opposed the move to include concerns over the falling dollar included in the summit's closing statement and tried to direct the focus of the summit towards studying the effect of the oil industry on the environment.

Falling dollar

But both Iran and Venezuela made it clear that they would press for action on the dollar, which could include pricing oil in a basket of currencies.

"There was a proposal from Iran and Venezuela to have a basket of currencies for the pricing of OPEC oil," Bayan Jabor, the Iraqi finance minister, said.

"But a consensus could not be reached," he said, adding that backed by Ecuador, the two had won agreement that finance ministers would discuss the issue before a scheduled oil ministers meeting in Abu Dhabi on December 5.

"Because the final communique was already drafted, there was an agreement that Opec finance ministers hold a meeting before the oil meeting in the UAE in December to discuss economic issues including the dollar's exchange rate."

The Venezuelan leader had opened the summit urging Opec, which accounts for 40 per cent of world oil supplies, to be a "geopolitical agent".

Chavez lauded Opec's ability to ensure high oil prices for developing producer nations, saying Opec "must stand up and act as a vanguard against poverty in the world".

He threatened that if Washington follows through on military threats against Iran, oil could double to $200 a barrel.

The summit, only the third in the group's history, also acknowledged the oil industry's role in global warming, with pledges of cash for research into climate change.

Sanctuary of Rome's 'founder' revealed

Sanctuary of Rome's 'founder' revealed
By ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press Writer
Tue Nov 20, 2007

Archaeologists on Tuesday unveiled an underground grotto believed to have been revered by ancient Romans as the place where a wolf nursed the city's legendary founder Romulus and his twin brother Remus.

Decorated with seashells and colored marble, the vaulted sanctuary is buried 52 feet inside the Palatine hill, the palatial center of power in imperial Rome, the archaeologists said at a news conference.

In the past two years, experts have been probing the space with endoscopes and laser scanners, fearing that the fragile grotto, already partially caved-in, would not survive a full-scale dig, said Giorgio Croci, an engineer who worked on the site.

The archaeologists are convinced that they have found the place of worship where Romans believed a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the god of war Mars who were abandoned in a basket and left adrift on the Tiber.

Thanks to the wolf, a symbol of Rome to this day, the twins survived, and Romulus founded the city, becoming its first king after killing Remus in a power struggle.

Ancient texts say the grotto known as the "Lupercale"_ from "lupa," Latin for she-wolf — was near the palace of Augustus, Rome's first emperor, who was said to have restored it, and was decorated with a white eagle.

That symbol of the Roman Empire was found atop the sanctuary's vault, which lies just below the ruins of the palace built by Augustus, said Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine and the nearby Roman Forum.

Augustus, who ruled from the late 1st century B.C. to his death in the year 14, was keen on being close to the places of Rome's mythical foundation and used the city's religious traditions to bolster his hold on power, Iacopi said.

"The Lupercale must have had an important role in Augustus' policies," she said. "He saw himself as a new Romulus."

Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza University and an expert on the Palatine, said the grotto is almost certainly the "Lupercale."

"The chances that it's not are minimal," said Carandini, who did not take part in the dig. "It's one of the greatest discoveries ever made."

Most of the sanctuary is filled with earth, but laser scans allowed experts to estimate that the circular structure has a height of 26 feet and a diameter of 24 feet, Croci said.

Archaeologists at the news conference were divided on how to gain access to the "Lupercale."

Iacopi said a new dig would start soon to find the grotto's original entrance at the bottom of the hill. Carandini suggested enlarging the hole at the top through which probes have been lowered so far, saying that burrowing at the base of the hill could disturb the foundations of other ruins.

The Palatine is honeycombed with palaces and other ancient monuments, from the 8th-century B.C. remains of Rome's first fledgling huts to a medieval fortress and Renaissance villas. But the remains are fragile and plagued by collapses, leaving more than half of the hill, including Augustus' palace, closed to the public.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said the first area to benefit from an extensive, $17.5 million restoration of the hills' ruins will be Augustus' palace, scheduled to reopen in February after being closed for decades.

Rockwell exhibit to travel cross-country

Rockwell exhibit to travel cross-country
By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer
Mon Nov 19, 2007

A traveling exhibit of Norman Rockwell works opens a cross-country tour Saturday at the Akron Art Museum and highlights the beloved artist's growing acceptance by a mainstream art community that had long spurned him as too kitschy and commercialized.

The rarely circulated works from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., include 41 oil paintings and tear sheets of more than 320 of Rockwell's nostalgic, often patriotic Saturday Evening Post magazine covers chronicling a half-century of America.

The exhibit, the first in the galleries added with the museum's soaring Coop Himmelb(l)au-designed expansion that opened in July, continues through Feb. 3.

It will travel to the Orlando Museum of Art from March 1-May 26, the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., from Nov. 8, 2008-Feb. 1, 2009, and the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from Nov. 14, 2009-Feb. 7, 2010.

Rockwell fans will see many of their favorites, including "The Discovery," in which a wide-eyed boy finds a Santa Claus suit in an upstairs bedroom, "No Swimming," with fleeing boys pulling on their clothes, and "Triple Self Portrait," with Rockwell looking at himself in a mirror as he paints his somewhat younger-looking portrait.

Paintings are mounted low on the wall, allowing visitors to look at many of Rockwell's characters eye-to-eye. The Saturday Evening Post covers cascade down the gallery wall, decade by decade, marking wars, holidays, romantic moments and the surprise treasures of everyday life.

"He had a way of seeing the best in us," said Rockwell museum director Laurie Norton Moffatt, who came to Akron to see the exhibit installation. "I think that shines through in his characters and his people and his storytelling scenes, which are filled with hope and optimism, that relentless optimism that is part of the American character and the American spirit."

But are down-home illustrations that appeal to Main Street really great art? The art world increasingly is coming to view Rockwell as an artist who captured America in tender, sometimes humorous moments.

"We're starting to realize that he was one of America's Old Masters and he probably represents the 20th century as well as any American artist," said Louis Zona, director of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.

Zona has witnessed Rockwell's box-office appeal. Last year, the Butler paid $1.6 million for its first Rockwell painting, "Lincoln the Railsplitter," a 7-foot canvas portrait, and museum attendance skyrocketed.

"It's been magic," Zona said. "I don't think I'm exaggerating when I tell you it has probably doubled our attendance. The response has just been amazing."

At the Indianapolis Museum of Art, visitors notice immediately if the staff moves its Rockwell, "The Love Song," with a swooning young woman listening as two old men play a clarinet tune.

Rockwell's appeal comes from his near-universal recognition, said Harriet G. Warkel, curator of American Art before 1945 at the Indianapolis museum. When museum visitors stand in front of a Rockwell work, "They almost do not need you to tell them the name of that artist because they can identify with him," she said.

Warkel attributes that to the connection people make with Rockwell, his characters and his story scenes. "He has a sensitivity to who people are and how they react in certain situations, and he adds this element of humor that is just instantly recognizable without making fun of people," she said.

Rockwell fans can expect to broaden their appreciation of Rockwell when they see his original works, said Mitchell Kahan, director of the Akron museum.

"People really don't know Norman Rockwell," he said. "They know reproductions of his works. They have not seen the original oil paintings and they are totally gorgeous, exquisite and magnificent. They are works of great art and taste."

Warkel said an original creates a different experience than a reproduction.

"It speaks to you in a different manner," she said. "First of all, the colors are more vibrant, there's more texture to the canvas and the artist's hand is always evident in it."

Kahan said a re-evaluation of Rockwell's talent has occurred as art experts and museum directors who had frowned on Rockwell's commissioned work for magazines and corporations have gained an appreciation for his work.

"In the mid-20th century, abstract art sort of triumphed over figurative art. After World War II, people who were doing figurative art were thought to be old fashioned," Kahan said. "Today we have a much more open-minded view about what constitutes important art."

That re-elevation has led to an accession squeeze for art museums: Some who spurned Rockwell as too kitschy now find they can't afford to buy increasingly popular Rockwell works or can't find a seller.

"It's been a very quick re-evaluation, a very quick change in attitude and many museums are left in the lurch," Kahan said.
On the Net:

Akron Art Museum:

Norman Rockwell Museum: