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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Obama, the polls, and the Left

A new poll out today from the New York Times shows an interesting disconnect that should be worrisome for the Democrats. While President Obama still enjoys high personal approval ratings, the public is losing patience with his prescriptions for fixing the economy and health care.

There also is a general lack of enthusiasm for his approaches to Guantanamo Bay, and his attempts to help the auto industry.

Add to that Obama's problems with gay supporters, and the administration's persistence in maintaining secrecy despite promises of transparency -- well, there's a political collision looming out there as the aspirations of the Left, which helped put Obama in office, get short-circuited.

It's too early for this to have much effect on Obama's re-election prospects -- how these problems play out over the next couple of years will be crucial -- but this is when people begin lining up for the off-year Congressional elections. And if the public remains this skeptical of Obama's policies, the Democrats will face some serious challenges keeping controlling of the House. Read More 
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So, you think you want to write a novel ...

My friend Frances Dinkelspiel -- another journalist-turned-historian -- has a nice Q&A on her blog today with Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody's Books in Berkeley. After he closed the shop a couple of years ago, he turned himself into a literary agent, with some pretty good results.

The most interesting part of the piece is Ross' take on the state of publishing which squares with what I've been seeing. Things aren't as bad as in newspapers, but it's still pretty tough. Especially for fiction writers. Frances asked him what is easier to sell to editors, fiction or nonfiction:
"Uhh -- well -- non-fiction is easier by a mile. Look, I don't want to rain on the parade, but look at the numbers. Publishers will only look at fiction that has been submitted by an agent. These submissions have been heavily vetted. I would imagine that out of 100 queries received by agents for novels, they might select 1 for submission (probably less). I have spoken with a number of fiction editors. They inform me that of the submissions they receive, they may decide to publish (again) 1 in 100. Just looking at the numbers, selling a novel is like winning the lottery. Of course, if you are a published author with a good track record, you are in pretty good shape. It isn't very hard to sell a new novel by Philip Roth. But if you are a published novelist whose last book bombed, it is extremely difficult. Publishers are making decisions by the numbers now. They have a data base that tells them the sales of every book on the market. Refined taste in literature plays a very small role."
So I guess the good news is the novel I've got stashed away, half finished while I work on The Fear Within, is a mystery. Not much call for refined literary taste there....  Read More 
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American newspapers: The incredible shrinking iceberg

This is always a striking -- and depressing -- web site to visit. It's an interactive map of newspaper jobs lost so far this year, with other tabs to look at losses in previous years and one tracking newspapers that have shut down altogether.

There's an irony, of course, in tracking such devastation to the industry through a free online site. Read More 
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Obama, Cheney, Palin and the politics of distraction

Remember back in November, when Barack Obama won the White House, a victory equally notable for its historic context as for what it supposedly said about a nation sick of politics as usual?

Well, one out of two isn't bad.

Over the past few weeks we've seen a disappointing throwback to the politics of distraction. First some online celebrity gossip asked a real question of a Miss America contestant -- her opinion on a political issue -- and instantly created a martyr for the political right. Never mind that the context for the question, and the political weight of Miss California's answer were completely meaningless (other than as a barometer of the fact that Americans do indeed disagree on some issues).

Add a dose of Dick Cheney, who has shown a remarkable inability to fade into the sunset. So much so, in fact, that one has to wonder whether he's fighting for historical legacy or aligning himself for the future -- a 2012 presidential run, bad ticker, bad polls and all. Then David Letterman cracks a bad joke about Sarah Palin's daughter and Alex Rodriguez, which Palin and conservative commentators twist out of context to extend her 15 minutes of political life.

Now John McCain is back in the fray, spinning off a foolish comment by Leon Panetta that Cheney might be wishing the U.S. gets attacked to validate his stance on the efficacy of torture. Panetta, McCain gravely informs us, must retract his comment.

The economy remains trashed; the Obama Administration has yet to address in a meaningful way the legacy of American policies that led to Guantanamo Bay, illegal detentions and torture; no progress has been made on health care reform; North Korea is nuke-rattling; the streets of Iran are teeming with protesters -- and this is what the political elite focus on?

One unavoidable reality of democracy is that we always get the political leaders we deserve. Read More 
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Some cool stuff about butterflies

Very cool photos from Wired Science -- and some interesting details about the recovery of a butterfly species in England. Yes, ecosystems are fragile, and the little things -- like unusually tall grass -- can have devastating consequences. Of course, you knew that, but it's reassuring to have it proven again. Now if we were just smart enough to act on it more often... Read More 
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Perot's 'giant sucking sound' could be universe next door

Some things just should not be contemplated before the first cup of coffee. Like "brown matter," the flow of material that some scientists and astrophysicists speculate is, in essence, a leak from our universe to the next.

So maybe H. Ross Perot was on to something more cosmic than trade policy back in the 1992 electionRead More 
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Maybe they should call this the 'Dread Poets Society'

I don't know why I find this story so funny when, in truth, it's pretty sad and pathetic. I've mentioned before the shenanigans that preceded the naming last month of the Oxford Professor of Poetry, won by Ruth Padel after persons then-unknown circulated details about a 1982 sexual harassment complaint about rival poet Derek Wolcott.

Wolcott withdrew from consideration and the gig went to Padel, who resigned shortly afterward and eventually confessed that she was involved in the smear campaign.

Now persons-unknown are at it again -- this time with an anonymous poem about it all. Wouldn't a few splashes of graffiti on High Street been easier? Read More 
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A new local news site worth watching

A former colleague, Bill Lobdell, is involved in a new venture in Newport Beach, California, the next city from us in Irvine, that I suspect points the way toward how the Internet-sparked explosion of newspapering will finally settle out.

The project is The Daily Voice, and it's a paperless news sites devoted to hyper-local news.

Lobdell and his partner, Tom Johnson, are both former news executives at The Daily Pilot, the Los Angeles Times-owned local paper in Newport Beach-Costa Mesa. Lobdell also was a religion writer at the LA Times for a while, was a former deskmate of mine there and we shared bylines on a few stories. And he has this book out about losing his religion.

What's telling in Johnson's opening statement is that they couldn't find investors to launch the project -- a sign, no doubt, of the skittishness of the investing market right now, and the absolute confusion over the profitability of media outlets.

But this strikes me as a sensible model (in fact, I've been having similar conversations with other fellow journalists about the theme). No big bucks, to be sure, but it seems like a logical way to start rebuilding news organizations one locality at a time. Local people want local news, and local business owners and managers want a reliable conduit for local ads.

Seems like a match to me, Read More 
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There I go getting all multimedia

The travel piece that ran the other day in the Los Angeles Times landed me a fun moment with San Diego radio station KBZT-FM 94.9 this morning, with hosts Hansen and Tommy.

Every Friday morning they do a session with folks from the Stone Brewing Co., which brews some great ales, with smart marketing, i.e., Arrogant Bastard Ale, with the label that warns, "You're not worthy."

After seeing the travel piece the other day, Tommy got in touch and they book me for a short chat about the story. So I got to relive -- briefly -- the road trip I took with Steve Dollar. This is the audio here.

Turns out Hansen and Tommy are doing a July 3 remote broadcast from the Stone brewery, and they suggested I stop down. Though 7 a.m. is a little early for an Arrogant Bastard -- read that any way you want -- I might just show up. Could be fun. Read More 
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This could be a blues song: 'Sentenced to Write'

You often hear writers say that they don't write for pleasure but out of a sense of compulsion -- they have to write.

But there's a difference between that and being sentenced to write. Pity the poor Bristol-Myers Squibb exec ordered by New York Judge Ricardo M. Urbina to serve two years' probation, during which he must write a book about his experiences -- including lying to federal officials over the firm's attempt to settle a patent dispute over Plavix, the blood thinner.

Yes, he sentenced sentences.

The New York Times reports Urbina issued a similar sentence in 1998 to a lobbyist who admitted breaking campaign finance laws. Urbina ordered James H. Lake to pay a $150,000 fine and write and distribute at his own cost a monograph about campaign finance laws covering corporate contributions, and distribute it at his own cost to 2,000 fellow lobbyists.

Our particular little writers' prison is already over-crowded, but what the hell, one more can't hurt ... Read More 
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