Booksellers versus Bestsellers
resurrected in the Bible bring no terror with them back from the dead,
but those in zombie movies bring nothing but terror back with them.
Lazarus lay dead in his tomb four days before Jesus
resurrected him, so why was he not a zombie? A later reference to him
speaks of him dining with Jesus at his sister's house, and his main
trouble seemed to be that the chief priests wanted him put to death
because the miracle of his resumed life has caused people to follow
And when Jesus rose from the dead, with the wounds that killed
him still famously visible, people experienced awe and wonder, but not
terror, according to biblical accounts. In fact, he seems to have had
rather pleasant conversations with his friends following his death.
So when did it become a bad thing to come back from the dead?
is usual to trace the mythologies of zombies to Voodoo practices
imported from Africa, but I think the modern incarnation goes back a different direction. After all, nothing in Voodoo belief says zombies will
experience an overwhelming need for nutritional and tasty brains. That
sort of zombie is a creation of popular culture, which in my opinion
goes back to practices in European culture, not in Africa.
The 18th and 19th century resurrectionists can't have helped.
Medical schools needed cadavers to dissect, and even laws that consigned
the bodies of those executed to dissection could not supply the need.
Medical schools began paying people to bring them corpses, and not
inquiring too closely into where those corpses came from. The
gravediggers were, with dark humor, called resurrectionists in Britain.
A buried corpse did not legally belong to anyone, so digging
it up and selling it was in a legal gray area, frowned upon but not
something you could do time for.
Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, Frankenstein
tells the story of a doctor who can animate the inanimate, and while
the story of his monster's creation is left ambiguous, the fact that he
makes the monster eight feet tall so that the bits he needs to make
won't be too tiny suggested to later interpreters that he made the body
from parts purchased from resurrectionists.
The ghoulish associations with those returning from the dead can only have increased with the Burke and Hare murders
William Burke and William Hare were Irish immigrants to
Scotland. Hare's wife operated a lodging house in Edinburgh, and when a
lodger died of natural causes owing 4 pounds, Burke and Hare filled the
casket with dirt and stole the body, selling it to Dr. Robert Knox, who
made is living giving medical lectures that featured the dissection of
human cadavers. He was paid not by the university, but by the admittance
fees paid by students to enter the lecture. It was a bit like a band
playing for the cover charges collected at the door of a bar instead of a
No cadaver, no paying audience. So, Knox didn't mind paying grave robbers.
Burke and Hare didn't stop there. Once they found out there was a
market for corpses, they felt no need to wait on nature, and began
killing people they assumed would not be missed -- a prostitute here, a
mute boy there, a retarded teen known as "Daft Jamie," who students
recognized as soon as Knox uncovered the body. Knox denied Daft Jamie
was missing, and quickly dissected the body before inquiries could
Burke and Hare killed 16 victims before they were caught by
tenants at the boarding house who became suspicious, found a body hidden
under a bed, and contacted the police.
This sort of
thing affects the culture on a level of which we are seldom conscious. One of the assumptions that built itself into our minds was
that we had done something to the dead that might not please them.
That assumption was behind ghost stories that had been with us for
probably thousands of years, but the resurrection of the dead was a
notion that gave them the possibility of corporeal form.
Now, Voodoo gave us the word "zombie," but it gave us a
very different sort of zombie from those that now exist in popular
culture. The Voodoo zombie was revived by a bokor, or magic
practitioner, and because the zombie lacked a will of its own, it would
do the will of the bokor.
In 1937 Zora Neal Hurston tried to track down how zombies
were made -- she was pretty sure it was some psychoactive drug -- but
was unsuccessful. A Harvard ethnobiologist named Wade Davis wrote two
books on the subject, The Serpent and the Rainbow in 1985 and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie in
1988. His findings remain controversial, but in any case, they dealt
with the Voodoo zombie, not with the flesh-eating monster of popular
Flesh-eating zombies did not arrive on the scene until the 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead.
The film didn't use the word "zombie" to describe the soulless,
aggressive, and comestible-challenged risen dead who featured in the
title. The notion that the risen dead would eat brains didn't come along
until Return of the Living Dead in 1985.
Zombies now live in the uncanny valley
where things not quite human horrify us. The uncanny valley is a
concept from robotics, that tells us as things become more human, they
become more likeable, but only up to a point. Beyond that point,
graphing the likeability of the created object goes into a valley before
resemblance to humans increases and likeability increases again.
The Brave Little Toaster
is likeable because it is more human that a real toaster. Damon Knight wrote a 1988 short story called Masks
in which a man has his consciousness implanted in a prosthetic body.
The first body isn't very realistic, the second is more so, but less
successful, and the man complains to the technicians, "The first model
looked like a tailor's dummy; so you spent eight
months and came up with this one, and it looks like a corpse."
the corpses of Voodoo did not want to kill people; they had no will of
their own. It is the culture of the resurrectionists that invented that
sort of monster. The modern zombie does not answer to a bokor, or serve
anyone at all. More likely, it is a creation of science or a disease
visited upon mankind from some virus that science is helpless to defeat.
Scientists by their very nature trifle with forces they
don't fully comprehend. It's their job. Trifling with forces you do
understand is the job of engineers, technicians and doctors. Those
professions take what science has learned an use it to control our
Our culture's anxiety about science is the fear of the
unknown, the fear it may awaken some force that we cannot overcome. It
is the fear that we will lose the control that science promises.
And, of course, for the bored and self-satisfied, there's that
business of wondering how you would cope with disaster. Reassuring
fantasies of survival like Robert Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold
have entertained us for many years, and survivalists and preppers have
shifted from fallout shelters in case of nuclear war to dreaming of that
economic apocalypse that will sweep away all the detritus of
civilization and let people of true worth survive while the parasites
The zombie apocalypse makes this fantasy comfortingly
remote. It allows people to dream of the day when science can't save us,
the politicians are spineless, the military is all bluster, but we can
survive because we have the good character and the survival skills to do
by Jamie Lutton
I have lived on Capitol Hill and run a bookstore here since 1987. I have
watched the happy partying that happens every late June around the
time of our gay rights parade, on the anniversary of the Stonewall riot. Hundreds
and hundreds of LGT people and their families show up from out of town,
even from out of state to celebrate with us and see our parade.
Now and then I will talk to some of the young people, and ask them
what they know about the real Stonewall. Almost all the young ones,
under 30 at least, seem ignorant and indifferent. This shocked me, it is
as if a young black American did not know who Martin Luther King was,
or worse did not care. But then I realized; this event is not taught in
the schools, not even in college classes, unless you go and look for
this history on your own in an electvie class. It surely is not required
knowledge, like knowing about Hitler and the Holocaust, or about our
The history of the LGT struggle for civil rights has then generally been forgotten, even by those it affects personally..
It is as if the world that gays and lesbians had to live in before
1970 has been swept under the rug of history. No one wants to tell this
story, and when it is told, it devolves to being a story about men in
high heels in New York outside a bar, throwing cobblestones at cops..
There is a lot more to it than that. I read Stonewall by
Martin Duberman when it came out in 1994, and have recommended it ever
since to my customers. This book is a LGT view of the late 1960's, early
1970's, and the real history of the gay right's movement back to the
1930's. The struggle for civil rights for the LGT community was a long
and difficult one, and it took more than one riot to change things...but
it took a riot, it seems, to get ordinary people, the average Joe and
Jane who was LGT, to look up and notice that they were strong, and could
say 'no' to being called foul names, harassed, arrested, and beaten. .
This author, tracked down and interviewed dozens of LGT people who
lived in New York city at this time, and who were eyewitnesses to the
riots.. He chose six people, two men, three women and one
transgender person to interview, taping their testimonies and
transcribing them. This gives the book a feeling of candor, and
immediacy. . . The riots at the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street are
not reached until the page 181 of this 282 page book; the rest of the
book is these people telling their life stories. This helps give context
to the events of that night and the nights following.
I was on the edge of my chair reading it by the time I got to the
days of the riots, even though I knew the general outcome, the details
and the events of that night were suprising to me.
One thing that outraged me was reading about the 'ritual' of a
police raid on a gay bar. The cops would arrest those people without
I.D.'s, men in women's clothing, women in men's clothing, and always
some of the employees. The would seize the cash the bar had, scream
abuse, hit or shove the other clients, shut the bar down for the night
(till they were paid off). The raids were even timed by the police to
happen once a month or so, early in the evening, so the bar could
re-open quickly. They would even call ahead so the bar's Mafia owners
and workers could leave, so only the gay employees would be arrested.
The police had a interest in keeping the geese that laid golden
eggs alive, so the bribes would keep coming in. The Mafia owned the bar and paid off the police, so that it had an outlet for the
illigal liquor it wanted to distribute, that was stolen out of
distilleries, or did not have 'tax' stamps on it. It also was a very
profitable business for them..
But the LGT people who were the clients were beat up, humiliated and arrested. And this happened over and over.
One thing that is forgotten in 2013 is that gay bars were the main
way ordinary gays and lesbians could meet each other, socialize,
network. The constant threat of being arrested, fined and jailed finally
was too much for them that night, and starting with the transvestites
who had just been loaded into the wagon, who fought back. the people
who had just been kicked out of Stonewall, took on the police, throwing
bottles, rocks and cobblestones..
The riots lasted on and off for three days.
When word got out about the riots, the 'respectible' gay rights
movement was appalled, and not supportive. One rich gay man on Fire lsland even said "How can we expect the police to allow us to
congregate? Let's face it, we are criminals, you can't let criminals
congregate." Gays and Lesbians who had 'made it' and were well off still
thought of themselves as 'criminals', but did not want to change the
The people who capitalized on the riots, and organized the
first gay rights parades, and other political actions were veterans of
the civil rights movement, anti-war movement, the women's right's
movement, and had been educated through their activities there, to make
the 'jump' to demanding civil rights for gays, lesbians and transgender
This author's detailed history of 'respectable' gay rights
organizations that, before Stonewall, have little to do with the ordinary LGT men and women who rioted on June 28th.
It is a history of the people who were financially exploited by the
police and the Mafia who finally could not take it any more, and who
wanted to hold the hands of their lovers in public . To be able to be
Another history of this riot and these times is Stonewall, the riots that sparked the gay revolution by David Carter and Gay Power by
Betsy Kuhn. But this book is the first that was written, it uses an
excellent interview technique, and is still my favorite book on the
America is a much better place, because these heroic people rioted
that night, saying 'no more'. Police corruption has greatly decreased
in American police forces because a strong reform movement in the 1970's.
The unholy marriage between the Mafia and the police in the cities has
been eliminated, partly because police unions have successfully
campaigned for higher wages for the police. The police is not just a
force of white men, they reflect the population they serve;
black, Hispanic, female and gay police are common.. The police, then, no
longer see the minorities in the neighborhoods they patrol as suspect
population to be controlled.
The LGT population has wrestled back their bars from the clutches
of the Mafia, as LGT people are no longer automatically seen to be criminals.
The country, then, is a better place for everyone.
by John MacBeath Watkins
Apple's antitrust trial is under way, and it could have a large effect on how we buy and sell books. But to understand why Apple's lawyer refers to the government's case as "bizarre," and why the government is bringing the case it is, we need to look at a little history.
In 1967, the Safeway grocery store chain, then the second largest in the country, signed a consent decree with the Justice Department in which they agreed to stop engaging in predatory pricing -- selling below cost in order to drive the competition out of business.
A generation later, in 1983, Safeway correctly perceived that the Reagan Justice Department would take a different view of their activities, and asked to be released from the consent decree, and was freed of its restrictions.
Under Reagan, the Justice Department was trying to eliminate as many as possible
of the 1,300 antitrust decrees filed starting in 1890. The Reagan administration was influenced by Milton Friedman's theory that if we stopped enforcing much of the antitrust law as it then existed, consumers would benefit because larger companies would have greater economies of scale. Friedman, in effect, repackaged laissez faire
"free markets" and effectively argued for a shift from keeping one company from dominating an industry -- what antitrust had meant since 1890 -- to simply policing price fixing.
So the Justice Department shifted its strategy from trying to prevent companies from attempting to obtain monopoly power to concentrating on price-fixing, and still seems to follow the Reaganaught philosophy. Making your ideology a part of the institutional structure has got to be what real political victory looks like.
That ideology is the prism through which the Justice Department viewed Apple's agreement with publishers to use an agency model, where the publishers set the price of e-books and the on-line retailer sells the books.
Publishers wanted this because they saw Amazon attempting to dominate e-book sales. Amazon was selling many e-books at a loss in order to attract people to the Kindle and Amazon as their bookseller. But as Amazon's dominance of the market soared to its current 65% share, they became worried that a.) the perception of the value of their traditional, printed books would decline, and b.) Amazon would so dominate the e-book scene that it could dictate what they could charge.
Remember, the antitrust laws were passed in large part because farmers found that monopoly railroads were charging so much to take their crops to market that the farmers were failing. In a sense, they were consumers, because they were buying transportation services, but the concern was not with the retail price customers were being charged for the grain, it was for the way grain producers were being squeezed by the carriers.
Now, Wal-Mart (for example) is free to squeeze producers as hard as it wants -- I know someone who refuses to wholesale to them because he wants to sell to a diverse group of retailers who he can bargain with freely -- and the Justice Department seems not to care about predatory pricing as long as consumers get low prices. Some communities fight the arrival of Wal-Mart
because they fear having their towns hollowed out, with local retailers deliberately targeted to be driven under. And Wal-Mart isn't the second-largest seller of groceries as Safeway was in 1967, it's the larges
The problem is that the driving factor here doesn't seem to be economies of scale, although Wal-Mart is well run, so much as pricing power. If Amazon can dominate the market for e-books, it can appropriate more of the profits from them, squeezing producers the way the old railroad barons did.
The government narrative is a bit different. Conspiracies to raise prices are an old story; even Adam Smith's 1776 tome, The Wealth of Nations
, mentions them. Their assumption is that pricing power lies with the producers, who are conspiring to charge consumers more.
Now that the original theory of antitrust law seems to have been forgotten, that's what they're left with. And it's a real issue -- prices on e-books jumped right after the iPad was introduced, and have fallen since the Justice Department took action against the publishers. The five publishers who had signed on to Apple's agency model have already signed consent decrees
with the Justice Department, and Penguin's CEO has already given testimony
that seems to bolster the federal case.
Why should readers care if the publishers get squeezed? Well, remember, Amazon is a publisher, too. The more it squeezes other publishers, the more it can take the business of publishing in-house, where its vertical integration makes it a lot easier to make money. Ultimately, it may be a question of whether we want one gatekeeper for the long-form discourse books represent, one that decides what is for sale and what gets promoted.
This means there is another possible motive for the publishers to have preferred the agency model: They may have worried about their survival, about being supplanted by Amazon.
Of course, it's possible the next disruptive technology will make the entire discussion moot, but so far, I see nothing on the horizon
by Jamie Lutton
I like dictionaries of quotations. Even with
Google, you can't find the quote unless you know it, or part of it in
advance. One the things I have found out in my reading, however, is that
a lot of sayings we know come from the Bible or we know are so and
so, have been changed as they became popular.
And many quotes are attributed to the wrong person; the internet sources do not always catch this error.
When I was a kid, older people, at parties, or after a few drinks would edge up to someone, roll their eyes, and say "Come with me to the Casbah" to be funny-suggestive. This supposedly came from a steamy 1938 film Algiers
with Heddy Lamar and Charles Boyer, but this exact quote is not in the
film. On it's own, this corybantic phrase was popular for decades, but I
have not heard it recently. If anyone has recently heard this phrase,
let me know; my Dad was the last person I knew who would use it in fun
with my mother, rolling his eyes at her..
"Hell Hath no Fury like a Woman Scorned" is not, after all from Shakespeare, but other playwright, William Congreve, in his play The Mourning Bride, written in 1697. This pithy "quote" has been worn down into a weak cliché.
President Richard Nixon, who as we recall had to leave the White
House in disgrace for ordering the Watergate break-in, really did say "I am not a Crook,"
but not in denying his involvement. He said this when questioned about
his finances by the press. ..the whole quote goes "And I think, too,
that I can say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind
of examination because people have gotta know whether or not their
President's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned
everything I've got."
This fine denial is now dropping out of common
use. Up till only a few years ago, jokers would still make two peace signs with their hands, hold their arms high while hunching
their shoulders and mutter "I am not a crook" to make others crack up.
Now sadly falling out of use.
Emma Goldman as it turns out did not ever say "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revoluion".
This pithy phrase was dreamed up by a anarchist t-shirt printer in the
early 1970's, then went viral. The real quote is better, but does not
fit onto a t-shirt. "I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to
become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister.
If it meant that, I did not want it. I want freedom, the right to
self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things"
It was not Mark Twain, nor even George Bernard Shaw who said "Wagner's music is much better than it sounds".
It was Edgar Wilson "Bill" Nye, a popular American humorist and short story
writer of the late 19th century, who is now generally forgotten.
Most places online swear that Lincoln did say "You can fool all
of the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you
can not fool all the people all of the time." This quote has
not been tracked down to it's original source, despite decades of
looking for it. Like others, may have been fabricated after his death.
In the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, published
first in 1843, Charles McKay collected all the popular sayings and slang
of the time in the back of the book, with examples given. The only one
that is still in common use, however, is "Does your mother know you are out?"
This origianlly was directed to deflate the pretentions of young men
who "smoked cigars in the street, and wore false whiskers to look irresistible' (page 624-625; chapter Popular Follies of Great Cities))
but now seems to be used by old men toward young, pretty women as a
pick-up line. Also becoming obsolete.
A playwright and reviewer of the 1920's and 1930's, George
Kaufman, has had many of his sayings stolen from him by later
misappropriation.. He is best known for writing The Man Who Came To Dinner and You Can't Take it With You. When he saw his co-author's Moss Hart's new home in the country, he said "This is what God would have done if He had money". This is usually thought to have been said about the Hearst estate by H.L. Mencken.
Some are just good.Said to a bore "madam, do you have any unexpressed thoughts?" this is usually attributed to Oscar Wilde.
rant about Christmas, by Gerge Bernard Shaw that I find sometimes
attributed to Oscar Wilde, goes, "I am sorry to have to introduce the
subject of Christmas. It is an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous
subject; a drunken, disorderly subject; a wasteful, disastrous subject; a
wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous and demoralizing subject.
Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the
shopkeepers and the press: on its own merits it would wither and shrivel
in the fiery breath of universal hatred; and anyone who looked back to
it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages."
There is an epigram written by Dorothy Parker in one of her columns in the 1930's about all the quotes that end up being attributed to Oscar Wilde "I never seek to take the credit/we all
assume that Oscar said it."
The quote that I believe made the word "gay" jump from happy, or,
as in "gay girl" meaning prostitute, to meaning "homosexual man'' is
the quote about Walt Whitman "He was a gay old pagan who never called it a
sin when it was a pleasure", James Hunker in 1915 in his bookIvory, Apes and Peacocks,
in chapter 2. Walt Whitman said about himself "Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself (I am large; I contain multitudes)" in Leaves of Grass.
Words to live by.
And, for a good pun, a 150 years ago, in
1863, the favorite novel of both the Union and the Confederate soldiers
was Victor Hugo's epic novel Les Miserables, which had been translated
into English in 1863. The soldiers of the Army of Northern
Virgina went so far as to call themselves 'Lee's Miserables'.
by John MacBeath Watkins
We are living in what may turn out to be the golden age of free media, the time between "information wants to be free" and the discovery that those who provide it move on to other activities once it turns out they won't be paid.
One of the bonuses of this period is the availability of free entertainment in the form of shows we would formerly have had to rent from a video store of by watching commercials on television.
And one of the pleasures I've enjoyed recently is watching old episodes of Get Smart
, a situation comedy about an inept secret agent.
James Bond drove rare and fast cares, Ferraris and the like. Maxwell Smart drove sports cars on the economy end of the scale -- a Sunbeam Alpine, Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and Opel GT.
The beautiful women who populated the Bond films were either Bond girls who fell under his spell and had sex with him, or villains who were less impressed and tried to kill him, only to be defeated.
Bond was the super-competent, super-masculine hero. Don Adams (born Donald James Yarmy,) who created the Maxwell Smart character, actually had the backstory a Bond actor should have had. He joined the Marines in World War II, hit the beach at Guadalcanal, was was wounded and invalided out with blackwater fever, which almost no one survived, and after kicking that, became a drill sergeant whipping Marine trainees into shape.
After he mustered out, he went into show business. He was short, ordinary-looking, and had a funny voice, so he became a comedian, and created the character of an inept house detective.
Mel Brooks and Buck Henry had the idea of turning that character into a secret agent comedy. They selected the lovely, obviously intelligent, and somewhat taller Barbara Feldon to play his love interest and partner, Agent 99 to his Agent 86.
Many old shows are time capsules for the culture they were designed to appeal to. Amos & Andy
has become an embarrassment, and many old programs represent a culture long gone.
This happens in literature as well. Lady Chatterley's Lover
was shocking for its sexual frankness and breaking through class lines. Now, it seems rather tame.
The Bond franchise moves on, in part by going back to its roots in Ian Fleming's novels, where Bond's love of women was as much a weakness as a display of masculinity, giving him hostages to fortune.
But Get Smart was part of the sexual revolution just as much as Midnight Cowboy
or I am Curious (Yellow)
. While other shows were giving us displays of sexual freedom, Get Smart
showed a future with more equal relationships between sexes.
It is still part of its time. Smart, as the man, is supposed to lead, and defeat the bad guy. But he's inept. He has the good fortune to be paired with the more competent 99, and both are aware of his ineptitude. 99 understands that Smart gets by on good intentions and good luck, and chooses to help him. They fall in love in the chaste manner of 1960s prime-time television, not the quick fall into bed of the Bond films, and they have twins.
99 does not give up her work. Smart becomes a nappy-weilding secret agent, 99 at his side (the twins seem to require remarkably little care.) Of course, Smart is not the feminist's dream -- neither character is seen doing housework, but the assumption seems to be that it's 99 doing it.
Don Adams had a working wife as well. He was married to Adelaide (Dell) Efantis, a singer who performed as Adelaide Adams, and he took his last name on stage from her stage name.
99 never gets a name, but that appears to be a humorous device to keep emphasizing the incongruity between the dehumanizing aspect of "givin' you a number and takin' away your name," as the lyric for the them song of the show Secret Agent
said, and the affectionate relationships and domestic happiness of the character Barbara Feldon played. The character in Secret Agent
inhabited a different identity in every episode, and viewers never knew his name.
Actually, the theme song for that show, performed by the ragin' Cajun, Johnny Rivers, has proven more enduring than the show. It encapsulates everything Agents 86 and 99 lampooned.
There's a man who leads a life of danger.
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes,
Another chance he takes.
Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow.
Secret Agent Man.
Secret Agent Man.
They've given you a number.
And taken away your name.
Beware of pretty faces that you find.
A pretty face may hide an evil mind.
Ooh be careful what you say.
Or you give yourself away.
Odds are you won't live to see tomorrow.
Secret Agent Man.
Secret Agent Man.
They've given you a number.
And taken away your name.
Swinging on the Riviera one day
Layin' in a Bombay alley the next.
Oh don't let the wrong word slip.
While kissin persuasive lips.
Odds are you won't live to see tomorrow.
Secret Agent Man.
Secret Agent Man.
They've given you a number.
And taken away your name.