Sunday, May 31, 2009

Romance Novel Sales Up!

Here's one sub-genre that's doing well during the recession, which makes sense when you think about it. According to this AP story, sales of romance novels rose 2.4% during the week of May 10th.

For a bit of contrast, sales of travel books were DOWN 16%. Mysteries? Down 17%. Ditto self-help books. Logically, you'd suppose folks looking for a bit of wish-fulfillment or escape would buy those as well, right? But apparently nothing beats soft core titillation. Duh.

Cheap thrills for tough times! Yeah!

However, I must say that the romance-reading folks interviewed for that article made me wonder about the point. One woman had just lost a child in a horrible game-playing accident; another is blind and looking for work. Financial strain, chronic illnesses, trajedy--was the journalist dared to find the women with the worst problems who then found solace reading romance novels?

I guess she's got to keep her job interesting too.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Journalism and Media

Back to what we read in the media and how it's in upheaval mode, which I blogged about a few days ago. In the article "Brave New Media" in the ASU Magazine, I read that 120 newspapers have shut down in the US since January 2008.

Tim McGuire of the Cronkite School at Arizona State U says:

"There's no question that corporate media is in trouble, but journalism is stronger than ever. It's the corporate media model that's under attach because the advertising model has gone bust. We've funded journalism on the backs of advertisers who wanted to reach the eyeballs of our customers. That model is broken, and we have to find another way to fund the journalism that we value so highly."

So it sounds like journalism is still valued, but no way to pay for it has replaced the old way? Where does that leave journalists who would like to practice their trade as well as eat and pay rent?

More interesting quotes from other professors at the Cronkite School:

  • In the last 10 years, the market that television can reach has shrunk so much...we're constantly challenged to think of how to make what we're teaching relevant. (Craig Allen)
  • Radio may be the one electronic medium whose current business model survives intact for the foreseeable future (Frederic "Fritz" Leigh)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Venus Figure is 35,000+++ Years Old

But I sure wish the archaeologists would dream up a new name for these voluptuous statuettes. Please. After all, calling it a Venus figure prejudges its purpose, doesn't it? It creates a context in our heads. And when looking at something that may be up to 40,000 years old, that's a big mistake.

I like what archaeologist Paul Mellars of Cambridge U says about the piece though. Rather than accepting it as a fertility symbol, he suggests: "These people were obsessed with sex."

This lovely piece of work, carved out of mammoth ivory, was found in a cave in Schelklingen, in southern Germany--14 miles southwest of Ulm. (Not that I know where that is, but you might.) The tiny statue was in six pieces when unearthed, and it lacks a head, feet, and a left arm. It is the oldest representation of a human being ever found.

According to the AP story, the left arm is still being sought, but the lack of head and feet seem to be part of the artist's intent. You can just barely make out the loop that indicates it may have been hung from a string or hook.

I hope it is OK to reprint this AP photo by Daniel Maurer, since it seems to be the only picture of this amazing object.

The particular cave, Hohle Fels, has been rich in ancient deposits, and this piece was found 9 feet below the current surface. Both Neandertal and homo sapiens used the cave and left debris, but the scientists are certain this is made by our homo sapien ancestors. Bits of worked bone and ivory, flint-knapping debris, and animal remains were found nearby.

Discoverer Nicholas J. Conard of the University of Tubingen in Germany also found carvings of an animal head, a bird in flight, and a half-human, half-lion figurine, all about 5,000 years younger than the headless female. That's from a Los Angeles Times story--Conard wrote about his work in the journal Nature, but the article is only accessible to paid subscribers.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sarah Palin has a book deal

And I don't.

This is a new low.

Do you have a book deal? Admit it! None of us do! And does anyone want to read what the Alaska governor has to say about anything?

Apparently the publisher thinks so.

If the publisher is wrong, will it make getting published (a) harder or (b) easier for the rest of us?

Truly a no-win situation.

I'm going to go eat my sauerkraut and sausage now. Likely, the doomsayers are correct and life as we know it will end with a magnetic pole flip-flop on December 21, 2012. I predict that I will get a six-figure offer on the 19th.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Submerged Greek City from 2800 BC to be Excavated

Not sure if excavated is the correct word, since the site--a town named Pavlopetri--lies under 3 or 4 meters of water. Explored, maybe?

According to Science Daily, a team will soon be diving into and paddling around the sea off Laconia, Greece. There, the ancient town of Pavlopetri, dating at least from the Mycenaean Age, will be studied. Using equipment developed for the military (for what purpose, I wonder?), archaeologists hope to splash through ancient courtyards, tombs, and cist graves. Wow. All those things are still there, underwater, after 4800 years? Excuse me while I push my jaw back into position and wipe up the drool from the keyboard.

This lovely photo is from, and shows some of the harsh conditions and primitive accommodations that the archaeologists must accept during their grueling fieldwork, which will take place over three years.

Pavlopetri was probably once a port and trading town, so there should be much to discover. The archaeologist who discovered the site in 1967 is also participating! Among the things they hope to learn is--just how far back does Pavlopetri date, and why did it slip into the sea?

The Science Daily article hints that a bit more funding is needed--so far the University of Nottingham (here's their page on the site, and the first picture came from there), the Institute of Aegean Prehistory, and the British School of Archaeology at Athens have contributed financially. May I suggest someone get National Geographic or the Discovery Channel on board?

Because if I can't be on that beach--and I can't, 'cause I don't have a PhD in Archaeology--I would love to see this on my TV, sitting on a cushy sofa and eating Doritos.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Media Revolution

According to this March post by Clay Shirky ("Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable"):

The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing.

Guess what? The topic at this point is NOT newspapers.

No, the article is describing the revolution that followed the invention of Gutenberg's printing press in the 15th century.

Of course, the article draws the comparison: what happened when Gutenberg upset the status quo is what's happening with print media now: a revolution. The post describes how the profitable newspaper model worked for centuries, and why it has ceased to work. Who could have predicted that craigslist wasn't just a new internet fluke, but something that would transform industries? The old way doesn't work and the new paradigm (the format and funding for news collection and delivery 20 years hence) is not yet in place. My favorite lines of the piece? "You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. and Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

EBay Good for Archaeologists

If you haven't already seen the story in Archaeology Magazine, Science Daily, Yahoo, or a host of other sources, here's the deal. Ebay makes selling faux antiquities so easy that looting of archaeological sites has decreased.

Professor Charles Stanish of UCLA wrote the article called "Forging Ahead, or how I learned to stop worrying and love EBay." It's a really good article; click on one of the links above to read it in full. What follows is my quickie dissemination of his well-researched facts.

Looting works like this: some poor schmuck robs a grave or stumbles upon a treasure. Said schmuck wants cash--usually to do something frivolous like feed his children--so he sell his find to someone, who sells it to someone, and so on and on. The money's made in the middle; the finder gets little and the customer at the end pays big time.

Selling fakes is a little different. In the past, the fake had to be really good to get a high price from collectors. Naturally, high-end fakes cost more to make and involved skilled artisans.

So in comes EBay, where a low-end, cheaply-produced fake--in fact, a mass-produced ton of cheap fakes--can be shipped out regularly to hundreds of wanna-be collectors all over the globe. Why risk arrest and jail by stomping around old burial grounds at night if you can set up a pottery workshop and sell more goods that way? The finder/producer now gets more money, because he's producing more goods--all day, in a shed, with his friends and neighbors helping out. The only middleman might be the shipping/EBay shop in the nearest town. (I bet there's a shipping dock in the back of this bazaar!) Also, because so many cheap antiques are available, the market for looted goods is impacted. Their price declines. A real win-win scenario.

Thanks to the miracle of online auctions. Ah, technology!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Newspaper Dirge

The New York Times is about to shut down the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun announced it's laying off 61 staff members, and I spent 20 minutes discussing why we don't need newspapers with My Luddite Friend. I was playing devil's advocate to her defense, but the truth is I love my LA Times and would hate to be without it.

It's a book: Anachronistic Media and the Women Who Love Them ... It ... Whatever.

My Luddite Friend says we need local papers to inform us of things we wouldn't know, like an accounting scandal at a neighboring city.

"I'll see it on the local news," I say.

"Not a big enough story for TV," she says.

"Then why do I care?"

"Because you should know, as a citizen, that these things happen. You should know so you can demand accountability and transparency from your own city."

"But now that you've told me, I don't care. I'm not going to demand anything from my own city. If I wanted to be involved in local politics I'd go to city council meetings, but I don't."

We don't really talk like this. I've taken out all the "Well....'s," the "um's," the "Shit...never mind's," and all that.

My bottom line is that we're lazy. Give me the news with the least possible hassle. If all I have to do is push a button and sit through a few commercials, I'm fine with that. The LA Times is for browsing through during those dumb commercials. If a news story about an accounting scandal in a neighboring city makes the news, I'll probably flip through the Times during that segment, too.

For me, the newspaper is entertainment, not anything that's going to make me a better citizen.

Maybe we get the news we deserve.