The book is dead; long live the book!

The book has been around for about 1,000 years now.  Around 100 C.E., someone in the Roman Empire folded some parchment up into a convenient proto-notebook and called it a pugillares membranei. This rather useful innovation lived alongside tablets and scrolls for a time as its form factor was refined into what became known as the codex or, for the Latin purists, caudex. The term means “trunk of a tree” or “block of wood.”

By now, the form factor of the codex is nearly perfect.  It’s compact, adaptable, durable, and relatively cheap.  Keep it away from fire, water, and religious fanatics, it will last centuries.  Yet for several years  cultural critics have been writing obituaries for the book.  Information will be digital!, they announced with the fervor of revolutionaries.  Many, myself included, thought they were daft.  The alternative was, what?  Sitting  in front of a computer monitor scrolling through pages of text?

Psychologically, people have prepared for the shift away from paper for some time.  Few professional workers under 40 remember a time before every desk in the office was occupied by a computer.  Indeed, the idea of not having a computer on one’s desk is almost unimaginable.  Without one, what would one do all day?  Yet for leisurely reading, people have resisted using a desktop of laptop computer.  This was due, I suppose, to the superiority of the codex for this purpose.  It was simply a better tool for the job.

Then came the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Apple iPad.  Within the space of a few years, everything changed for the codex.  Except for the iPad, every device listed is more or less a dedicated device for reading explicitly meant to replace books.  A single device could hold hundreds of books and weighed as much as a single magazine.  They are unfussy, uncomplicated, and not outrageously expensive.

Yet strangely, the device itself isn’t the real innovation.  The most radical change brought by the advent of e-readers is how books are published and distributed in the first place.  The internet generally, and Amazon and Apple specifically, have made brick & mortar bookstores and, in fact, the entire publishing system, obsolete.  As the thriller writer Barry Eisler points out in his brilliant dialogue with fellow writer J.A. Konrath, publishers were never in the business of selling books.  They were in the business of selling paper.  Eisler likens them to candle makers who, 150 years ago, believed themselves to be in the business of selling light.  The advent of the lightbulb and widespread electrification, however, stole this business away from them and candle makers had to content with simply making candles.  Traditional or “legacy” publishers won’t go away altogether, but in the coming decade they’ll be reduced to novelties of a bygone era.

The reason is simple: the core function of books has always been to convey information in the form of printed words. The internet makes the cost of distributing this information vanishingly small.  A file is uploaded to a server once and can be downloaded an infinite number of times.  A moment after it’s placed on the Internet, anyone anywhere in the world has instant access to it.  In contrast, the paper codex appears startlingly inefficient.  Every copy must be produced in a printing plant, distributed by truck, rail, plane, or ship, to every corner of the world.  Once it reaches its destination, it must wait to be purchased by a reader who must travel to the store, physically locate the book, and then buy it and take it home.  While we may rightly love the form factor of the book, we do so only for sentimental reasons.  We’re used to them.  We grew up with them.  My own children — five- and three-years old as of this writing — will almost certainly not have this nostalgia.  By the time they reach college, and likely much before then, there will be no textbooks.  Everything will be transported on a tablet computer or e-reader of some sort.  Already this transition is underway and it will only gain momentum as tablets and e-readers continue to gain in utility and drop in price.

The end of the book, or at least the book as we have known it, is upon us.

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Oh, good. You’re awake.

After a period of about 2.5 years, I’ve decided to resurrect Agents of Goldstein.

Because, you know, another blog is just what teh interwebz needs.

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Bristol Palin’s Baby Daddy Revealed! Cue the gullible masses…

You knew it would come to this, didn’t you?  Someone claiming to be Bristol’s paramour and the father of her unborn baby has come forth – and on You Tube, no less!  Of course, the young man lives in LA and is struggling to launch his career as a – you guessed it – rapper!  The video is shameless act of cheap, sleazy self-promotion.  

But we’ll bite anyway.  

Here it is, for your viewing pleasure…Kevin, Bristol’s baby’s father (and, don’t forget, aspiring musician.)

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Sarah Palin: the Christians’ porn star.

Sarah Palin’s whole “naughty librarian” shtick has not passed beneath anyone’s notice.  She’s hot, mates for life, evidently has had sex at least five times, and likely has a pistol secreted somewhere on her person at any given moment.  What’s not to love? 

While Palin has been largely embraced by conservative Christians, she’s poses a new problem: inspiring Christian men to impure thoughts and their correlative actions: fornication and masturbation.

This from the blog, Calvinists 4 Conservatism (you know, as opposed to those Calvinists who favor anarchy): “McCain’s VP choice, Sarah Palin, suddenly made me want to vote for him, as long as the LORD smites him while he’s in office. She’s consistently conservative on all the issues, and if she’s good enough forThe Forerunner, she’s good enough for me. The Forerunner agrees with me that McCain must be smitten, as well, so I’m obviously not alone in my viewpoints. The only thing that worries me is if I will be drawn into temptation to masturbate and fornicate by her charming, stunning looks.”

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Palin’s Pregnancy: please, god, let this story go away.

I’ve received a lot of comments from readers and friends asking why I write about Sarah Palin in every. single. recent. post.  What are your thoughts on Russia’s promises to withdraw its troops from Georgia within a month, they ask?  And what about the economy, stupid?  

In reply, I just yawn.  

Fact is, Sarah Palin, for all her detestable qualities, is the most interesting thing to happen to politics since, well, Barack Obama.  Together, they’re making this campaign one for the ages and the single weirdest presidential race in history.  So what’s a blogger to do?  Ignore it?  Drone on about an erstwhile superpowers sphere of influence?  

Oh, and also, my posts about Palin’s pregnancy are the most popular posts on this site.  So…

Let’s look at where we stand.  The New York Times and it’s expat sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, have published a smarmy, sentimental story about Palin’s pregnancy with Trig, her infant son.  However, if anyone had any hopes that this would lay to rest the DailyKos-inspired conspiracies that Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, is Trig’s real mommy, well, I guess you don’t know DailyKos.  

The echo chamber of the lefty blogosphere is still at it, trying to dig up receipts for a fat suit they accuse Palin of buying to fake her pregnancy.  (There is nothing more dangerous than a conspiracy-theorist backed into a corner.  One should back away slowly, waving one’s arms to appear as large as possible.)  

Now, the formerly-relevant-but-now-just-kinda-sad Vanity Fair is putting the final nail in the coffin of its journalistic integrity by publishing a timeline of the Trig-gate conspiracy.  

Why hasn’t this story died?  Because it’s a nearly perfect storm of things the public loves: celebrity, gossip, scandal, and babies.  Evidently, if it bleeds amniotic fluid, it leads.

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Sarah Palin and Jesus: BFF

As Americans, we’re used to hearing politicos of every stripe prattle on about their faith. Most of the time, I get this vague sense that they don’t really mean it, that they’re just going through the motions, that they’re too smart to be true believers. Then someone like Huckabee comes along and we’re presented with the contradiction of an intelligent, erudite man who seems to actually believe the earth is 4,000 years old and that Adam and Eve had a pet dinosaur.

Sarah Palin is another such example. We’ve all heard about how she opposes abortion and stem-cell research and is, herself, a church-goin’ Christian. Except she seems too smart for that, too clever. Her positions, I believed, were crafted for the political advantage they provided. But not so.

A video has surfaced of her speaking before the Wasilia Assembly of God church at what seems to be a commencement ceremony of some sort. No, she doesn’t go off about Jews or gays or Mexicans. No one speaks in tongues or channels the dead. It’s more banal than that. She gives a longish, rambling speech about Alaska and Jesus and growing up in the church. At the end, the pastor says Alaska is one of the “refuge states” to which people will flock during the “end times.” End times which are apparently expected soon because he admonishes the parishioners to prepare to minister to those of us who will soon be headed there.

Maybe it’s all very ordinary to churchgoing types, but reinforced in me a real discomfort that Sarah Palin is not just going through the motions when it comes to her fundamentalism.

(Apologies for my inability to embed the video directly in the site. Click here instead.)

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McCain and the VPILF: video of the Palin pick

So sue me, my sources were wrong.  What can I say.  Turns out, someone got McCain and Palin on tape at the exact moment when he dropped the news on her that she was his choice for VPILF.

And, by the way, you probably don’t want to play this too loudly at work or around easily-offended ears.

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