Monthly Archives: October 2013

Medicinal Laughs: Could ‘Daily Show’ Sour Millennials On ACA?


Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.


Brad Barket/PictureGroup

Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.

Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.

Brad Barket/PictureGroup

Problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act have been all over the news — and the not-quite news. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has been one news-ish outlet that hasn’t been too kind in its coverage.

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spoke with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about why negative coverage on The Daily Show might be worse for the Obama administration than negative coverage on the nightly news.

Interview Highlights

On how young people get their news from The Daily Show

I think this young group of millennials [are] the folks that the government really wants to take advantage of this program, and The Daily Show is sort of their barometer of when something is ridiculous in government.

And so the fact that The Daily Show — I loved a Daily Show segment, I think on Monday, where they showed the person who’s pictured on [HealthCare.gov] as sort of hanging in despair. She had hung herself because things were so bad. So when you have stuff like that going on on The Daily Show, it might make people less likely to take the [Affordable Care Act] itself seriously.

On an ad run during The Daily Show by Republicans

This ad is sort of a satire of the Apple ads that we saw years ago. And it’s interesting: As lame as the ad itself kind of is, it highlights the problems [with the Affordable Care Act] in the way that The Daily Show has also done. It resonates with the same sort of cultural take that we’ve seen from The Daily Show. So I think it could be effective.

On other lighthearted news shows on millennial-focused networks

As much as I love the The Daily Show and The Colbert Report — they do wonderful work — I’m afraid that young viewers will get the sense that the only way they can consume news is when it’s entertaining, when it sings and dances or makes them laugh. And you want people to be able to focus in on news when it’s substantive and when it’s about something that’s important in their lives. So that’s the one concern I have.

Medicinal Laughs: Could ‘Daily Show’ Sour Millennials On ACA?


Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.


Brad Barket/PictureGroup

Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.

Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.

Brad Barket/PictureGroup

Problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act have been all over the news — and the not-quite news. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has been one news-ish outlet that hasn’t been too kind in its coverage.

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spoke with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about why negative coverage on The Daily Show might be worse for the Obama administration than negative coverage on the nightly news.

Interview Highlights

On how young people get their news from The Daily Show

I think this young group of millennials [are] the folks that the government really wants to take advantage of this program, and The Daily Show is sort of their barometer of when something is ridiculous in government.

And so the fact that The Daily Show — I loved a Daily Show segment, I think on Monday, where they showed the person who’s pictured on [HealthCare.gov] as sort of hanging in despair. She had hung herself because things were so bad. So when you have stuff like that going on on The Daily Show, it might make people less likely to take the [Affordable Care Act] itself seriously.

On an ad run during The Daily Show by Republicans

This ad is sort of a satire of the Apple ads that we saw years ago. And it’s interesting: As lame as the ad itself kind of is, it highlights the problems [with the Affordable Care Act] in the way that The Daily Show has also done. It resonates with the same sort of cultural take that we’ve seen from The Daily Show. So I think it could be effective.

On other lighthearted news shows on millennial-focused networks

As much as I love the The Daily Show and The Colbert Report — they do wonderful work — I’m afraid that young viewers will get the sense that the only way they can consume news is when it’s entertaining, when it sings and dances or makes them laugh. And you want people to be able to focus in on news when it’s substantive and when it’s about something that’s important in their lives. So that’s the one concern I have.

Jay Z Adds Another Problem To Add To His 99: Barneys


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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I’m Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it’s time to take a visit to the Beauty Shop. That’s where our panel of women commentators and journalists get a fresh cut on the week’s hot topics. Sitting in the chairs for a new ‘do this week are Bridget Johnson, the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media – that’s a conservative-libertarian news and commentary site – with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. With us from New York, Demetria Lucas. She’s a contributing editor for TheRoot.com and the author of “A Belle In Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.” Also in New York, Laura Martinez. She’s the senior editor at CNET en Espanol. She’s also the founder of the blog “Mi blog es tu blog.” Welcome back, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Great to be here.

DEMTRIA LUCAS: Thank you for having us.

LAURA MARTINEZ: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Now I realize that there are a lot of important things going on in the world, but Halloween has become the second biggest holiday in this country in terms of spending, interestingly enough, and it seems like every year people push the boundaries with their Halloween costumes. This year’s no exception. Julianne Hough from “Dancing with the Stars” dressed as the African-American character Crazy Eyes from the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” Now Hough, who is white, used makeup to darken her skin and got a lot of pleasant – not very positive feedback on this. And she’s apologized for her costume. She says she didn’t mean to be disrespectful or demeaning.

But that’s not the only one that’s been in the news. I mean, there were two white guys who showed up on social media. One was dressed as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. The one dressed as Trayvon was wearing blackface and a hoodie with fake blood, and then – and the other guy was, you know, photographed, you know, pointing a gun at his head. And then there were these three guys who decided to dress as injured crew members from the Asiana Airline flight that crashed earlier this year. So I just have to ask everybody – Bridget Johnson, you know, how far is too far? Should we just sort of take a – just give everybody a kind of politically correct pass for Halloween and just not talk about it? What do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, you don’t want to get too far with the PC police on this. But I think that all representations of murder victims and disaster victims are probably in the inappropriate category, and you shouldn’t go there. And, you know, one of my first thoughts with the Julianne Hough costume, too, was, you don’t need to put on any sort of blackface or any sort of skin color to represent a character. You know, for instance, if a black man wanted to be Dracula for Halloween, it would be conveyed with the fangs and the cape and etc. You know, he doesn’t need to smear anything white on his face.

MARTIN: But, you know, you raise an interesting question. Would people be equally upset?

JOHNSON: Probably not.

MARTIN: I mean, if, you know – who was on “Dancing with the Stars”? Like, who are some of our favorites who are on “Dancing with the Stars”? Like – help me out here. Boxer – Sugar Ray Leonard decided that he wanted to be Dracula and smeared on whiteface, would we care?

JOHNSON: He would be a hot Dracula either way.

MARTIN: He would be a hot Dracula either way. So you think the blackface is too far?

JOHNSON: You shouldn’t need to do it. And – but one of the interesting debates that I have seen, though, is whether Obama masks are good for Halloween. You know, for example, one local reporter, on Friday night, to a party here, he dressed as 404 Obamacare – one of the hottest political costumes around this year – had the scrubs, wrote 404 on the front and put on an Obama mask, and he was white. And so that was tweeted, and about half the comments were saying that, oh, he put on blackface. That wasn’t appropriate. Well, presidential masks, for everybody, you know, have been a longtime tradition. So, you know, how far do we go with that?

MARTIN: I have a George W. Bush – I have a George H. W. Bush mask as part of my collection. I just want to be very clear. Laura Martinez, what do you think?

MARTINEZ: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Hi.

MARTINEZ: No, I was just going to say, I mean, probably, as the only non-American in this panel, I mean, sometimes I have to be very careful with what I said and what I think about these things. But, for example, I have been blogging a lot about costumes that said things like, you can look like Zapata, or, you can look like a real Mexican this Halloween. Quite frankly, it doesn’t offend me. Most of the times, they’re just hilarious or really funny. I found this costume in a Spanish – like, based in Spain – website of a very blonde and blue-eyed guy wearing a very strange sombrero that doesn’t look Mexican at all and a poncho and it says, you can look like Mexican for only 14 euros. I, quite frankly, find it honestly funny, but I can understand that the sensibilities in this country and – especially regarding to race – can be very, very delicate issue and not something to laugh about.

MARTIN: Demetria, what do you think?

LUCAS: You know, I just don’t understand, Michel, how, in, like, 2013, people don’t know that blackface is off-limits. Like, we go through this every single Halloween. It’s been written about. It’s been overdone. You know, I think Ted Danson, 20 years ago, you know, he showed up with Whoopi Goldberg in blackface. There was a huge conversation about it then. There’s no excuse for adults not to know the history of blackface, how demeaning, how degrading, how stereotypical, how hurtful blackface it is to African-Americans, and to still, in 2013, dress up. Like, there’s just no excuse for this.

MARTIN: Tell me why, though, for people who don’t know. I mean, you forget, 1 out of 10 Americans was foreign-born. So maybe people don’t know that history. So tell us, briefly, if you can, why it is that blackface is the third rail of Halloween costuming?

LUCAS: I mean, you know, it goes back to, you know, theater in, I guess, like, the 1800s, 1900s. I mean, people would put on – instead of hiring black people because of course, they couldn’t be professional – they would put on – white actors would put on black paint, and they’d do exaggerated lips and exaggerated eyes. And they would act out stereotypes of African-Americans. And a lot of people, for whatever reason, still believe that that’s how African-Americans exist, like, you know, being lazy, watermelon-eating, pickaninnies, you know, crazy hair, the exaggerated lips, always joking, buffoonery. And that’s still associated with black people, and that’s definitely more so associated with blackface.

So in 2013, to go smear some paint on your face, like, it just doesn’t make sense. If you want to be a black character – like Julianna Hough, for instance, like, the character that she was portraying was Crazy Eyes from “Orange Is the New Black.” She has very distinct hair, a very distinct outfit. It’s prison garb. Between the hair and the prison garb, everyone would’ve got, like, oh, you’re doing “Orange Is the New Black.” Are you Crazy Eyes? There was no need for the extra paint.

MARTIN: OK, so what’s your take on this? Is the – just skip the racial – is the blackface the dividing line or is it just racial and ethnic costumes, period, you think should be the dividing line? Demetria, I’ll ask you this.

LUCAS: I mean, I think if you want to dress up as a black person and you are nonblack, just take the predominant features. You know, if you want to do Lil Wayne, then, you know, do some locks. You know, get a sharpie and cover yourself in tattoos. I think it’s also important that if we’re going to race things, that we should stay away from stereotypes. You know, we don’t need to see another, you know, a Blood or a Crip gang members. We don’t need to see any, you know, just all-purpose ghetto black girl, just calling yourself a black girl and, you know, the gold teeth and the exaggerated outfits. But stick with specific people, and let’s try not to, you know, offend as many people as possible with our costumes.

MARTIN: OK. We’ll get – OK, Laura, final thought?

MARTINEZ: I just wanted to jump right in because it’s true, and I understand that perfectly. But, for example, my boyfriend and I went to a Halloween party a week ago – sorry, a year ago – and I saw a couple of people dressed up as French, right, wearing a beret and carrying a baguette. Another one was actually coming in with a madeleine on their hand. It’s funny how nobody thought that was stereotypical. But I guess it’s true that when it comes to Indians or when it comes to Mexicans or when it comes to blacks, that it’s a completely different conversation. I honestly don’t think my boyfriend, who is French, got offended because someone came carrying a baguette, showing that it’s a stereotypical French person.

MARTIN: Bridget.

JOHNSON: I was just thinking, you know, of one costume that I saw on a site that was pointed out as being stereotypical and racist. And it was an Arab costume, and it was a white thobe and it was the red and white Saudi headdress. And it came complete with the goatee, which automatically made me think of King Abdullah. And I thought, you know, what a great costume that would make, for example, for a woman to wear and then hold the steering wheel. You know, make a costume – you can mock a regime. You can mock, you know, ideas without mocking an entire people. So…

MARTIN: Maybe it depends on how much power you think these people have. I mean, because…

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: …I don’t know too many negative stereotypes about the French. I don’t – that they have to…

JOHNSON: Right.

MARTIN: …That they are burdened by.

JOHNSON: Right.

MARTINEZ: Right.

MARTIN: You know what I mean? Being, like, great lovers, great food, you know – whatever. I mean, you might – it might be a stereotype, but is your life negatively affected by the fact that people think that. You know, I think maybe that’s the line – I don’t know. So let’s move on to talking about stereotyping. Let’s talk about some bad shopping experiences that have been in the news. Like, several African-Americans have accused Barneys and Macy’s in New York of racial profiling.

They say that police or security stopped them after they made expensive purchases and accused them of theft or fraud, and the New York state attorney general is investigating the claims. Now one of we’re talking about Jay-Z in the middle of all this is that he’s working on a limited-edition clothing and jewelry line with Barneys. But a lot of the people saying, OK, you know, what’s up with that, given that, you know, if these people are treating these customers badly, why are you engaged with them? So, Demetria, you wrote about this for The Root, and what do you think? You said Jay-Z shouldn’t be the focus of this.

LUCAS: Yeah, I feel like, you know, the young man was stopped or arrested, you know, for his $350 purchase – legal purchase with his own money, which Chase finally backed up. But the conversation quickly went from, oh, shopping while black, this is an issue. And then we just, like, fast-forwarded right past that, zero to 90, to all of the sudden talking about Jay-Z. And I understand Jay-Z makes the story a little sexier. It’s a, you know, mega-celebrity tie-in. But, you know, he’s on the cover of newspapers, and all of a sudden, everyone’s discussing what should we be doing – what Jay-Z should be doing about his Barneys tie-in.

But no one’s really discussing what’s the core issue here, which is racism. Like, black people – this shopping while black isn’t new. Black people have always had, you know, quote and unquote, unique encounters while shopping – everything from, you know, being followed around the store, you know, the ask for ID with a credit card, pointing you to the sales rack, getting asked, you know, whether – if you’re wearing a coat and purse, do you work here. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about Jay-Z, and Jay-Z is not the core issue with shopping while black.

MARTIN: Bridge, what do you think?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I worked retail loss prevention in college when I was a criminology major, and I made about 200 busts during that time. But the one thing that you learn is there is no profile to somebody who comes in…

LUCAS: Thank you.

JOHNSON: …And shop lifts. Or – the only profile that I ever really saw – the people who were doing credit card fraud was if they came in, they indiscriminately started grabbing a bunch of expensive stuff, piled it on and then handed the card over with a smile. Then you’d call the clerk and say check with the company. You know, call the company first.

MARTIN: So why does this persist? Because I’ve heard experts like yourself – people who’ve been in the field themselves say this over and over again. So why does it persist?

JOHNSON: I think there’s something going on deeper here, especially when you link it with the Macy’s case with the “Treme” star. If it turns out as Barneys and Macy’s said, that none of their employees called in this person as suspicious, you know, what is there going on with the NYPD doing some sort of operation in the stores, being called by people within the stores, etc., with such scant evidence. It’s – so I think it’s a much wider thing, and it probably goes back to the police department.

MARTIN: Before we go, I do want to ask about the rapper Kanye West. He’s working hard as the president of the Kim K. fan club, now engaged to reality star Kim Kardashian. I know this is on top of everybody’s list. I know this is, like, the kind of thing you wake up in the morning thinking about, right? So I do have to ask because yesterday, in an interview with Ryan Seacrest, he compared his fiancee to first lady Michelle Obama. He said the first lady has been on the cover of Vogue twice and Kardashian is still waiting for the call, but that she is really the first lady of fashion. So, Demetria, I’m sorry. I have to give you this one. Yes or no? Is Kim K. more influential than Michelle Obama when it comes to fashion?

LUCAS: You know, Kanye West and his delusions of grandeur that are now extending to his fiancee, like – I really can’t with him right now. But to credit, I actually do think that – it’s weird. Are we talking about quantity or are we talking about quality of influence? Because Kim K. does have a global reach. We can’t deny that. But, you know, quality of her reach versus Michelle Obama – there’s no question. Michelle Obama blows her out the water.

MARTIN: OK. We’ll leave it there for now. Demetria Lucas is a contributing editor to TheRoot.com, with us from our bureau in New York. Laura Martinez is founder of the blog “Mi blog es tu blog” – you know this is one of my favorite blog names of all time. I’ll just say that whenever I can. I’ll just say it to say it. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media – that’s a conservative-libertarian news and commentary site – with us in Washington, D.C. Thank you all so much.

LUCAS: Thanks, Michel.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Michel.

MARTINEZ: Thank you, Michel.

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Haiku In The News: Reality In Riyadh


A Saudi woman walks past vehicles stopping at a traffic light in Riyadh, where there is a government ban on women driving.


Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

A Saudi woman walks past vehicles stopping at a traffic light in Riyadh, where there is a government ban on women driving.

A Saudi woman walks past vehicles stopping at a traffic light in Riyadh, where there is a government ban on women driving.

Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

Poetry is important. And the hope for this standing feature of The Protojournalist is that by searching for a poetic nugget in the constant rush of news we can slow down for a moment and contemplate what the news story really means.

Like finding a lovely pebble in a mountain stream. Or a dropped earring on a crowded sidewalk.

Haiku in the News — you can find other examples here — is not designed to be a trivial thing.

Gray Lady Poems

For a while now, The New York Times has been doing its own version of haiku in the news — using a computer program to highlight 17-syllable samplings in its own journalistic prose. Some work as haiku; some don’t.

Here is an example from a recent story on the Pakistani practice of donating sacrificial animal hides to charities:

In previous years,

People have been killed in gun

Battles over hides.

“How does our algorithm work?” writes Jacob Harris, the newspaper’s senior software architect. “It periodically checks the New York Times home page for newly published articles. Then it scans each sentence looking for potential haikus by using an electronic dictionary containing syllable counts.”

By Humans, For Humans

The NPR version, on the other hand, is human-based. We depend on people — using real eyes and real ears and real sensibilities — to point out poesy overlooked in the 24/7 information onslaught.

Today’s haiku comes from Philippe Monfiston, 30, of Monroe, N.Y., who listens to member station WNYC. Philippe unearthed this three-line treasure on NPR’s website — in our own backyard.

Yesterday there were

Lots of police cars, so I

Didn’t take the risk.

A woman who has driven a car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, despite a government ban on women driving, according to a recent Reuters report.


**

(If you find examples of Haiku in the News, please send them to: protojournalist@npr.org. You could win a Protojournalist Prizepak.)

The Protojournalist: A sandbox for reportorial innovation. @NPRtpj

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Brings Lessons From Space Down To Earth


Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has spent a total of six months in space. In his new book, he writes that getting to space took only “8 minutes and 42 seconds. Give or take a few thousand days of training.”


NASA/Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has spent a total of six months in space. In his new book, he writes that getting to space took only "8 minutes and 42 seconds. Give or take a few thousand days of training."

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has spent a total of six months in space. In his new book, he writes that getting to space took only “8 minutes and 42 seconds. Give or take a few thousand days of training.”

NASA/Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

While floating weightless in the International Space Station last spring, Commander Chris Hadfield recorded his own version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” — a video that’s now been viewed more than 18 million times on YouTube. But when he wasn’t busy being an Internet phenomenon, the Canadian astronaut was witnessing awe-inspiring beauty, facing life-threatening dangers and, at times, holding onto a spaceship orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles an hour.

Hadfield has flown three space missions, conducted two space walks and spent a total of six months in space. On Earth, he’s been the chief of international space station operations in Houston and chief CAPCOM commander — the person at mission control who communicates directly with astronauts in orbit. In a new book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he shares some of the lessons he learned in space.

“There are no wishy-washy astronauts,” Hadfield tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “You don’t get up there by being uncaring and blase. And whatever gave you the sense of tenacity and purpose to get that far in life is absolutely reaffirmed and deepened by the experience itself.”

Interview Highlights

On what it’s like to do a spacewalk

I’ve been so lucky to have done two spacewalks. If you looked at your wristwatch I was outside for about 15 hours, which is about 10 times around the world. …

The contrast of your body and your mind inside … essentially a one-person spaceship, which is your spacesuit, where you’re holding on for dear life to the shuttle or the station with one hand, and you are inexplicably in between what is just a pouring glory of the world roaring by, silently next to you — just the kaleidoscope of it, it takes up your whole mind. It’s like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen just screaming at you on the right side, and when you look left, it’s the whole bottomless black of the universe and it goes in all directions. It’s like a huge yawning endlessness on your left side and you’re in between those two things and trying to rationalize it to yourself and trying to get some work done.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

On doing a spacewalk amid Southern Lights

I was coming across the Indian Ocean in the dark. I was riding on the end of the robot arm … [and] I thought, “I want to look at Australia in the dark,” because everyone lives along the coast, starting with Perth and across and it’s like a necklace of cities. So I shut off my lights, and I let my eyes completely adjust to the darkness, but as we came south under Australia instead of seeing just the lights of the cities of Australia we flew into the Southern Lights. Just like the Northern Lights they erupt out of the world and it’s almost as if someone has put on this huge fantastic laser light show for thousands of miles. The colors, of course, with your naked eye are so much more vivid than just a camera. There are greens and reds and yellows and oranges and they poured up under my feet, just the ribbons and curtains of it — it was surreal to look at, driving through the Southern Lights. …

To me it was taking time to notice something that is almost always there but that if you didn’t purposefully seek it out you would miss — and that is our planet and how it reacts with the energy from the sun and how our magnetic field works and how the upper atmosphere works — what it really is, is just beauty.

On claustrophobia

They don’t want claustrophobic astronauts, so NASA is careful through selection to try to see if you have a natural tendency to be afraid of small spaces or not. Really, it’s good if you’ve managed to find a way to deal with all of your fears, especially the irrational ones. So during selection in fact, they zip you inside a ball, and they don’t tell you how long they’re going to leave you in there. I think if you had tendencies toward claustrophobia then that would probably panic you and they would use that as a discriminator to decide whether they were going to hire you or not. For me, being zipped inside a small, dark place for an indeterminate amount of time was just a great opportunity and nice time to think and maybe have a little nap and relax, so it doesn’t bother me. But you can get claustrophobia and agoraphobia — a fear of wide open spaces — simultaneously on a spacewalk.

On coping with moments of fear and panic in space

Half of the risk of a six-month flight is in the first nine minutes, so as a crew, how do you stay focused? How do you not get paralyzed by the fear of it? The way we do it is to break down: What are the risks? And a nice way to keep reminding yourself is: What’s the next thing that’s going to kill me? And it might be five seconds away, it might be an inadvertent engine shutdown, or it might be staging of the solid rockets coming off. … We don’t just live with that, though. The thing that is really useful, I think out of all of this, is we dig into it so deeply and we look at, “OK, so this might kill us, this is something that would normally panic us, let’s get ready, let’s think about it.” And we go into every excruciating detail of why that might affect what we’re doing and what we can do to resolve it and have a plan, and be comfortable with it. …

It’s not like astronauts are braver than other people; we’re just meticulously prepared. We dissect what it is that’s going to scare us, and what it is that is a threat to us and then we practice over and over again so that the natural irrational fear is neutralized.

On losing orientation in space with no sense of “up”

What does it feel like when you close your eyes when you’re weightless? Normally on Earth when you close your eyes you can feel your feet on the floor or your rear end on your chair or something and that gives you a sense of up. You can balance with your eyes closed, you can walk with your eyes closed because of all of the external references. When you’re weightless and you close your eyes it’s as if you just stepped off a cliff into complete blackness and you’re falling forever, so the perception of that is really odd. You can do it as like a thought experiment and instead of closing your eyes and thinking that you’re just floating, close your eyes and picture that you’ve just stepped off the Half Dome in Yosemite and are now falling into the blackness, and it’s interesting to see how your body reacts to it.

On space travel and faith

The big pervasive feeling onboard looking at the Earth [from space] is one of tremendous exquisite privilege that it exists. … But I think what everyone would find if they could be in that position — if they could see the whole world every 90 minutes and look down on the places where we do things right, and look down where we’re doing stupid, brutal things to each other and the inevitable patience of the world that houses us — I think everybody would be reinforced in their faith, and maybe readdress the real true tenets of what’s good and what gives them strength.

Book News: Amazon’s Kindle MatchBook Is Out — Will Publishers Opt In?


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils new Kindle reading devices during a 2012 news conference.


David McNew/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils new Kindle reading devices during a 2012 news conference.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils new Kindle reading devices during a 2012 news conference.

David McNew/Getty Images

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, a service that lets customers buy steeply discounted ebook versions of books they’ve already bought in print (from Amazon, of course) on Tuesday. Publishers must opt-in, and as of Wednesday morning, some 75,000 ebooks were available for $2.99 or less. Of course, it may prove difficult to persuade publishers to sell popular ebooks at such sharp discounts. NBC News’ Helen A.S. Popkin called the selection “70,000 shades of blah,” pointing out the lack of bestsellers by authors such as Stephen King, E.L. James and Dan Brown along with classics by the likes of Mark Twain, Maya Angelou and others.
  • Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble is releasing a $119 black-and-white version of the Nook e-reading device. Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey tells The New York Times that consumers may be wary of the new Nook because of B&N’s corporate struggles: “[W]ill people perceive that Barnes & Noble as a company will be around to fulfill the promises that that device makes? It’s a shadow that hangs over the entire Nook enterprise right now.”
  • Hyperbole and a Half” creator Allie Brosh spoke to NPR about dealing with depression: “Depression can be such an isolating experience, and it’s deceptive, you know, you think, ‘Surely I’m the only one that’s ever gone through this, or felt this depth of misery.’ I spent a lot of time, just because it was so difficult to get the balance between looking at the subject with a little bit of levity and also treating it with enough respect. But I really felt that it was important to talk about it. It was cathartic for me, and cathartic — I hope — for other people.”
  • Over at NPR’s Monkey See blog, Linda Holmes says one of the reasons Brosh’s work is so moving is its immediacy: “In the conversations surrounding her book, Brosh has made it clear that she is not looking at depression in the rearview mirror in some sort of ‘let me tell you about this thing that happened to me once’ kind of way. She’s in it, and she lives with it, and sometimes it’s better, and sometimes it’s worse. It means you don’t see her for a while, because she’s a real person and it’s a real thing.”
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver describes the daily life of a writer in The New Republic: “I have grown perversely nostalgic for my previous commercial failure — when my focus was pure, and the books were still fun to write, even if nobody read them.”
  • Anna Holmes writes about the value of Twitter in literary criticism: “It may not be a coincidence that in contrast to the shameful gender ratio endemic to so many literary publications, some of the most widely read critics on Twitter are women. One might argue that many critics’ outright dismissal of the technology is directly related to their feelings of privilege. ‘Some of these people don’t need to be on Twitter because they already have all the access they need,’ the fiction writer and critic Roxane Gay told me.”

Book News: Amazon’s Kindle MatchBook Is Out — Will Publishers Opt In?


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils new Kindle reading devices during a 2012 news conference.


David McNew/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils new Kindle reading devices during a 2012 news conference.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils new Kindle reading devices during a 2012 news conference.

David McNew/Getty Images

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, a service that lets customers buy steeply discounted ebook versions of books they’ve already bought in print (from Amazon, of course) on Tuesday. Publishers must opt-in, and as of Wednesday morning, some 75,000 ebooks were available for $2.99 or less. Of course, it may prove difficult to persuade publishers to sell popular ebooks at such sharp discounts. NBC News’ Helen A.S. Popkin called the selection “70,000 shades of blah,” pointing out the lack of bestsellers by authors such as Stephen King, E.L. James and Dan Brown along with classics by the likes of Mark Twain, Maya Angelou and others.
  • Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble is releasing a $119 black-and-white version of the Nook e-reading device. Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey tells The New York Times that consumers may be wary of the new Nook because of B&N’s corporate struggles: “[W]ill people perceive that Barnes & Noble as a company will be around to fulfill the promises that that device makes? It’s a shadow that hangs over the entire Nook enterprise right now.”
  • Hyperbole and a Half” creator Allie Brosh spoke to NPR about dealing with depression: “Depression can be such an isolating experience, and it’s deceptive, you know, you think, ‘Surely I’m the only one that’s ever gone through this, or felt this depth of misery.’ I spent a lot of time, just because it was so difficult to get the balance between looking at the subject with a little bit of levity and also treating it with enough respect. But I really felt that it was important to talk about it. It was cathartic for me, and cathartic — I hope — for other people.”
  • Over at NPR’s Monkey See blog, Linda Holmes says one of the reasons Brosh’s work is so moving is its immediacy: “In the conversations surrounding her book, Brosh has made it clear that she is not looking at depression in the rearview mirror in some sort of ‘let me tell you about this thing that happened to me once’ kind of way. She’s in it, and she lives with it, and sometimes it’s better, and sometimes it’s worse. It means you don’t see her for a while, because she’s a real person and it’s a real thing.”
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver describes the daily life of a writer in The New Republic: “I have grown perversely nostalgic for my previous commercial failure — when my focus was pure, and the books were still fun to write, even if nobody read them.”
  • Anna Holmes writes about the value of Twitter in literary criticism: “It may not be a coincidence that in contrast to the shameful gender ratio endemic to so many literary publications, some of the most widely read critics on Twitter are women. One might argue that many critics’ outright dismissal of the technology is directly related to their feelings of privilege. ‘Some of these people don’t need to be on Twitter because they already have all the access they need,’ the fiction writer and critic Roxane Gay told me.”

Medical Magic Leads To Terror In ‘Parasite’


Parasite

Welcome to SymboGen, your friendly neighborhood medical company; have you stopped by for your tapeworm implant? Fair warning: there have been some unusual side effects…

Health care has swallowed American headlines in recent years; besides the arguments over who deserves treatment to begin with, issues are emerging in pharmaceutical brand ethics, anti-vaccination activism, and the overuse of antibiotics. The war against disease is spreading, against the smallest enemies of all.

In Parasite, Mira Grant imagines a near future in which genetically-modified tapeworms are a universal health-care solution. Once implanted, the worm provides immune-system support, making its human host healthy for the duration of its life — though like any good piece of commodified progress, the worms have planned obsolescence and need to be replaced regularly.

Sal Mitchell owes her life to her parasite, which brought her out of a coma after a serious car accident. Unfortunately, her memories vanished, and her current personality is only six years old. She lives a life that’s half lab rat and half surreal puberty, living at home, dating a doctor (though not one of hers), and relearning language and social idiosyncracies in a treading-water existence. Something’s got to give — and does; people start contracting a bizarre sleepwalking sickness just as Sal starts getting cryptic messages about what she already suspects. This pandemic is no accident.

Though technobabble trips off everyone’s tongues, Grant is most interested in the ethical implications of that technology, so advanced it really is indistinguishable from magic. She presents government and corporations not as monoliths, but as flawed systems whose participants are only as trustworthy or greedy as the individual in question. Those individual personalities are revealed in interludes (such as an interview with SymboGen’s co-founder and the notes of their vanished head scientist) that suggest public perception as the true arena in which wars are fought —though they offer diminishing returns as the story unfolds.

Mira Grant’s previous books include the Hugo Award-nominated Newsflesh series.


Orbit Books

Mira Grant's previous books include the Hugo Award-nominated Newsflesh series.

Mira Grant’s previous books include the Hugo Award-nominated Newsflesh series.

Orbit Books

But as the first of a series, Parasite often feels like groundwork: characters are dutifully introduced, horrors steadily unrolled, and ethical arguments sedately hashed out, so that even increasingly-frequent zombie outbreaks can’t stir up real urgency. An Everyperson can be a compelling center for a conspiracy story — but Sal’s so slow on the uptake that we figure out plot twists far ahead of her. The suspense often stretches thin, and some of the most promising thematic parallels fizzle out in service of the plot. (It’s telling that of the many horrors Sal faces, her tipping point comes when her parents ground her; it suggests a parallel with the parent state medical technology has become, but the full impact of the setup gets pushed aside by another burst of action.) And though it’s a refreshing change for a thriller heroine to have a trustworthy boyfriend, many others in the supporting cast — the awkward family, the stalwart dog, the mysterious CEO, the mysterious scientist, the quirky girl — never quite come into focus.

Parasite succeeds most in capturing the frustration and administrative dread that’s part and parcel of recovering from a traumatic medical incident. Being exposed to a zombie pandemic seems less dangerous to Sal than having to undergo the subsequent poking and prodding by indifferent doctors; it’s a well-grounded medical wariness that gets at the heart of what the Parasitology series will be asking: what happens when the cure is worse than the disease?

Brick-And-Mortar Bookstores Play The Print Card Against Amazon


Barnes & Noble is one of several stores that have refused to carry Amazon Publishing’s books.


Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Barnes & Noble is one of several stores that have refused to carry Amazon Publishing's books.

Barnes & Noble is one of several stores that have refused to carry Amazon Publishing’s books.

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to book publishing, all we ever seem to hear about is online sales, the growth of e-books and the latest version of a digital book reader. But the fact is, only 20 percent of the book market is e-books; it’s still dominated by print. And a recent standoff in the book business shows how good old-fashioned, brick-and-mortar bookstores are still trying to wield their influence in the industry. You might even call it brick-and-mortar booksellers’ revenge.

At the center of this story is Amazon, and it’s no secret that there’s little love lost between the traditional book world and the giant online retailer: Publishers and booksellers think Amazon wants to put them out of business. When the Justice Department brought suit against Apple and five major publishing companies for price fixing, a lot of people in the book business were apoplectic: They firmly believe that if an antitrust lawsuit should be brought against anyone, it’s Amazon.

So many within the industry are happy to look for any weakness they can find when it comes to Amazon. Recently, they found it in Amazon’s decision to not just sell books, but also publish them.

About two years ago, Amazon hired a well-known literary agent, Larry Kirshbaum, to launch the New York branch of their fledgling publishing business, which until then had been based in Seattle. This was seen as a big move because New York is the capital of the publishing business, and Kirshbaum was a major player there. Everyone figured he could use his clout to attract big-time authors to Amazon’s trade publishing brand, and everyone was watching very closely to see what happened.

And that’s where the revenge part of this story comes in. A lot of booksellers said enough is enough: Not only is Amazon trying to take over the retail side of the book business, it’s also going to take over publishing? Some independent bookstores decided they wouldn’t carry Amazon Publishing’s books and, even more importantly, Barnes & Noble — the country’s biggest bookstore chain — and some big-box stores followed suit. Neither Amazon nor its authors expected that kind of backlash, and a couple of pretty big Amazon releases never really took off.

That’s where things stood last week when the news broke that Kirshbaum was leaving Amazon to become a literary agent again. His departure was widely viewed as a sign that Amazon Publishing could be in trouble, done in by the likes of Barnes & Noble. Amazon quickly stepped in to say that reports of the demise — or near demise — of its publishing business were greatly exaggerated. In fact, Amazon says it plans to expand its New York business.

Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, says the publishing house’s business model isn’t dependent on big-box stores like Costco and Target, or on selling books outside its own platform. (It’s certainly true that Amazon has cornered the online bookselling business and dominates the e-book market.)

But powerful as it may be, some writers really do want to see their books on the shelves of certain stores. And those authors might be inclined to stick with traditional publishers. So, even in this digital day and age, the bookstore still has some clout.

‘Hyperbole’ Creator Considers All The Things


Hyperbole and a Half

Allie Brosh is the creator of Hyperbole and a Half. This is her first book.

Allie Brosh is the creator of Hyperbole and a Half. This is her first book.


Sarah Henderson

The drawings are MS Paint-style doodles, and the stories are about everyday things like cake, poor spelling and dopey dogs. And yet each month, millions of people visit Hyperbole and a Half, the hybrid Web comic and blog created by 28-year-old Allie Brosh, who says she “tries very hard to be funny.” Hyperbole has just come out in book form with a mix of old and new material featuring Brosh’s absurdist take on the world and her author avatar, a stick figure with a pink dress and what might be a blond ponytail — or might not. “It’s totally fine to think of it as a shark fin or a party hat,” Brosh tells NPR’s Renee Montagne.

Interview Highlights

On depicting herself in the comics

This character sort of evolved and doesn’t look like me, but in a way it’s an impression of me. It’s this absurd, crude little thing, and that’s really what I am inside, and it’s a more accurate way to represent myself.

On cleaning ALL THE THINGS

I would spontaneously decide that I really needed to start taking adulthood seriously. Adults clean their houses, so I need to clean my entire house, everything, all the things in the house. And I would do that, in addition to grocery shopping and going to the bank and doing all sorts of other adult things, all at once, and that would wear me out, so much that I would no longer be able to maintain this newfound adulthood ritual.

On depression and connecting with her readers

One thing I wrote that resonated with a lot of my readers was a couple of posts about my struggle with depression. I was actually very surprised about the reaction to those ones — depression can be such an isolating experience, and it’s deceptive, you know, you think, ‘Surely I’m the only one that’s ever gone through this, or felt this depth of misery.’

I spent a lot of time, just because it was so difficult to get the balance between looking at the subject with a little bit of levity and also treating it with enough respect. But I really felt that it was important to talk about it. It was cathartic for me, and cathartic — I hope — for other people.

On eating an entire cake as a small child

I think it was mostly to spite my mom, who had been trying to keep me from the cake. And once I came into contact with the cake, all of my desire to eat it just sort of burst forth, and I ate the entire thing and spent the rest of the night throwing up marshmallows all over the carpet.