Tuesday, May 5, 2009

'The Winner Stands Alone' By Paulo Coelho

'The Winner Stands Alone' By Paulo Coelho

Miami Herald

I used to know a guy who hated daylight saving time. Every time it rolled around, he devoted a week to denouncing it, along with corporate greed, artificially fertilized lawns, the American highway system and white bread. When his wife bought a loaf to make the kids' lunches, he hung it out the kitchen window with a rope. He wouldn't have it under his roof. I agreed with him on principle. There are plenty of things to dislike about our culture.

This guy would have loved Paulo Coelho, although he might wonder about a novelist who deplores glitz and glamour even as he devotes more than 300 pages to evoking glitz and glamour in all its distasteful excess. Coelho takes for his subject the Cannes Film Festival, which, in his opinion, stands on shaky moral ground. ''In Cannes,'' an assistant remarks, ``there's no such thing as friends, only self-interest. There are no human beings, just crazy machines who mow down everything in their path in order to get where they want or else end up plowing into a lamppost.''

Coelho disapproves mightily of the human folly on display in Cannes: the unbridled ambition, the thirst for fame, the lure of haute couture and ostentatious jewelry. He hates dark glasses, because ''in a celebrity town like Cannes, (they) are synonymous with status,'' and he loathes cellphones, which are ''leading the world into a state of utter madness.'' He posits a small group of people whom he dubs the ''superclass,'' which has all the power, all the limos, all the private jets; those who dress in high fashion, swill champagne, drive Maybachs and who, if they're women, get regular injections of Botox. But he isn't fond of ordinary people either, who do silly things like wear neckties or eat three meals a day whether they're hungry or not. In short, while he compares Cannes to Sodom and Gomorrah, he's not prepared to let sinners of any social class off the hook, quoting Solomon's ''Vanity of vanities, all is vanity'' more than once and apparently meaning it.

So. Igor, a psychotic Russian phone executive with his own private jet, comes to the film festival in pursuit of his ex-wife, Ewa, who has run off with Hamid, an Arab clothes designer also with his own private jet. Igor aims to kill a few people and notify Ewa on her cellphone, hoping this will motivate her to return to him. Over a period of about 24 hours, he does indeed manage to suffocate a young street vendor using the Russian martial art Sambo and off an important movie distributor using a needle soaked in curare, which Igor blows through a cocktail straw. He spends the afternoon stabbing an independent film director and leaving a hermetically sealed envelope filled with hydrogen cyanide under an unknown person's door.

Several unsuspecting women move through this corrupt and glittering landscape: a 25-year-old model who yearns for a chance at the big time, a 19-year-old model from Africa and that director who has spent her entire adult life making a film for which she seeks distribution. Through them, the author visits the worlds of moviemaking. (Will it surprise many readers to learn that the writer is the least well-paid participant in any project?) And we are told that Los Angeles is ``really a large suburb in search of a city.''The world of fashion is also held up to scrutiny, its sins too numerous to mention.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

'The Wikipedia Revolution,' 'Stealing MySpace' and 'Viral Spiral'

By Lizzie Skurnick
LA Times

When the history of the Web is written, in what form will our progeny receive it? Via grainy promotional YouTube videos from Google? By listening to dusty Jeff Jarvis podcasts? Perhaps annotated, crowd-sourced and pre-preferenced Wikistories will be delivered directly into their cerebrums. (Personally, I'm hoping for a tiny avatar of a young woman in a flowing white gown and side-buns, interrupted midway by gunfire.) Yet whatever the medium, it seems unlikely that it will be the one that's falling out of favor even as you read this: the plain old book.

Because -- why write a book about a website? Really. Why do it? It distances the reader from the medium in an awkward and inexplicable way. (Not quite dancing the book review, but close.) It abdicates temporal authority, since by the time of publication, most visitors will have moved on to faster-caching pastures. Any user wishing to know about any site is presumably equipped with the power to log on and experience it herself, while those of us curled up with Edith Wharton and a nice tumbler of single malt are unlikely to look at breathless dispatches on how the other half keystrokes. And, although the Web lives to be writ and overwrit, most print authors, naturally enough, resist the idea of instantly being made palimpsest. So what are they doing with their peskily immutable pages in this land of instant updates?

In the case of "The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia," Andrew Lih's motivation, I think, is simply to spread the good word. This is less a thoughtful analysis than a movement handbook for would-be adherents, like "Black Power," say, or "The Moosewood Cookbook."

Hooray for them

"Imagine a world in which every person is given free access to the sum of human knowledge. That's what we're doing," begins the foreword by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wikipedia, adds the collective that wrote the first chapter by wiki, laying out their philosophy of collaborative knowledge, "is something by design that is pure, empowering and untainted by commerce." (Writing well, like achieving a perfect tremolo or getting a good scald on fried chicken, is one of those arts that stubbornly resists crowdsourcing.) That storied Wikipedian neutrality? Net only.

Like all movement manifestoes, "The Wikipedia Revolution" marshals an impressive amount of insta-hagiography. It starts with reeducation ("To understand Wikipedia's community, one must understand the robust online culture that directly preceded it . . .") before shifting into the story of Wales himself. "Doris, ever the educator, was optimistic too," Lih writes about the mother of the future Wikipedia founder, "buying a set of the World Book Encyclopedia from a door-to-door salesman not long after becoming a mother. Jimmy, the firstborn, was not even three years old at the time. She didn't know it then, but she was planting a seed that would inspire a phenomenon."

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