#AmazonFail: Simmer down now. Or not.

I think I’ve pissed off some of my friends and colleagues over the last couple days by not being as quick to boycott Amazon for their newly discovered “policy” concerning “adult” books. Well, it probably wasn’t my reticence that annoyed. I may have pissed off some folks by playing Devil’s advocate with my typical Internet snark. (Sorry, Alex! I love you!) But I want to explain in a central place my feelings on the matter, and I want to provide some evidence to back up my assertions that this new policy is not a policy whatsoever, but rather an actual glitch, if one very wacky — and deeply problematic. In other words: Folks, simmer down now. Or not.

Here’s the background:

Over the weekend, the writer Mark Probst wrote a blog post that exposed a strange situation at Amazon.com. His sales rank no longer showed up on the page for his books. Weird. So, he emailed Amazon and asked why. The following is the customer service email heard ’round the world:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services
Amazon.com Advantage

Oh, Ashlyn. This sounds bad. Very, very bad. Because Probst does not write porn. He writes tame gay romance. And it turns out that other books affected by this “policy” are, basically, every gay and lesbian themed book on Amazon. Meanwhile, Hitler’s work and every straight and sexy book remain unaffected. There’s a fabulous list of the books de-ranked and not de-ranked (and a rundown of the events) over at Jezebel, which managed to be all over this story on Easter.

Probst’s post resulted in a firestorm on the Internet, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. On the latter, the hashtag #amazonfail became the number one tag in the Twitterverse. And when an actual PR rep at Amazon told Publishers Weekly that it was not a policy but rather a “glitch,” the harshtag #glitchmyass became increasingly popular.

I first read about this via DogPoet’s feed, which led me to this blog post, which is full of unfounded hysteria about Amazon killing literature. Oh, the conspiracy theories! Oh, the nonsense. I got annoyed and started doing searches to see if books were actually missing. I discovered that a bunch of the famous books that were de-ranked were still very easily found; I posted a bunch of screengrabs to prove that. Read through the comments to see how some people reacted to my questioning of the hysteria; it is reminiscent of when I was called a collaborator during the Prop 8 campaign.

As the day wore on, it became clear that the searches were turning up totally bizarre results, and they were different for everyone, logged in or out. And they made no sense. For example, if you type in “boys men,” the results had softcore gay porn as the #5 result, and the Kindle version of our book was #27. But the print version of the book was nowhere to be found. It had been de-ranked, and pretty much hidden.

The fact that only print books were affected by this “policy” tells me — being a rather rational person — that this was not an anti-gay policy, but rather a glitch. A weird one, but a glitch nonetheless. And there’s growing evidence that this is the case. On the list-serv for LGBT anthropologists, a professor sent out an email about the situation and pointed out that all of the queer studies books — basically any academic book about LGBT issues, including Foucault’s The History of Sexuality and Sedgwick’s The Epistemology of the Closet — had been de-ranked. And he linked to the rationally written petition (which I’ve signed, by the way).

The first response on the list-serv was very interesting. C. Todd White, whose Pre-Gay LA: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights is forthcoming, had discovered his book was de-ranked and now hidden. So, he called Amazon:

After being routed to three different people, I at last had a very interesting discussion with a woman on Amazon’s customer service team who said that the entire organization had been blindsided by this. It seems that they had reconfigured their system to isolate erotica, and the new program or “algorithm” has caught far more in its net than they had intended.

I was assured that Amazon was on the problem and that they had not intended for academic books, esp., to have been so affected. I pointed out that censorship in any form is always a slippery slope; the woman answered that she totally agreed and then informed me that she was “a member of the club.” She assured me that she will be working very hard within Amazon to see that works such as those Tom has listed will be included in the sales rankings and in “best of” lists, as they were before. She also said, however, that she was afraid for her job if indeed it WAS a policy from higher ups; but she doubted that was the case as no one in her division had heard that such a “policy” was being implemented. She was pretty amazed, though, that when she tried, even searching my book by its title failed to yield the text. She had to search by my name to find it. [NOTE: I had to google the book to find it. When I typed the title into Amazon, it didn’t come up.]

For what it is worth. I still think we should shout LOUDLY and sign the petition. However, it might indeed have been an accident. Let us hope!

Unless Amazon has an incredibly devious staff capable of amazing amounts of manipulation, I find it very, very hard to believe that this event was the result of a new “policy.” It sounds much weirder. I think there are two possibilities. One is that the algorithm was so wacky that all the gay books were actually tagged as “adult.” Another is that there’s a homobigot at Amazon who had access to the databases. (Or a hacker! Also, here.) I do not think it is possible that Amazon has anti-gay corporate agenda. It simply does not make sense considering its long history as a progressive company and its high scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s corporate index.

So, I think a boycott is a ridiculous over-reaction to this situation. If it remains as a “glitch” for more than a few days, then, yes, we should act. But many people in the Twitter mob are acting as if Amazon should be put in the same club as, say, Exxon or Wal-Mart. And before we even have any facts beyond the email to Probst, the “glitch” comment, and a bunch of weird search results. In a moment of exasperation, I wrote a comment that said, “I hope everyone deleting their Amazon accounts also never buy gas at Exxon, never buy anything at Urban Outfitters, never watch anything made by a network or studio owned by News Corp, and didn’t vote for Obama because he was for civil unions, not marriage. Purity above all!” (And, yeah, I know I screwed up the subject-verb agreement. It was late.)

Heather Has Two MommiesAs I write this, it looks like some of this is being fixed. For example, Heather Has Two Mommies has a ranking again. Others do not. However, there are a couple lessons to be learned here. One is that, WOW, Twitter can make shit happen. Here’s a good, brief article on that. Two is that, ruh-oh, algorithms can be result of homophobic practices and ideologies. The esteemed Mary Gray, of Indiana University, wrote a couple of great emails to the aforemention list-serv that she has allowed me to reprint:

Actually, I love thinking about the “glitch” question in relation to filtering software often bundled with K-12 computer facilities in U.S. schools: The majority of commercial filtering software programs on the market tag and block websites with the word “sex”–this is a default setting of these programs. Blocking access to porn or “adult content” usually means filtering “gay” “lesbian” “bi” “trans” and a host of other words that produce porn when you plug them into a search engine. Ironically, one of the ways young people get to info about LGBT issues is by searching sites like Amazon (the filtering software doesn’t limit access to Amazon’s search engine).

Amazon’s ability to remove the sales rankings on books it deems “adult” is, effectively, bound by the same filtering logic — it probably couldn’t do a systemwide “filter” of adult content without ensnaring LGBT titles because it likely linked LGBT titles to sexuality (their way of sorting us in the HQ section of their libraries).

Glitches are arguably the residue of politics and policies meant to manage inclusion/exclusion (what I’m starting to call the “cyberinfrastructures of subjectivity). As interesting as the intentions of Amazon in this case might be (did they mean to distance themselves from “Heather has Two Mommies” by tagging it as adult
content?) odds are the associative labeling that linked “Heather” with “erotica” in their massive relational database happened 14 years ago when Amazon launched in 1995.

I just checked: “Heather” has its ranking back on Amazon.

I wrote back mentioning that, among other things, “I hope someone is looking at the reaction to this from an anthropological point of view. The speed at the which Twitter made this into a now international internet/business event is amazing.”

And then Mary wrote another email:

I’m arguing that the glitch itself is a manifestation and circulation of structural heterosexism/sex-negative cultural mores (I’m hesitant to use “homophobia” for reasons that I hope will make sense in a second).

So, like Stuart Hall’s argument (in the essay, Whites of Their Eyes) that racism operates through individual intentions but more powerfully through institutional structures (including language) that privilege whiteness, I’m arguing that the “glitch” is both/and (to paraphrase Burke)–it’s both a culturally influenced algorithm and an act of policy–intentional or not. At any time in it’s database management, Amazon could have chosen to prioritize changing its tags to avoid this “glitch.” Priority lists in information management are as political as any policy statement (at least that’s my argument).

In fact, I’d argue that the mundane story of databases and why Kindle might not have filtered these titles while Amazon’s print book market did is a much more rich terrain for investigation than the popularity of this tweet on twitter. Twitter, after all, is watched closely by newsmakers (bloggers, publishers, and journalists) to see “what’s hot” in the hopes of breaking the next “big story.” Is it really that surprising that authors and publishers concerned with their sales rankings and the implications of content-filtering came out in force (on twitter) to push back and make this news (the industry writing about itself)? That’s interesting (and important) but twitter is still a relatively underutilized social media tool. Amazon and the consequences of its database management impact far more folks.

So, just like every other small moment of discrimination, the “glitch” is actually part of a vast cultural problem rich for analysis. How has the embedded heterocentrism (etc.!) of our language become embedded in our oh-so-important information systems? Amazon as a company may not be trying to hurt gay people, but the cultural remnants of homophobia have found their way into its databases, somehow. How do we fix that? By not simmering down, I guess. That said, I’d prefer that we fought the power with a little more intelligent boil. And that said, the boil of the last few days exposed what Mary eloquently explained. So I guess it was useful after all…

UPDATE: Amazon has put out an actual “oops!” press release. But, as you can tell from the comments on the Seattle PI, nothing short of a guillotine will suffice. You’d think Jeff Bezos was behind Prop 8 or something.

UPDATE #2: It’s looking more and more like a programming/management glitch. Really. Here’s Jezebel’s damn fine round up. The Seattle PI’s blog has the details:

On Sunday afternoon at least 20 Amazon.com employees were paged alerting them that items, possibly many, were incorrectly being flagged as adult. The employees also received links to the Twitter discussion AmazonFail.

Thousands of people were angry that gay-themed books had disappeared from Amazon’s sales rankings and search algorithms. The number of Tweets on Sunday afternoon that had the term “AmazonFail” surpassed even those with the words “Easter” or “Jesus.”

By this time, Amazon.com had upgraded the problem to Sev-1. (Amazon.com breaks down its operational issues in terms of severity levels. Sev-3 means a problem affects a single user. Sev-2 is a problem that affects a company, or a lot of people. Sev-1 is reserved for the most critical operational issues and often are sent up the management chain to the senior vice president level.)

“People got pulled away from their Easter thing when this whole thing broke,” the employee said. “It was just a screwup.”

Amazon.com employees are on call 24/7, and many began working on the problem from home. It didn’t take much digging to realize that there was a data error.

Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as “adult,” the source said. (Technically, the flag for adult content was flipped from ‘false’ to ‘true.’)

“It’s no big policy change, just some field that’s been around forever filled out incorrectly,” the source said.

The 2008 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Books

This is going to be like the Tonys, when the four nominees for each category are chosen from usually about eight shows. Sometimes only five new musicals open, and four get the benefit of claiming that they were nominated for Best Musical. Ridiculous. Just like the winners of the 2008 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Books. I only read seven works of fiction this year; I started four others and plan on finishing two of those. As for nonfiction, I read a heck of a lot of academic stuff but only a couple books that someone might read for, say, fun. So, take these Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Books with a grain of salt, whatever that means.

Most Excellent Book That I Wish I’d Never Read.

The RoadRob and I joined an ill-fated book group last year, and three of the books we read are on this list. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the best book I read in the last 12 months. But I wish I could forget it. This is what I wrote in my Goodreads review: “When I was about 100 pages in, I wrote on here, “This book is freaking me out.” It continued to. McCarthy constructed some of the most disturbing images I’ve ever read, but what most, I think, upset me was how seemingly plausible his imagined post-nuclear war world is. And as personalized through the story of the father and the son, this world becomes emotionally, not just intellectually, real. I finished it at 2:30 am, and burst into tears. I will probably be haunted by the book for some time. ”

Most Excellently Awful Use of Authorial Branding.

Gentlemen of the RoadMichael Chabon is the Prince of modern American fiction. I don’t mean he’s royalty; I mean he’s like Prince Rogers Nelson, who cannot stop recording and releasing music and has no ability to judge whether something should be released with fanfare or deleted from the hard drive forever. Last year, Chabon published The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which is a fantastic postmodern hard-boiled detective novel that belongs on the same shelf as Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Unfortunately, Chabon has another shelf with pretty crappy genre stuff, like retread of Sherlock Holmes, a weird and awful Harry Potter wannabe, and not-so-good comic books. On that second shelf, we will put Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure, which I read last winter simply because Chabon wrote it. Dumb of me. What a truly terrible book. Chabon’s elaborate prose was un-edited and out of control, his pacing and plotting weird and lazy. It felt like something he spit out one weekend after watching “The 13th Warrior” on Showtime in the middle of the night.

Most Excellent Wish Fulfilment.

HeroPerry Moore’s Hero is about a gay teen-ager who becomes a superhero. I mean, dude, I wish that had been my life. Well, except for the death and destruction. But still. A relatively well-written, well-paced YA novel, it’s not really “good,” but, boy, did I like reading it. The other folks in the book group loathed it. Of course, they all liked A Thousand Splendid Suns. So whatevs.




Most Excellent Inspiration.

Oh the GlorySean Wilsey’s memoir of growing up rich and neglected, Oh the Glory of It All, is long and rambling and self-indulgent and utterly un-edited. But it made me start working on my own “stuff” again. Partly, it showed me that there are still editors suckered by long and rambling and self-indulgent books. And it gave me all sorts of ideas. The book group hated it. (Four words: A. Thousand. Splendid. Suns.)




Most Excellent Teaching Tool.

wisdom of whoresI taught four different books this year, and by far, the most successful was Elizabeth Pisani’s The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS. The book is a primer on epidemiology, a history of the fight against Global AIDS™, and a muck-raking, idol-smashing story of public health in the “developing” world. It’s an excellent book. Pisani is a fantastic writer, and she’s super cool: She did an hour-long webcast seminar with my class. And she has a great blog!



Most Excellent Reason To Read Something Multiple Times.

Madness and CivI have been reading Foucault since the Spring of 1993, but over two weeks this past summer I read (or re-read) four of the key books — Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 — and I finally got it. I mean: I got it. It was like when Neo sees the Matrix for the first time. My favorite is Madness and Civilization, because it is the most straightforward and the most beautifully translate, by Richard Howard no less.



Most Excellent Book That I Haven’t Finished Yet.

bolano2666I’m totally digging Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. It’s completely weird and totally engrossing.

Tomorrow: The 2008 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music!

What I’ve been doing besides blogging, Part 6: Seeing movies that don’t suck!

We’ve been really, really good this year about seeing the good movies when they come out and not waiting until the day before the Oscars to see stuff. And this year has been good for movies. In the last six weeks, here’s what I’ve seen:

  • Bitchin'.Rob and I saw “Juno,” the near-perfect, feministy counterpart to “Knocked Up,” a few days after it finally opened here. I liked it more than Rob did, but I really, really liked it. Ellen Page is, as A. O. Scott wrote, terrifyingly talented. She’ll be nominated for an Oscar, and the screenwriter, Diablo Cody, will win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Because the movie is all about the script and the direction, neither of which cover up the deep, moving emotional core with too much hipster irony. Though there is some hipster irony: The Moldy Peaches are all over the soundtrack. It’s the funniest, sweetest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I cried at the end.
  • You just know what he's thinking, and it begins with the letter C...Atonement is one my favorite books; when I read it two years ago, I was devastated by the ending, bursting into tears in the living room and flummoxing Rob. It’s a beautiful, enveloping, and shocking book, and it’s nearly unadaptable. I say “nearly,” because it almost all ways, the film version is wonderful–gorgeously directed, designed, written, and acted. It’s also very moving, but the ending doesn’t work at all, because the film, unlike the novel, is not told in the voice of the person who makes the ending so astonishing. The director, Joe Wright, managed some visuals in the last few minutes that almost make up for the lack of aesthetic power that the filmed ending has, but not quite. Still, it’s an excellent film.
  • I haven’t seen “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood,” so I can’t say this for sure, but “No Country For Old Men” is, so far, probably the best movie of 2007. Okay, no. It’s definitely the best movie I saw in 2007. We don’t get all sorts of things here, in the sticks. Still, it was one of the movie-going experiences that leave you in awe of what can be accomplished with the medium. It’s actually better than “Fargo,” which is my favorite movie, and it gives us Anton Chigrh, who is now one of the greatest film characters ever. Violent and bloody, philosophical and ironic, gorgeous and ugly, haunting and mysterious, and funny, funny, funny, the movie still sits with me, weeks after I saw it. Actually, it’s so layer with symbolism and throw-away-but-actually-important lines that I really need to see it again. Wow.
  • No, really. I just want to use the bathroom.His Dark Materials, the trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first part, is, like Atonement, one of my favorite works of literature. I read it the same year that I discovered Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; it was the year I discovered that fantasy could be literary and magical and fun and not totally grating like C. S. Lewis books. And while the filmed version of The Golden Compass is totally defanged–every bit of social and political commentary about the Catholic Church has been removed–it’s still gorgeous and fun and as perfectly cast as the filmed version of Atonement. And the litter furry daemons are so frickin’ adorable! I had a good time. It would have been nice if it had been better, though.
  • By no means is “Michael Clayton” the towering work of cinematic art that a bunch of early reviews made it out to be, but it’s a damn fine thriller, with George Clooney justifying his he-got-fat-and-died Oscar in the otherwise mediocre “Syriana.” Tilda Swinton, continuing in her streak of brilliant antagonists, made the movie for me, because her evil was not mired in sociopathology, but rather in shortsighted, irresponsible ambition. I didn’t like the corporate crime that the plot hinged on, though, because it seemed almost James Bond-ishly silly. And Tom Wilkinson was over the top. But some scenes, like the one in the still here, were just brilliant. A really fun movie.
  • When I first started putting this list together, I liked “The Darjeeling Limited” more than I do now. It’s very pretty, and there were some funny moments, but it’s late 90s twee irony thing is getting really, really old now. And Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman really bug. Hard. The only actor in the movie that seems to be actually acting–instead of hamming–is the always amazing Adrian Brody, who, I think, decided to be in another movie and ignore whatever “acting” advice was being thrown at him. Because I actually cared about him. While I wanted everyone else in the movie to drown in the river with that little boy.
  • Okay, this movie is called “Beowulf,” but it has almost nothing to do with the Anglo-Saxon epic of the same name. Well, it does in the first third, and then all hell breaks loose with the story. But I had a blast nonetheless. It was thoroughly exciting, and it was funny, too. And the huge fight with Grendel at the beginning was totally redunculous because Beowulf was bucknaked, and hottt, and his peepee was covered up by the most strategically places props ever. Fun times.
  • Back when I was a publishing monkey, I worked for Dennis Lehane’s agent, and it was during a very exciting time in his career–the whole Mystic River era. Towards the end of my time at the office, one of his older novels, Gone Baby Gone, which had been bouncing around Hollywood for a while was bought–not optioned, bought–by Disney and Ben Affleck. Affleck was going to write and direct, and I, for one, was worried. This is the guy who had just made “Gigli.” And “Daredevil.” And “Surviving Christmas.” And “Jersey Girl.” He hadn’t been in anything remotely good since “Bounce,” and that’s only an arguably good movie. Really, he hadn’t done anything to be proud of since “Good Will Hunting,” and more than a few people were willing to say publicly that they didn’t think Ben and Matt actually wrote that script. And then someone–an agent, his new wife, God, who knows–said something to Ben, and he made a major shift. He made “Hollywoodland,” which was a fine movie with an amazing performance from Ben that should have gotten him an Oscar nomination and did get him on the Golden Globes. And then he made “Gone Baby Gone,” and it was good. Really, really good. Sure, it has some problems, mostly involving Morgan Freeman sleeping his way through his rather key role. (Monohla Dargis digs into the rest in her unusually smart review.) But Ben’s little brother Casey, who is the lead, is a revelation, as is Amy Ryan, and even Ed Harris is good, though a bit over-the-top, per usual. And the tone of the film is dark, seemy, gut-wrenching, and mired in the clannishness of Boston’s Southie. Ben really directed this movie. And it’s pretty great. Yay for Ben. And, yeah, yay for Dennis. Another great movie. The next movie based on one of his books is going to star Leo Dicaprio and be directed by Martin Scorcese.

Obligatory “Dumbledore is gay” post

Yes, I was surprised that JK Rowling announced to a packed audience that Dumbledore–the wizened wizard of Harry Potter World–was gay. Frank Beekman was there. I was surprised when I read the news, because aside from him being a single headmaster of a British boarding school, nothing about him seemed remotely gay to me. (At least on the page. Michael Gambon’s film characterization is wee bit femme-y.) My gaydar didn’t go off whatsoever while reading the books, which is a problem, considering that there are several hundred characters wandering about through those seven books and none of them were described as even fey. Even wimpy Neville Longbottom, who had the gayest name, turned out to be Mr. Heroic Last Second Man and ended up marrying some other minor female character. So, yes, the Dumbledore being gay was surprising. And utterly awful.

Instead of synthesizing what others have said and making it sound original, I’ll just post some choice quotes, with the occasional commentary.

Gay Prof:

Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore hardly destroyed the closet around the fictional character. On the contrary, she only pointed out how tightly those closet doors were sealed.

If we are to now read Dumbledore’s experiences as those of a gay man, then the image he presents of our lives is an unhappy and empty one. Think I am being unfair? Let’s review the stereotypes that Rowling used to “hint” at Dumbledore’s true desires:

  • His childhood was marked by a violent/absentee father, an overbearing mother, and dysfunctional siblings (Did Rowling consult Freud for her views on homosexuality?).
  • His one and only love interest, Grindelwald, turned out to be a psychopathic killer.
  • His one and only love interest was unrequited.
  • The rest of his life is riddled with loneliness, despair, guilt, and regret.
  • His adult brother, Aberforth Dumbledore, is hinted to be into bestiality (on several occasions) with goats.

Despite his many magical powers, Dumbledore is not much of a queer hero. By the last book, he seems tangled in a web of pathology created by his unhappy homelife. His adult queer desires for Grindelwald are rejected and misplaced.

Indeed, the question at Carnegie Hall that prompted Rowling’s revelation asked if Dumbledore knew “true love” in his life. In response, the author stated, “Dumbledore is gay.” Are we to assume that being gay precludes the possibility of true love? Were Dumbledore’s queer desires not “true love,” but a twisted mistake? This seems more than confirmed when Rowling declared that Dumbledore’s love was his “great tragedy.” Boy, howdy, when has gay love not been perceived of as a tragedy in the hetero media? I’ll just gesture in the general direction of Brokeback Mountain.

Ross Douthat:

It seems like a case of J.K. Rowling trying to retroactively bestow a level of adult complexity on her characters that they don’t possess on the printed page. A writer confident in her powers wouldn’t feel the need to announce details like this after the fact. [Well, she shouldn’t be confident. She’s a hack. The last book was so badly plotted, written, and ended that I was embarrassed to have paid money for it. –Ed.]

Todd’s Hammer:

Rowling may have had the best intentions, but her execution ultimately undermines any attempt that she thought she was making for tolerance, because she gave us a closeted, lonely, dis-integrated character. If she had really wanted to argue for tolerance at the level of sexuality, Dumbledore’s sexuality would have been woven into his character and fully integrated JUST AS IT WAS FOR ALL THE STRAIGHT CHARACTERS. As it happens, she wrote a closeted, pathetic, tragic homosexual character, and then outed him after the fact. She can keep those table scraps.

And, finally, my absolute favorite article is by John Cloud at Time:

But as far as we know, Dumbledore had not a single fully realized romance in 115 years of life. That’s pathetic, and a little creepy. It’s also a throwback to an era of pop culture when the only gay characters were those who committed suicide or were murdered. As Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (1981) points out, in film after film of the mid-century—Rebel Without a Cause; Rebecca; Suddenly, Last Summer—the gay characters must pay for their existence with death. Like a lisping weakling, Dumbledore is a painfully selfless, celibate, dead gay man, so forgive me if I don’t see Rowling’s revelation as great progress.

Am I making too much of this? Undoubtedly. Some of the best Star Trek fan fiction—and there is so much you couldn’t read it all in a lifetime—involves steamy Kirk-Spock love affairs. [As I’ve mentioned in the past. –Ed.] So it will be with the Potter world, as Rowling has acknowledged. Lasting books cease to be their authors’ property; we are now all free to imagine a gay life more whole and fulfilling than the one Rowling gave Dumbledore. But it would have been better if she had just left the old girl to rest in peace.

And that’s that. Thanks, JK, but, really, you should have kept it to yourself. Or written better books.

The Lost Coast

I got my new scannner in the mail today. I already have a scanner–I already have two, actually–but this new one has a contraption for scanning negatives. Which means I can digitize my old pictures quite easily.

The first batch of negatives that I pulled out of the box (okay, the first that didn’t seem to be pictures of people I didn’t want to look at) was this awesome collection of photos I took while driving from Eureka to Fort Bragg. This was the Lost Coast, and it was the highlight of the two months that I covered Northern California for Let’s Go. It was the most beautiful, most peaceful place I’ve ever been. I have another roll or two from this day; I’ll post them later this week when I find them in the pile. For now, enjoy these 24.