AmazonScan tracks how a book, movie, or other item is ranked in Amazon’s sales lists. The lowest of the low being tracked at the moment is the page-turner The Brachiopod Antiquatonia Coloradoensis (Girty) from the Upper Morrowan and Atokan (Lower Middle Pennsylvanian) of the United States, a Thomas W. Henry classic from his difficult “blue” period.
When so few people purchase a book, it must be awfully difficult for Amazon to do all the wonderful number crunching it does, like figuring out what people who bought that book also bought. As a result, the #1 entry under “customers who shopped for this item also shopped for these items” is The Little Book Of Crap Excuses, which, while similar in theme, likely doesn’t share many readers with Henry’s brachiopod epic.

me and osama

I’ve been meaning to post this story for, oh, about three months and 16 days now.
I graduated from college (barely) in 1997, and went to work for the Toledo Blade, a newspaper in Ohio. My first assignment there was covering the night cops beat, which mainly entailed sitting in the office long hours at night — Tuesday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. (Makes a social life tons of fun, let me tell you.)
Their vacation rules meant that I couldn’t take any time off until I’d been there for a year, so when the fall of 1998 came around and I had a week off, I figured I’d earned the right to do something special. I went online and found a $200 ticket to Paris, scouted out a cheap hotel (the Hotel Printemps, $22 a night in a great neighborhood — spartan but highly recommended), and headed off to France.
I love traveling alone. I spent my days wandering unhurriedly from museum to museum, not a stress or care in the world. There were days I didn’t speak 50 words, and the little I did say usually consisted of ordering more bread at a cafe.
On one of my last afternoons in Paris, shortly after visiting Rousseau’s tomb at Le Pantheon, I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch. But I wasn’t famished, so I stopped at a sandwich shop on a surprisingly empty street. The owner, an Algerian, was friendly, and I reasoned it would be one of my last chances to practice my French, so we started talking.
He asked what I did, and I told him I was a reporter for an American newspaper. He perked up and ran behind a curtain to the back of his store to fetch his brother. His smiling, cheery brother said he was a freelance reporter and wanted to know how American newspapers work. We settled into a conversation I’ve had many times before — yes, sometimes I come up with my own stories, yes, sometimes editors assign things, etc. — when he suddenly, non-chalantly, said: “Would you like to interview Osama bin Laden?”
This was September, 1998. The original World Trade Center bombing had been a few months earlier. Americans were hearing of bin Laden for the first time. The man told me he had connections within bin Laden’s organization and that he had interviewed bin Laden himself for an Middle East publication some time ago. And he’d helped a British reporter get in touch with bin Laden not long before. Would I like to talk with him?
In retrospect, I wish I could I say I was frightened at the prospect of being on an empty European street with a man with links to al-Qaida, but I was actually just in ambitious journalist mode: “Hell yeah, I want to chat with Osama!” After all, bin Laden had been giving interviews to Western reporters throughout 1998. Sure, the Toledo Blade wasn’t the New York Times, but maybe the sickle-and-scythe imagery of its name would appeal to a mujahedeen.
I gave my business card to the brother, and he gave me his. He said he would forward my information to Osama’s people and that I should get in touch with him in a month or two. He said it was doubtful an interview would be granted, but he said he liked me (and, perhaps, my sandwich selection) and he’d try.
This probably seems like the oddest part of my story: I didn’t think much about it for a while. Back in Toledo a month or two later, I found the brother’s business card. I reasoned that I was still a peon at the paper and there was roughly zero chance I’d ever be allowed to hike to Afghanistan to interview a terrorist. (The Blade also had and has a pretty strict policy about protecting its reporters from too-dangerous situations, which while admirably paternalistic, always made my inner reporter daredevil a little mad.) I figured I’d have more to gain at the paper by giving the guy’s card to our managing editor, a guy named Lew, and letting him do with it whatever he wanted. I did just that; Lew looked confused, said he didn’t think The Blade would be interested in an interview, and put me on my way.
Ironically, I’d later become The Blade’s ad hoc foreign correspondent, going to six countries on the company’s dime. But I never got my audience with Osama. I suppose, in retrospect, that’s not a bad thing: if i had, I’d be awfully tired from all the TV interviews I’d have given in the last three months. And I’m anxiously awaiting a call from an FBI operative asking me why my business card was discovered in a Tora Bora cave.

osama looks pale

Man, it must be hard to work on your tan when you’re hiding in a cave and all. Probably makes your beard a bit whiter, too.
And in the category of “Things seemed to change after 9/11, but they really didn’t”: a headline on the front page of today’s paper — about a guy who applied for a loan through new city program — reads: “He’s not just a potential sub shop owner, he’s a hero.” Whatever happened to all that talk about how we’d only call “real” heroes heroes? (In the online edition, the headline‘s been changed to read “he’s their hero” — maybe others noticed, too.

fitness ball chair

If someone buys me this office chair, I will pay them at least $10. “This user-friendly chair promotes active seating” — a nice way to say “This chair is so uncomfortable that you’ll be constantly moving and thus unable to stay long enough in one position to get carpal tunnel.” (ripped from the always entertaining mister pants)

d-plan and dcfc coming to fort worth

My sources within the Rock Community tell me that all DFWers (that’s pronounced duh-phew-ers, by the way) should clear their calendars of inessential appointments on the evening of March 5. On that night, the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth will host two of the finest collections of musical performers known to man: the Dismemberment Plan and Death Cab for Cutie. (One hopes they have the sense to call it the Death and Dismemberment Tour.) Trust me when I tell you that, should you choose to attend, your $10 would not be spent unwisely. Be there, or be, um, rhomboid.

richard reid, doofus

Reuters reports that the leader of Richard Reid’s mosque in Britain basically thinks Reid was too much of an idiot to come up with the shoe-bombing business on his own. “The way he tried to commit this act shows his gullibility,” he said. “He was sent as a tester…I would say he was very, very impressionable.”
Richard Reid, a dumbass being used by others? Gosh, who’d have guessed? He so looks the part of brilliant terrorist mastermind, no?

Ah, nothing better than holiday

Ah, nothing better than holiday work shifts when your boss is on vacation. Come in 20 minutes late? No problem! Now that I’ve got a laser printer, I’ve rededicated myself to a more organized life, starting out with the massive printed To Do list I’ve got sitting at my right side.
Belated Lord of the Rings thought: Was I the only one who found it a tad unconvincing that this merry band of nine warriors kept running into armies of 10,000 orcs — and I mean nasty, ill-tempered orcs, not the kind of orc you’d invite over for Christmas dinner — but always seemed to emerge unscathed? That the body count was always 10,000 dead orcs in one corner vs. a couple of scratches, boo-boos, and owies in the other? Even the shrimpy little hobbits, whose asses I could no doubt have soundly kicked, managed to fend off constant waves of orcishness?

family christmas

Yesterday was our family’s Christmas gathering. They’re much more fun now than they were five or ten years ago because there’s a new generation of kiddies running around. (I don’t have any brothers or sisters, but I’ve got five first cousins that lived within a few blocks of me growing up, so they’ve historically served as demi-siblings. And they’ve been spouting out kids like a water fountain the last few years.)
It’s nice to see all my old toys — the Star Wars stormtrooper, the giraffe stuck in a tiny little cage (PETA Alert!), the Tonka jeep — getting some use again. If you guys are lucky (I mean, really lucky), I might post some pictures of my cousin’s kid Cody, who a recent Rand Corp. study determined to be the Cutest Kid in the Western World. (Reports of a slightly cuter kid in rural Mongolia could not be confirmed by researchers; personally I give them little credence.) Cody also has impeccable taste; when it came time for him to invent an imaginary friend, he sensibly named him Josh. A wise, wise boy.
My grandmother, as much as I love her, showed questionable gift taste: an ironing board. She told me she’d been meaning to get me one for a while because I needed one. My first thought: what kind of an insult is this? I look so damned wrinkly that I obviously need holiday help? My second thought: I have an ironing board. Sometimes I even use it. Did she know this? Was my ironing board somehow inadequate? Was the symbolic import of the gift so critical that it made my sudden two-ironing-board setup acceptable?
Anyway, today she sheepishly asked: “Wait, you already have an ironing board, don’t you?” I admitted that, yes, I did. Maybe I could try ironing in stereo or something.

rudy as man of the year

Man, I am pissed. Time picked its Man of the Year today, and it’s Rudy Giuliani. Not to take anything away from Rudy, but is there any conceivable argument that it’s not Osama bin Laden? Who influenced the course of world events more this year, Osama or Rudy? It’s not even close.
If the people who run Time were even remotely honest with themselves, they’d admit as much. But they knew that naming bin Laden would have gotten lots of folks mad, so they chickened out. That kind of cowardly behavior has no place in journalism — you report the news no matter who it’s going to piss off. (I guess there goes my chance at a good AOL Time Warner job.)
Update: Josh Marshall agrees. “Time’s decision to make Giuliani its Person of the Year represents a colossal failure of nerve and honesty. And it may even be a small sign of the baleful effects of media industry conglomeration.” (An interesting idea I hadn’t thought of. If Time was just Time, withstanding a public backlash would be easier. Now that it’s CNN/AOL/Time/WB/etc., (a) a backlash could be much more broadly based, and (b) the journalistic ethic is more diluted within the megacorporation.)