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Game On:

“This Christmas, Santa’s sack will not be weighed down by any one particular consumer electronics product. The recession has hit the market fairly badly, not just in terms of economics, but in terms of innovative products coming to market. And this is likely to continue in 2003. For the first time in recent memory, the consumer market lacks a killer app. Analysts have pointed to several consumer segments making small, but interesting, progress in 2003. This week, Electronic News examines what’s in store for the consumer market in 2003.”

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Ostrich-Mode Dept:

Wal-Mart Yanks Pregnant Barbie Pal from Shelves:

“Barbie’s long-time pal, Midge — now married and pregnant — was yanked from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shelves earlier this month after customers complained about the doll, a company spokeswoman said.

Midge is sold as part of the “Happy Family” set, wearing a tiny wedding ring and a detachable stomach with a curled-up baby inside. Her husband, Alan, and 3-year-old child Ryan are sold separately.” Yahoo! News

Wal-Mart declined to comment on whether shoppers’ objections were based on the suggestion of teenage pregnancy embodied in the doll’s being sold alone, rather than only in a ‘happy family’ unit. Parents who bought this doll for their children would have to discuss pregnancy, also unpalatable for Wal-Mart’s customer base.

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The great novelists not fit for duty in this war of words.

“War is Heller. It is also Tolstoy, Owen, Vonnegut and Hemingway, among many others.

But according to the Pentagon, war — at least the impending war in Iraq — is Shakespeare, the 5th-century BC Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and two modern bestsellers about heroism and wartime correspondence. Before Christmas the US Defence Department began distributing free, pocket-sized copies of these books to its troops, to ensure that soldiers are improving their minds while removing Saddam. More than 100,000 copies have been given away so far.

The project, set up by a group of publishers with charitable support and Pentagon help, is a deliberate echo of the mass distribution of paperbacks to American soldiers that took place in the Second World War; the largest handout of free literature in history. In 1942 the US War Department hit on the idea of the Armed Services Edition, books specifically for servicemen in the field. The books were cheap to produce, horizontal in format, oblong-shaped to slip into an ammunition pouch, with large print to be read by candle or torchlight and cover designs resembling film posters. The titles catered for every brow height, from the Odyssey to Forever Amber; from Dickens to Twain to Virginia Woolf; literary classics, popular novels, non-fiction and even plays. ” Times of London

Of course, the publisher-organizer of the project, which echoes the mass giveaway of paperbacks from the highbrow to the low- to GIs during WWII, chose to include a book he himself edited among the four books distributed so far.

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The Idea Was Not to Have a New One:

Michiko Kakutani reviews the year in arts for the New York Times:

So why do so many newer acts and projects feel so synthetic? The thinking behind movie franchises, certainly, is that it’s easier to sell and merchandise a brand-name product — familiarity, the reasoning goes, makes for bigger opening weekends, and a longer shelf life with spinoffs, video games, soundtracks and other corporate tie-ins. And in the music industry, the growing use of digital processing (using software like Pro Tools, which makes it possible to correct pitch and adjust timing) has made for more synthetic-sounding recordings, while changing the criterion by which singers are judged. As Billboard magazine noted: “Major-label executives readily admit that signing an act now is as much about star presence as it is about the artist’s actual ability to consistently sing the notes.”


As 2002 slouches to a close, however, all was not lost. Amid the cultural wreckage, there were potent albums from the alternative country band Wilco and the Detroit garage band the White Stripes, and novels by Ian McEwan, Jeffrey Eugenides, Richard Flanagan, Bruce Wagner and Alice Sebold that were as emotionally powerful as they were ambitious. Several new television shows like “24” and “Boomtown” tried, however unevenly, to push narrative conventions in new directions; and Larry David’s HBO show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gave us a hilarious look at the absurdities of modern life, as seen through the eyes of an endlessly put-upon curmudgeon.

Both Kakutani and John Pareles, who does the year-end review of music for the Times, feel that puerile pop is dead, supplanted by “unvarnished sincerity — or a decent facsimile…”, as Pareles puts it. Would that it were so! Many other year-end cultural pundits have made a similar observation, although no one has a plausible explanation for such a hopeful trend in the tastes of Western pop culture consumers.

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The Republicans Try to Redefine Civil Rights:

“The issues championed today by traditional civil rights groups, from affirmative action to ending racial profiling, have become virtually identical to the Democratic Party platform, and many are antithetical to the race-neutral goals of Republicans. The most egregious forms of discrimination were essentially dealt with in the sweeping legislation of the 1960’s and 70’s, supported by mainstream members of both parties.” NY Times