The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Federal Judge Jed Rakoff has dismissed an antitrust class-action against Amazon and six major publishing houses. The suit brought by independent booksellers claimed the companies conspired to restrict trade through the use of DRM (or digital rights management, which limits the sharing and copying of ebooks). In his decision, Rakoff wrote that there was no evidence of a conspiracy. "The evasiveness of this allegation is remarkable," he said, adding, "Plaintiffs do not allege an unlawful agreement, only vague 'oral discussions or agreements regarding the use of restrictive DRM.' Plaintiffs do not even allege that any such discussions or agreements actually occurred, only that they may have occurred. And plaintiffs do not specify who participated in these hypothetical discussions or agreements, only that they may have involved 'one or more' of the Publishers and Amazon." In an odd twist, the lawsuit was filed in the middle of the Department of Justice's antitrust case arguing that five of those same six publishers were conspiring with Apple to fix prices. The companies eventually wound up settling.
- Sotheby's sold a watercolor portrait of Jane Austen — painted after her death, but based on a sketch by the writer's sister — to an anonymous private collector for £164,500 (around $270,000).
- Jennifer Szalai considers the concept of the "guilty pleasure" in a new essay for The New Yorker. She writes, "The guilty pleasure seems to me the distillation of all the worst qualities of the middlebrow — the condescension of the highbrow without the expenditure of effort, along with mass culture's pleasure-seeking without the unequivocal enjoyment. If you want to listen to Rihanna while reading the latest from Dean Koontz, just go ahead and do it. Don't try to suggest you know better. Forget the pretense and get over yourself. You have nothing to lose but your guilt."
- Former champion boxer Mike Tyson will not be traveling to the U.K. to promote his memoir, Undisputed Truth. He was denied entry because of his criminal record, which includes convictions for rape, assault and drug possession. Tyson told The Guardian: "I have a great deal of respect for the laws of the United Kingdom and will continue taking the proper steps for re-entry."
- Classicist Peter Brown writes about the difficulty of knowing anything unambiguously about the classics. On antiquity, he writes, "It is like a great building, visible from far away, at the end of a straight road that cuts across what seems to be a level plain. Only when we draw near are we brought up sharp, on the edge of a great canyon, invisible from the road, that cuts its way between us and the monument we seek. We realize that we are looking at this world from across a sheer, silent drop of two thousand years."
Amid a solemn atmosphere, the body of Nelson Mandela lay in state Wednesday at an amphitheater in South Africa's capital of Pretoria, the exact spot where he was sworn in as the country's first black president in 1994, reconciling a land that had been torn by racial divisions for centuries.
Mandela's coffin, draped in a South African flag, was transported by a hearse from a military hospital through the streets of Pretoria and then to the hilltop Union Buildings, the seat of South Africa's presidency.
South Africans lined the route, many holding posters of Mandela, as the cortege traveled past the courthouse — now known as the Palace of Justice — where he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for sabotage. Mandela ultimately served 27 years before his release in 1990.
A military honor guard wearing black armbands delivered the coffin to Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela. It was then placed inside a protective marquee built for the occasion at the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the sprawling grounds of the Union Buildings.
Family members, government officials and foreign leaders paid their respects Wednesday morning. Mandela's former wife Winnie wiped away tears after she passed through the marquee and walked away.
Among the mourners was F.W. de Klerk, the country's last white president and the man who freed Mandela and then lost his job to Mandela four years later in the country's first democratic elections.
The amphitheater was being opened to the public in the afternoon. South Africans began lining up at 5 a.m. for one last chance to see Mandela.
The mood was formal and somber, in contrast with the spirited and joyous memorial service on Tuesday, when tens of thousands of South Africans and dozens of foreign leaders gathered at the country's largest soccer stadium in the black township of Soweto. Mandela, 95, died last Thursday after a long illness.
South Africa's white leaders ruled from the Union Buildings for decades before Mandela's extraordinary journey that took him from a rural village to anti-apartheid leader to the world's most famous prisoner to president of a democratic South Africa.
Mandela will lie in state through Friday in an open coffin sheathed in a glass cover. He will then be transported to his home village of Qunu in the southeastern part of the country, where he will be buried in an ancestral grave on Sunday morning.
The reviews are coming in for the bipartisan budget deal crafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and as the Los Angeles Times says, the package seems to have "something for everyone to dislike."
"It won't cut federal spending or shrink the national debt, so conservative Republicans don't like it," the Times says, and "it won't restore much money for domestic programs or extend unemployment insurance, so Democrats don't like it either. Its main virtue is that it will spare members of Congress from worrying about a government shutdown during their long Christmas break."
Basically, adds The Washington Post, "the deal denies both Republicans and Democrats what they want most. Republicans didn't get any changes to Medicare and Social Security — much less any structural ones. Democrats didn't get any new taxes."
On Morning Edition, NPR's Tamara Keith summed up the agreement this way:
"The deal ... would set the federal budget at just about $1 trillion this year and next. It would replace a big chunk of the sequester cuts with other trims and increased fees. And that's pretty much it."
In other words, Tamara said, Murray and Ryan went "small" instead of going for a "grand bargain."
Of course, if one side had come out of the Ryan-Murray negotiations claiming victory, that might have doomed the plan's chances for passage by both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate. On the question of whether the agreement will be OK'd by both chambers, The National Journal writes that "Ryan may face the most immediate challenge, meeting behind closed doors Wednesday morning to explain the agreement to skeptical House conservatives."
It adds, though, that:
"Ryan, whom conservatives describe as the most highly respected member of the House GOP when it comes to fiscal matters, seems up to the task of selling the deal. He repeatedly framed the agreement as 'conservative' on Tuesday, emphasizing at the outset: 'It reduces the deficit without raising taxes.' ...
"At one point, Ryan seemed to speak directly to his House GOP colleagues, perhaps previewing the pitch he'll make to them at Wednesday morning's conference meeting.
" 'As a conservative, I think this is a step in the right direction,' Ryan said. 'What am I getting out of this? I'm getting more deficit reduction. The deficit will go down more by passing this than if we did nothing. That's point No. 1. Point No. 2 is, there are no tax increases here. Point No. 3: We're finally starting to deal with autopilot spending, that mandatory spending that has not been addressed by Congress for years.' "
How is the deal playing in other news outlets? Here's a sampling of headlines:
— "Conservative groups sound alarm over tentative budget deal." (Fox News)
— "Conservatives balk at budget deal." (Politico)
— "A Least Bad Budget Deal." (Wall Street Journal editorial)
— "U.S. budget deal could usher in new era of cooperation." (Reuters)
— "U.S. budget deal: What does it ad up to?" (The Financial Times)