Friday, December 24, 2010

The lessons of Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer

Some years ago I did a post on Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer. It's a song that always troubled me, as it seemed so out of keeping with the general aspiration holiday cheer.

Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer is such a straightforward statement that if you are or look different, others will ridicule, shun, humiliate and reject you. As you may recall, the other reindeers "laugh and call him names/They never let poor Rudolph/join in any reindeer games."

That is his life until everyone suddenly discovers that the very thing that made him different will in fact deliver a unique and crucial skill that will overcome what had been an insurmountable obstacle. Of course, "Then all the reindeer loved him/as they shouted out with glee,/Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,/you'll go down in history!"

Clearly, for some people, anyone that is different is seen as a threat.

Perhaps some people assume if something is different it must be an enemy (?)

Perhaps some people think that, since they are perfect, anyone that doesn't resemble them is less than perfect, and must be elimnated (?)

Perhaps some people think they are perfect, thus everyone else must also think they are perfect, so their differences are in conflict, and are an alarming threat to some people's own belief system, sense of self-satisfaction and comfort (?)

But some people appreciate differences in others.

Perhaps they respond to the fact that evolutionary theory rewards those species that have variety, as it gives them more options for species survival to respond more effectively to a changing world. If a species becomes too uniform, then one problem can wipe out the entire species, because all are equally vulnerable (?)

Perhaps they realize that variety enhances survival because not everyone wants the same thing at the same time, diminishing competition and allowing peacefull coexistance (?)

Perhaps they have internalized the Rudolf lesson, that the very things that make someone different will offer key skills to the team, and make the sum far greater than each individual part—a central theme in romances (?)

And clearly, the trial by fire that so many live through in environments that penalize differences can forge powerful, creative and remarkable human beings.

But it is hard on the young. For the lessons we learn in Kindergarten are not pretty and many live their whole lives trying to overcome or find forgiveness for what happened then.

In an effort to prevent teen suicides among kids with gender and sexuality issues there are resources. It gets or The Trevor Project are two.

The focus there is gender, but the basic issue is the same. Being different may not be an easy road, but it gets better—even for Rudolf. And adults have only to pause for an instant to think of all the people who were "different" that have transformed their lives and the world around them and value and support the gift of being different.

Here's hoping that the coming season gives us all things to be thankful for—the gift of accepting—indeed of celebrating our differences.  For therein lies our strength.

Isabel Swift

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How thankful are you? Thoughts on talking turkey...

Thank you notesthe lack of themwas one of the key complaints about children in a recent conversation with a remarkably varied series of mothers I'd been speaking to.

Mommie Dearest aside, you don't have to be an abusive parent to expect a child (or anyone) to respond to a gift with appreciation.  I wasn't allowed to go out and play if I hadn't finished my thank you notes for Christmas presents by the first week in January. While it was tedious, I really didn't see it as an inappropriate expectation of my parents.  Now I send my thank you notes as Valentine cardsa little late, but decorative!

And when I got old enough to actually send presents, it became very clear how nice getting a note wasif only to reassure you that your gift was actually received!  With no response, one can spend months vacillating between resentment toward the recipient, concern that the package had been lost, and angst about whether one should contact the person & ask the embarrassing question:  

"Did you get the present I sent months ago?" 

"Oh, yeah.  Sorry!  I guess I should have said something..."  

Yeah.  That would have been nice.

Even as one mother was complaining of the effort she made to find her nephews and nieces things she thought they'd like and how ungrateful they were and unthanked she was, I was thinking of the presents I'd given her children for which I'd never gotten any thanks or acknowledgment. Funny how easy it is to notice failures in others and not in yourself, isn't it? 

I asked her if she'd written thank you notes herself as a child.  She'd written some, but mentioned that her godmother used to give her beautiful treasures that she still cherished, but had never thanked her for.

Suddenly, after complaining about others, she realized she'd been just as guilty. She wondered if the statute of limitations had expired, but in my opinion thanks have no expiration date. You can send a thank you years later, and it will still be freshand possibly even more appreciated. Go for it. And she did.

In these days of endless communication options, there's no excuse, but remarkably little activity.  And really, not much is required:  "Just got your lovely giftthank you so much for thinking of me!" is really all that is needed.  Yes, it would be nice to reference the actual object & mention why it will be enjoyed (if indeed it is).  But details are not required, and neither are falsehoods.  

I believe in telling the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth.  So if you hate the gift for whatever reason, all you need to do is thank the giver for the kind thought.  Note, postcard, email, voice mail (hey, you can even call when you know they won't be there!). 

It was interesting to note that this issue of lack of acknowledgement has been the subject of articles with business interviews as well.  

So just as we may wish for Christmas cheer to last beyond the holidays, it is worth asking...can you be thankful all year long?

Did you have to write thank you notes? Do you write them now? Did you raise your children to write thank you notes?

Monday, August 16, 2010

- Summer Reading

I was listening to my itunes podcast from The New Yorker...

(Side note: many free podcasts can be downloaded and enjoyed @ iTunes. I just add it to my iPod, but if you have a smartphone with MP3 player, think you can download them there. All kinds of free content--learn about music, cooking, manners, philosophy, comedy, news, whatever).

...and one of the stories was about this out-of-work kid who told everyone that he was reading great books over the summer & was delighted to find everyone was very impressed. No, he wasn't actually reading any, but I decided this was a worthy goal and I should start filling in the chinks and read stuff I had never gotten around to reading.

I thought I'd start with one classic, one recent literary type bestseller. My first toe in the water: PORTRAIT OF A LADY/Henry James & A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS/Dave Eggers.

My rules are that you can have an opinion about a book you've read, but can't have an opinion about the author unless you've read at least 3 of their books. It seems fair.

So I found AHWOSG a bit tedious--perhaps colored by having seen Eggers on panels at conferences. And Henry James, who I had never read (yes, watched Wings of the Dove, though my enjoyment was colored by the uncanny resemblance of Daniel Day Lewis in that role to my older brother). Portrait seemed a good start--one of his more well known novels, and the heroine's name was Isabel. Can't get more relevant than that!

OMG. It was a fairly hard slog. Then I realized I couldn't complain about Henry James because I hadn't read my requisite 3 books. Back to the Library. Wings of the Dove was just too long, and I wasn't sure I wanted to sit through that story again. So I went with Washington Square--short, but as the introduction notes, not one of his more popular stories. And for good reason. I was one book away from an opinion. Luckily, there was Turn of the Screw--famous (I'd even seen the opera) and a novella! They even had to toss in a couple of short stories to fill the book out.

I was off an running. Well, if you've ever read James (I can now say that) "running" is not a word one would associate with his prose!

Despite some very active ghosts, TOTS (cute, eh?) was fairly tough going. But I needed to be able to have an author opinion! I even read the short stories. Also a good bit of the various scholarly preambles. Holy Toledo, if they don't turn you off reading the book, nothing will. In fairness, I actually really like getting a sense of context, a quick cliff notes on the writer, the history, the critical thought. But obviously, there's a similarity between the writer's style and his or her academic fans, so prefaces were a bit of a slog too.

OK, here's my assessment. After really not getting it for 3 novels (what is the big deal with this guy, etc.), the penny finally dropped thanks to the very last short story I read, "The Jolly Corner." Whew! I could have an opinion that wasn't just HUH?

So what's the big deal? I haven't done research beyond the above fairly pathetic efforts, but here are my insights.

First, he seems to be one of the first writers to deeply explore a sense of the character's conscious, their emotional makeup and the psychological causes behind their actions. Freud was born 13 year after James & lived over 20 years longer, but there's a strong connection with the birth of psychology. That seems pretty big as a new writing vision.

He also straddled the 19th and 20th centuries and offers a well rendered vision of the sense of past graciousness, limitations and social norms and proprieties that were being broken down, but still were powerful forces in an aristocratic or wealthy life. "The Jolly Corner" really presents a vivid metaphor of a man caught between two worlds, trying to find himself. Finishing it, I actually felt warmly towards James, though he definitely read as being a bit mysongenistic, which can be irritating.

So now that I've explained James, what's on your summer reading list?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

- The Hyperbolic Coral Reef

You may, perhaps, be wondering just what the Hyperbolic Coral Reef is?

So glad you asked!

It's a project started in Australia by two crocheting sisters seeking to call attention to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.  

Interestingly, there's a mathematical angle to all this.  I will likely not get this entirely right, but basically for some time mathematicians denied there was a hyperbolic function until Mr Vincenzo Riccati and Johann Heinrich Lambert came up with it in 1760.  This despite the fact that many coral grow hyperbolically, so there were examples right under their nose (or toes).

And you can crochet a hyperbolic function by simply creating a chain and doubling it for every stitch--example below:
It starts to look like brain coral, doesn't it?  And the pattern can be modified to create other coral (and mathematical) functions.

It was a powerful visual and experience to remind me you can start with something very simple--a single chain stitch.  Then do something very simple--double it.  And if you continue to add these simple building blocks, you can create something of amazing complexity--perhaps even beauty.  Just think about the single cell dividing and dividing and what remarkable organism it can come up with! 

I remember reading that Balzac (king of the door stopper novels) would start each one with a single page.  Then he'd keep adding bits and expanding bits, and thousands of pages later, you'd get Lost Illusions.

So the longest journey does indeed begin with the first step.  And whatever complex project you may have in mind that feels overwhelming, just make a single slip knot.  Add another.  You'll be surprised how it can grow!

For those who want to learn more, I've grabbed a relevant paragraph from The Smithsonian Community Reef project:

The Smithsonian Community Reef is a satellite of the worldwide Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project created by Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles.  It was made possible through the support of the Quiksilver Foundation, the Embassy of Australia, and the Coral Reef Alliance.  Find out more about Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles here, and their Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project here.  Find out more about the upcoming exhibition of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef and Smithsonian Community Reef at the National Museum of Natural History on the Museum's Smithsonian Community Reef Temporary Exhibitions Page.  To be included on this e-mail circulation list (or removed from it) please contact

And for those of you may be wondering how this relates to hyperbole?  I figure it's whatever it is, just double it!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More is not always better...

Here is my story (you've already read the moral of the tale in the headline!).

One of my towels got strange bleached out marks on it & looked weird (orange marks on a brown towel).  I couldn't figure out how they got there & assumed I had stupidly put one of my brown towels in with a white wash & bleach had marked it.

So I folded it carefully so the orange didn't show & kept using it, vowing NEVER to forget and put my colored towels in a white wash or foolishly think of bleaching them in any way.

The mystery deepens: more bits of orange kept appearing on my towel (not on the hand towels, not on my husband's towel, just on my bath towel).  It finally dawned on me that I could no longer fold my towel to hide the marks.  They were on both sides in all quadrants--and I know I hadn't bleached them.

I was clueless & did a search and read one tiny comment that explained everything: some hair products can bleach or discolor fabric/towels.

OMG, that explained everything.  Now I don't actually do anything significantly weird to my hair, but I do condition it occasionally (my husband does not, thus no impact on his towel).  I use different hotel conditioners picked up on travels.

I took some of the conditioners & glopped them on the towel & though it was not transformative, I could see some faint orange emerging on the sites.  Mystery solved.  And I knew I shouldn't try to replace that towel brand--it would only happen again.  Note this had never happened to me on any of my other towels, all colored.  I'm sure with these they used "natural" dyes or something!

Midterm moral:  Don't let your assumptions (e.g. bleach) blind you from the information.  Sherlock Holmes would have been able to deduce the answer from the clues without the internet.  I could have figured it out too.

So I decide I get to buy new towels.  I love the big turkish bath sheets & after obsessing about colors, cotton thread counts, etc. I get lovely thick towels.

Only to realize that extra big and extra thick means quite heavy to lift (over your head, say, to towel your hair).  And thick towels don't wrap around you as easily to dry off the nooks and crannies.

Note to self: next time, large size, less thick.  More in all directions is not always better.

More is not always better...

It reminded me of creating book covers & wanting each element--the title, art, typeface, headline, back cover copy--to shout "Buy Me!"

And then realizing that if they all were shouting, no one would get heard!

So the challenge was to determine what was the most powerful call to attention, then work on effectively leading readers to the next step, and the next, until they are hooked and immersed in the conversation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

- Cherry Blossoms...

The cherry blossoms around the tidal basin in Washington, D.C. were a gift from Japan. Cherry blossoms symbolize the beauty and the fragility of life.  This shot combines a pine tree, which symbolizes long life, cherry and holly.  Holly symbolizes protection, so it all kind of makes sense....?

Some romance novels that have characters tied up in knots and unable to break free often have a crisis that challenges them to rethink their priorities, to realize that life is too short to hold back.  They, like the cherry blossoms, serve to remind us to remember to appreciate what we have before we lose it.
CB 20100404 pine holly cherry
Some might feel that this should be contemplated solo, but really, it's a valuable message for all, something worth sharing and appreciating  with others.
CB 20100404 crowd
Some said the blossoms were "past their prime" but that just meant we walked on a carpet of petals.

The tidal basin edge was quite amazing looking, like a work of modern art:

CB 20100404 Tree trunk

There were buds, blossoms and new shoots not just from the twigs and branches, but emerging from the gnarled trunks.  Life popping out everywhere.

One of my favorite images--petals in the mud.  With the right eyes, no matter where you looked, beauty was everywhere.
CB 20100404 mud
OK, yes, these are NOT cherry trees, though they are lovely.  These formed the edge of the George Mason monument.  Who knew he was such an amazing guy?  Who knew he had a really lovely statue and garden? A treat.  And an example of why D.C. is so lovely in the spring--so many flowering trees.
CB 20100404 tulip trees
This is just a glimpse of the WWII Memorial, in case you haven't seen.  The Lincoln Monument you should be familiar with!
CB lincoln 4'4'10
This was a special D.C. moment.  Total logjam with both car and foot traffic confused us until we realized someone more important than us (I know, hard to believe) was passing by.  Yes, that's the presidentialmobil.  Obama was coming back from NYC.
CB 20100404 pres
That same day we went to the Smithsonian museum of American Art and saw an amazing show of drawings from Christo's running fence.  Running fence existed for two weeks in September of 1975.  As you may know, the pieces are only up briefly, though they have taken years to make happen.

Christo's work is truly a statement that despite--or perhaps because of--the challenges, we make the effort to make the time that we have something to treasure.
running fence
Overly philosophical?  Perhaps.  But true....

Saturday, April 03, 2010

- My gym

What works for you?

OK, I'll admit it. I am pheremonally challenged. Sadly, I do not possess the trait that gives me the ability to be filled with whatever delightful pheremones happen to other people that creates voluntary repeat exercise-seeking behavior.

Not only are those those pheremone-blessed types gung-ho, but any shared exercise experience inevitably ends with that fatal (but perhaps actually genuine) earnest post-exercise question: Wasn't it good for you? Don't you feel great/less stressed/filled with energy (whatever)?

No. No I do not. I feel tired and usually sweaty and smelly. The sweaty and smelly part does offer me a sense of achievement, of course. I must have done something! But the tired part doesn't allow for much enjoyment.

I go to a class because it's the only way I can make myself exercise. You have to turn up at a specific time. And the many laughably impossible things you are asked to do by the lithe or muscular instructor are viewed through a humorless haze, for in a class, you can irrefutably see that these activities are, in fact, doable.

Of course, I don't count the instructor--clearly a being from a different planet--though the fact that s/he can do all the activities and talk at the same time does give one pause. But all around you are people like you. Younger, older, fatter, thinner. Remarkably, all of them seem to be able to do the activities.

It becomes very clear very quickly that they are impossible...only to you. Nothing like a little quiet peer pressure to put one on notice. The activities and expectations are, alas, not inappropriate.

Whatever.  But even for me, the experience can be better or worse, and I was thinking about what made a difference.  I've developed a simple draft list of suggestions for instructors. What works for you?

#1. Music:

Having the music link with the movement, so I am moving to the beat.

Amazingly, many instructors think of the music as a kind of background noise.  They know they are supposed to have music, but they don't know how to use it.  Total waste of a major asset!

If I am exercising to the beat, it makes me feel like I'm dancing, not exercising. Much nicer! It gives me something other than tiredness and pain to focus on.

Some instructors have actually figured out specific songs for a particular exercise sequence because the beat speed is right and they actually switch or time changes in their routine to work with a new song. Brilliant. Works for me.

#2. Counting:

Counting in tens--or even eights--to give me a sense of accomplishment (in business language it's called "celebrate the small wins."  The concept of peppering progress with step by step achievements to note, instead of saying nothing until the very end when you have either succeeded--hey, great--or failed--too bad).  Three sets of eight or ten just feels more doable than doing thirty repetitions.

Also count DOWN on the last set (10, 9, 8, 7...).  It just feels down hill.  Surely I can make it to zero.  But I may not be able to climb up to ten!

#3. Benefit:

Tell me what I am accomplishing by putting myself through this agony.  Yoga does this a fair bit and others should pick up the concept.  Let me know that this simple, but remarkably painful leg circling is tightening my butt.  That these tedious sit ups are flattening my stomach. That breathing deeply is helping burn calories (really?).  That my tiredness and agony is strengthening my heart, getting me in shape, and is the reason I joined the gym, so no cheating.

#4. Rhythm :

Alert me if we're concentrating on one area ahead of time, so I feel focussed, not bored. Have exercises flow from one to another, so moving from standing to sitting to lying down feels natural and a progression, not awkward.  Don't have me standing up, lying down, getting back up, lying back down.  It feels clunky and I think you haven't figured out your routine.  I should feel energized, rocking & following the beat of my amazing instructor.

#5. Alternatives:

Always offer/encourage alternatives--both easier and harder--for the various movements so a varied class can find a place for themselves.  Encourage everyone to challenge themselves, but NOT to overdo it.  Better to live to exercise another day.

#6. Pacing:
Create segue exercises instead of having a break.  They can help move from one position to another, allow me to catch my breath, to relax, to stretch muscles that have just been worked, or just to keep the energy up between sets of high energy exercises.

#7: Favorite Sayings:

"Haaard Work!" "C'mon Guys!" "Finish up strong!"

#8: Least Favorite:

Anything that sounds authoritarian, bossy, militaristic, competitive (can  you tell I am not always an easy customer?!)

Do you have favorite exercise dos and don'ts?  Things you love/avoid?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

- The Sociology of Snow

After the recent giant snowfall, it suddenly became clear that snow made manifest all kinds of hidden things. It was like dusting for fingerprints. Suddenly, all kinds of things that are normally invisible, marked only in the air, are now marked in... water. And HA! The water is solid. It is snow. Everyone can see every step you have taken, the mark of your foot, the path you have chosen.

And what fascinated me in a city was that it also became a visual declaration of everyone's relationship with otherstheir social contract was declared for all to see: upheld, breached, broken. Leaving us to shake our heads. To speculate. To categorize.
Just down the street there's a house full of "those college kids." Here are their stairs and front sidewalk:
Yes, true to stereotype no one did anything ever. No effort was made to clear their own stairsone can imagine the internal dialogue: "I'm cool. I can make it down. Why waste my time making any easier for anyone else?"  

As for sidewalk, the conversation might go, "Public sidewalk you say? Litigation? Hey, I'm not going to have to pay for anything. Someone's parents would have to ante up if something happens and we're out of luck."
Recent addendum: Boys had visitors of the female type after a giant snowfall and were heard to announce loudly as they toiled up the snow covered steps, "Someone stole our shovel!" Good line....
Then there's what I call the "Me 'n' Mine...but not You."

college.jpg Yes, a carefully cleared personal walkway, but then all bets are off. The sidewalk? No additional effort expended for their fellow maneven though they are going to be walking on it fairly frequently too. The personal pain of shoveling is limited solely to the area of 100% personal gain. Anything that others might benefit from (even though they also benefit) is not effort worthy.
Below we seem to have a No Man's Land in front of a Gas Station. Perhaps they are not liable? They certainly don't seem to have made any effort to clear the sidewalk, allowing the path to be created by many feet heading for bus stop, etc.
no mans land.jpg 

I titled the one below "Me 'n' You 'n' My Car." Here, the person (I'm thinking guy, but don't want to be sexist) cares enough about the car to buy it a little outfit, to clear their own stairs, to clear the car's path AND to clear the public walkway while 
they were at it. Nice, eh?
me n you n my car 2.jpg Below is another ode to one's car. Someone had not only cleared the sidewalk, and the car, but also created this adorable little path to their Mini. I've titled this "Me 'n' My Mini." I thought this especially charming as it may only work once. When they drive off, there's no guarantee the spot will still be there on their return.  
And just down the road there was the sad sight of a comparatively uncaring and neglectful car owner. Their formerly "hot" new VW Bug lies buried under a heap of snow. No path, no interest, no warm intentions. Can you see how snow has made everyone's intentions and attitudes almost uncomfortably visible in a way previously invisible to all?
Some techniques: here's exactly a one shovel width walkway. Beware people with strollers! You have to back up and find a pull out to allow them to pass, just as if you were a car or trying to get to the bathroom on an airplane! one shovel width.jpg 

Unlike the nearby Gas Station, this stately home and museum (Tudor Place)takes up almost an entire block and they always clear the sidewalk, even though most is just along their garden. (Just discovered their secret: Snow Blower!) The dog walkers and joggers are very appreciative. tudor place litigation.jpg
And of course, if there's money in it, effort is expended. Commercial establishments tend to have very welcoming sidewalks.  

college.jpg And I haven't even touched on methodology! The shovelers (elbow grease & the muscle power), the sweepers (getting those nooks and crannies), the salters (no expense spared, little effort, maximum result, maximum negative environmental impact). And snow blowers--rare in a city, but I'm much more sympathetic to them than the irritating leaf blowers! Then the participants themselves: the do-it-yourselfers (voluntary and volunteered), the hire-it-outers, the hire-me-please-ers.
So that is my photo essay on the sociology of snow.  For those of you that live snow-deprived lives, this may be a glimpse into a new world. For those whose winter starts in October and ends in May, this may not go far enough....
Isn't it fascinating how snow makes people's attitudes to others, to their possessions, to what they consider "worth their effort" so visible? And while our interpretations may not always be accuratean owner may be absent, infirm, equipment-less, whateverI do enjoy speculating!
Do you live in a city or town? What do you do/not do and why? I'm fascinated!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Amazon Vs Mcmillan--or "Yes, Amazon's at it again..."

Well, some may get their entertainment by watching those Taiwan reenactment animatronic clips of Tiger & Elin, or Jay and Conan in superhero outfits going at it, we get to be entertained by chest thumping in our own publishing space, with Amazon taking a page from James Mason in The Seventh Veil ("If you won't play for me, you won't play for anyone!") in classic monopolistic strong arm technique, as, indeed they have done before.

I just found the attached poignant and illustrative story in the wikipedia excerpt for "memory hole" ( you might enjoy:

"In an ironic twist of fate, in 2009,'s electronic book, the Kindle, was purged of copies of Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. Customers who earlier downloaded those books, found them surreptitiously erased from their Kindles, in what some said was the books' being "sent down a memory hole."[4] The book retailer denied accusations of "Big Brother-like behavior", and stated that the books were uploaded to the Kindle store by a publisher who did not have reproduction rights, thereby necessitating the deletion. "We removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers," a spokesman said.[5] Some critics likened this to Barnes & Noble selling a book, then burglarizing a house to reclaim it whilst leaving a check. stated that they might not repeat the actions in the future.[6] A Shelby Township, Michigan student is the lead plaintiff in a proposed class action lawsuit, which claims that his annotated notes for a class were rendered "useless" when his Kindle's copy of 1984 was purloined using secret technology to invade his computer via an undisclosed Trojan horse.[7]"

I've included a bit from a recent Publishers Marketplace, and John Sargent's letter, posted there, but there's stuff all over the web, on various sites, Publishers Weekly, Publisher's Marketplace, and of course some of Amazon's Kindle users are a bit hot under the collar if you want to look further.

So just to say--support all your bookstores and choices in the electronic sphere if you can.  Allowing one to be overly dominant is not good for business.  And if we need additional proof, Amazon has amply demonstrated that should it dominate the market, it would not hesitate for an instant to behave ruthlessly in its short term self interest, to the detriment of it's customers and content providers.  I did just see the Darwin movie. I should know this!

Publisher's Marketplace Saturday, January 30, 2010

Since I couldn't figure out how to do a link to the newsletter I'm just excerpting my favorite bit:

"Another senior publishing executive said that "Amazon may 'spin' that the consumer is at the heart of the decision, but really their goal is a monopoly position in books. Publishers don't want a monopoly - they want consumers to have choice through a number of partners and channels. They want digital pricing which allows bricks and mortar retailers to survive and thrive alongside a growing digital market." That person added, "This reaction proves what Amazon's true motives are. It is a signal to any other publishers not to change the model and weaken Amazon's pathway to a monopoly. I hope authors, agents and publishers see what these motives are and stand by Macmillan."

To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
From: John Sargent

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us.

You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days.

Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated.

All best,

Saturday, January 30, 2010

- Are you a member of the Academy? Do you know someone who is?

There needs to be an Oscar for Best Performance by an Animal.


OK.  Maybe not every year.  Every other year?  Every five years?  I feel certain that at least once every five years there will be enough Oscar worthy performances by animals for a compelling race.

What has inspired me, you wonder?  Is this a frivolous thought? 


Years   no DECADES ago, I recognized that the dog in Road Warrior (scroll down for photo of same if you click) delivered an Oscar-worthy performance.

Yes, I know.  It's not without its challenges.  What about situations like Seabiscuit, with countless horses playing the part.  Inappropriate, I would agree.  And what about the animal handler(s)? Eh?

Though I certainly would allow "crossdressing" if you could call it that for creatures who don't normally wear clothes.  For example I believe Lassie was played (for the most part) by a laddie.  But since we're not giving Best Animal Actor and Actress here, I don't think we need to open the kimono, so to speak.

My inspiration now is Jenny, the orangutan in Creation, the film about Darwin. Truly an oscar-worthy performance.

Of course, it's not going to happen.  There will never be an Oscar for Best Animal Performance.  Not because animals can't be satisfactory celebritiessure, they could give endorsements; they're cute enough, and likely a lot cheaper.  Though it's going to be hard to find a breed that can (or would even want to) play golf.

And nowith animals there wouldn't ever be a problem with tarnishing their image.  Hey, monkeys are SUPPOSED to have wild monkey sex!  They're monkeys! A stallion having sex with countless mares?  All part of the DNA.

No, the sad reason it won't happen is because it will make the human actors look bad.  If an animal can deliver an Oscar worthy performance, what does it say about us, the humans?  And since it's the humans that are putting on the show, some great natural performers and performances will go unrecognized.

Do you have a favorite to share?