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Amazon, Dissonance, and the Influence of Others

Colbert is "mad prime" about Amazon's tactics.

Colbert is “mad prime” about Amazon’s tactics.

I unliked Jeff Bezos before I liked him.

The reason I disliked Bezos and his company, Amazon, is pretty simple. My friends disliked them first. I realize that makes me sound like a lemming, but let’s be honest. Our friends have a lot of sway over how we feel about things. They influence our politics, our ambition, and our musical preferences. They help determine our buying behavior. I don’t drink Starbucks, shop at Wal-Mart, or buy Nike products, at least in some part due to the influence of my friends. And generally speaking, my friends don’t approve of Amazon. In this case, when I say friends, I mean a particular subset of my friends and acquaintances. I mean writers.

In the taxonomy of my Facebook friends, the categories, in descending order, are writers, former students, Peace Corps volunteers, people I knew in college or high school, and colleagues. Notice writers right there at the top? They are the people who most influence my mental space, insofar as that space exists on social media.

The writers I know are diverse and brilliant, and they are generally progressive – they, and I, tend to support the ACA and the DREAM act. They want to see assault weapons banned. They were down on DOMA before it was cool. They have equal signs stuck on their bike fenders and tattooed on their ankles. They’re also largely traditional in the way they pursue publication. They tend to take the slow road to getting published, sending the results of their long hours in front of laptops in coffee shops to editors, who the writers hope will find merit in the carefully crafted pages. Of course, it’s subjective. Of course, the writers are rejected. The rejection slips come, and the writers save them, delete them, maybe even frame them. They revise. They send the work out again. Onward.

Alternatively, they can take the fast lane to publication. It’s so easy! Just set up an account on Amazon and find the link that says “Independently publish with us.” Upload. Click. Done. Published. Right?

Few of the writers I know seem to engage in self-publishing beyond personal or shared blogs, like this one. Perhaps it’s because we distrust a system that has no checks and balances – if no editor is approving your work, who’s to say, other than you, that it’s any good? Perhaps it’s indicative of writerly technophobia. We love our paper books. We don’t want the system to change.

But some do. Read more »

Here is what we know.

Tonight, a football game will be played between two teams in the National Football League. The Baltimore Ravens will face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be televised to millions of fans. Rihanna has agreed to sing the opening song.*

We know that Ray Rice, star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, physically assaulted his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. We know that Rihanna was physically assaulted by Chris Brown. We know that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault on three separate occasions. We know that current Raven Terrell Suggs was accused of physical abuse numerous times by his longtime girlfriend, including punching her in the neck, dragging her alongside a speeding car, and kicking her in the face so hard her nose broke—all of those incidents with their two young children present.

We know that this is too much to bear. Not as women. As humans.

We know that today is the anniversary of a terrible day in our country’s history. We know that everyone grieves differently, that some people prefer to do their grieving publicly, while others prefer to do so privately. We know that our nation’s response to a series of terrible things happening was to become wildly patriotic, and to share those expressions of patriotism as loudly and publicly as possible.

We know that during tonight’s football game, patriotism will be invoked in a mixture of direct and subtle ways. Like any good marketing campaign, it will be pounded into our brains that to love football is to love America. Because not loving America is inherently wrong, we will be shown, not loving football is not only un-American, it’s practically indicative of treason. Count how many times you see the American flag on television tonight, if you watch. If you can stomach it.

We knew months ago that a) Janay Palmer walked into an elevator of her own accord and b) was dragged out unconscious less than a minute later by the only other occupant of that elevator, a man who makes millions of dollars per year using his brute strength and talent to excel at one of the most violent sports on earth. We knew because there was video of their entrance and exit. We knew because Ray Rice admitted to police, to the NFL, to the public, that he’d hit his fiancée.

We know how Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, responded to that video of the couple entering the elevator arguing, followed by footage of Ray Race dragging a woman’s lifeless body out of the elevator. He responded by suspending him from his job for two games. Roger Goodell watched Ray Rice use the toe of his sneakers to shove his woman where he wanted her to go, not caring that her dress was hiked up around her waist and that the lower half of her body was exposed. He watched them walk into the elevator together and then he watched an NFL player drag an unconscious woman out of it, and he gave that man a gentle but loving timeout of two games away from his prestigious job.

We know that pundits and apologists said, “We can’t know what happened in that elevator. Both people said they were at fault. She even said she hit him first.”

We can’t know what happened inside that elevator, they said.

Except that we did know. Long before the second video was released, we did know. We just didn’t want to know.

Read more »

“Make Me Beautiful”

Journalist Esther Honig wanted to examine how the standards of beauty vary across cultures. She sent a picture of herself—makeup free and hair pulled back– to 40 different graphic designers across the globe with only one request: “Make me beautiful.”

What she received back blew her mind.  (And mine.)

Some of the pictures came back with minimal changes, what I  think of as studio photo retouching. Like this image from Romania:

Romania

All images in post are courtesy of Ester Honig

Others were radically altered. This one is from the Philippines:

Philipines

 

What struck me is that some designers changed Honig’s features in ways I wouldn’t even think of, going to extremes like changing her eye color, removing collar bones, and altering the shape of her eyes and forehead.  Read more »

Cognative Surplus, or How LOLcats will Save the World


lolcat
Back in the late 90s, I worked in a software company that hired  full development teams to other technology companies. We provided expertise that our clients might not have in-house, which meant we usually worked with new technology on cutting-edge projects. When the internet opened up to e-commerce, the company signed up new clients at record speed. One of the marketing managers explained to my coworker Angela and me that the internet was finally useful now that people could use the web to make a profit. After that meeting, Angela created a secret slogan that we would sometimes whisper to each other while working on projects that had no purpose other than making crazy amounts of money: “Use the internet for good, not for evil.”

This weekend, I listened to author, professor, and social media guru Clay Shirky on the TED Radio Hour. The program focused on collaboration and Shirky talked about a concept he’s coined “cognative surplus.” According to his estimates, the world has over a trillion of hours of free time to commit to shared projects. Some of that time we—the people of the world—use to do things like watch TV or create memes that we share on the internet. But even if you use your time to create LOLcats instead of inventing cool apps to do crisis mapping (one of Shirky’s examples is the creation of Ushahidi, the software that election information after the disputed 2007 Kenyan presidential race), you should still feel like you’re contributing to the good of the world:

The stupidest creative act is still a creative act….The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.

The talk is well worth the 13 minutes it takes to watch. I especially find Shirky comparing our relationship with media and technology during the 1900s to the 2000s inspiring. The last century taught us how to consume. We’re still excellent consumers, but with new media tools like the internet and mobile phones we also show that we like to create. And share. And collaborate.

According to Shirky—and I really want to believe him on this—human motivation, new tools of collaboration, and our cognative surplus allow us to do “truly incredible experiments in scientific, literary, artistic, political efforts.”

In this new century, we’re finally using the internet mostly “for good, not for evil.” Angela and I are very happy.

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Buyer’s Guide

outside_Page_1The Outside Magazine Buyer’s Guide arrived in my mailbox on Monday night. I tore off the thick layer of plastic and noticed that the opening pages were crowed with mini-bios about the magazine’s staff and gear testers, those lucky dogs who are paid to take cool trips and try out sleeping bags, trail shoes, hiking shoes, hard shells, soft shells, headlamps, sunglasses, cameras, mountain bikes, and stand-up paddleboards. In between the gear ratings were style guides—new pieces of gear unfolded and strewn about in colorful, asymmetrical patterns. I zoomed in on the style guide for women climbers, which was labeled “Everything you need to scale new heights.” At the center of the page, beside the helmet, the harness, the pack, and the token piece of hardware, was a quick dry hoodie with a “flattering fit” and “sexy skinny jeans” made of a nylon/spandex blend.

I tried to determine what was different about the Buyer’s Guide and the regular edition of Outside. For one, the editors had squeezed out the gratuitously adventurous human-interest stories and descriptions of some off-the-beaten path trails for a few more equipment reviews. Otherwise, The Buyer’s Guide edition seemed similar to any other. Why did it take me so long to realize how cramped the magazine was with product advertisements? Of course, magazines have to sell ads, and one fantastic way to do this is to display products as functional and stylish; however, now that I have been a subscriber to Outside for a few months, I’m realizing that pushing products is one of the primary goals of the magazine. Ideally, the advertisements would  leverage a platform for telling good stories. However, inspiring people to enjoy more of their lives outside and to “Live Bravely,” as the slogan says, is also a ploy to get people to buy the gear that will make them more active, badass, and happy.

I want to be active, badass, and happy. I work hard during the week, and I recreate hard on the weekends. It’s Tuesday, I’m still sore from my most recent blitz to the mountains near Leavenworth. I drove over and camped on Friday, hiked in and climbed all day Saturday, and drove home early on Sunday so that I could clean the house, prepare lunch for the week, and grade papers.

This work/life balance is my El Dorado. I want to have fun and keep exploring, but I also want a steady job, health insurance, and other kinds of recommended securities. Read more »

The Sponsored and Sold Dictionary

MW-WM
All week I have been contending with Walter Mitty in my mailbox. Even words like o·nei·ric (/ōˈnīrik/ adj. formal 1. of or relating to dreams) have sponsored content, advertisements, and quotes from the movie.

It makes me want to see the box office bomb even less. I realize that the movie is based off of a James Thurber short story from the 1930s and features a copyeditor as the main character, two considerations that mean I may have eventually watched it. However, I’m not a fan of being a targeted market audience for quotes about living life to the fullest because in a moment of panic while studying for the GRE, I signed up for the word-a-day service.

I’d always been a fan of Merriam-Webster’s corporate history. When I was in grade school, I had a Webster’s dictionary that I began to realize was antisemitic.
Read more »

What would you agree to for a writer’s residency?

Image of Denver Platform and Amtrak  Train

Denver Platform View, copyright Kathleen Crislip

There is a lot of chatter around the Amtrak Residency Program for writers. Free long-distance train ride with a sleeper car equipped with a bed, a desk and outlets. Countryside views unattainable from any other type of trip. Inspiration.

Writers flooded Amtrak with applications—8,500 in just the first week. Twitter is ablaze with the hashtag, #AmtrakResidency. This tells me that for many this opportunity is worth the cost. By cost, I don’t mean an application fee because there is none. The cost is giving up all rights to application materials, which includes a writing sample of up to 10 pages.

In legal-speak, the Official Terms of the program include provision 6, “Grant of Rights,” as quoted below.

In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. . . . Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.)

Critics have come out against the program for this reason. Dan Zak calls it a sham in his Washington Post article. Mr. Zak points out the media coup this is for Amtrak, now getting crazy publicity for their long-distance trips, which are reportedly operating in the red by millions. Ben Cosman, writing for The Wire, shares parts of an email from Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s Social Media Director, written to The Wire, clarifying Amtrak’s intentions: Read more »

Anything Other Than Writing

My brain is a kind of synapse soup leaking out of my ears after two terrific conferences, one odyssey in Denver, a delivery of files to the printing press, and the mere suggestion of grading scientist profiles. So, in lieu of a thoughtful post, I will offer you several games.

1. Pick up the book nearest you.
Turn to page 45. The first complete sentence describes your love life.

Here’s mine:
“Rather than simplifying and unifying, he is revealing the complexity of the Japanese ‘natural’ world and opening a space in the cosmology for native yokai.”

from Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai by Michæl Dylan Foster

(Har har har, sounds supernatural, huh?)

2. Make a book spine poem by arranging books on your self.
Here’s mine:


book-spine-poem

The hummingbird’s daughter
falling up
in the wilderness
skinny legs and all.
Read more »

Publishing Bots on the Loose: David Publishing

This week I have been at the Southwest Popular American Culture Association Conference, which one of my students has called a “nerd extravaganza.” On Wednesday, I presented some of the X-Files poetry that I have been working on; the manuscript of the collection is called “Glitches in the FBI.” Last night, I received the following e-mail:

from emailThis note (which included some more specific information beneath the scroll), is my first encounter with David Publishing. Because I am human, I like to have my ego stroked, so my first thought was, “Cool.”

When I was younger, I kept a blog, in part to keep in touch with my family across the country, and in part (ok, a really big part), with the hope that I would be “discovered” by some publishing company and land a book deal.  The publishing process was very mysterious to me then (it still is, some days), so I had no idea how writers could be proactive about becoming authors.

Anyway, I saw this e-mail and, I have to admit, it satisfied some part of that “being found” desire I used to have. Even though I presented to a crowd of about seven poetry enthusiasts, in a ballroom staged for 200+ people, I believed my presentation went well. One of my students came, on assignment from the school paper. A poet in a gray suit shook my hand afterward. “Glitches in the FBI” had a lot of good energy around it; of course some one would want to publish some of the poems or a discussion of the process. Read more »

guilty as the nfl: an open letter response

melissa huggins
whenevs
thebarking.com

february 3, 2013

 

dear huggiebear,

thanks for your letter & let me begin with this: congrats.  your beloved seahawks made peyton manning’s record-setting broncos look completely ineffectual (even in denver’s best moments).  how do i know they did that?  cuz i watched the super bowl.  kinda.  steve almond was right in that this game has practically become a secular holiday.  friends of mine host a big party for it every year—and there are actually some friends of mine that i only see at that super bowl party (yes, their kids are fine & life is pretty good, in case you were wondering).  so, i did see that safety to start the game.  and then basically nothing else until the 2nd half.  but i was there, and i definitely stole glances at the tv screen (was that james franco with a fucking tiger?).  i even watched a good part of the 2nd half as more&more guests headed home (yes, those parents are responsible & their kids do have bedtimes, in case you were wondering).  but that does kinda prompt the question, wtf, jason?

so let me also acknowledge this: i didn’t exactly maintain a strict ban on watching my beloved bears this past season.  i tried to stay away.  but then some guys would invite me to the bar to watch monday night football with them, and i’d want to hang out with them because i haven’t seen them in a while, and then i’d see alshon jeffery make an absolutely sick catch against dallas, and then i’ve fallen off the wagon, as it were.

Read more »

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