Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Press Liberties: Valerie Plame

At a family get-together in Flint this weekend, talk turned political, as it's inclined to do among the offspring of sit-down strikers (don't even get us started on NAFTA). My mother expressed dismay at the lack of a riot -- by the press and public -- over the president's commutation of "Scooter" Libby's sentencing for obstruction of justice, etc. "It's treason," she said. "Why would Martha Stewart have to serve time, but not someone who commits treason? Why isn't the press up in arms about this?"

It's simple. The press isn't reacting much because they'd be implicating themselves. Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and whoever else is involved on the executive-branch level didn't buy themselves some airtime on CNN or ad space in Time magazine to reveal CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the world. Columnist Robert Novak wrote about it, and the press published this information. Valerie Plame was outed by national media, not just the president's operatives. When this first happened in 2003, I fully expected Novak to face charges, along with a slew of publishers.

And why didn't that happen?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Today's Quote: The Lightbulb Factory

This was not my first stint as a freelancer,
but it was the first time I was forced to think,
and write, on my feet.
It taught me the truly invaluable lesson
that inspiration is a product, not an engine.

—Heather Shaw, introducing herself as the new editor in chief of Foreword magazine, a trade publication for independent publishers, bookbuyers and librarians. Congratulations, Heather!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Freelancers: Forging a New World Order

A witty freelancer on one of my writing groups recently posted this must-see parody of the many please-write-for-free ads on Internet job boards: "If All Craigslist Job Postings Were for Freelance Writers."

It does beg a sad question: What other industry--besides publishing--has such seriously medieval modi operandi?

Backwater MO 1: The byline is payment. I once had an editor, after distributing my work to 19 other papers in his chain (without permission), tell me: "Most writers would be flattered by the exposure." BZZT! Wrong answer! Freelancers, like normal grownups, trade work for money.

But maybe I'm stuck in industrial-age thinking. Maybe publishing is the front line of an economic revolution. Imagine all the people living life in an economy that operates on flattery and exposure. Hey big guy; Well aren't you just the sexiest, most magnificent mortgage company, EVER? Imagine my front lawn filled with those promo signs for house painters, electricians, pool builders, Prius, couture houses, FAO Schwarz, Travel Barcelona!, Bank of America, and so on. Imagine newspapers giving us free subscriptions for giving them good word-of-mouth.

I think we're onto something.

Inexplicable MO 2: Returns. Booksellers order as many books as they want, put their spines on shelves for a month and return those that don't sell via distributers -- and publishers are charged for all of this, including shipping and the distributor's time and shelf space. Any wonder why author royalties have slipped into single digits? This approach began during The Depression as a way to entice sellers to carry products in lean times. It made life simple for booksellers because there was no risk—ask any consignment shop.

Instead of feeling pissed-upon and slighted as writers and independent publishers, perhaps we should reframe this one too: Maybe the planet would benefit if all industries adopted this business model. If our Bibb lettuce wilts before we make our BLT's, return it to ConAgra on their dime, for a full refund. If we never wear that mall-bought T-shirt from China, just ship it back across the Pacific, C.O.D. If we don't finish our antibiotic, return the unused portion to Glaxo-Mega-Pharma for $20-a-tab, plus shipping. (And turn those returns around quickly: Buy more stock in FedEx and UPS.)

Naturally this everything's-on-consignment M.O. could extend to non-tangibles as well. Haven't exercised your Second Amendment right to own a gun this year? No problem! Since you didn't use one of your Bill-of-Rights rights, return it! Expect a 10 percent tax abatement. No car accidents this year? Great. That means you didn't use your insurance. Return it! Allstate will send you a full refund for a year's worth of premiums. Fall asleep during trailers on that DVD? Only watch three of the 76 stations on your cable roster? Well.. you get the picture.

See? It's the start of a new world order.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Parade of Homes: Rooms With(out) a View

A girlfriend called with tickets to the region's parade of homes, so I ditched work to see what's happening out there in the world of high-dollar abodes. Nothing earth-shattering, but I'm loving the little Seaside, Florida, neo-urban communities that continue cropping up, with a pre-suburban mentality: alleys, sidewalks, close proximity to one another. (Thanks for saving some farm fields, folks!)

The biggest delight was a cottage-style home with high ceilings and transoms over the regular windows. The use of up space totally changed the scale of the home, making it cozy and expansive at the same time. (And apparently it's good for the brain. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research says high ceilings prompts a sense of freedom, which lets problem-solving skills to flourish.)

I didn't see any huge home design or decor innovations, just lots of the white Bosch washers, silver SubZero refrigerators, granite countertops, cherry-wood floors, wine cellars, home theaters, bazillion-jet showers and a fixation on Prairie-School-meets-Pacific-Northwoods design. Colors trended toward browns, taupes, bamboos and buttery tones, with occasional black and red accents.

The biggest surprise? Home design. Most of the extravagent homes up here have million-dollar views of waters, primarily Grand Traverse Bay, a huge body of water off Lake Michigan (see below). These homes of course played to those views. In most, you see water the instant you walk into a space. It was gorgeous—until you looked more closely at the space, and realized that if you lived there, you'd only see the water when you walked in. Not when you're in bed. Not when you're in the tub. Not when you're sitting on the couch knitting. From beds, tubs and couches, you'd see walls, cabinets and rooftops. Ouch!

Here's hoping next year's parade features rooms with usable views.

Top Photo: Morgan Farms, a neo-urban community in Traverse City, Michigan. Above: A view of the bay.