Hachette vs. Amazon, Finis?


Word arrived this afternoon that Hachette and Amazon have settled their differences. Amazon will restore the normal buttons to Hachette books over the next few weeks  and will resume normal shipping. Most important, Hachette will decide the price of its authors’ ebooks. The company “will benefit from better terms when it delivers lower prices for readers,” according to the Guardian.

It is a relief that this dispute is winding down. It won’t be over until the beginning of 2015 when the new agreement takes effect.

The larger concern remains, however. As I mentioned in “Hachette vs. Amazon, Encore,” Amazon has created a climate of distaste, if not aversion. It has given me great pleasure to buy books from the local retailers and to order items from other etailers. I’ll probably return to the ebehemoth at some point but will always look elsewhere first.

The great benefit is that authors who operate autonomously found a cooperative voice, outside of a union setting (which I also heartily endorse). To use an analogy that arises in connection with independent operators, organizing writers is like herding cats.  Amazon succeeded in creating a pride of lions, which included  cheetahs, tigers, leopards, and a few mild-mannered house cats. Don’t know if the pride will continue to prowl in defense of writers, but just the knowledge that it happened is empowering.


No Copy, No Paste

A quick note to start: I heard weather ’casters in New York and Connecticut say with glee that the temp here was sixty degrees higher than it was in Denver. That would be sixty-four vs. four. If it’s any solace, the temp dropped ten degrees in the hour of my walk this afternoon, sixty-seven when I headed out, fifty-seven when I returned to the car. Plus the wind shifted from the balm of southwest to the knife of northwest.

Fareed Zakaria
Fareed Zakaria

Now to the main topic. Fareed Zakaria has come under the plagiarism microscope again. This time the WaPo has issued the pronouncement that five of his editorial contributions “strike [the editor] as problematic in their absence of full attribution.” I obtained that quote from Poynter, which obtained it from “Post finds ‘problematic’ sourcing in some Zakaria columns.

The charges are actually old news, since the most recent transgression appears to have occurred two years ago after Zakaria had been disciplined for similar “problems” in Newsweek and on Slate.

The source for all this latest round is “Our Bad Media.” The weird sidebar to the piece is that HuffPo czar Arianna Huffington, no friend of working journalists, has muzzled her pack because Zakaria complained.

The columnist in question produces a huge volume of material under tight deadlines. So do many other more august writers who’ve been accused of plagiarism, c.f., Doris Kearns Goodwin. (According to the Daily Beast , Slate has disavowed a Zakaria column.)

So here are two very small suggestions to reduce  this incestuous journalistic version of La Ronde: Eliminate the copy/paste function from all word processing programs and disable it on existing machines. Ditto automatic placing and numbering of footnotes.

Plagiarism (“using or stealing the words or ideas of others” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language) occurs all the time – see Romeo and Juliet / West Side Story. But it is made so much easier with the e-functions. Note that Lenny B. didn’t steal Willie S.’s words, merely the story, which he turned into a modern classic. If we all have to create our own narrative, the chances of plagiarism are reduced. Of course, per Oscar Wilde, if you’re a genius you are allowed to steal. Zakaria remains a talent, and even that status is under challenge, again.

Redux, Redux Part II

A Rose for Isis
A Rose for Isis

Here’s another section in the six-month review.

  • I’ve passed along “Why I Volunteer” to a number of people. Those hours at the hospital are even more important now than they were when I wrote it because the place just seems more welcoming. It’ll be seven years in February, and I’m thrilled to still be contributing.
  • Still doing that 7-minute workout (“Seven Minutes“), though not as often because the weather’s been great for walking. Still can’t do the push-ups and rotation, or the side plank. Since I just returned to my weight-lifting class after a month’s hiatus, I won’t be able to lift anything heavier than a tissue over the next few days. That bottle of ibuprofen has replaced coffee as my best friend for now.
  • The state of my office  remains hopeless. You were expecting otherwise?
  • Isis’s rose (“A Rose for Isis”) bloomed until just a few days ago. It cheers me to look at the picture.
  • Sushi California (“Better Than Sushi Friday“) remains spectacular, though a bit distracted now as it has expanded into the space next door and is adding a hibachi bar and more seating. PLEASE vent the hibachi with super fans.
  • Upset that Amazon is still bludgeoning the publishing industry. (“Authors Lose” and other entries.)
  • To end on a more frivolous note, I actually saw a gentleman, older and otherwise well groomed, walking around in a shorts suit this summer. (“Fashion Faux, Faux Pas” ) It wasn’t as scary as I expected but still a bit jarring.

What I’m Reading Now

halfAnother in an occasional series. There is a growing body of work connecting the growth of America to the institution of slavery. Ties between Ivy League schools and slave trading and owning cast the rise of those universities in a new light. Several years ago, I contributed to a project for the Hartford Courant entitled “Complicity: How Connecticut Chained Itself to Slavery.” A number of writers have acknowledged their families’ roles in perpetrating and perpetuating the cruelties and horrors of human bondage.

Now comes Edward E. Baptist with The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Taking his title from a statement made by Lorenzo Ivy to a WPA interviewer, (“Truly, son the half has never been told”), Baptist creates a mosaic. He aims to tell the story of slavery chronologically using the various parts human body that the drivers, overseers, owners, and  other bottom-feeders exploited. The metaphor comes from Ralph Ellison: “On the moral level I propose we view the whole of American life as a drama enacted on the body of a Negro giant who, lying trussed up like Gulliver, forms the stage and the scene upon which and within which the action unfolds.”

The metaphor holds. The introduction, titled “Heart,” which includes Ivy’s statement, is dated 1937. Baptist then turns back to “Feet,” “Heads,” “Right Hand,” and so forth. I’m about to start on “Left Hand,” covering the period from 1805 to the start of the Civil War. He has managed to excavate from all manner of documents the painful and tragic lives of men and women dragged from homes and family in the “Old South” of Virginia and Maryland to the raw wilderness and malarial swamps of parts of the continent that had belonged to Spain and France.

The narrative illuminates the pain and horror. It also indicts every part of life in America – banks, insurance companies, the military, churches, and of course the government .

The Half is not easy to read. Emotionally wrenching is probably the best description. It also contains detailed charts and graphs and statistics to compile this serious indictment of the outrageous American way of life.

To Bernie, With Love

Dr. Bernie Siegel
Dr. Bernie Siegel

I met a rock star, actually way better than a rock star. Dr. Bernie Siegel presented “Grow Young With Me” at a Symposium on Arts and Aging. I’ve bought and read and given away ten or more copies of Love, Medicine & Miracles. And I’ve read and re-read Peace, Love & Healing. It has always been my dream to meet the man who created these books full of wisdom, laughter, and most of all love. (Hint: The message is in the titles.)

Today my dream came true. I dug out a very beat up copy of LMM and a more pristine copy of PLH and found my way to the large hall.

There was no one about when I approached and handed him my books, told him of my serial purchases. I was a bit embarrassed about the dog-eared pages, markings, and rumpled cover of LLM. I told him that I had given my former boss a copy when he had terminal cancer and that his wife said it was the only book he wanted to read

He said, “Oh, good. You do what I do. You mark up the books. I find new things when I read. What’s your first name?” I said “Liz.” While he was signing, I picked out two new books. 365 Prescriptions for the Soul and Faith, Hope & Healing. Can’t wait to absorb the energy that comes through the pages he creates.

He was everything I expected and more. He talked about the mind-body connection. He talked about giving up on negative emotions. He talked a great deal about humor. One favorite because he’s maintaining a great relationship with a collection of people, and it involves food. His family orders pizza and when he goes in, he asks is the Chinese food ready. This goes on for some time – the owner gets it, the help doesn’t. One night he walks in and there’s a row of take-out containers from a Chinese restaurant lined up on the counter.

One where I knew the answer: He says he has pictures of everyone in the room, and no one can tell us apart. Answer: It’s a picture of our hearts. “We’re all the same on the inside.”

One that I need to work on: The least happy people in heaven are the vegetarian, meditating joggers. His response, “Have a lobster.” I’ll eat to that!

I was hyperventilating when I sat down after talking to him, and it took me a bit to collect myself and look at the autographs. Every book was signed “To Liz With Love, Bernie Siegel.”

At the beginning of his talk, Bernie asked what was the best day of your life. I knew the answer. It’s not “The day I gave birth” or “The day I got married.” It’s today. And that is so very true.

To everyone reading this, have the best day of your life, today and every day. With love, Liz.

Revisiting Reckless

The veterans’ writing group “We Were There” sponsored author Janet Barrett for a discussion of her mesmerizing book They Called Her Reckless: A True Story of War, Love and One Extraordinary Horse.

Janet Barrett, author of 'They Called Her Reckless'
Janet Barrett, author of ‘They Called Her Reckless’

The sixty people (including a large number of very well-behaved sixth-graders) paid rapt attention as Janet re-created the life of the little horse, technically a pony, who became a Marine, and carried ammo for the Fifth Regiment during the Korean War. Here’s a link to my blog entry in “What I’m Reading Now.”

Janet talked without notes for more than forty minutes – a sign of true passion for, and knowledge of, her subject. Since the book and her talk included details of battles, troop landings, and other things military, which were far beyond her areas of expertise when she began the project.

One of the veterans in our group, clutching his new copy, said afterward, “I love war stories.” I promised him that these were good ones, with doses of humor and pathos thrown in.

Listening to Janet tonight has inspired me to redouble my efforts in the main project on my agenda.

Thank you!

Busy, Busy

It’s been one of those days … all week. Since September, I’ve done a presentation at the Godfrey Library, one for teachers at the Mark Twain House, and one for an African American lit class at Naugatuck Valley Community College.

Now it’s going to speed up.

  • lisI’m excited to be on WLIS/WMRD radio at 12:30 p.m. on Monday talking about “We Were There,” the veterans’ writing workshop.
  • I’ll be doing another presentation about the group to a church organization.
  • Then in December, I’ll be back at the Mark Twain House. Stay tuned for more information about that, as it will be open to the public.
  • In between time, I’ve got two other projects in the works and am starting up an editing job again.

Sometime in there the house needs cleaning, the bills need paying, and maybe I’ll find a minute or two to sleep.

RIP, Tom Magliozzi


As I tweeted yesterday, I learned pretty much everything I know about cars from Click and Clack. Even the stuff that was totally wrong. I’ve been listening to Car Talk so long I got so I could predict when Tom was going to recommend fire as the solution to an automotive problem. “The boys” were supposed to go on forever. May they live in reruns ad infinitum.

A great many people have contributed memories. Here are links to good stuff.

Boston.com supplies the commencement address at MIT. I’m watching as the election coverage goes on the trajectory from boring to insufferable.

Roy Peter Clark on Poynter offers a synopsis of what made Car Talk special, though reading the dry words fails to do justice to the hilarity (and more than good advice) emitting from the radio or iPod.

Everyone mentions Tom’s outrageous laugh first. After that, it is the bad jokes, especially the foot-in-mouth discussions about women in general and his wives in particular, which led to nights spent in the garage. That would be the one at his home not the Last Chance. Another favorite is his imitation of the Army sergeant who tormented him southern-style, calling him “Praaavt Mag-liozzi.”

And then there was his constant failure to remember the puzzler from the previous week. The only exceptions: when he cheated and looked at Ray’s notes, or asked the staff. “Turns out he wasn’t kidding. He really couldn’t remember last week’s puzzler,” Ray said. Outrageous.

So, Tom, RIP. I know you and your 1963 Dodge Dart are happy in the hereafter.

Education As It Should Be

I had the privilege to speak to a class at Naugatuck Valley Community College tonight. It was a pleasure to address a group of engaged and focused students.


My friend Bill Foster teaches an array of classes (including martial arts)  and invited me to make a presentation.

Larry and I went over the river and through the woods – well actually over the river and through masses of traffic – to a vibrant college that has parking lots, street level and multi-level, almost as big as the classroom buildings.

We parked at one end of the monolith and after making inquiries walked to the other end where we passed what I thought was an actual student in mortar board and robe. It turned out to be a mannequin. Almost as scary the traffic.

Bill introduced a woman who invited students to donate gloves, scarves, and hats for a winter clothing drive. It put me in mind of the time Mother visited in Philadelphia in the winter without gloves. My ever practical mother had left me dumbfounded. (It wasn’t the first time.) No gloves? She said, “I gave them to a woman who needed them more than I did.” We foraged in my closet for a pair. Her Christmas present that year: very expensive suede, fur-lined gloves, which she never gave away.

That prelude meant Ann Petry was watching over us tonight. I hope her message continues to resonate.

Bill’s students are the sort that every teacher wants and an argument in favor of pouring whatever money is available into continuing and expanding these sorts of endeavors.

Thank you for letting me be part of this process.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

George copy

It was never relaxing, but we always had fun, especially when the kids in their costumes sang “Happy Birthday.” I remember  years that we tag-teamed answering the door for trick-or-treaters as we tried to eat a birthday dinner.

Here’s a recap of some of the earlier posts on my dad’s life.

  • My dad told me that my grandfather had a falling out with his brother because Uncle Fisher refused to educate his children. My grandfather, on the other hand, sacrificed a great deal to send my father and his brothers and sisters to Catholic schools. Since there were only three high schools for black students in the entire state of Louisiana when my dad was young, my grandfather sent Daddy to New York where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School and enrolled at Columbia University, though he had to drop out for financial reasons.
  • I used to call my father the black Archie Bunker. To quote him referring to Vince Lombardi, he hated everybody regardless of race, creed, or religion. Except Jewish people. Daddy said he had the ultimate respect for Jews because they respected education above all else. And so did he.
  • My father’s garden not only nourished my body but my knowledge of plants. He and the other men in the neighborhood had a competition every summer to see who could do the best – the biggest tomatoes, the most corn, etc. Because of a couple huge cherry trees, we had a rather limited area for vegetables, so Daddy went for exotic rather than quantity. Being a Son of the South, he decided to return to his own roots, so to speak. One year he planted peanuts. They were great, but the next year the shells were about the size of a pencil eraser, and the nuts were practically invisible. He learned later that he should have turned the plot to clover for a season because it fixes the nitrogen that the peanuts take out of the soil.
  • And he could cook. My signature dish, well one of them. is Shrimp Jambalaya, which came up from the bayou along with the southern inflected vegetable garden. It’s basically stew made with rice and whatever vegetables, meat, or seafood one has hanging around, flavored with lots of Tabasco among other spices.

We never had jambalaya for his birthday because no one could make it to his satisfaction, so dinner would be roast beef in my little kid days and some crab and shrimp casserole when everyone had more or less given up meat.

So, Daddy, I hope you’re still tending your garden and cooking great food, and enjoying the little kids singing on this Halloween birthday!