Archive for March, 2012

Why I Love Pinterest

Posted in Internet, Uncategorized with tags , , on March 20, 2012 by JE Cornett

This is why I love Pinterest.

You know that warm fuzzy feeling you get from looking at old photo albums? That excitement you feel when you flip through a magazine or book full of pictures of pretty, quirky, disturbing or even frightening images? How about that slightly-overwhelmed anticipation that comes from entering a store full of things you love, even if you’re just window-shopping?

That, in three gushing sentences, is how I feel about Pinterest.

I’ve never been a big fan of social networking sites (I blog without a drop of irony). I took one look at Myspace — remember Myspace, anyone? — and felt queasy. I more or less quit Facebook because, frankly, I’m not interested in the minutae of anyone’s life, including those that I love. And don’t even get me started on Twitter.

But Pinterest is… different. While Pinterest is ostensibly a social network, it’s one that requires very little actual interaction. Instead of a barrage of tweets about what someone’s watching on TV or status updates letting you know that so-and-so is having lunch and the fajitas are great, Pinterest is purely images (with a few slogans thrown in). The difference between Facebook or Twitter  and Pinterest is half-baked ideas versus the ideal.

You don’t get someone’s shrill political opinions on Pinterest. Rather, you get images of their favorite movie star or the sofa they’d love to have. No one takes pictures of their dinner and posts it to Pinterest — rather, you get 101 recipes that use Nutella. There’s no play-by-play of what so-and-so’s kids/team/TV show is doing. Instead, there are pictures of the best playroom/best sports picture/TV still. Pinterest is the aspirational, rather than the daily dregs.

But that’s not even why I love Pinterest. As much as I do adore seeing friends and strangers’ favorite recipes, cute animal pictures, decorating ideas, style inspirations and so on, what I really like is revisiting my own pins. As I troll the interwebs aand see things that I love, whether it’s books, old movie stills, beautifully decorated rooms, cats, vintage illustrations, toys from my childhood, my virtual boyfriends and so forth, I pin these images to my Pinterest boards. Pinterest is, for me, a scrapbook, a place I can paste the things that I love and visit them again and again and again.

Maybe in a year or so I’ll be over Pinterest the way I am Facebook and Twitter, but I doubt it. It’s hard to get tired of seeing all the little things that make you happy.  No matter what sort of day I’m having, I can rely on Pinterest for a few pleasant moments spent with the odds and ends that always make me smile.

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Book Review: “Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins” by Diane Diekman

Posted in Biography, Music, Non-Fiction, Reviews with tags , , , , on March 13, 2012 by JE Cornett

Cover Blurb:

Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins is the first biography of this legendary country music artist and NASCAR driver who scored sixteen number-one hits and two Grammy awards. Yet even with fame and fortune, Marty Robbins always yearned for more.

Drawing from personal interviews and in-depth research, biographer Diane Diekman explains how Robbins saw himself as a drifter, a man always searching for self-fulfillment and inner peace. Born Martin David Robinson to a hardworking mother and abusive alcoholic father, he never fully escaped from the insecurities burned into him by a poverty-stricken nomadic childhood in the Arizona desert. In 1947 he got his first gig as a singer and guitar player. Too nervous to talk, the shy young man walked onstage singing. Soon he changed his name to Marty Robbins, cultivated his magnetic stage presence, and established himself as an entertainer, songwriter, and successful NASCAR driver.

For fans of Robbins, NASCAR, and classic country music, Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins is a revealing portrait of this well-loved, restless entertainer, a private man who kept those who loved him at a distance.

Marty Robbins’ career and personal life seem rather tame, compared to peers like Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings. No drug or alcohol addiction continually threaten to ruin Robbins’ career or end his life.  No love-life pathos — Robbins remained married to his wife, Marizona, until his untimely death in 1982. Robbins never fell from grace with music fans, so a triumphant rediscovery is not part of his legend.

But don’t make the mistake of letting a lack of high drama turn you off from Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins. Robbins was a fascinating artist in his own right, and Diane Diekman’s book does him justice.

Many music biographies fall into two categories: those that read more like recording session notes, focusing almost entirely on the artist’s recorded output, and those that instead focus too tightly on the artist’s personal life. Twentieth Century Drifter strikes the perfect balance. While Diekman includes many details about the intensely private Robbins’ personal life, she also spends a lot of time on Robbins’ songwriting routines, stories behind some of his most beloved songs and his recording habits. Diekman’s attention to these details is valuable; despite being one of the most popular artists of his day, Marty Robbins is remembered today mostly for one song, his iconic “El Paso.” It’s a disservice that Diekman’s book does much to rectify, revealing Robbins as the bridge over the gap between country music’s first iconic singer-songwriter, Hank Williams, and those who came after Robbins in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

The scope of Robbins’ career more than makes up for the lack of tabloid-worthy drama. In between writing and recording hundreds of songs in several genres over four decades, Robbins acted in several movies, starred in two television shows, was a regular performer on The Grand Ole Opry, and operated his own publishing companies and record label.

His most famous second career, however, was that of a NASCAR racing driver. Although Robbins was never a champion driver, he logged respectable finishes on several of the circuit’s biggest tracks. Not surprisingly, the 1970s section of Diekman’s book is dominated by Robbins’ NASCAR career, something Robbins would have appreciated.

Hopefully, Twentieth Century Drifter will introduce Marty Robbins to a new generation of fans while satisfying existing fans’ need to explore Robbins’ life and career.

And here’s a bit of useless trivia — Marty Robbins’ most famous song, “El Paso” was frequently covered by the Grateful Dead in their live shows. In total, the band performed the song almost 400 times, which probably rivals the number of times Robbins himself played the song.

And here’s a bit of useful media:

And some more:

Jessica Simpon’s Nude “Elle” Cover Reveals More About Prejudice Than Pregnancy

Posted in Magazines, Uncategorized on March 9, 2012 by JE Cornett

Jessica Simpson normally flies so low under my radar that I hardly remember what she’s supposed to be famous for, but when a friend of mine sent me a link to an online Elle article about the star, I clicked out of curiosity. Why, I wondered, would anyone send me a link to a Jessica Simpson article?

I’m sure my friend was probably surprised by the nude and almost-nude pictures of the heavily pregnant Simpson, but I hardly noticed the pictures, so amazed was I by the excerpts from the”interview”  Elle writer Marshall Sella conducted with Simpson. Why? Read on:

Ah swear, ah will croak if she asks me for a pair of Nikes instead of Christian Louboutins!” she blurts out, her Dallas accent swooping back in this moment of heightened anxiety. “Eric is so athletic. We’re gonna have this ath-a-letic girl and I won’t even be able to take her shopping.”

“I’m still standin’,” she drawls. “I grew up very strong! You know, my father used to be an adolescent therapist. I remember sitting at his office, watching the girls walkin’ in and out. Kids doin’ coke at 16…heroin. Pregnant at 14. I could see what I didn’t want to be.”

We get it, Sella. Simpson has a pronounced Southern accent (pun intended). What I don’t get, however, is why this is such a big deal to Sella that the writer not only remarks on it more than once, but proceeds to write Simpson’s responses in dialect.

I was blown away by the utter crassness of the interview excerpts. It reminded me, honestly, of early 1900s interviews with black entertainers or Southern entertainers — interviews from an era when it was okay to marginalize people from other races or regions.

That Sella pulled this off in the 21st Century is amazing to me, but the fact that an army of editors and fact-checkers that work on a piece of this magnitude in a magazine like Elle had no problem with it is just insulting.

What’s worse is knowing that if Simpson were a New Yorker with a Bronx accent, or a Minnesotan with the well-recognized Midwestern accent, I wouldn’t be writing this. Because I doubt that Sella would have commented upon her accent at all, much less have written Simpson’s responses in dialect.

Evidently Simpson is not known for being the sharpest knife in the drawer — one of her claims to fame is thinking that Chicken of the Sea really is chicken, I discovered — but she’s doing something right. She’s parlayed dubious talents into a billion dollar clothing/shoes/accessories empire, and she’s also starring in something called “Fashion Star.” Yet Sella can find nothing more compelling about Simpson than the fact that she’s afraid her unborn child will be “ath-a-letic?”

To get an idea of just how asinine Sella’s slant on the article is, contrast it with this excerpt from a 2007 Elle profile of Jessica Simpson I dug up on the magazine’s website. The author, by the way, was Andrew Goldman, and this is one of Simpson’s responses:

It’s that whole “They build you up to tear you down” thing. But in a lot of ways I think I brought that on myself because I did a reality show. I let people in on who I am and how I react to my husband. That’s a big deal. Celebrities don’t do that. So I think they brought me down just because I stopped talking and because I have not spoken—and will not speak—about my divorce. And I think that people feel like I owe them my reality right now. And I’ve learned to keep it sacred. Yes, it gave me an amazing career, but there are just some things I want to keep private now, and I’m begging and pleading for privacy. I’m still a very open person, but now I know what to guard.

If you know that Simpson is from Texas, and everything I’ve found written about her today points that out absolutely, then it’s easy to read the Goldman interview passage hearing a Southern accent. The difference is, Goldman didn’t feel compelled to make Simpson read as “different than” or “less than” because of her Southern accent. While it’s obvious that Goldman didn’t taken any pains to make Simpson read as more witty or well-spoken than she probably is, he also didn’t take any pains to make her read like Ma Kettle.

Marshall Sella, whomever that may be, should be ashamed. I just hope that when she reads the article, Simpson isn’t ashamed. She has nothing to be ashamed of — even if she does think that Chicken of the Sea is truly chicken.

Justice Department Possibly Suing Apple, Publishers Regarding Agency Pricing

Posted in Book News, E-books, Uncategorized on March 8, 2012 by JE Cornett

I’ve grumbled for months about the agency pricing scheme that drove up the price of many e-books, wondering how on earth such a patently disingenuous scheme could not violate anti-trust laws.

Now it would appear that the Justice Department is wondering the same thing. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Justice Department has warned Apple and five major publishers of their intent to sue them for “allegedly colluding to raise the price of electronic books.”

The five publishers who’ve been warned are Simon & Schuster Inc.; Hachette Book Group;  Penguin Group (USA); Macmillan; and HarperCollins.

The possible litigation stems from Apple’s push to radically alter the way publishers price e-books as the tech company promoted the iPad as a tablet/e-reader in 2010. In the past, publishers had traditionally sold books to retailers for around half of the recommended cover price — i.e. wholesale. Retailers were then free to sell the books for less than cover price if they so desired. However, this wholesale model, originally designed for physical books, was upended by Amazon and the Kindle, when Amazon began routinely selling e-books for less than the suggested retail price as the company worked to promote the Kindle line of e-readers.

Amazon’s strategy did not sit well with publishers or with their biggest competitor in the tablet/e-reader market, Apple. According to the WSJ article, the late Steve Jobs, along with several major publishers, cooked up an “agency model” pricing strategy, under which the publishers would set the price of their e-books, allowing Apple to take a 30% cut of the profits. While that’s hardly egregious, Apple sweetened the deal for themselves with a stipulation demanding that publishers not allow rival retailers to sell the same book at a lower price. The new agency pricing model put rival e-book retailers over the figurative barrel; retailers were required to sign an agency pricing contract, or be denied access to the included publishers’ e-books.

According to WSJ, “the Justice Department believes that Apple and the publishers acted in concert to raise prices across the industry, and is prepared to sue them for violating federal antitrust laws.”

The Justice Department isn’t the only entity concerned about the lopsided agency pricing scheme. The European Union is also investigating the agency pricing scheme, and multiple class-action lawsuits have been filed and consolidated in a New York federal court, questioning the legality of such a scheme. Also not surprisingly, Apple moved to dismiss the class-action case, claiming that it did not collude with publishers to change the pricing structure for e-books. In their motion to dismiss, WSJ reports that Apple argues that their entry into the e-book market simply “created new competition in eBook distribution and a vastly larger pool of eBook consumers.”

WSJ sources say that several of the parties involved have held negotiations to settle the case. This could prevent a court battle that can only make the agency pricing scheme look worse than it already does.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

Agency pricing has artificially inflated the costs of e-books long enough. And as for me, I’m glad to see Apple getting as much of the blame as the agency publishers. While e-book purchasers, retailers, and libraries alike have decried the agency pricing scheme for a year now, most of the ire has been directed at the big bad publishers. I’m not sure if this is due to misinformation, or just the goodwill that Apple has created among the millions of people who love the company’s products.

I believe that Apple fully expected to be given a pass on all fronts for their alleged role in the agency pricing scheme. From other e-book retailers and e-reader manufacturers, to libraries and the law, it seems to me that the prevailing wisdom at Apple was that their rabidly loyal following wouldn’t care about their involvement in the agency pricing scheme. And now, the company would appear to be distancing itself from the whole drama, or at least that ‘s what I take from the company’s argument to dismiss the class action lawsuit in New York.  The company’s claims that it simply created so high a demand for e-books with the iPad and other products that the pricing model had to change is insulting, not only to consumers but to other manufacturers and retailers of e-readers and e-books. Apple’s part in the agency pricing scheme seems clear, at least if you believe the Justice Department’s allegations. And I do.

For me, the best part of the whole WSJ article was this statement in regards to the deal struck between Apple and the publishers:

Contracts such as Apple’s prevent publishers from selling books to other buyers at a cheaper rate. Such terms, known as “most favored nation” clauses, have drawn the scrutiny of the Justice Department in recent years in the health-care industry because they can sometimes be used to hamper competition.

While I’m sure the language is hidebound, comparing Apple to a “most favored nation” is nevertheless succinct. And who has more experience with the favoritism toward Apple than the Justice Department’s employees, whose Blackberrys are being retired in favor of iPhones?

Now, if we can just get something done about the publishers’ blatant discrimination toward libraries