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There is another book award coming soon. It’s called the Quills, and it seems to be an effort to bring books and authors to a marketing level a little more on par with film and the Oscars (the award ceremony will be broadcast on NBC in October). The unique piece of this book award will…

The Quills

imageThere is another book award coming soon. It’s called the Quills, and it seems to be an effort to bring books and authors to a marketing level a little more on par with film and the Oscars (the award ceremony will be broadcast on NBC in October). The unique piece of this book award will make it more People’s Choice rather than an Academy Award--readers will be able to vote on their favorites from a list of finalists for each category chosen by “experts.” Here is the press release and the Web site. Let me know what you think.

Reed Business Information (RBI) and the NBC Universal Television Stations have joined forces to launch The Quill Awards, a new national book award that honors excellence in book publishing and includes consumers in the voting process.

Designed to inspire reading while promoting literacy, the Quills will honor winners in more than 15 different categories, including Book of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Lifetime Achievement. The first Quill Awards will be presented in October 2005, during a star-studded ceremony that will be carried on the 14 NBC Universal Owned and Operated Television Stations.

An extensive national panel of booksellers and librarians selected from RBI’s Publishers Weekly subscriber base will make the initial nominations. Then, opening the awards process to include the reading public, winners will be determined by consumers voting online and in bookstores. NBC Universal’s stations group will create the backbone of the online consumer voting system, which will be featured on all of the station’s websites in the weeks leading up to the awards ceremony.

In addition, The Quill Awards event will benefit a newly created not-for-profit, The Quills Literacy Foundation. As part of its mission, the foundation’s Executive Council will evaluate existing literacy programs and direct funding to support a variety of qualified literacy-based initiatives.

“There are no consumer-driven awards that acknowledge the power and importance of the written word,” noted Jay Ireland, President, NBC Universal Television Stations. “We are proud of the role the NBC Universal Television Stations will play in helping to launch the Quill Awards and create a destination television event that celebrates reading and promotes literacy.”

Gerry Byrne, former publisher of Variety and Daily Variety, who has spent decades leading initiatives in media and communications, designed the program and will supervise The Quill Awards and serve as Chairman of The Quills Literacy Foundation, which he founded.

“With The Quills, we will create excitement among consumers, bring well-deserved recognition to writers, energize and invigorate the marketplace, and most importantly, interest more people in buying and reading books,” said Byrne, adding, “We are thrilled to have the NBC Universal Television Stations involved which will give these awards and what they represent a dramatically higher profile.”

Bill McGorry, Publisher of Publishers Weekly, said that RBI’s interest in the awards program originated some time ago in an effort to spur sales of books.

“A healthy publishing industry is good for everyone—writers, publishers, booksellers, and of course readers,” said McGorry, “And we wanted to create the kind of broad-based awards program that really promotes new demand for books, at the same time that we benefit literacy causes.”

Notification of the Nominating Council for The Quill Awards will be completed by the end of February and the formal process of book selections will begin May 1, 2005. Mirroring the contender-naming domain of the Academy Awards or Golden Globes, this nominating “board” will be primarily composed of approximately 6,000 booksellers and librarians formed from a re-qualified national panel of Publishers Weekly subscribers.

Award categories will include: Book of the Year; Rookie of the Year; Book Club Award (committee selected); Children’s Book of the Year; Best Book to Film (committee selected); Graphic Novel of the Year; Design (Judge a Book by Its Cover Award—committee selected); Literary Fiction; Suspense/Mystery or Thriller; Science Fiction/Fantasy, or Horror; Romance; Biography/Memoir; Religion/Spirituality; Science; Health & Self Improvement; Sports; Business, and History/Current Events/Politics.

The Quills event and programs will be shaped and guided by a prestigious Executive Council including individuals from publishing, education, finance, media, and entertainment. This group will provide input on awards categories and advise on the selection of the annual distinguished service or lifetime achievement award.

Member of The Quills Executive Council Jane Friedman, President and CEO, HarperCollins Publishers, said, “The Quills not only recognizes books and their authors, but also includes a literacy initiative, significantly increasing its value to our communities. This new award is a reflection of the momentum for reading we see nationwide, characterized by ‘city reads’ programs, on-line book groups, and emerging genres becoming mainstream.”

“It is a time of tremendous innovation and opportunity for authors and publishers worldwide, and The Quill Awards have been created to recognize excellence in this market. We are very pleased to support this unique and important program,” said Randy Siegel, President and Publisher, Parade Publications, and member of The Quills Executive Council.

Patricia Schroeder, President and CEO, Association of American Publishers, commented, “Publishers and authors are thrilled that Quills will bring added consumer attention to the wide variety of outstanding books that are available, and placing more books into the hands of readers helps overall literacy and the health of the book business. We consider Quills a home run for all.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 30 2005 • Books

Neuroeconomics

image"Although Plato compared the human soul to a chariot pulled by the two horses of reason and emotion, modern economics has mostly been a one-horse show,” says a recent article in the Economist. “It has been obsessed with reason.” Yet, new research is showing that isn’t always the case. New technology allowing an almost second by second scan of brain activity has spurred the development of a new field: neuroeconomics. It’s a fascinating subject.

“For example, the idea that humans compute the “expected value” of future events is central to many economic models,” says the Economist. “Whether people will invest in shares or buy insurance depends on how they estimate the odds of future events weighted by the gains and losses in each case. Your pension, for example, might have a very low expected value if there is a large probability that bonds and shares will plunge just before you retire.” Yet research has shown that different parts of the brain are responsible for different types of economic decisions, particularly in short-term. And many of these are made in the same limbic systems responsible for emotion. It’s a fascinating article (many others on the subject are also starting to appear).

Speaking of Plato, I have been taking a mini-class at All Learn this weekend. If you are not familiar with it, you should check out their Web site. All Learn is a consortium of colleges (Oxford, Stanford, and Yale) that has combined their curriculum to produce some great online learning courses geared toward the general public. These are courses taught by the professors who are experts in the field. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal; I’m sure it won’t be my last class.

How does that relate to Plato? Well, we have been discussing Plato’s Republic, and the responsibility of the state or politics in matters of individual virtue. I believe my last entry dealt with the subject of democracy and that Plato believed such freedom only caused disorder; politics should mirror the natural order. And yet, we have been discussing how this might relate to Smith, and that doesn’t the “invisible hand” make a democratic system self-organizing, creating some natural order from chaos. As I said, the conversations can be just wonderful. I encourage you to check it out.

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 30 2005 • Current Affairs

Intellectual Life

imageHere is the book that relates to an earlier post I made regarding intellectual life. Jonathan Rose’s recent article was excerpted from his own book titled The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. Herre is how Amazon describes the book.

“Which books did the British working classes read--and how did they read them? How did they respond to canonical authors, penny dreadfuls, classical music, school stories, Shakespeare, Marx, Hollywood movies, imperialist propaganda, the Bible, the BBC, the Bloomsbury Group? What was the quality of their classroom education? How did they educate themselves? What was their level of cultural literacy: how much did they know about politics, science, history, philosophy, poetry, and sexuality? Who were the proletarian intellectuals, and why did they pursue the life of the mind? These intriguing questions, which until recently historians considered unanswerable, are addressed in this book. Using innovative research techniques and a vast range of unexpected sources, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes tracks the rise and decline of the British autodidact from the pre-industrial era to the twentieth century. It offers a new method for cultural historians--an “audience history” that recovers the responses of readers, students, theatergoers, filmgoers, and radio listeners. Jonathan Rose provides an intellectual history of people who were not expected to think for themselves, told from their perspective. He draws on workers’ memoirs, oral history, social surveys, opinion polls, school records, library registers, and newspapers. Through its novel and challenging approach to literary history, the book gains access to politics, ideology, popular culture, and social relationships across two centuries of British working-class experience.”

I think I want to add this to my list of books to read. It’s an interesting look at the life of the mind and the life of a society’s “culture” as well, however you define that. One London said this when describing the book: “A vast popular movement of voluntary collectivism created a hugely impressive working class culture - mutual improvement societies, Sunday schools, adult schools, libraries, reading circles, drama societies, musical groups, friendly societies, trade unions and mechanics’ institutes. The London Corresponding Society, the world’s first working class political organisation, met weekly; readings aloud provoked democratic discussion. Education’s purpose is to teach us to think for ourselves. The working class’s self-improving culture encouraged them to ask questions and voice their thoughts and feelings.” I like the thought of ideas discussed in the public square with a mind toward civic duty as well as self-improvement.

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 23 2005 • Books

Ahn-Plugged

imageA friend of mine recently gave me this CD, (Ahn Trio, Ahn-Plugged) and I just got around to listening to it. It is simply fantastic. I don’t know how to describe it. Three sisters play classical music together, beautifully. Yet their selection of pieces runs the gammet: from Leonard Bernstein, to a film score by Michael Nyman, to a wonderful piece written by Pat Metheny. This is my new favorite CD of the moment. Check it out. Here is what Barnes & Noble had to say about it.

“It can’t be true that all happy families are happy in the same way. When three sisters play together so very nicely, and are smart enough to commission such glorious pieces for piano trio, their happiness must be truly unique. Pianist Lucia Ahn, her twin Maria on cello, and their sister Angella on violin play with a maturity and depth that reflects their many years together since they were featured in a 1987 Time cover story on “Asian-American Whiz Kids.” With Ahn-Plugged, they venture into brand-new territory, commissioning angular, amusing, and intelligent works from Kenji Bunch and Eric Ewazen and selecting offbeat but charming compositions from the existing repertory for trio. Leonard Bernstein’s very early Trio (1937) contains thematic seeds that came to fruition in his score for On the Town. Michael Nyman has made an arrangement of the signature theme from The Piano for the three sisters. Ewazen wrote a classical musician’s paean to ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, and Bunch created a 21st-century tribute to Morton Gould and his 20th-century orchestral aesthetic. The addition of percussion in these pieces and some dreamy short works by Astor Piazzolla allow the Ahns to venture into sonic textures and tempos not ordinarily heard in chamber music. What they retain from their study of traditional chamber music is their ability to create a oneness of spirit while each member still plays to her particular strengths, contributing to an apparently seamless whole of beauty, tact, and infinite variety.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 23 2005 • Multimedia

Webs of Significance

image"Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”

—Clifford Geertz
“The Interpretation of Cultures”

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 22 2005 • Journalism

What the Bleep?

imageSome friends of mine just emailed me about this new film starring Marlee Matlin called What the (Bleep) Do We Know? It seems that is it gaining a cult following. From the Web site: “It’s a documentary. It’s a story. It has mind-blowing special effects. These three elements combine to bring about a film experience that will rock your mind and lift your soul! It’s a new genre about a New Worldview for a new audience.

“This outrageous film plunges you into a world where quantum uncertainty is demonstrated – where neurological processes, and perceptual shifts are engaged and lived by its protagonist - where everything is alive, and reality is changed by every thought.

“It has been called by some theater goers The Handbook to The Matrix. Like The Matrix it shows you a greater reality behind the one we all accept as true, and you have the ability to create absolutely anything from your own thought while laughing all the way!

“The difference between this film and that movie is that this isn’t science fiction. It’s even stranger. It’s real. And it’s the first film to say it. And it does so boldly and with a BLEEP of a lot of humor. And it’s being proven every day by minds like these.”

Here’s how Sid Smith of the Chicago Tribune describes the movie: “Complex and subtle, the ramifications of quantum physics are still known only to those with some knowledge of modern science. “Bleep” seeks to explore those ramifications, toss in a few more about cellular life and then draw conclusions about what all this means to personal behavior and—get ready—our notions of God.

“That’s a phenomenally tall order. But, while not perfect, while overcharged with hyperkinetic animation, a somewhat underdeveloped fictional drama and an overly loud volume, this is a pretty impressive stab at bringing everyday thought in line with the revolutionary implications of scientific discovery.”

My graduate school alma mater emailed me seeing if I had any interest in attending a one credit seminar in April based on the film, to be taught by a futurist, a philosopher and a physics professor. How cool is that? Now, I really want to see it. I see it’s playing at a nearby theater--I hope I can make it before it leaves town.

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 22 2005 • Multimedia

Sans Swimsuit

This year, Sports Illustrated readers can elect not to receive the annual swimsuit issue. According to an article in a recent New York Times, there are people who find beautiful women in expensive bikinis as “alien to the mission of a weekly sports magazine.” I can see their point.

“The anti-swimsuit-issue backlash never developed into a mass movement of anti-bikinists burning the special winter edition in protest,” writes Richard Sandomir. “But there have been letters, more in the past than now, saying that the pictorials objectify women.

“And occasionally, there have been demonstrations outside the magazine’s office building in Manhattan. But now the magazine is inviting subscribers to say “no thanks” to Veronica Varekova, Carolyn Murphy and other models, including the one who will be the winner of a new reality show, NBC’s “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search.”

So far, 25,829 paid subscribers, out of Sports Illustrated’s total of 3.2 million, or 0.8 percent, have asked not to receive the swimsuit issue, writes Sandomir. “Terry McDonell, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, said: “It’s my third swimsuit issue and I wanted to flag this, because I think it’s a good policy. I was thinking that if a family doesn’t want this coming into their house, with six boys between the ages of 7 and 11, we should show them that it’s our responsibility.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 21 2005 • Journalism

God's Politics

imageThis looks like an interesting book. It’s written by Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine. By the way, he will be a guest tonight on the Charlie Rose show. Here is what the publisher has to say about the book.

“Since when did believing in God and having moral values make you pro-war, pro-rich, and pro-Republican? And since when did promoting and pursuing a progressive social agenda with a concern for economic security, health care, and educational opportunity mean you had to put faith in God aside?

“While the Right in America has hijacked the language of faith to prop up its political agenda—an agenda not all people of faith support—the Left hasn’t done much better, largely ignoring faith and continually separating moral discourse and personal ethics from public policy. While the Right argues that God’s way is their way, the Left pursues an unrealistic separation of religious values from morally grounded political leadership. The consequence is a false choice between ideological religion and soulless politics.

“The effect of this dilemma was made clear in the 2004 presidential election. The Democrats’ miscalculations have left them despairing and searching for a way forward. It has become clear that someone must challenge the Republicans’ claim that they speak for God, or that they hold a monopoly on moral values in the nation’s public life. Wallis argues that America’s separation of church and state does not require banishing moral and religious values from the public square. In fact, the very survival of America’s social fabric depends on such values and vision to shape our politics—a dependence the nation’s founders recognized.

“God’s Politics offers a clarion call to make both our religious communities and our government more accountable to key values of the prophetic religious tradition—that is, make them pro-justice, pro-peace, pro-environment, pro-equality, pro-consistent ethic of life (beyond single issue voting), and pro-family (without making scapegoats of single mothers or gays and lesbians). Our biblical faith and religious traditions simply do not allow us as a nation to continue to ignore the poor and marginalized, deny racial justice, tolerate the ravages of war, or turn away from the human rights of those made in the image of God. These are the values of love and justice, reconciliation, and community that Jesus taught and that are at the core of what many of us believe, Christian or not. In the tradition of prophets such as Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Desmond Tutu, Wallis inspires us to hold our political leaders and policies accountable by integrating our deepest moral convictions into our nation’s public life.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 21 2005 • Books

Inauguration Day

In honor of yesterday’s inauguration, I thought I would put a link to the new Jib Jab video. You might remember the cartoon video they made during the campaign, to the tune of “This Land is Your Land.” The new one is just as funny; it’s about the inauguration and the second term.

Speaking of the second term. It seems that privatization of Social Security is going to be high on the agenda. I have many concerns about this. I like what Prairie Weather had to say about this recently. Check out the entire post. Here is a particularly good point: “... we live in a society which claims to be of the people, by the people, for the people.  The “government monopoly” you speak of is the people’s monopoly over their own fund.  How would I like to see my retirement insured?  Given today’s business climate, I’m damned if I think “competing fund managers” are more competent or trustworthy than I am—remember please that I and my fellow citizens are the ones in charge of our Social Security accounts right now ... require Congress to “respect individuals’ autonomy and competence” by leaving our insurance benefits alone, please.”

In other news today, I just read that FCC chairman Michael Powell is to announce his retirement today. According to a story in the New York Times, Powell had planned for some time to leave after Bush’s first term. To those concerned with media issues, Powell has been a rather controversial leader.

“Mr. Powell, a Republican, brought an emphasis on deregulation to the commission. The most contentious issue of his term came with his proposal to relax the rules limiting how many media outlets one company could own in any given city,” writes Stephen Labaton of the New York Times. “The change was supported by big broadcasting and publishing companies and vigorously opposed by a coalition of smaller broadcasters and labor, consumer and civil rights organizations. It passed in June 2003 along a party-line vote, but was blocked last year by a court that said the commission had failed to justify the ruling.”

Powell was also known for imposing fines to broadcasters following the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident--leading some to call him the “most heavy-handed enforcer of speech restrictions in decades.” Conservatives criticized him for not taking the fines even further, writes the Times, while other business leaders (conservatives) criticized him for making broadcasters hold to standards that sattelite and cable broadcasters did not have to meet.

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 21 2005 • Current Affairs

Egocasting

imageWe are entering the age of personalization of technology, and according to this article its ramifications on our culture are yet to actualize. “The remote control shifted power to the individual, and the technologies that have embraced this principle in its wake—the Walkman, the Video Cassette Recorder, Digital Video Recorders such as TiVo, and portable music devices like the iPod—have created a world where the individual’s control over the content, style, and timing of what he consumes is nearly absolute. Retailers and purveyors of entertainment increasingly know our buying history and the vagaries of our unique tastes. As consumers, we expect our television, our music, our movies, and our books “on demand.” We have created and embraced technologies that enable us to make a fetish of our preferences.

“The long-term effect of this thoroughly individualized, highly technologized culture on literacy, engaged political debate, the appreciation of art, thoughtful criticism, and taste-formation is difficult to discern. But it is worth exploring how the most powerful of these technologies have already succeeded in changing our habits and our pursuits. By giving us the illusion of perfect control, these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised. They encourage not the cultivation of taste, but the numbing repetition of fetish. And they contribute to what might be called “egocasting,” the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste. In thrall to our own little technologically constructed worlds, we are, ironically, finding it increasingly difficult to appreciate genuine individuality.”

It’s certainly a trend to watch, especially for those who are interested in the ramifications of mass media on our common culture and democracy. “When cable television channels began to proliferate in the 1980s, a new type of broadcasting, called “narrowcasting,” emerged—with networks like MTV, CNN, and Court TV catering to specific interests. With the advent of TiVo and iPod, however, we have moved beyond narrowcasting into “egocasting”—a world where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear.” Where is the common ground? How does this affect our democracy when our media doesn’t reach a mass audience.

There’s an interesting article to help you continue your thinking in this month’s Atlantic called The Massless Media. Writer William Powers writes: “For some time now Americans have been leaving those vast media spaces where they used to come together and have instead been clustering in smaller units. The most broad-based media outlets, the networks and metropolitan newspapers, have been losing viewers and readers for years. But lately, thanks to the proliferation of new cable channels and the rise of digital and wireless technology, the disaggregation of the old mass audience has taken on a furious momentum. And the tribalization is not just about political ideology. In the post-mass-media era audiences are sorting themselves by ethnicity, language, religion, profession, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and numerous other factors.”

For now, I am not going to draw any conclusions (even though it was the subject of my graduate thesis). Think about it and let me know: Will the fragmentation of our mass media hinder our democracy? Will the fractious nature of media delivered from a specific political perspective sound the end of objective journalism?

“Common sense would suggest that as the vast village green of the broadcast era is chopped up into tiny plots, divisions in the culture will only multiply. If everyone tunes in to a different channel, and discourse happens only among like minds, is there any hope for social and political cohesion? Oh, for a cozy living room with one screen and Walter Cronkite signing off with his authoritative, unifying “That’s the way it is.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on January 18 2005 • Current Affairs