Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Citizen-Veteran Gap and Modes of Storytelling

31 October 2016

From Literary Hub:

Every war has its own poetics and mythos, and Iraq is no different. The near-nine-year conflict, which you’d be forgiven for forgetting did in fact end, at least in the sense of US troops withdrawing from the country in 2011, continues to generate a steady profusion of literature, both fiction and non. Its meaning and implications remain live, hence the extraordinary interest in the Chilcot report in July and the occasional centrality of Iraq to this year’s presidential election. Artistic responses to the war have typically followed the pattern set by the literature of Korea and Vietnam, aiming at the incoherence, the madness, the hostility of the combat conditions. Few works in any genre have come as close to offering a perspective on Iraq that is as broad, as tragic, as funny, or as piercing as that of Phil Klay in his 2014 National Book Award winner, Redeployment.

Klay became a Marine in 2005, when, he writes, “It wasn’t just the wisdom of the invasion that was in doubt, but also the competence of the policymakers.” Despite not insignificant ambivalence, feelings of civic and national duty took over, he swore his oath, and he shipped out to Iraq’s Anbar Province as a public affairs officer in 2007.

. . . .

What he experienced there became the raw material for Redeployment, supplemented by careful and extensive research and interviews with other veterans. The result is 12 stories that, in their different and precisely calibrated perspectives, give the reader a multi-layered, undogmatic, panoramic view of the war.

. . . .

CA: Each story in Redeployment is told in the first person. Narrators include a chaplain, an artilleryman, a foreign service officer, and an officer in “mortuary affairs.” Some of them don’t experience violence or action directly, some do. I wonder if this is this a recognition of the limits of your own experience, and thus perhaps a measure of respect for that which might not be comprehensible second hand?

PK: It’s more that I wanted to be able to approach the subject from many different angles, not just the one most people think of when they think of war: an infantryman with a rifle killing the enemy. What does one make of one’s moral responsibility for killing when you’re part of a crew-fired-weapon whose rounds strike miles away, when you’re not even sure if you have killed people or how many? What about when you’re a chaplain trying to influence policy, or a psychological operations soldier trying to help shape the battlefield?

CA: Many of the stories prominently feature a kind of slippage between civilian and Marine life. One character, looking through the scopes of his rifle, remembers hunting with his father. It’s a technique that Clint Eastwood also used in the editing of American Sniper, to considerable effect. What impact on combat and civilian life do these moments of interpenetration of experience have?

PK: I think the thing most people are used to is the idea that war experience can make civilian life hard, or that life back home can be alienating, living in an individualistic consumer society after living in the intensely communal environment of a wartime military. And that is all true. That said, I also think that the disconnect can, over time, be revealing and can be the starting place for serious reflection and personal growth. The philosopher and World War II veteran J. Glenn Gray wrote that the sense of moral complicity in horror common to many veterans can teach us, “as few things else are able to, how utterly a man can be alienated from the very sources of his being. But the recognition may point the way to a reunion and a reconciliation with the varied forms of the created. [ . . . ] Atonement will become for him not an act of faith or a deed, but a life, a life devoted to strengthening the bonds between men and between man and nature.”

. . . .

CA: Do you think it’s possible for war—and particularly the war in Iraq—to be written successfully into art by people who weren’t there?

PK: Yes. Homer—pretty obviously not a veteran of the Trojan War. Crane—not a veteran of the Civil War. Ben Fountain and Lea Carpenter and Atticus Lish and Roxana Robinson and Whitney Terrell aren’t veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan and yet have written wonderfully about it. The whole idea of fiction as an art form rests on the idea that it’s possible to richly imagine other people’s experiences. If I didn’t believe non-veterans could write about Iraq, which would mean believing non-veterans can’t imagine their way into the military experience, then what would be the purpose of writing my own book? Besides, I didn’t do any of the jobs I write about.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

Did Amazon Get Lost In The Jungle?

31 October 2016

From Seeking Alpha:

I am amused when the headlines read that a company failed to live up to Wall Street’s expectations. It should read “Wall Street completely failed at guess the number again”.

Even Christensen, in his book Innovator’s Dilemma, spoke of forecasters in general. Hint: They never get it right.

If that is not enough credence for you, everyone’s favorite investor (not mine particularly), Warren Buffett, had a decent quote regarding forecasting:

“Forecasts may tell you a great deal about the forecaster; they tell you nothing about the future.”

Earnings predictions and these short-term ideologies do not tell you anything about what Amazon is doing or not doing correctly. You need to look at company management to get a clearer picture.

What you need to focus on is whether the company structure is set up for a long-term outlook or focused on short-term rewards.

. . . .

If we look at the chairman and CEO positions, Jeff Bezos holds both of them.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, age 52, has been Chairman of the Board since founding the Company in 1994 and Chief Executive Officer since May 1996. Mr. Bezos served as President from founding until June 1999 and again from October 2000 to the present. Mr. Bezos’ individual qualifications and skills as a director include his customer-focused point of view, his willingness to encourage invention, his long-term perspective, and his on-going contributions as founder and CEO.

I have highlighted three important characteristics. These are key in assess the validity of Amazon’s business. The customer focus is the lock-in value of the business model. Most companies are very customer-driven. However, in Christensen’s book, he states that the customer-driven mentality leads companies to just satisfy them, and eventually sees their demise. Thus, encouraging invention is basically acknowledging innovation is needed to survive. This occurs when you pay attention to customers who are dissatisfied.

. . . .

Board Leadership

The Chair of the Board is selected by the Board and currently is the CEO, Jeff Bezos. The Board believes that this leadership structure is appropriate given Mr. Bezos’ role in founding and his significant ownership stake. The Board believes that this leadership structure improves the Board’s ability to focus on key policy and operational issues and helps the Company operate in the long-term interests of shareholders.

This type of duality can be considered a resource. According to the resource-based view, a key characteristic of a valuable resource is inimitably. Bezos represents that because there is no way any firm trying to compete in the same space as Amazon can create a Jeff Bezos clone.

. . . .

Compensation Philosophy

Compensation Philosophy. As stated in the Company’s 1997 letter to shareholders, we believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term.

Another characteristic is the historical dependence created by Bezos. This is an intangible resource that defines what the company is about. The extract below goes into detail further about what Amazon represents.

our compensation program reinforces and reflects our core values, including customer obsession, innovation, bias for action, acting like owners and thinking long term, a high hiring bar, and frugality.

These four traits are consistently echoed in almost every interview or report that I have seen concerning the company. Amazon is lucky in the sense that it does not have to reinvent itself and lose its identity. In essence, what values made the company successful in the first place. If you really start to pay attention to the bits that I have been showing you, Amazon is focusing on what researchers have found to be the key ingredients to sustaining competitive advantage: giving customers a value proposition and continually capturing it, constantly innovating to keep and attract new market segments, a management team not afraid to take risks, and only spending when required.

we do not provide cash or equity incentives tied to performance criteria, which could cause employees to focus solely on short-term returns at the expense of long-term growth and innovation.

Interestingly, there are no required peer benchmarks to base compensation.

. . . .

Stock-Based Compensation

Because our compensation program is designed to reward long-term performance and operate over a period of years, named executive officers may not necessarily receive stock-based awards every year. Due to Mr. Bezos’ substantial stock ownership, he believes he is appropriately incentivized and his interests are appropriately aligned with shareholders’ interests. Mr. Bezos has never received any stock-based compensation from

. . . .

This paragraph is critical. Most companies have incentives and annual performance awards to reward a CEO based on annual performance. It is extremely rare for a CEO to come out and state in writing that he/she is appropriately incentivized. This is the exception to the norm.

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

PG says these characteristics definitely do not describe the large international media conglomerates that own all the large traditional publishers.

If you want to worry about Amazon, worry about what happens to the company after Bezos dies or withdraws from active management. See (a) Sam Walton and Walmart, (b) Steve Jobs and Apple and (c) Bill Gates and Microsoft for possible outcomes.

Three big ideas

31 October 2016

We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.

Jeff Bezos

On Cover Design. Because It Matters.

31 October 2016

From The Dust Lounge:

I love covers.

I really love covers.

. . . .

I’m talking about book covers.

And if you turn around and tell me you don’t judge a book by its cover, then that’s damn great. But a little badger in the back of my mind doesn’t believe you. The cover is what makes a book stand out on the shelf, or on the screen. It’s the glint that catches your eye and won’t let go.

Of course, some covers are bad. They might be misleading. They might be hard to read. They might be photoshoppery disasters.

. . . .

And making a cover is hard.

But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not important. These days, we’re not just talking about browsing through shelves at the local bookshop. No, now we’re talking about miniature thumbnail covers that have to stand out in the vast sea of books competing for your attention. Which means it’s time to get all LOOK-AT-ME-LOOK-AT-ME, but in the right way.

. . . .


  • Stay simple. Clutter the cover too much, especially on the online thumbnail, and you ain’t gonna have a clue what it’s supposed to be.
  • Use an easy to read font. That font that looks so pretty when you’re zoomed in on screen could be illegible when shrunken down. Don’t make people work too hard to know what your book’s called.
  • Stay on trend. Written a horror book? What do the bestsellers look like? Are they pink and fluffy with pictures of high heels? Are they pastel images of someone running through fields of dandelions? Know what your market likes, and play to it.
  • Get striking. Go vibrant, go bright, go graphical. Make it pop.

. . . .


  • Finish without sleeping on it. This rule applies to everything. But then, I do really like sleeping. Also, there’s a lot to be said for letting fresh eyes have a peek.
  • Settle for something you hate. You’re going to have to market this book. This is your word-baby, so make sure you like the packaging.

Link to the rest at The Dust Lounge and thanks to Sal for the tip.

Amazon Should Leave Brick-And-Mortar To The Little Guys

31 October 2016

From WBUR:

Beloved or reviled, Amazon has become a regular player in our consumer experience. Already famous for having a hand in putting many a small bookshop (and other stores) out of business, the online retailer has expanded its presence into the non-digital arena.

Amazon has already opened actual bookstores — what the company calls Amazon Books — in Seattle and San Diego. Plans are afoot to launch more retail locations in Portland, Chicago and New York City.

And yes, also Boston.

Home to one of the nation’s most vibrant indie bookseller scenes, Greater Boston will be the site of an Amazon Books branch in Dedham at the Legacy Place shopping center, opening sometime in 2017.

Since Amazon’s founding in 1994 at the dawn of the internet, we’ve all learned to coexist with this behemoth — and not just grumpy book lovers like me whose mantra has been to support the little guy. But this latest move is ironic. Amazon is sending its slithery tendrils into the very sphere it helped to decimate, the brick-and-mortar book business.

. . . .

As a former bookseller myself, I lament these events. Must Amazon nose in on the very territory that indie bookstores have cultivated for decades? In less generous moods, I complain to the heavens — or, perhaps, to “the cloud” — when is enough, enough? Can’t you be satisfied with dominating online sales?

. . . .

To be sure, the Boston branch poses no immediate threat to our hometown favorites. Amazon Books is headed to what some might call an already soulless shopping center, the luxury Legacy Place, where there’s nary an indie for miles. It’s not like Amazon Books is invading Harvard Square. Not yet.

. . . .

I recently attended the New England Independent Booksellers Association conference in Providence, where I spoke with many booksellers. I ran into a colleague who is opening an indie bookstore in Belmont next spring. Despite the always uncertain climate for indie shops, he’s taking a chance and putting his savings on the line.

But here’s the rub: More may be lost when Amazon expands its kudzu-like growth everywhere. The online chain’s impact threatens to be even more catastrophic to communities than when Barnes & Noble took over more than 700 college bookstores nationwide, sticking it to students by turning a profit on the lucrative textbook market.

. . . .

It’s an outrage since much of the indies’ recent success is due to being creative and attentive to their customer base. They’ve added cafes, bolstered community outreach, and offered a robust series of events and loyalty programs. Wanna bet that Amazon will eventually try to duplicate this very formula?

Link to the rest at WBUR

PG wonders whether the local indie cafes, a first rung on the ladder to financial security for so many recent immigrants, were considered by the indie bookstores before the bookstores opened their own cafes.

How Gothic buildings got associated with Halloween and the supernatural

31 October 2016

From The Conversation:

If you want foreboding old buildings that dark lords and werewolves are bound to frequent, look no further than Britain’s enviable Gothic architecture. From Strawberry Hill in London with its twisting corridors and glaring pinnacles, to ruined abbeys and cathedrals such as St Andrews and Jedburgh, darkness seems to thrive in these places – the perfect location for a Halloween party if you’re lucky enough to be invited.

What is often not appreciated is that this style had two distinct periods of glory, with a long time out of favour in between. And it’s not just their tall spires and endless corridors and gargoyles that brought these structures supernatural associations. The dark reputation they gained in their wilderness years helped, too.

Gothic was in its pomp in medieval and Tudor Britain. Famous examples include Salisbury cathedral in southern England, Caernarfon castle in Wales and Melrose castle and Brodie castle in Scotland. The style was used by church, state and universities, Oxford and Cambridge especially.

. . . .

Gothic waned in the 17th century, replaced by the round-arched and rationalised style of Classicism.

. . . .

Classicism continued to spread in the 18th century, while Gothic came to be seen as barbaric. It was intentionally connected with the Goths by critics who favoured Greek and Roman architecture. These included the Renaissance artists Raphael and Vasari, and Georgian intellectuals such as John Evelyn and architects like Isaac Ware (Ware would later introduce certain Gothic elements into his work). These people often argued that when the Goths sacked Rome in the fifth century, they destroyed “proper” Classical architecture and introduced a backward, coarse style – Gothic – in its place.

. . . .

Gothic’s grim associations meanwhile found an outlet in its other notable form in Georgian Britain, the Gothic novel. Horace Walpole was again a pioneer. The Castle of Otranto (1764) tells of incest, brutality and deceit and is set within what we can only interpret as a Gothic structure. Subsequent authors from Ann Radcliffe to Bram Stoker also located terrifying scenes and ghastly encounters in and around such buildings.

The form became so popular that an anonymous letter published in The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1797 proposed a satirical “formula” for writing a Gothic novel. It highlights the centrality of Gothic structures to the genre:

Take — An old castle, half of it ruinous.
A long gallery, with a great many doors, some secret ones.
Three murdered bodies, quite fresh.
As many skeletons, in chests and presses.
An old woman hanging by the neck; with her throat cut.
Assassins and desperadoes quant suff.
Noise, whispers, and groans, threescore at least. 

. . . .

Then in the 19th century, Gothic made a stylistic comeback. This was helped by antiquaries in the mid-Georgian period who had studiedGothic works and treated them as part of Britain’s architectural heritage.

By the time the Palace of Westminster was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1834, fashions had come full circle. For a competition to commission a new building, the brief said it had to be “either Gothic or Elizabethan”. It had to preserve “those venerable and beautiful remains of [Gothic] antiquity, the cloisters and the Crypt of St. Stephen’s Chapel”.

Link to the rest at The Conversation and thanks to Nate for the tip.

Amazon Prime Costume Just Won Halloween

31 October 2016

From The Huffington Post:

Did you think your Halloween costume was good? Because it’s probably nothing in comparison to this woman’s Amazon Prime costume.

Clearly, Caron Arnold takes Halloween very seriously.


Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Amazon says goodbye to ‘incentivized’ customer reviews

30 October 2016

From DealNews:

User reviews are tricky to navigate. You assume you’re getting the unvarnished opinions of your fellow shoppers, who’ve paid their hard-earned money for a product. But what if you’re not getting that? How could you tell?

This conundrum is what Amazon is trying to combat with its new customer review policies.

. . . .

Customers had previously been allowed to publish “incentivized” product reviews (the item in question provided for free in exchange for a nominally objective review), so long as that transaction was disclosed. As of October 3, all such reviews go through the invite-only Amazon Vine program.

. . . .

This means Amazon will be responsible for identifying trusted reviewers and providing them with products to review, which removes all contact between the seller and the customer. (Books are the only category exempted from this restriction.) This should lessen the likelihood of biased reviews. Amazon Vine reviews will, of course, be clearly marked.

Link to the rest at DealNews

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