Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How the Gut's "Second Brain" Influences Mood

As Olympians go for the gold in Vancouver, even the steeliest are likely to experience that familiar feeling of "butterflies" in the stomach. Underlying this sensation is an often-overlooked network of neurons lining our guts that is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it our "second brain."

A deeper understanding of this mass of neural tissue, filled with important neurotransmitters, is revealing that it does much more than merely handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body. . . .

Read the whole Scientific American article by Adam Hadhazy at:

Circumstance Calling Forth a Champion

I've been thinking alot about leadership lately. What's it going to take to really bring the sort of change and transformation we, as people, and as a planet, truly need?

I was talking with my Australian friends, Susie Surtees and Earl deBlonville, who run a leadership consulting and training business called Bear Clan, near Melbourne, about what leadership is becoming now in the Intuition Age. Earl, who is a well-known Arctic explorer and expedition leader, and who has survived some harrowing circumstances, has been evolving a view of leadership that involves “democratization.”

He said to me, “I used to laugh off (my miracles of survival and leadership success), saying that a busload of angels followed me around. But now I know that all my life I have relied solely on intuition. It has enabled me to see, amid major confusion, what the one key action was. It has turned my head at the right moment to act and save my life, and many other lives. It has enabled me to walk into totally unfamiliar situations as if led by a guide. And it has given me unquestioning confidence to go with the flow and succeed in new ventures.

“My blinding realisation, a decade ago, was that leadership is not a formal position but a role that certain people find themselves in. And it could be anyone, anywhere, at any time. It involves an approach to life that has us all alert to the difference we can make and how we can be present and be effective, and be more than just
functioning: we can BE the difference."

In the prologue (slightly edited by me) of deBlonville’s new book, Seventh Journey, he says: “. . .there are no destinations, only journeys. This book tells of two. One was a journey through the Arctic of early winter — a place we should never have been. The other was a journey into the landscape of leadership: a far more forbidding place.

"The first thing I discovered is that leadership cannot be taught. If it is being taught, it may just be management, rebadged at a higher price. The second discovery was that leadership is not about the leader, which will confound those with a needy ego. There were two more things that revealed themselves to me: leadership is all about paradox, which is why it resists attempts to tame it into a curriculum, and at its core leadership is lonely, requiring the strength that could only come from a grasp of its intrinsic paradox. . . .those who have the advantage of tough experience will understand the ineluctable truth: leadership is neither born nor taught; it is circumstance calling forth a champion.”

I then commented: “This view is so important, Earl, because in the near future, we all may need to be leaders in various circumstances. Because we may be isolated from those who we think have the answers, or we may not have the right resources and have to make do with what's at hand, etc. I recently remembered this quote from John Denver's autobiography:

'If not me, who then will lead? . . .If not me, who then? In the wilderness, when you find yourself without a compass and you start to feel lost, you look for moss on a tree to tell you which way north is, you look for a stream to see which way the water is running, you wait for the stars to be visible to see which way they move across the sky. With not much more than those aids as moral compass, I decided to set off in some new directions.'

This relates to your idea of democratization because you realize you can't/don't do it all alone: there are not only other people but unselfish nonphysical influences as well that factor in.”

Earl responded by sending me the following newsclipping (edited by me slightly). He said, "You may not be aware that here in Victoria there have been some highly publicised attacks on Indian students. We have a lot of them in Melbourne, where education is big business. Correspondingly, we have a big problem with yobbos and binge drinking. Put them together, especially at night, and the sparks fly."

We were talking about the democracy of leadership. In this story we have precisely that. One woman, a mere graphic designer with no political affiliation or leadership training, has become an overnight leadership sensation. Just like Rosa Parks on the bus, 35-year-old Mia Northrop just saw a need, and a solution, and stepped forward into action.

The expected 100 friends became a tidal wave of support — 17,000 strong. She tapped a rich vein and offered strong and inspired leadership. Circumstance calling forth a champion, just like I said."

Top cop blasts Indian student spokesman
by Steve Lillebuen

The voice of Melbourne's Indian students has been discredited by the state's police chief as thousands across Australia gathered in a show of solidarity with the Indian community.

Over the past two years, Gautam Gupta has been a frequent commentator and spokesman for the Federation of Indian Students of Australia amid a spate of violent and racist attacks in Victoria. But Victoria's Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland said he had stopped listening to Mr. Gupta.

"I don't think Mr. Gupta has played a very constructive role in trying to deal with this issue," he told reporters in Melbourne's Carlton Gardens at one of hundreds of Vindaloo Against Violence events across Australia. "I'm reluctant to respond to a broad-based question if in fact it's sourced from an individual who I don't think has played a very constructive role in this broader issue."

"Why is he singling me out? I'm really confused," Gupta said. "I think this is a case of shoot the messenger. If you don't like the message, then shoot the messenger."

The grassroots Vindaloo Against Violence protest was started last month by Melbourne graphic designer Mia Northrop who wanted Australians to take a stand against racial violence by eating out at their local Indian restaurant.

That message was repeated at over 400 restaurants across Melbourne for lunch and dinner, including in Toorak where Ms. Northrop was cheered and applauded by Melbourne high school students. Ms. Northrop said she never expected a Facebook event she sent to 100 friends in January to grow into 17,000 confirmed guests and attract attention from schools and workplaces across the country.

The 35-year-old said she was aware of criticism of her idea but didn't want to complicate the planning of the event by including fundraising at this time. Indian restaurants around Melbourne reported a massive surge in business today, while Queensland parliament only had curries on its lunchtime menus.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

e-Book Battle: Another Brief from the Authors Guild

I'm passing these messages from the Authors Guild because, as a writer and reader, and champion of artists' rights, I think these issues are important. Too often, these somewhat invisible battles are the ones that slowly erode away what has always been good about America.

"Last Thursday, Macmillan CEO John Sargent informed Amazon that beginning in March, it would offer Amazon access to a full range of e-book titles only if Amazon were willing to sell books on an "agency" model that would pay Amazon 30% of e-book proceeds and allow Macmillan to set its own retail price for e-books. (Currently, Amazon buys e-books as a reseller at a discount of 50% off the retail list price and sells at the price it chooses.) Macmillan's price under its agency model, in many cases, would be higher than the $9.99 ceiling that Amazon has been seeking to impose on the industry.

If Amazon didn't find the agency model acceptable, Sargent said Macmillan would expand its "windowing" of e-book editions. "Windowing" is the practice of waiting until a particular edition of a new book has been on the market for a while before making cheaper editions available. Publishers have for decades waited until the hardcover sales window has closed before opening the sales window on paperback editions, for example. This helps protect the sales channels for hardcover books. Windowing e-books is similarly believed to help protect a publisher's sales channels for physical books. The risk with windowing is that some owners of e-book devices are angered that low-priced e-book editions aren't available as soon as books are released in hardcover form.

This was a bold move by Macmillan. Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for playing hardball. When it doesn't get its way with publishers, Amazon tends to start removing "buy buttons" from the publisher's titles. It's a harsh tactic, by which Amazon uses its dominance of online bookselling to punish publishers who fail to fall in line with Amazon's business plans. Collateral damage in these scuffles, of course, are authors and readers. Authors lose their access to millions of readers who shop at Amazon; readers find some of their favorite authors' works unavailable. Generally, the ending is not a good one for the publisher or its authors -- Amazon's hold on the industry, controlling an estimated 75% of online trade book print sales in the U.S., is too strong for a publisher to withstand. The publisher caves, and yet more industry revenues are diverted to Amazon. This isn't good for those who care about books. Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.

Macmillan's move is timely because, at the moment, the e-book market is still far smaller than the physical book market, but the e-book market is growing quickly. The longer Macmillan waited, the more difficult the transition.

Amazon didn't wait for March, when Macmillan's new policy is slated to go into effect; it decided to hit Macmillan immediately and comprehensively, removing the buy buttons for nearly all Macmillan titles, in all editions. This is a direct attempt to use its clout in the physical book industry to enforce its business model in the e-book industry. In some ways, it was an unusual exercise of power for Amazon. The company has used the tactic of turning off buy buttons on several occasions before, but, with major publishers it's usually selective, and doesn't turn out the lights on nearly all titles. That treatment is reserved for smaller publishers. (Authors receive no advance warning of Amazon's treatment of their titles, nor can they do anything about it.)

Amazon, it appears, overreached. Macmillan was a bit too big a foe, and Amazon's bullying tactics were a bit too blatant. Sunday evening, Amazon announced that it would have to "capitulate" to Macmillan, "because Macmillan has a monopoly over its own titles." (By this definition, nearly every company exercises a monopoly over its products.) We're all still waiting for that capitulation: Macmillan's books still weren't available on Amazon on Monday evening. If Macmillan does indeed prevail, the economics of authorship in the digital age are likely to improve considerably. We may go through some rough stretches to get there, however."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Update on Authors Guild Lawsuit against Google

I don't know if any of you are writers, or are interested in Google's attempt to scan every book in the world and not pay royalties. . .but here is the latest from the Authors Guild:

"As you may be reading in today's paper, the Justice Department in its filing regarding our settlement with Google continues to see legal problems with the settlement, focusing on class action law but also continuing to raise some antitrust concerns. We disagree with the Justice Department's reading of the law. At the same time, it's good to see the Department recognizes the settlement's many benefits. In our view, it's best for everyone that out-of-print library books be made available through reasonable, market-based means to readers, students and scholars. Without a settlement, that won't happen. It's also best that authors have direct control of the scans that Google has made, with the power to compel Google to hide, display or remove those scans. Without a settlement, authors have no such control. Google's scanning and use of authors' books would continue until the lawsuit was finally resolved.

Some authors and authors' groups have asked why we didn't press the litigation through to the end. The answer (besides the benefits we saw for authors in creating new markets for out-of-print works), in part, is that copyright litigation is uncertain. Fair use law is complex. One could fill a good-sized law-school classroom with copyright professors who believe that Google's scanning of your books is a fair use. We don't agree with that view, but our opinion may not have prevailed. If we'd lost, it would then be open season on scanning of your out-of-print
and in-printbooks. All one would need is a scanner and a friend with a little bit of technical knowledge to start displaying "snippets" at your science fiction, humor, Civil War, or Harry Potter website. All perfectly legal; all without obligation to authors to properly secure those scans. Nothing gets illegal file-sharing going quite so much as millions of unsecured digital works floating around the Internet.

We also could've won. That would've been sweet. But here's the thing: copyright victories tend to be Pyrrhic in the digital age. Our settlement negotiations went on with full knowledge of what happened to the music industry. The RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) won victory after victory, defeating Napster and Grokster with ground-breaking legal rulings. The RIAA also went after countless individuals, chasing down infringement wherever they could track it down.

It didn't work. The infringement just moved elsewhere, in unpredictable ways. Nothing seems to drive innovation among copyright pirates as much as a defeat in the courts. That innovation didn't truly abate until Apple came along with its iPod/iTunes model, making music easily and legally available at a reasonable price. By then, the music industry was devastated.

All that couldn't happen to the book publishing industry? Sure could. The technologies are out there.

The stakes are even higher for authors than they've been for musicians. The ace in the hole for musicians is that they're not as dependent on copyright as book authors are. Music is a performing art: people buy tickets to see musicians. Writing is decidedly not a performing art. Nearly all authors give away their performances, through book tours and readings, and are glad for any audience they can find. For most authors, markets created by copyright are all we've got. Protecting authors' interests has always been our top priority: in this case a timely harnessing of Google was the best way to do it."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Astrology Forecasts; Nicely Written

Here's a nice site that offers well-written monthly astrological forecasts for each sign that aren't filled with too much astro-talk. Enjoy!