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Overheard and Observed in China: Part 3: Odds and Ends

Time to move on to topics I’m less ignorant on, but after one more quick glance at my pictures and journal from China, I thought I’d throw a few odds and ends for your consideration.

1. Just a few miles from Hong Kong, part of the same country but a full border crossing away, stands Shenzhen. A fishing port of 300 thousand, it was singled out by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 as China’s first Special Economic Zone. Since then, 30 billion (U.S.) has flowed into the city and the population has grown to more than 10 million residents–with commuters and “invisible” people” causing estimates to fluctuate up to as many as 15 million)–and still growing. It is the most densely populated area of China. And you thought overcrowding was a problem in your city?

2. The level of “deferentialism” extended to American and other foreign business visitors to China is almost overwhelming. It’s hard to carry your own briefcase from the car to the meeting area without a young lady who probably doesn’t weigh 90 pounds wanting to lug it for you. We all like to be treated with courtesy and respect–and much more so when we are in a new environment–but the amount of attention given to helping one with their every move can create feelings of guilt. I’m over the guilt, however, so I’m not complaining–just observing!

3. In Shanghai, I’m pretty sure there is a ratio of one billboard for every resident–and visitor. And maybe for each panda, too!

4. Speaking of billboards, I was surprised that most of the signage in Hong Kong depicted Western models. The rule of thumb in advertising is that you strive for cultural relevance. I do have one idea on why the city’s signage looked a lot like New York City’s. Since Brand America is still the icon of wealth and prosperity, ad agencies in Hong Kong have played the “aspirational” card to the hilt. Of course, if the U.S. dollar drops any further, there may be job openings for billboard hangers in the near future!

5. China has long been viewed as a homogeneous people, which has probably always been a myth. If you look a the under-20 fashion statements even on the Mainland, China is rapidly becoming a diverse country.

6. I had dinner at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. A fleet of about 15 Rolls Royce Silver Shadows are arrayed in front to whisk guests to shopping and tourist destinations. I still haven’t figured out why my company’s travel manager didn’t book me there.

7. I talked to several business people there and in route who have a very strong non-financial motivation to doing business in China. It goes like this. China is not open to Christian missionary work. China is very open to Christian business men and women (and teachers). Once in China, there is plenty of freedom for religious expression (more so for foreigners but increasingly for the entire population as long as the topic isn’t Thailand or Tibet) combined with a keen interest in people from other countries, with America at or near the top of the list. Who knows how many “tent makers” are doing a good work in sharing their faith in China.

Overheard and Observed in China: Part 2: The Dalai Lama

There is something surreal about opening the morning newspaper at the breakfast table in your hotel each day and reading a polar-opposite, diametrically opposed point of view on an issue that perhaps you haven’t given much thought to–at least I hadn’t–but that you already know the answer to because it is so universally accepted in the media pool in which you swim.

One topic that jumped off the pages of the China Daily (the national English language newspaper of China) with a clang and a bang for me was the different perspective on the Dalai Lama, who is also on the front page of many Western newspapers, particularly in the wake of protests that accompany the Olympic Torch each step of its trek to Beijing for opening ceremonies. Oh, and that March 14 riot thing in Lhasa, Tibet, which included monks. Maybe. (Not “maybe” on the riot but on whether the monks were monks or soldiers dressed as monks.)

Here are just a few of the juxtapositions:

Western View: Tibet was a free country since a treaty that ended 200 years of fighting was ratified in 821 A.D., but was forcibly seized and annexed by China as part of Mao Zedong’s 1950 invasion with the People’s Liberation Army that was ratified under coercion in 1951. China View: Yes, Tibet and China separated in 821 A.D., but Tibet became an intrinsic part of China between the 13th and 15th Centuries in response to Mongolian invasions; China was granted formal sovereignty in 1751 to protect Tibet from the Nepalese Gurkha invasions.

Western View: The Independent Tibet movement rectifies historical injustices by returning sovereignty to the Tibetan people. China View: There is no historical validity to a Greater Tibet, administratively, religiously, and especially ethnically–at least 10 other groups have been living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for generations, including Han, Hi, Mongolian, Tu, Monba, and Lhoba.

Western View: China wants to suppress religious expression in Tibet. China View: China has shown more than 50 years of restraint and respect on Tibetan culture, particularly in regards to religion. In fact, all of China is prospering and experiencing new freedoms, including speech and religion, to a much greater degree than Tibet, with its theocratic leanings.

Western View: The Dalai Lama is a man of peace and goodwill. China View: The Dalai Lama is a political operator–and sometimes instigator–who was part of theocratic feudal regime that enslaved and impoverished the Tibetan population; nobles and senior monks owned and controlled 90% of the land.

Western View: On March 14, awakening echoes of Tienanmen Square, the Chinese government once again crushed a peaceful demonstration of people who seek freedom. China View: The Tibetan Government in Exile, with the fundraising savvy and organizational skills of the international “Dalai clique” orchestrated a violent riot that resulted in $35 million (U.S.) in damage.

I spoke with one U.S. businessman who has lived in Hong Kong for a number of years and he commented:

Maybe I’ve lived here too long and have been brainwashed, but I’m no longer convinced that the Chinese government is all wrong on this Tibet issue and, in fact, may do more for the everyday Tibetan people than the separatist movement. For example, the government in exile has no plans on accommodating a multi-ethnic population.

So has he been brainwashed? The obvious answer is, yes, of course he has–and it’s tied to the simple notion that the official Chinese media can’t be trusted to produce anything more than propaganda. I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about that danger in America because I have objective, reliable, and trustworthy news sources like The New York Times to protect me. Okay, cheap shot. But there is a strong resentment in China that they aren’t getting a fair trial in the international court of opinion. A Western expatriate made this statement:

The official Chinese media may be clumsy, but at least they are not as hypocritical as the Western media which always claims to be impartial, yet are actually biased on many issues related to China … and in their own countries!

Well, I’m no expert on Chinese politics, but this exercise has helped me come to one iron-clad conclusion: to fight media bias on the issues near and dear to my heart, I’m going to hire the PR firm the Dalai Lama uses, not the one the Chinese government has on retainer.

Overheard and Observed in China: Part 1: The Economy

I just returned from a way-too-short and rapid trip to China. There are so many angles and facets to explore but for a Part 1, I thought I’d focus on some interesting economic dynamics in China that are highly interrelated with some equally interesting dynamics in the U.S. economy.

As context, note that the overarching paradox of trading with China from a U.S. standpoint is (a) we like China’s cheap costs but (b) we don’t like the trade gap. The burgeoning trade gap is particularly bothersome as the U.S. dollar continues to free fall in the international currency markets, which should make buying U.S. products more attractive than ever. But the trade deficet is going to be a side light and what U.S. businesses and consumers are really going to notice in the near and foreseeable future is that costs in China are on the raise and may increase at a more rapid pace. Here’s why:

1. We’re not the only ones that dislike a huge trade gap; for China’s economy to mature, more of its output needs to be consumed internally, not just by the export market. Toward that end, in the last ninety days Beijing has rescinded a substantial tax rebate (think subsidy) for factories and business that export their goods. That will no longer be part of the formula for quoting costs to U.S. companies that outsource to China.

2. The RMB (China’s currency) is up 20% against the U.S. dollar in the last 18 months. The renmimbi (“people’s currency”) is stronger across against many currencies on the international board, but with the ongoing storyline of a still declining U.S. dollar and its spending power, the bottom line result is higher costs.

3. New labor laws in China include new increases to the minimum wage and a sweeping worker reform act–no company can fire a worker once they sign a third employment contract–equals raising labor costs. On the second element, the reform act, one wonders if most Chinese laborers will now end up working for a new company every four years as many labor contracts are two year deals. Not even an almost limitless labor pool can hold back the simple reality that conditions for workers–from wages to safe working conditions to better factory-owned dormitories or private housing options–have improved and must continue to improve. Some have argued that with the reported 750 million unemployed workers this need not be the case. But what has changed is that people living a subsistance lifestyle in the great rural expanses of China are no longer willing to trade an open air work day for a factory work day that is still based on mere subsistance worker benefits.

4. Rising materials costs are happening across most industry categories, led by rocketing oil prices, but in my world, publishing, it comes as no surprise that the cost of paper keeps marching upward at a particularly steep grade. U.S. standards of “green” are much less stringent than those defined in Europe, but as that gap closes, costs will only continue to climb. Related but off topic: Bill Gates said that we tend to overestimate the impact of new technology over the next two years but underestimate its impact over the next five years (see Business at the Speed of Thought). I wonder: will there be a stampede to ebook readers in the next half decade?

5. When you add up nos. 1-4, not surprising but largely unnoticed in the business community, hundreds of Chinese factories are closing every month. Profit margins and Return on Investment (ROI) are so slim that the Chinese entrepreneurial class is looking for new and greener opportunities. Marching alongside the issue of ROI , the first true generation of entrepreneurs in China is hitting retirement age and the heirs don’t want to run factories–or in some cases can’t afford to run existing operations–so they’re selling off equipment and boarding up buildings. Some argue that this is simple Economic Darwinism and is a positive case of natural selection with inefficient operations falling by the wayside. Perhaps; but it should not come as a shock that as once or emerging third world economies develop, they no longer take on environmentally toxic projects with no questions asked.

Two questions that I predict will become more acute for U.S. (and world) companies that do manufacturing in China in the days ahead will be: are we anticipating and ready for continued rising costs? and are the vendors we are currently relying on going to be in business for the foreseeable future?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of things I observed and overheard in China …

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – A Review

review of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

First things first. The title has nothing to do with IQ. The first character is the number 1 so the title is a play on George Orwell’s 1984. Just in case you were wondering if I selected the title because of a possible correlation in title and my intellect!

If you aren’t familiar with Japanese author Murakami, his novels are critically acclaimed – he has been awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, the Jerusalem Prize and many others – and are a fantastical mix of surrealism and a rich (sometimes dense) detailing of everyday life. He consistently deals with themes of loneliness and alienation, the self and reality (and especially perception/imagination and reality). 1Q84 tackles all that and adds acute questions of the-ends-justify-the-means murder, religion and cults, destiny, sexual abuse, revenge, and parallel realities. Oh, it takes a while to catch on, but first and foremost, it is a love story. Really.

Was it listening to Janacek’s Sinfonietta that sent Aomame (“sweet pea”) into another world with two moons? Did Tengo see the same two moons when he rewrote Fuka-eri’s crude draft of Air Chrysalis? (And by the way, was that a story from the fevered imagination of a 17-year-old girl or was she describing things that actually happened?) Will either of them survive the revenge of a cult group called Sakigake and the brilliant and relentless pursuit of Ushikawa – a man with a large misshapen head that shouldn’t be able to follow anyone without being noticed? And what of the “Little People” – who seem to hold special powers in 1Q84 and that seem to be looking for a bridge to 1984 – are they neutral or as malevolent as we suspect? And the big question: did Aomame and Tengo have to enter 1Q84 to find each other after 20 excruciating years of separation from each other and disconnect from the world around them? I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that they became soul mates at age 10.

Enough. You’re with me or not. If I’ve scared you off completely, don’t run away before reading the last sentence of this paragraph. If you’ve read other reviews I’ve written what you might have already discovered is I don’t actually review books – I recommend books. Sometimes quite different books.  I know Murakami is not for everyone – though 1Q84 sold a million copies in Japan alone – and I’ll have to admit, it’s not my usual fare. But I recommend this book for its dense, other-worldly beauty – reading it creates that curious sensation of wanting (even needing and willing) it to be done and to never end.

The original Japanese version was published in 2010 and the English translation was introduced in 2011. I read the lovely boxed set (very reasonably priced on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and others) that was given to me as a gift by my son Merrick.

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Why I Bought the Kindle Instead of the iPad

Why I bought a black and white Kindle instead of an iPad.

Why I bought a black and white Kindle instead of an iPad.

I have been in the publishing industry for almost 30 years now. Everyone knows that electronic production and delivery will shape the future of the book publishing industry – and most suspect that the future is now. So that’s the main reason I finally bought an ebook reader – to be less technologically behind in the work that provides room and board for the family. If you’re going to consider yourself an active member of the “long form” publishing world, better at least be aware of the mechanics – or electronics – of the digital book experience, I figured.

The final nudge I needed to order the Kindle was an impending trip to China last month. Anticipating 18 hours in the air each way, I wanted to make sure I had plenty to read without packing a stowage trunk. Sure enough, the Kindle worked like a charm on that trip. I downloaded four or five books at New York’s JFK Airport, boarded the plane, ate dinner, watched a movie, and then fired up a book I’ve been wanting to read. I was sleeping like a baby in fifteen minutes. It felt like home! (And yes, I did finish the book and two others while flying back and forth over the Pacific Ocean.)

After I told an author friend why I bought the Kindle, she let me know she was more interested in why it took me so long.  Good question. Frankly, I’ve not been sold on buying an ebook reader in general, and the Kindle in particular, until recently. I do like the feel of paper and ink bound inside a paper or board cover – but that’s not what really held me back.

We all know that technological improvements take place so fast that version 2.0 of the newest gadget follows 1.0 by weeks, not months or years. I’m not a late adopter of new technology, but on the other hand, I don’t want to be the one purchasing 1.0 at twice the price of 2.0, which will undoubtedly have more features and less problems.

So I waited for multiple powerhouse companies to launch new readers and for three million of my good friends to buy the first two iterations of the Kindle before I jumped in on the third wave.

But then came the next question from my author friend: why the Kindle over the iPad? It is hard to beat Apple for sleek and cool and seamless usability. And the iPad was all over the news and just about to sell its one millionth unit within months of its release when I bought the Kindle.

So here are my reasons for buying the Kindle over the iPad. (Perhaps I’ll take up the question of why I chose it over the Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook at a later time.)

1. I read books and there are approximately seven times more books available through Amazon’s Kindle Store than are available for the iPad. The gap will close but is still significant.

2.  The iPad costs three to four times more than the Kindle. I’m not saying the iPad isn’t worth it. It looks to me like the iPad is the future of laptop computing and style. Apple and others will come up with a next generation device that is a cross between the laptop and the iPad, which will replace what I use now. But I don’t need all the extra computing and bells and whistles that come with it. I’ve already got a MacBookPro. I just need a book reader. It isn’t lost on me that most people I see with the iPad on airplanes aren’t reading books, though to be fair, it looks like the magazine reading experience is much better than it would be with the Kindle. But the iPad users I see are more often watching a movie or playing a game, not reading a book. And as a confession, I get distracted easily enough in life. When I want to read a book, less is absolutely more.

3. The electronic type on the Kindle has now reached the same level of readability (and lack of eyestrain) as the paper and ink book. When I took the Kindle out of the box I assumed there was a protective plastic film with a picture of a tree covering my screen. The saturation level of electronic ink was so rich and brilliant that I was surprised to discover it was the actual screen. (I’m glad I didn’t give in to my impulse to grab a sharp object to lift an end of the “film” so I could remove it from the screen.)

4. The size of the Kindle is just about perfect for carrying in a briefcase or purse – though I wouldn’t know firsthand on the purse – and the iPad is just a little too large as an “extra” device. As mentioned above, I don’t think the Kindle can compete with the iPad on reading larger visual publications (and certainly not playing games or watching movies). And it’s not just due to the smaller size. The Kindle is strictly black on white. So if I was in a different area of publishing – like fashion media or nature photography – I would undoubtedly purchase the iPad.

5.  I also picked the Kindle because I can now use it to carry and read my own documents. This is not really a reason I picked it over the iPad because that is not and never has been a limitation for the Apple device. Let’s just say that Amazon fixed something that they got wrong in earlier editions of the Kindle. Because it is a proprietary device tied to the Amazon Store, it used to be if you wanted to read a non-commercial-book document on the Kindle, you had to figure out how to upload it to the store and buy it from yourself there. I know one of the Big Five publishers bought all their employees the Sony Reader for this very reason – there were no limits on putting your own material on your reading device. The publisher wanted associates to experience an ebook reader and distribute company material on it. That was too tough – and expensive – on the Kindle. Maybe a better of way of making this point is to say that Amazon removed a reason I had previously been resistant to buying their Kindle. I’m going to fly to Orlando later today. I want to review a manuscript I prepared for the meeting. Now all I do is convert it to a pdf and email it to my Kindle email address that they assigned to me when I bought the device. The document will be waiting for me on my Kindle in about a minute.

Those were my reasons for buying a Kindle. They may not work for you.

So who should buy the Kindle? Simple. Book readers. I don’t think it’s going to a good purchase for people who want to read books instead of playing games. If you want to play games or watch movies, the iPad is the much better choice. (Though rumor has it that Amazon will introduce full color Kindle in the not so distant future.)

The early book publishing industry statistics say that book readers buy and read more books once they have an e-reader. Why? There are no space-time limitations of having to drive to a brick and mortar establishment during open hours to pick up something that is on your mind right now. Just read a good review on your flight magazine? You can purchase the book in about 30 seconds once you land at O’Hare or Hartsfield, even if your connection is tight. (It should be noted that buying a book on a Kindle is not as pleasant as sipping a cup of coffee while strolling through rows of bookshelves at a bookstore – and will never replace that.)

As a final comment, Amazon offers a lot of public domain books for free at the Kindle Store. I was about to board a plane last week when suddenly a story from my childhood popped into my mind: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I looked it up and found a free edition, which I immediately “bought.” It was waiting for me when I took my seat. I read the opening chapters and was flooded with a sense of nostalgia – right after I woke up from my nap.

Just like being at home!

NOTE: I revisited the topic of why I bought a simple Kindle e-reader in light of new research on eyestrain in a 2014 blog.

Walking With God in America …

Anyone who doesn’t believe God has blessed America just needs to take a long walk and witness her beauty posits Ken Duncan, a world renowned Australian photographer, who visited all 50 states with his camera and notepad.

In the intro to his book, Walking With God In America, Duncan writes:
It might seem funny that although I am Australian, God has given me a real burden for America. No nation in the world has been more naturally blessed than the United States, and I believe God has done that so people will understand how much He cares for the nation. America’s faith in God is what had made it one of the greatest countries on earth, and faith is a beacon of hope for other struggling nations around the world.

From “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (the phrase was upheld in 2004 by the Supreme Court 5-4 because Sandra Day O’Connor argued that the phrase is “meaningless” — “any religious freight the words may have been meant to carry has long since been lost”) to removing references to God in textbooks on American history, the place or name of God in America’s public square — literally — is an ongoing political and legal powder keg.

I’ll defer any attempts at an argument that maintaing liberty requires virtue — and virtue requires true religion, to John Adams:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

For now, I’ll leave debates on whether or Constitution intends for there to be freedom of religion or freedom from religion and follow Duncan’s simple advice to look for America’s spirit in her beauty!
Acknowledgments: Panographic photographs are (c) Ken Duncan and used by permission; all rights reserved. The quote from Sandra Day O’Connor and John Adams are from Rediscovering God In America by Newt Gingrich (Thomas Nelson).

Taxes, Entitlements, and Unemployment

I love to discuss and comment on everything – including religion and politics. That means I end up talking to myself a lot. Today I thought I would post three graphs with no comment. They reflect three snapshots of the dynamics impacting our economy. You can draw your own conclusions. Okay – I’ll offer three very quick, terse comments at the end of the graphs!

The three takeaways for me are:

  • Even governments need to spend less than they bring in.
  • Be careful about making promises you can’t keep – at some point you have to pay up.

Bestselling Books of 2012

2012 was a good year to sell books as an author if your last name was James or Collins.

The January 4, 2012, online of edition of Publishers Weekly provided a chart with three bestseller lists, all dominated at the top by Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James) and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

Bestselling Books of 2012
Nielsen Bookscan Top 20
Amazon Kindle Top 20
Amazon Print Top 20
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Greyby E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darkerby E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)1
4. The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
9. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
9. Bared to You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
10. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
10. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
10. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
11. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
11. Reflected in You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
11. The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
12. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)
12. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)
12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
13. Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
14. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
14. War Brides by Helen Bryan (AmazonEncore)
14. The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd Edition by the College Board (The College Board)
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)2
15. A Game of Thronesby George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
15. A Song of Fire and Ice, Books 1–4 by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)3
16. The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)
16. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
17. The Hunger Games Triology Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
17. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
17. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Amer. Psychological Assn.)
18. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
18. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
18. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
19. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner)
19. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
20. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
20. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley)
20. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
Nielsen/BookScan (week ending Dec. 30, 2012)
Amazon Kindle (as of Dec. 31, 2012)
Amazon (as of Dec. 31, 2012)

RIP Stan Musial: Just a Few of His Incredible Numbers

Stan Musial died at age 92 - he was married 71 years.

Hall of Fame baseball player Stan Musial died on Saturday, January 19, 2013, at age 92.

Just a few numbers to consider:

  • 22 seasons in the major leagues (1941-1963), all with Saint Louis
  • 3,630 hits – 4th all time
  • 1815 hits at home
  • 1815 hits on road
  • 3,026 games – 6th all time
  • 6,134 total bases – 2nd all time
  • 20 straight years as an all star
  • 3 NL MVPS
  • 3 World Series championships as a player
But perhaps the most impressive number and the true measure of his greatness.
71 years married to the same woman.
A tip of the hat and shout out to the legend known by his fans as “Stan the Man”!

What Are the Biggest Book Markets in the World?

global book market by country

What is the biggest book market in the world? What other national book markets have a substantial slice of the global pie?

Not surprising, the United States is the largest book market with a 26% share. It makes sense that China  is next with a 12% share.

Rounding out big four are Germany at 8%, and Japan at 7%. The top 10 markets make up approximately two-thirds of the global book industry.

The data was gathered by Rudiger Wischenbart Content Consulting for the International Publishers Association 2013 report. The chart reflects the value of each market as determined by book publishing per data along with number of new titles per 1 million inhabitants.

The Four Queens of Crime – When Women Ruled Murder Mysteries

Ngaio Marsh was one of the Four Queens of Murder.While growing up I consumed a lot of Agatha Christie novels – I even solved one of the murders before the ending. (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.) I met another of my favorite “locked room mystery” authors – almost as popular as Christie – when I was a junior or senior in high school – Ngaio Marsh.

Marsh was born in New Zealand and split time between there and London. She wrote 32 crime novels and was considered along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham one of the “Queens of Crime.” Women novelists dominated the genre in the 20s and 30s – and they don’t do too bad today either.

Marsh’s most famous character was Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Alleyn was smart and witty but didn’t have the noir edge of a Spade and Marlowe – two detectives “across the pond” as mysteries and all genres became more “modern” and heroes were shown with all their flaws.

Circling back to read A Man Lay Dead took me back to a different era of entertainment, when even murder was polite, civilized, and almost wholesome!

I highlighted Ngaio Marsh from a Pinterest board I keep with book covers that feature my favorite spies, detectives, hit men, and vigilantes.

 

Don’t Eat That Frog First

Eat that frog?

Eat that frog?

In his bestselling book, Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy tackles the issue of personal productivity with 21 ways to conquer procrastination, beginning with his classic breakfast recipe :

If the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is eat a live frog, nothing worse can happen the rest of the day!

If you’ve ever met Brian, read one of his books or heard him speak, you know what a disciplined, talented, savvy communicator – and person – he is. I have a lot of admiration for him. Better to listen to him than me! I’ve been known to procrastinate at times.

But I would humbly suggest that there are some days you will get more done by foregoing the frog for breakfast – it tastes nothing like chicken – and enjoying your Cheerios, oatmeal or bacon and eggs. [Read more…]

Imagine Tat! What Do Tattoos Tell Us About a Person?

Do tattoos matter?

Do tattoos tell us anything about a person?

A friend in my age range – let’s not get too specific and just say somewhere between age 49 and 51 – just got a major tattoo.

I was at one of my 14-year-old’s AAU basketball games a couple Saturday’s ago and the mom of one of the players from the other team had also recently got ‘tatted’ up; a shoulder to wrist floral arrangement on both arms. Naive as I am, I kept thinking she had some sort of arm-nylons on under her sleeveless t-shirt. That’s what I explained to Amy who elbowed me because she thought I was looking over there too much.

Imagine tat!

Of course head for the local high school or even middle school and you’ll see a large number of young people with low ride jeans, high-rise shirts, and lots of tattooed skin. And then there’s the girls.

What do tattoos tell us about a person? Anything? (Is there an age limit on when you can get your first tattoo?)

The old adage claimed that “clothes make the man,” which seems way too superficial, just as getting worked up about tattoos seems judgmental, turning a matter of taste into a moral issue. Right?

Along those lines my grandpa insisted you could tell everything you needed to know about a potential job candidate from his shoes: “you don’t have to be rich to have your shoes shined.” He obviously hadn’t anticipated casual Fridays and Ecco comfort shoes.

But back to tattoos. Just in case you were wondering –

* 15% of Americans have been tattooed – about 40 million people
* 38% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 have been tattooed
* Democrats(18%) are more tattooed than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%)
* Geographically the West (20%) outpaces the East (14%), Midwest (14%), and South (15%) among adults with tattoos
* About 20% of those who have been tattooed regret it, with the number one cause of regret being the person’s name in the tattoo (16%); 11% admit “it was stupid”
* Of those with tattoos 26% feel more attractive, while 5% feel more intelligent; 29% feel more rebellious and 57% of those without a tattoo agree that those with tattoos look more rebellious
* On google searches, more people are interested in Angelina’s tattoos than any other celebrity

I think the numbers speak for themselves. Besides proving that Democrats have a higher propensity toward rebelliousness, that Brad may or may not find tattoos attractive depending on which news source you take most seriously in the grocery store checkout line, and that the 5% of those who are tattooed may not be smart enough to know that ink on skin didn’t make them more intelligent, the conclusion really is quite evident and irrefutable … kids, the answer is still no … under no circumstance are you to get a tattoo!

Not even if you want a heart with Mom and Dad inside it.

Farewell Cinderella: A Father’s Love for His Daughter

Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t want to miss even one song
’cause all too soon the clock
will strike midnight
and she’ll be gone

About a year ago we got a call from a local Nashville music agent. He wanted to tell us about a new song written by Steven Curtis Chapman called Cinderella and to discuss the idea of a gift book by that same name. We absolutely loved the song and the concept and last January released Cinderella: The Love of a Daddy and His Princess to coincide with the radio release of the song. What a great tribute to a father’s love.

I had the air knocked out of me on the way to work this morning when I received a call with the news that Steven’s youngest daughter, Maria, was killed in a tragic accident last night.

It’s been hard not to be tearful today – and I haven’t succeeded. First of all I’m a father and I can’t begin to imagine the heartache Steven and his family are experiencing right now. As a publisher, I know he poured his heart into the words of the song and the pages of the book. A major inspiration for the lyrics was Steven and his wife Mary Beth’s profound love for their children – and all children. They founded Shaohannah’s Hope, a foundation that assists families hoping to adopt with information and financial grants – and named after the first daughter they brought into their family from China. Maria, the youngest, was also adopted from China and her beautiful smiling face sparkles throughout the book.

The name of Steven’s latest album is This Moment … and at a moment like this, I wish I had words of wisdom. There simply are none. St. Paul said that the only things that endure are faith, hope, and love, and never is that more evident than in a moment like this. Our deepest prayers and love are with the Chapmans.

Farewell Cinderella.

 

Presumption of Guilt and the Breakdown of Public Discourse

presumption of guilt and the lack of civil discourse

The meeting of the minds has become a contact sport!

Much is made of the lack of civil discourse and the breakdown of public discourse in American culture today. Is it time we declare the meeting of the minds to be a contact sport with special headgear?

The art of diatribe – a long, angry, bitter, satirical criticism against a different opinion – has always been practiced in the public square across generations and cultures. But doesn’t it seem worse than ever? Maybe I’m waxing nostalgic, but even in my lifetime, I seem to remember healthier expressions of dialog and debate on fiercely contested ideas.

Okay … I was born shortly before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law … my childhood was marked by the Roe v. Wade, the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, Watergate, and economic Stagflation. So it wasn’t very peaceful then either.

But I still seem to recall the mainstream political debates – every bit as contentious as today’s issues – having more civility. I think. Well … sometimes.

The constant companion of the diatribe today is the ad hominem attack – [Read more…]

Christmas Reminds Us That Angels Watch Over Us

Christmas reminds us that angels watch over us.

Angels Watch Over Us

Believers, look up—take courage. The angels are nearer than you think. - Billy Graham

 Christmas reminds us that Angels watch over us.

Angels play a leading role in the story of Jesus’ birth. They appear to Joseph in a dream and tell him of the coming child. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she has been chosen by God. And then a heavenly choir proclaims the message of the Christ child to a group of terrified shepherds.

But I wonder if angels played a behind-the-scenes role in other events surrounding Jesus’ birth as well. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem would have been difficult and dangerous—doesn’t it make sense to think that angels helped them find their way safely and arrive at just the right time?

Mary gave birth in a barn full of animals, her first birth, with no midwives, no family except her new husband, no sterile medical conditions, no place to put the baby other than the manger. Under those circumstances, it seems that Providence was watching out for the young family—through the care of angels, perhaps? [Read more…]

Financial Analysis for Publishing

Mark Gilroy teams up with Brian Henson to provide a quantitative-qualitative financial analysis for publishing that will give executives and their full publishing team the tools to maximize strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

  • Industry variances in budgets and results – with recommendations
  • Author performance and recommendations
  • Category performance and recommendations
  • Major deal risk analysis with recommendation
  • Inventory management and recommendations
  • Backlist evaluation and “product mining”
  • Data management – we have experience and tools to extract and organize data (no matter what software plan) to give you and your publishing team the reports needed to enhance decision-making – and fine tune the process

Brian Henson is a 20-year publishing veteran.

Brian Henson has nearly twenty years’ experience in financial management and analysis in the publishing industry. Most recently, he managed all business and financial aspects for the Nashville division of the Hachette Book Group, the second largest book publisher worldwide, where he created budgets and forecasts, performed financial analyses, initiated and contributed to strategic plans, and revamped inventory management. He created many models that were adopted company wide, including new ways to evaluate—and some cases monetize—the company’s author portfolio and overall backlist. He considers his biggest accomplishment that of cutting inventories in half. The various contributions added millions of dollars to the bottom line. Brian played a big part in Hachette’s reacquisition of Joel Osteen, as well as recent deals with Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, John Maxwell, and Joseph Prince.

 At Thomas Nelson, Henson filled similar roles, creating a “company first” dynamic budgeting system from the bottom up for more than $270 million in annual revenues in a complex, matrix style organization. He developed forecasting methodologies and monthly financial packages that are still used today. He also contributed to product development, having several of his ideas published. Henson served as the primary advisor to the Chief Publishing Officer and as liaison between publishers and sales executives – an acute need in most publishing companies. He created tools to help publishers and editors evaluate new product proposals prior to decisions meetings. He was a key analyst and performed due diligence on various company acquisitions.

Henson earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton in marketing and marketing management, and the MBA from Wright State University with emphasis in accounting and finance.

 

Jerusalem: A Biography – Montefiore’s History of the Holy City

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

A look at 3500 year history of the Holy City – from King David to today.

Most of us know that in 1493 Christopher Columbus sailed the “deep blue sea.” But one of his key motivations for sailing west to secure the riches of India never made it to our childhood textbooks. It can be found in a section of his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella that is often redacted: “before the end of the world all prophecies have to be fulfilled – and the Holy City has to be given back to the Christian Church.” It is usually taught that the Spanish monarchs commissioned Columbus to beat the Portuguese in the search for the west route to India. But what is left out is that the drive behind the commissioning was they felt exactly the same way as Columbus – they needed more gold to fund a new Crusade to the Holy Land.

That is just one small glimpse into the unique, amazing, incredible, and fascinating history of Jerusalem – from King David to the Six Day War; from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the concurrent rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism to the Israel-Palestine conflict – woven throughout Montefiore’s exquisite narrative on the history of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has seemingly always been at the center of international politics and intrigue. In the 3000 years of Jerusalem’s known history, it was exclusively Jewish for 1000 years, Pagan for 300 years, Christian for 400 years, and Muslim for 1300 years. In all that time no group has secured or held the Holy City without bloodshed. Today it is the capital of two peoples and revered among three faiths. It is a never-ending clash of faith and civilization – and for many Muslims and Christians the place of the ultimate battle and of Judgment Day.

I picked up Jerusalem because I wanted a comprehensive history of the Holy City, particularly due to the fact that Jerusalem is such a focal point for contemporary international political debate. I thoroughly enjoy every minute of this 700-page book that is filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly – and a surprising amount of humor. I might not have agreed with all of Montefiore’s biblical exegesis during the history I am more familiar with due to my Old Testament and New Testament studies, but it didn’t matter because what I wanted was a sweep of the history and got it – three thousand years of faith and compromise, beauty and slaughter, and hatred and coexistence.

Jerusalem was filled with surprises – and not just Christopher Columbus’s fascination with the Holy City. For example, toward the end of the biblical era, I was taken back to learn how influential Herod was in Roman politics – he was close to Antony and Cleopatra, Tiberius, and a major reason Nero made it to the throne. Reading through the Crusader centuries was like reading a novel. I didn’t think it could get any more interesting but then I got to the 19th and 20th centuries when Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia, Churchill, Tsar Alexander, Hitler, and so many other characters show up – every historical period was fascinating because of the people who kept popping in and out of the story of Jerusalem.

I’m not a historian, but I feel confident in asserting that whatever world history you do know will be enriched by reading this book.

In the Epilogue, Montefiore sketches out the parameters of a peaceful solution to the current political impasse, but does not seem overly optimistic it will be achieved: “Jerusalem may continue in its present state for decades, but whenever, if ever, a peace is signed, there will be two states, which is essential for Israel as a state and as a democracy, and justice and respect for the Palestinians.” That is, of course, the point where readers will agree and disagree for a variety of reasons, politically and religiously.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious. This is not a biblical, religious, spiritual book. Nor is it a political science book. It is a history book, though Montefiore is mostly careful about religious matters and sensitivities and at the end he does give his point of view on achieving peace. You will be disappointed in Jerusalem if you read this to confirm a political or religious interpretation.

I almost forgot to mention. I read this on my Kindle. I wish I had bought the paper and ink edition because of the maps and illustrations.

Montefiore’s own family is part of Jerusalem’s 19th and 20th Century history – and a section of the city still bears his family name. He has also written biographies on Potemkin and Stalin.

Holidays Are for Games: 3 Recommendations

The online video gaming industry is huge and getting huger every year – almost as big as Hollywood and on a growth trajectory that will continue to cut into the TV audience for sports. But for all the realism and sophistication found in the new product launches and annual updates, video games lack something important that can still be found in playing old school board games: face-to-face human interaction and intimacy.

It’s almost Christmas. A lot of people will be off work with vacation time and a lot of families and friends will gather to celebrate and catch up. Tis the season when classic board games like Life, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly. Clue, and Scrabble will be lifted down from top closet shelves and dusted off. Holidays are for games.

Here are three holiday game ideas that you might want to try or adapt with your friends and family members.

Settlers of Catan

Up to 6 can play.

1. Settlers of Catan. My soon to be son-in-law brought this to our family Christmas gathering last year and the award-winning game was an instant hit. Think of Risk on steroids without the cannons and destroyed troops. The board comes in about 30 pieces and can be set up different every time. Up to six can play. The goal is to get 10 ‘victory points’, which are gained by building roads, settlements, cities, and armies. Players have to accumulate wood, bricks, ore, sheep, and grain through strategically building settlements in the right spots – and through good old-fashioned barter with other players. Sounds complicated but it only takes 15 to 30 minutes to learn. There are game extensions in the Catan family that can take you on the ocean or to outer space or into particular historical epochs, like the Roman Empire.

2. Fast Scrabble. I like regular Scrabble just fine but if you want an interesting variation try ‘fast scrabble.’ All tiles are placed in the middle of the table face down. The first player turns over a tile. If it’s a one-letter word like ‘I’ or ‘A’ then the first player to call out the word gets to keep the tile, face up, in front of him or her. If it’s not a word, the tile remains with the person who turned it over as a free letter. The second player turns over a tile and again, whoever calls out a word, made from that letter or that letter and any other letters that are face up, gets all the tiles to make a new word. If ‘A’ came up first and then ‘M’ came up second, player three can call out ‘Am’ and keeps that word in front of him. If the third letter pulled up is ‘C’ then the first player can call ‘Cam’ and all letters come back to him or her. If the next letter is an ‘E’ then someone can yell ‘Came’ and the tiles are now all theirs. Once a word is formed the letters must stay intact and in that order but can switch to different players throughout the game. ‘Oven’ can become ‘Coven’ can become ‘Covens’ and so on. When all tiles have been turned over, each player adds up the points on their tiles that are formed into words and subtracts any letters that are sitting free. Loud. Fast. Fun.

3. Team Hybrid Game Night. One of our favorite activities during the holidays is a family and/or friend game night where we divide into teams and play a combination of popular games, a new one each round. This works best with four or five teams going four to five rounds. We like to use Trivial Pursuit (each team is asked every question on a single card per round and is awarded 10 to 20 points per correct answer), Pictionary (50 points for identifying the picture), Tabu (20 points per correct word), Outburst (10 points per correct word), Scene-It (all teams compete at once in an ‘All Play’), but you can come up with a myriad of other options, like Charades or Family Feud, by adapting your favorite games into the process. One of the nice things about the team approach is that you can enjoy competition but no one gets singled out as not being good at something like Trivial Pursuit. I like to do a final round where points are doubled and each team gets to choose which of the previous games played they want to try.

Whether you’re gearing up to drive to Grandma’s or are hosting a group of friends on Christmas afternoon, don’t get stuck in the rut of staring at the TV screen and missing out on the people around you. Games or no games, find ways to interact face-to-face.