Duck Disaster

I don’t watch much television these days unless the letters N, F, and L are prominently involved, but even I am dimly aware that Duck Dynasty is a huge phenomenon. A show has to have made the big time to take up a good portion of a display wall at Calendar Club all by itself during the Christmas retail rush.

Of course, as many know, controversy overtook Duck Dynasty this week. Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Robertson family of duck-call manufacturers, was quoted in GQ magazine making remarks that were perceived to be disparaging towards gays. The A&E channel, which produces and airs the series, quickly condemned the elder Robertson’s remarks and they announced that he would be taking an extended hiatus from appearing on the show.

If you have enough people on Facebook or Twitter, you’re bound to see an outcry about this decision start appearing in your newsfeeds. The accusations about thought police, political correctness overreach, oversensitivity, and the spinelessness of A&E will fly. It will be argued that the Robertsons have never made any bones about their Christian worldview; the talk about what is and isn’t sinful is just an extension of that. Phil should have the right to say what he believes.

And you know, they’re absolutely correct. Phil Robertson should be free to talk about his faith, and his personal beliefs—however unpopular or unappealing they may be to some—if he chooses to do so.

Except he kind of was able to do that, now wasn’t he? The outcry isn’t over him being denied the opportunity to express his views, rather it’s over the punitive measures he now faces for doing so. But that being the case, it needs to be remembered that there is a difference between the meanings of censor and censure. Freedom of speech doesn’t always mean free from consequences.

Phil Robertson has a right to free expression, but the companies he associates with also have the right of free enterprise. Duck Dynasty isn’t the public square; it’s a corporately produced TV program.  Insofar as the show is concerned, Phil Robertson is an employee of A&E. And you can wager that he has a contract that stipulates that he not engage in behaviour or make comments that could prove injurious to the program, cause it to lose sponsors and so forth.  A&E foots the bill; they get to make the calls. Furthermore, Phil isn’t being denied free speech because he has plenty of other avenues available to him. He could express himself through self-produced webisodes or he could crowd-fund his own series if he convinced enough of his pissed-off fans to pony up some cash for it.  

From a crisis management standpoint, A&E has handled this situation well. They demonstrated moral leadership by being decisive about removing a key figure from one of their top properties, and they were unequivocal about condemning statements that were out of step with their corporate values. Which is wise, because shows come and go in popularity, and today’s first family of reality TV can be tomorrow’s Trivial Pursuit answer—to wit: the Osbourne family. But people remember how media outlets comport themselves.

A&E’s swift response also earned some quick praise from GLAAD, which quickly became part of the story. And by phrasing the elder Robertson’s departure as “a hiatus”, they left the door open for his eventual return.

Which is probably what will happen. I don’t know if Phil Robertson will find his way on to the “contrition and apology” circuit, but I imagine that even if he doesn’t he’ll be back on Duck Dynasty after some time has passed. And I’m sure most fans of the show will welcome him back, just as most will keep watching while he is gone.

However, any show with an audience as big as Duck Dynasty’s almost certainly counts some gay, lesbian, and bisexuals amongst its viewers. Not to mention liberal-minded fans and even Christians who would prefer to see their faith served up with a more tolerant outlook. Will they remain onboard as watchers? It’s likely that many will, despite some reservations.

Still, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that this is a breakpoint for the program. It will keep going, but for many its charm won’t ever be quite the same. It’s even possible there will be a few less Robertson clan calendars, bobbleheads, and books on sale in mall end-caps come next Christmas-time.

Free eBook Promotion: December 18-22, 2013

Hello sports fans, just one quick bit of eBook news before I promise to crank out a more fulsome post on a topic of great interest and importance. The eBook I have spent an eternity slaving over, 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss is going to be available free on Amazon for the next five days. The last day of the promotion will be Sunday December 22.

You can click here to visit the US Amazon site for the book, or navigate there by clicking the thumbnail image in the right menu bar. For Canadian and overseas visitors, the eBook is also available in your respective Amazon online stores (but I’m not going to put all the links in here). I have a page on my site here dedicated to 25 Principles, so if you’re interest is piqued you can learn more about it there.

Right now, 25 Principles is exclusive to Amazon and it is set-up to work on all Kindle-enabled devices. If you’d don’t have a Kindle e-reader, have no fear. You can pick up the Kindle App (which is available for download free of charge) and read on your PC, or on most tablets and smartphones. Because I am pro-consumer, I have disabled the DRM on the eBook, so you can keep multiple copies of it on different devices simultaneously. The nice part of this is that if some kind soul were to buy you a Kindle for Christmas (only six shopping days to go!) you will be able to port a copy of the book over to your new eReader.

So with the new year fast approaching and many of us gearing up to turn over a new leaf (yadda, yadda, yadda) here’s a chance to get a head start on thinking about making those positive changes.  The best part is it won’t cost you anything!

80s/90s Cartoon Follow-Up: Reader Challenge!

I just wanted to offer my thanks to all the people who took the time to stop by my little corner of the internet over the last two days to read about how Bucky O’Hare corrupted the millennial generation. Thanks as well for all the likes, shares, reposts, follows and comments. I’d also like to extend my appreciation to the Freshly Pressed team over at WordPress for electing to feature me. I didn’t know much about Freshly Pressed until recently, but they are doing a great job of featuring a terrific cross-section of thought-provoking posts. Check ‘em out, and follow them on Twitter (@freshly_pressed) if you aren’t doing so already.

I was surprised by some of the twists and turns the comments took; more commenters than I ever would have expected seemed to approach the post as a serious piece of social commentary. But that’s fine; it certainly yielded some interesting viewpoints!

I don’t know if the post that made it to Freshly Pressed is representative of what this blog is going to be like, but before we leave Gen Y kids entertainment behind, I thought we could do something that would be unambiguously fun. It’s a little bit of a challenge, one that I thought I would open up to anyone still reading.

Reader Challenge: Do You Recognize The “Mystery” Cartoon Described Below?

There was an early 1990s cartoon show that I remember watching as a kid. I think I only saw one episode before it was replaced by something else (can cartoons be cancelled after just a pilot?). I’m pretty sure it aired after-school, around maybe 4 p.m. I don’t know what year it was broadcast, but I’m thinking somewhere between 1990 and 1993.

The protagonist on the show was a kid who was a vampire. I think he was a person-vampire most of the time; I don’t remember or know if he changed into a bat during the episode I watched. He was part of a family of vampires and his friends may have also been vampires or other supernatural beings. I don’t remember his name, what he looked like, or too much else about him.

Now, I have a better recollection of the villain of the show. He was called “Garlic Man” and he was out to get the vampires. He wore a superhero type costume and his head was (appropriately enough) a giant bulb of garlic. He had some sort of Igor-like henchman too I believe. He also apparently had some sort of Dr. Who-like powers of regeneration or resurrection, because towards the end of the episode he was blown up in an explosion—in what I remember was a fairly-dramatic turn for a comedic cartoon. However, his sidekick was able to save a lone clove of garlic after the dust settled, and he then proclaimed, “Garlic Man shall rise again!”

The identity of this show has been bugging me for the last 15 years or so. I’ve tried all manner of Google and Wikipedia searches but I’ve never been able to turn up any further details about a cartoon that matches what I’ve just described. I once even thought about writing in to the Onion AV Club when they had their “Ask the AV Club” feature but I never got around to it.

Anyways, I would really like not one day going to my deathbed still wondering what the name of this show was, or questioning if it actually existed at all. If anyone knows the name, history, or has further details about the mystery show in question, I’d be grateful if you could share them with me.

You can leave your answers and any links to corroborating evidence in the comments for this post or you can email them to me at mike [@] mcwardwrites [dot] com. There may or may not be a prized involved for any (or maybe just some) respondents who can figure out the correct answer to the mystery show (if it did in fact exist). We’ll see where this goes and maybe revisit it in a future post.

Happy Hunting! And here’s one last video to help keep you inspired:

(So lemme get this straight: There’s a gorilla on the show, but the character named Kong is a guy and not the gorilla. OK.)

Why every generation (except mine) is doomed

These are troubled times. There are a myriad of pressing problems facing society, with no easy or obvious solutions. Throughout human history, older generations have put their faith in the young to make the world a better place. But today that faith is being shaken.

Reports back from the front-lines (in this case, office-environment workplaces and bureaucratic institutions) are that the so-called “millennial” generation is self-absorbed, difficult to deal with, and generally can’t be counted on to bring items to the office potluck, even if they say they will and write their names on the sign-up sheet on the bulletin board in the hallway. How are we going to address climate change and income inequality, if tomorrow’s emerging leaders can’t even muster up the energy to make a chickpea salad? You don’t even have to cook anything for Chrissakes; you just chop some things, add a can of rinsed chickpeas and put it in the fridge!

Our ability to thrive in later years depends on what we’re exposed to as young children. Fortunately, a comparative handful of us came of age in an era where our culture supported the growth of caring and empathetic minds. You only have to look at some representative children’s programming from my formative years to see why my peers and I have grown into such well-adjusted adults. For exhibit A, I will proffer the theme song to Dr. Snuggles, a cartoon from the early 1980s.

(Right away, you know that this was a program from a gentler time, as today a show entitled “Dr. Snuggles” would sound far too suggestive to be greenlit in this troubled age of paranoia and cynicism.)

Pretty good huh? A couple of notes the children’s choir hit are getting a little close to dog-whistle register, but that’s a minor quibble. Anyways, this intro has some positive messages for young and impressionable minds. The big theme is that if you work hard and become a Doctor, you’ll be permitted license to indulge in all sorts of eccentric behaviour without question. You can get around on a pogo-stick; hang out with a badger that wears overalls, and even pilot rocket ships that have been improbably constructed out of wood.

Dr. Snuggles was one among many great and positive cartoons from the early to mid-1980s that touted important virtues like getting along with others, trying your best, and not causing a ruckus. Other similar shows included The Get-Along-Gang, Care Bears, Kissyfur, and The Gummi Bears. The latter three shows all featured gentle and friendly bears as the principal characters. Of course, in real life, most bears are large, brutishly strong, eating-machines, but these children’s programs helped a generation view them in a different light.

Unfortunately, the era of “caring and sharing” cartoons was not long-lived, and it would be replaced but a few years later by a New World Order in children’s programming that fetishized violence and militarism. And leading this vicious vanguard was a war-like rabbit:

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT. So now (in the early 1990s), tomorrow’s leaders were growing up with a program that brazenly celebrates war, violence, and horrible rap-rock music, the last courtesy of a theme song recorded by some downmarket Faith No More knockoff. They’re watching a show where each week there will be the implied deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of presumably sentient amphibians in space combat, all celebrated by the bloodthirsty cry of, “let’s croak us some toads!”

Why are Bucky O’Hare and his cohorts in the sinister S.P.A.C.E organization (including the human child Willy DeWitt—presumably some sort of mercenary soldier), so committed to war? Haven’t they ever listened to Edwin Starr? Sure, I’ll grant that the toads (as depicted in the opening them) seem like they could be trouble. They apparently have a formidable space-navy and their uniforms and regalia have a distinctly imperial look about them.

But in this conflict, someone should’ve tried to be the bigger person (or animal, I suppose). Why couldn’t the S.P.A.C.E crew and a delegation of toads have gotten together at a neutral malt shop to talk over their differences? They might have found they were more alike than different, maybe even discovered they had a common foe they could have turned all their advanced weaponry on—like drug dealers. You never would have seen the Get-Along Gang becoming locked in an intergalactic war as these critters have managed.

Bucky O’Hare was the apex of early-1990s cartoon violence. It also represented part of a bizarre counter-trend to the “bear sanitizing” movement of the 80s, wherein animals that are generally feeble and unthreatening in the real word were portrayed as tough and menacing in animated form. For other examples, you can look to other mayhem-fueled cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, and Biker Mice from Mars—dystopian nightmares all.

Is it any wonder that “millenials” today are aloof, difficult, and impossible to build consensus with? Of course they’re going to be unwilling to try and understand the viewpoints of others, or engage in the difficult slogging work of forging compromise. They’ve grown up being taught that if you find yourself at odds with someone or with a group, that you should just blast them with an energy beam weapon.

Let’s face it: if you were a child of the 70’s (or earlier) it’s too late for you. If you were born in the last half of the 80s onwards then you came into this world too soon.  It’s going to take the people born in the narrow “golden window” of 1980-1984 to dig global society out of the mess it’s fallen into, and we’re going to need all the empathy and conflict-resolution skills built during our youth to do it. Godspeed Dr. Snuggles, we could really use your help now.

 

Maria Kang, You Are Not The Cosmos

All around us, they are suffering. Put-down, mocked, disregarded, dismissed as vain and shallow. Society is oblivious to their pain and blind to their achievements. Look into the mirror and stare hard; it’s likely that you too are guilty of marginalizing them. Who are these invisible victims? Look gym-ward angel, this subjugated group is none other than those who dare to be highly fit.

The Mandela-like figure who has dared to speak truth to power about the unjust treatment of those with six-pack abs is one Maria Kang. In a mind-bogglingly jejune, self-absorbed, and obtusely-reasoned opinion piece she wrote for Time.com, entitled Fit Pride Isn’t Hate Speech, Kang whines that body acceptance campaigns have turned fit women (and one would suppose fit men too) into a persecuted minority.

Jesus H Christ, what is this, Bizarro World?

The fulcrum of Kang’s argument is that in November her Facebook account was suspended after she posted a picture of herself in a sports bra and short-shorts with her three young children. The title emblazoned across the picture was, “What’s Your Excuse?” The reason Facebook (supposedly) gave for locking her account (since restored) was that the picture (and a later blog-like rant she posted) constituted “hate speech.”

Were Kang’s postings “hate speech?” No. Were they examples of the self-aggrandizing narcissism that so frequently makes perusing social media a tedious exercise? Yes. Should they have been taken down and her account suspended? Probably not.

If Kang had restricted her complaining to her right to free expression being violated, maybe she would have a valid case. It would still be difficult to sympathize much with her, but her point would be a valid one.

But give Kang an inch and she’ll gladly take things 10 miles too far. With egotistical grandeur, Kang postulates that the wrong done to her was much bigger than one of Facebook’s moderators coming down with a case of twitchy fingers. No, the blowback from her cheesecake pic and taunting tagline was emblematic of something far bigger: the sinister “fat acceptance” movement and its mission to attack and ostracize people who are “fit and proud.”

And then we get the list of grievances: A society where being fat is the new normal. Our, “everybody’s a winner” mentality that diminishes high-achievers and acceptance campaigns that posit that “liking yourself” is more important than being healthy. Haters who would rather called Kang a narcissist, poor parent, beneficiary of privileged circumstances, or out-to-lunch, instead of buckling down and getting their own slovenly asses on a treadmill. The notion that now the only “real woman” is an overweight one. Those same “real women” having the temerity to celebrate their “curves” (i.e. rolls of fat) by prancing around or posing for half-naked photos. You have to admire the guile of someone who can complain about other people having the gall to appear “half-naked” after posting a three-quarters naked photo herself. Must be some sort of offshoot of Muphry’s Law.

At times, Kang’s writing almost sounds like a put-on and it becomes tempting to check the byline to see if the article was syndicated from The Onion. She leads one paragraph by writing, “A new minority of healthy people are stepping out of the shadows…” making it sound like the people in question had to escape from the buffet line at Golden Corral via the Underground Railroad. Later she muses that the “fat pride” movement may have created such a toxic environment that a countering “fit pride” faction might need to arise in response. The only thing missing is an outspoken general who could lead the toned legions into battle…

A few pertinent facts about Kang: she bills herself as a business owner who owns two senior care facilities. She is also a freelance writer and the operator of a non-profit fitness business—and it bears remembering, “non-profit” doesn’t mean the same thing as “non-wage paying.” She has done some dabbling in modelling and fitness competitions and she has never met a flashbulb she didn’t like. Her website has a laundry list of TV and radio appearances. The criticism of her, “What’s Your Excuse?” campaign has given her a new casus belli for a full-on media press, and she has milked that for several months now, with the Time missive being her latest salvo.

Hmm, just a thought here, but if you were the owner of a fitness-oriented business, a participant in fitness contests, a writer about fitness topics, and you worked tirelessly to get yourself on TV to talk about fitness, wouldn’t you say that fitness was kind of a big deal to you? Maybe more so than for other people? And that if parlaying your own levels of fitness was responsible for a significant part of your income, that you might take it fairly seriously? And, in addition to the reasons above, that if you had the flexibility to devote ample time to working out that it might be a little easier to maintain a high level of fitness? Just some thoughts, and if you happen to be reading Doctor Phil, know that I will be happy to fill in for you anytime. Call me!

Kang draws her painful essay about the faux-oppression of fit women to a close by aiming for the rafters, positioning herself as a would-be Rosa Parks for the Cross-Fit crowd, and even deigning to rewrite the books on who “real women” are and are not:

“So, let’s set the record straight. There’s the normal, overweight woman. There’s the photoshopped fake woman — and then there’s an array of real women.

I, Maria Kang, am a real woman — and I’ve stood up. It’s not hate speech to be fit and proud.”

Well Maria Kang, you may be a “real woman” but you’re just one among many. Many “real women” don’t own their own businesses and have the flexibility to work out whenever they get the urge. Many “real women” have to spend all day working in offices or retail stores and all night trying to keep the wheels from flying off their households. Many “real women” spend their free time at second jobs or taking educational courses to try to stay one-step ahead of an economic system that seems hell-bent on crushing the middle class at every turn. Many real women don’t compete as fitness models or put a premium on looking like one, and of the ones that do, most of them go about it without grubbing for publicity six ways from Sunday, relentlessly glomming for attention, and without putting up knowingly belligerent material on Facebook.

If I can borrow the words of the great Molly Ivins once again, you are not the cosmos Maria Kang. “Fit people” are getting on just fine in this society of ours; I think we can safely rebuff your application to be our Philosopher Queen. The trend you should be worrying about isn’t the acceptance of fat persons or the persecution of fit ones; it’s that in our selfie culture so many people are falling into wells of bottomless solipsism and self-delusion where the need to empathize and relate to others is never felt. Where the only sound that matters is your own self-congratulatory voice echoing off the walls.

 

The 4 “Do’s” and 997 “Don’ts” of Formatting your eBook for Kindle: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the Do’s and Don’ts of formatting your eBook for Kindle! Don’t forget to read Part One if you happened to skip it. Here we are going to cover some of the “don’ts” of the formatting process. These are some of the errors and gremlins I made or encountered during the run-up to publishing 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss on Kindle.

Kindle Formatting Don’ts

• Assume WYSIWYG 

I know the Kindle guide tells you this, but it can be tempting to think that once you’ve made your filtered HTML file(s) that you can be confident in the appearance of your book. This isn’t the case. Your converted Word-HTML file might look nice and consistent when you open it in Word, but you’ll have to open it in an internet browser window (or the preview pane of your HTML editor) to see what it “really” looks like. Like me, you might find your book that has a consistent appearance in Word actually renders out much differently.

Use the “start” bookmark as directed by the KDP guide

This was the last “gremlin” I encountered as I was getting ready to publish and I found it head-bangingly frustrating. The KDP formatting guide tells you to insert a “start” bookmark where you want the book to open at after it is downloaded. This (in theory) would let you skip over some of the “front matter” of the book (like copyright notices, dedications etc.) and start the reader at a point of your choosing.

When I did this, I found the converted book opened incorrectly on all versions of the Kindle previewer and on a test copy I sent to my own Kindle. It would begin with my ISBN number as a single line at the top of the page, even though I had a page break immediately thereafter. Even after fiddling with the HTML I couldn’t get it working properly. After consulting some help on the internet, it appears that the bugs must lie within the Kindle conversion software itself.

The ultimate step I took, which was not my first choice, was to avoid using the “start” bookmark altogether. If you do this, your book will begin at either the first page of text or the first element listed in your table of contents when it is opened on a Kindle (it won’t default to your cover though). Leaving out the “start” bookmark will not cause the Go To: Beginning button on a Kindle to be greyed out or not work, it will still function and will take the reader to whatever the Kindle identifies as your first page.

I realize that this is hardly an ideal solution. I don’t know if my experience is representative of every Kindle publisher, so if you want to attempt using the Start bookmark and seeing if you have better luck, than go right ahead. But if you encounter a similar problem as I did, there doesn’t seem to be a ready fix, other than dropping the bookmark.

If you do leave off the Start bookmark and you don’t want your readers to have to wade through a bunch of boilerplate to get to your main text, then consider moving some of your front matter to the end of your book instead. Things like dedications, acknowledgements, and even your copyright notice could all be placed as “back matter” instead of leading the main text.

• Build your book in Kindle previewer (or conversion program) and upload that to KDP

You know I thought I was really smart when I found out about the downloadable Kindle previewer. With it, I could preview and even build my eBook directly on my computer. When I was ready to publish to Amazon, I would be able to upload an already-finished MOBI file to KDP and not have to worry about bugs in the conversion process.

The only thing is that there is always a bug. In this case, during the proofing and testing stages I found out that the Table of Contents button on the Go To: menu option didn’t work on any of the previewers, or when I sent a copy my own Kindle. This happened even though I had carefully inserted a TOC bookmark as per the KDP guide’s instructions. And no matter what changes I tried with the source file, the button remained stubbornly greyed out every time I created a new MOBI file in the previewer.

I just about went crazy trying to fix it. Unhelpfully, I did a Google search and came across old articles and posts from earlier generations of Kindles (circa 2010), explaining complicated programming-based workarounds to get the Table of Contents button working. Fortunately, before I went headlong down that path, I found some alternate instructions and was able to solve the issue.

As it turns out, to ensure that your bookmarks format correctly and thereby enable the GoTo buttons to work on the Kindle, you need to upload your finished HTML file or zipped folder to the KDP website for conversion. They won’t work in MOBI files built on Kindle Previewer There is no explanation for why this is the case, but it is the case.

If you need a copy of your converted eBook file, you can download the finished MOBI file from KDP after it converts. Once you have saved to your computer, you can send it to a Kindle to preview or use a program like Calibre to convert it to other eBook formats like ePub.

Use textboxes or drawn lines to set-off sidebars

If you’re book is non-fiction or instructional in nature you might be interested in using “sidebar” sections that are set-off from the main text. Sidebars are commonly used to offer digressions on tangential topics of interest, tell interesting facts or anecdotes, and sometimes to emphasize or reiterate important points or statements that were made earlier. A familiar example of the last type are “pull-quotes;” these are often seen in magazines and sometimes in web-based articles. A pull-quote is where a statement or remark is set in a larger font size to draw the reader’s attention to it to make it stand out from the surrounding body text.

If you are like me, your first instinct is to try using text boxes, lines, or other inserted shapes in Word to achieve these sorts of effects. The long and the short of it is that these sorts of graphical elements are just not going to work in most cases when you convert your book for Kindle. Text boxes end up being saved as image files when your Word document is converted to HTML and they will output differently. Manually inserted lines can show up in wacky places and with the wrong lengths. To build in the sort of in-text elements discussed earlier, we need to use tools that will transfer over better to HTML.

You can use the table function in word (or HTML if you know enough code) to set-up side-bars and call-out type boxes using single-column tables. As was mentioned in part one, tables aren’t always the greatest in Kindle because they can end up being broken across page turns in inconvenient places, but c’est la vie. They do allow for better relative positioning and resizing within the text thanks to their HTML attributes.

An even simpler solution is to use the horizontal rule tag <hr> in your html editor to break up text or set-off side-bar sections from the main narrative. This is what I did for my sidebars in 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss.

If you are specifically interested in using pull-quotes, you could try using the <blockquote> tag, as this tag has been designed specifically for them.

Summary

Whew! When I started writing this little series, I thought it would be fairly concise…so much for that dream. Anyways, if you have stumbled into this post and its earlier sister post, I hope you have a found tips that will be helpful to you on your own indie publishing journey. If you have your own Kindle formatting tips, insights, or horror stories, I’d be keen to hear about them!