Blogged and Sold

Choire Sicha’s sharp analysis of product placement online and on screen immediately made me think of that fabulous scene in Thank You For Smoking – you know, the one in which Rob Lowe (the kimono wearing film executive) and Aaron Eckhart (the tobacco lobbyist) discuss smoking… in space? (fast forward to 3:00)

In his op-ed, Sicha rightfully questions the value of placing Coke in a movie like The Road: “Who will prevent these man-eaters of commerce from persuading me that my personal escape from Thunderdome must not be Pepsi-fueled?” It’s true, this seemingly arbitrary product placement probably has little impact. But, on the other hand, the see-click-buy variety that companies like Delivery Agent are enabling appears to be the way of the future (and don’t forget the scary Tivo/ Amazon partnership). Yes, we may be immune to cola in the apocalypse, and cigarettes in space, but we all want to know where Joan Holloway bought her dress.

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM


 

May Your Name Be Written in the Book of Life

Theresa Brown, author of Critical CareTheresa Brown (Critical Care, coming June 2010) just sent us this wonderful essay that we’re sharing here in honor of the High Holy Days…

It was a year ago in the hospital, sometime during the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when another nurse and I heard one of the more disturbing sounds we’d ever heard in the hospital coming from a patient’s room. It was like a strangled, low-pitched moaning, and we both went on instant and frightened alert.

On my floor all the rooms have glass windows set into the doors and we began cautiously peering into them as the haunted sound continued. The patient we saw through the first window was sitting comfortably in bed watching television. The second patient was clearly asleep and breathing normally. We moved to the third window in the row, expecting to see something unimaginably horrific and terrible—for what, short of a huge blood clot stuck in someone’s larynx, could cause such an inhuman sound?

We looked into the room together, and saw not a blue-faced patient struggling to breathe, but three men with big beards wearing white shirts, black hats and black suits. One of them was blowing on what looked like a ram’s horn. Quickly we realized that the ram’s horn was the source of the surprising sound.

To us, expecting to see an oxygen-starved patient possibly spitting blood (because that’s what my imagination conjured) and to see instead these three men, embracing the dress and customs of their century-old ancestors, was too much of a contrast. We both burst out laughing, and then hustled away as quickly as we could, hoping the Orthodox Jews who had come to share part of Rosh Hashanah with a hospitalized patient would not hear us.

There’s a large community of Orthodox Jews near where I live, and if you have cancer, we’re the hospital a lot of people come to. We’re close enough that Orthodox friends and family can walk to and from the hospital. It’s a long walk, but it means that Sabbath visits are possible for observant Jews who won’t drive on the day of rest.

Still, the ram’s horn that had caused the other nurse and I so much worry: what was that, I wondered. My husband is Jewish, but a self-described “Hebrew-school dropout;” he wouldn’t know from ram’s horns. So I asked another friend, one who’d served in the Israeli army.

“Oh, that’s a shofar,” he said, his tone implying “Everybody knows that.”

And it turns out the shofar isn’t that exotic, but in the context of the hospital, where anomalous sounds are always worrisome, the tones of this simple instrument, meant to herald the new year, were ominous.

The other nurse and I argued afterwards about what we thought the shofar had sounded like. She heard the moans of a sick cow, whereas I thought it sounded more like a cat stuck in the heating duct. It’s the nature of our work that odd sounds typically signal distress. When I told her later, “That ram’s horn is called a shofar,” she insisted that visitors should warn someone at the nurse’s station before playing such an unusual instrument.

This led to several jokes about hospitals needing to be shofar-free zones. However, knowing a little bit about Rosh Hashanah, what could be more appropriate than blowing a shofar on a cancer floor?

My understanding is that hearing the shofar wakes people up to the idea of judgment and to God’s sovereignty and power. According to tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the time when God decides which names will be written in the book of life for another year—who will live and who will die. Our patients are acutely aware that their fate is out of their hands, that they need all the help they can get to make it into that book. We offer them the most cutting-edge treatment available. But some patients will also find comfort in rams’ horns and their own time-worn traditions of religious community.

I think back on my surprise when I saw those three bearded black-hatted men trying to bring a little piece of their faith to our sterile hospital environment. I was so happy to see them, rather than a patient going through a physical ordeal horrible enough to make him produce such a sound.

Probably for the patient in the room, the shofar, an ancient instrument with years of accumulated cultural and spiritual meaning, sounded like hope. But there’s little space in the modern hospital for displays of faith. When one occurs so dramatically, and so audibly, the effect can be unnerving.

So when the other nurse and I laughed, we were expressing relief. We thought we’d look in the room and see a patient retching blood, but “Gottze dank, just three Mensches playing the Shofar,” transmitting a message we can all find meaningful. Here’s wishing all our patients another year in the Book of Life.

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM


 

Maybe We Should Ask the Nurses?

Theresa Brown, a nurse who has been writing for the New York Times’ website, and whose book about her first year of nursing (Critical Care) will be published by HarperStudio next June, 2010, has just posted an eloquent essay about one young patient, and what his treatment should teach us about “end-of-life care.” It makes us wish that nurses had a larger voice in the current health care debate, since they are often the ones actually delivering that care–and seeing its results.

Theresa Brown's latest post on The New York Times' Well blog

Share This Post

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM

Comments Off


 

Seven Years Later: A Look at Women’s Aid Projects in Afghanistan

The numbers cited in Gayle Tzemach’s recent NYT piece on women’s aid projects in Afghanistan made my jaw drop. Her take on the need for more private sector involement is particularly internesting (Gayle is a former reporter for ABC News and a Harvard MBA). Read the piece here.

Gayle Tzemach's article in the New York Times

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM

Comments Off


 

Stanley Fish on Henry Louis Gates

Stanley Fish on Henry Louis GatesClick through to read the rest.

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM


 

Rolling Stone Executive Editor Jason Fine talks about Michael Jackson

rolling_stone_logo

There are a ton of insta-books on Michael Jackson and other MJ books in the pipeline. How is Rolling Stone’s book different from the others?

This book will be the definitive look at Jackson’s life and music. We will tell the full story of his career, in a fascinating essay by Mikal Gilmore, who has been writing about Jackson since the early days, and we will delve deep into his music — examining in detail the early years at Motown, his move to become a solo artist in the 70s, and his key blockbuster solo albums: Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. We will also draw on deep reporting into Jackson’s private life for a piece that looks at what went wrong in his later years, and we will provide sharp, authoritative critical guides to his songs, videos and other work. It will also contain intimate tributes from artists who knew and worked with Jackson. Unlike the insta-books flooding the market, this book is the ultimate guide to Michael Jackson, with beautiful photographs and elegant design, in classic Rolling Stone style.

The music industry has obviously changed dramatically since the eighties and the media in general is much more fragmented. Does the death of Michael Jackson represent the death of a certain kind of popular culture?Michael+Jackson

Not really — Michael Jackson was a one-of-a-kind icon, on par with Elvis and Sinatra. His music is alive in so many different styles of R&B, rap and hip-hop – from the Black Eyed Peas to Justin Timberlake to Ne-Yo and Usher.

 Someone who is not a Jackson fan said to me recently that Thriller has the sound of a TV commercial. What do you make of that? I instantly disagreed but have been thinking about how pivotal that Pepsi commercial was in his career.

 Jackson was such a huge artist that his music was everywhere – on the radio, MTV, in TV commercials - Thriller sold more albums than any other in history and for a time it became so big it was like the white noise of our pop culture, and globally too. My wife tells a story of going to Egypt on tour in the 90s, and people came up to her in small villages and asked if she knew Michael Jackson. He was that big. For some people, perhaps, the ubiquity diminished the value of the music. But go listen to Billie Jean or Beat It now and tell me it’s not amazing…

Where did Jackson learn to dance? (Did he get the pulled up pants from Fred Astaire?)

Complicated question: he learned from all over – breakdancing, old movies. I can go into this more later if you want.

Some people feel Jackson’s later albums are interesting musically. Do you agree?

Absolutely! Especially Bad and Dangerous, but Invincible and History have very interesting elements to them too that were often overlooked at the time. We will have a piece specifically addressing these later albums.

 We’ve been talking a lot about the cover of MICHAEL. Why aren’t there more quality portraits of Jackson?

Michael wasn’t photographed a lot in his later years – and he was rarely photographed casually. He was very concerned with how he looked and his image, so there aren’t a lot of photographers he was comfortable with. Also, Michael bought up many of the photos that do exist so they are not on the market.

What is your favorite Jackson song?

“Rock with you” and “Don’t stop ‘til you get enough” are probably my all-time favorites. There’s something about that album [Off The Wall] that’s just so exuberant, like he’s breaking loose for the first time, it’s impossible to resist.

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM

Comments Off


 

Dispatches from Kabul: The 1,000 Person Wedding

Wedding by AP Photo/Samir Mizban

The other morning I was invited to do an interview over breakfast at the home of a shopkeeper whom I had already interviewed several times at his work, a trendy, four-story Kabul department store selling elaborately beaded dresses from India ranging in price from $200 to well over $1000. Brides often come with their families to choose one of several outfits which will be worn during what are usually two days of wedding celebrations.

After my generous host wheeled out a delicious continental buffet of chai, naan bread, yoghurt, and cherry jam from Iran, we spoke of his family; he has four children, three of whom were toddlers during the fighting which took place in the country’s north during the Taliban years. He then asked me whether I was married, to which my mischievous colleague, who also serves as my guide and chaperone here, answered, “Yes, she is. Ask her how many people were at her wedding!”

My mild-mannered host looked at me with an expression that formed a question mark, compelling me to elaborate. Yes, I answered, I was married about a year ago. And we had 18 people at the wedding.

“18?” Disbelief and laughter followed. He shook his head and marveled that the number was only double-digit — and low double-digits at that. “Do you know that Afghan weddings are usually at least 1000 people? A small wedding here would be 500 or so guests.”

Now I was in awe. I had heard for years about big and marvelously fun Afghan weddings with music and food and an overflow of family and friends. But 1000 seemed an extraordinarily large number.

“Oh, yes,” said my host. “1000 at least; sometimes much more. And you have to feed all those people!” This means ordering sacks and sacks of sugar and rice and vegetables and meat weeks ahead of time; no big-box super stores here to turn to for last-minute supplies. Over-sized party sites large enough to fit thousands and featuring glamorous monickers such as “Kabul-Paris Wedding Hall” are serious — and lucrative — business here in the capital.

“But that must cost a fortune,”I asked. “How does anyone afford it? In the States weddings are quite expensive; that is part of why people try to limit the guest list. Five hundred people is an enormous wedding in America!”

Weddings are very expensive here, too, said my host. Too expensive. My colleague agreed. People save up for years to afford them. And sometimes the price of a wedding stops the marriage from happening at all. In Kabul, weddings can run upwards of $10,000 to $15,000. An unmanageably large sum for most.

Still, he said, 18 people was too small! If I wanted to have a more affordable wedding with everyone I wished to invite, I should come to Kabul. For the same cost as my small, State-sized nuptials, I could have 1500 people and lots of good food and music here in Afghanistan. Never mind that I am in my mid-30s, well beyond the usual age for marriage here.

“Next time!” I joked, knowing that most Afghans do not share the American belief in multiple attempts when it comes to marriage. “You know we Americans often try two or three times to get it right.” My host broke out into a rolling round of morning laughter. And so did I.

- Gayle Tzemach

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM


 

Choice of a New Generation

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM

Comments Off


 

Sometimes even the President of the United States Must Stand Naked

The transparency zeitgeist seems to be gaining momentum, and not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned. Souped up, old school “control the message” press announcements are feeling more dated than ever. You know we’re making progress when Dominos Pizza takes a play out of the Zappos school of business.

Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do sums it up perfectly in Business Week this week:

Stop trying to control the message
“Institutional” speak is not a good way to have a relationship with your customer
Unleash the power of the people
Beta is a statement of humility and humanity (just ask Google)
Be free to fail
Perfection is a myth
People are generous and forgiving

And in case President Obama and Jeff Jarvis haven’t convinced you that transparency is “in,” check out Gary Vaynerchuk in his blog last week:

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM


 

Remembering John Updike

John Updike

We must write where we stand; wherever we do stand, there is life; and an imitation of life we know however narrow, is our only ground. – John Updike (1932 – 2009)

We’re joining the rest of the world in mourning John Updike’s passing and we are honored to be publishing one of his pieces in our upcoming book Burn This Book

Share This Post
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger Post
  • TypePad Post
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks
  • AIM

Comments Off


 
Next »