Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bordering on Business-Speak

A while ago, I wrote about the perils of Business-Speak. Say What? explored the dangers of using 25-cent words when 5-for-a-dime ones would do just as well. It bemoaned the practice of convoluting perfectly good English in an effort to make one appear better educated, better informed, or just "better" than the general public.

To kick off the earlier post, I mentioned -- and quoted -- a well-known and well-respected writer of one of my husband's techno-geek magazines.

Well, of course such a person would have spider-bots crawling the web looking for mention of his name. The original writer noticed my post and commented upon it online. Being a decent sort of person, he didn't bring his flamethrower. He acknowledged the dangers of Business-speak, and was quite gracious about a total stranger (me) taking his use of language to task.

I was reminded of these events today, when, while reading the news, I came across tales of Borders Bookstores financial woes. In a statement discussing the company's $42.5 million financing commitment, Borders CEO George Jones said:

We believe that consummation of the transactions under the commitment will make us fully funded for 2008, where absent these measures, liquidity issues may otherwise have arisen in the next few months.

I have to say, that I agree with him. If I were guaranteed $40 million, I believe the House of Hendrickson would be "fully funded for 2008" as well.

There is nothing wrong, per se with Jones' comments. It's just that instead of saying "With these funds, we should be able to limp through the year, but without them, we'd have been broke by summer," he felt compelled to couch those sentiments in Business-speak. Why?

Perhaps if Jones had simply said what he meant, investors would have jumped ship in droves. Clarity of word often leads to decisive action.

On a day when headlines include both Jobless Claims Hit a Two-Month High and Big Payday for Wall St. in VISA's Public Offering (which discusses how VISA has become the largest U.S. IPO in history: over $18 billion), it probably behooves a beleagured CEO to border on Business-speak so that only those who are listening closely will be able to discern what he's saying.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Back" in Horse & Rider

I just discovered that The Rider's Pain-Free Back is featured in March's Horse & Rider magazine.

They feature a nice overview of the book, with specific references to sections that can help alleviate back pain. There is also an excerpt of the "Spider Crawl," one of the easier, more useful stretching exercises.

I'm thrilled. Doing the exercises has been very helpful to me. They take very little time, and I'm not sore after I ride or do groundwork. I'm hoping that they can be as beneficial to others, too.

I've been working Theo regularly lately. We've been doing some riding and a lot of fun groundwork. I really like working him at liberty. He's learning to free lunge in a large arena, to bow, and to come when he's called.

Yesterday, we worked with another horse in the arena and though he wasn't perfect, he wasn't horrible. I have grand plans of doing liberty groundwork and tack-free riding with him to show people that Percherons aren't just big clunky work horses. Theo is light, nimble, sure-footed, and sooo willing. He's such a joy to work with.

I grew up showing hunters. But I have to admit that "show ring riding" holds very little appeal to me anymore.

Walk... trot... walk... canter... walk... reverse... walk... trot... walk... canter... walk... Come into the center and line up... Back...Stand.

I figure if I'm bored to tears with the drill, my horse is probably wishing he were in a coma.

I found Stacey Westfall's amazing 2006 tack-free reining demonstration truly inspiring. Lately, I've been studying the things that Frederic and J.F. Pignon, Klaus von Hempfling, and others are doing with their horses. I am having a ball working on developing the connection and communication required to work together with my horse. And I am convinced that my horse is enjoying our time together far more than he would if I were simply "working" him.

I'm grateful to the exercises in Dr. Warson's book that are keeping my 40-something back strong enough for me to play around with my 2,000 pound, 19 hand boy. Here's hoping that the Horse & Rider exposure will help other backs as well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's Only Words

It's official: we don't mean what we say.

Do you take this woman...? I do.

I've never felt like this with anyone else...

I'm the president of the company -- I would never lie to our shareholders...

I'm very concerned about our part in global warming.

And, in Ohio: I'm a Democrat.

I find it fascinating that over 16 thousand self-described conservatives -- die-hard Republicans who champion Life (without choice), Liberty (with wiretaps but without immigration), and the Pursuit of Happiness (heterosexuals only, please), and who publicly stand firm on their beliefs in God and Country -- would commit a felony in order to champion those beliefs.

According to the article in the Plains Dealer, Ohio voters in last week's primary listened to the on-air exhortations of conservative talk show hosts ("It's like the voice of God," I can imagine them saying...) and participated in a "plot" to undermine the election process.

Mucking with elections. In Ohio. I, for one, am shocked.

So -- this time -- here's what happened. A Republican presented him- or herself at the polling center and declared that allegiances had changed. A card was signed to that effect, and the person could then cast a vote for the other party's candidate (read: the enemy) that he or she felt had the least chance of defeating the party's Official Choice.

One woman who "crossed over" is quoted as saying, "I don't mind being deceptive to politicians. They are deceptive to us."

Another said she "crossed over" to mess with the results because she "doesn't trust" the opposition's strongest candidate.

So she was willing to sign a statement pledging allegiance to a new ideology that she doesn't believe in, to commit a felony punishable by up to a year in jail, and incur a $2,500 fine.

So -- who's not trustworthy here?

It kinds of makes you go "hmmmm....."

It's only words, we're quick to point out. Actions speak louder, you know.

Is that so? I'm not so sure. The advice to "Let your 'yes' be 'yes,' and your 'no' be 'no'" has an alluring simplicity to it. Say what you mean. Do what you say.

Besides -- forming words is an action. So is signing a voter's pledge card.

Screenwriting guru Syd Field made the famous pronouncement that "Drama Is Conflict." When creating characters in a work of fiction, it is often useful to have them do something that flies in the face of their own dearly-held beliefs. However, in film, those actions generally have consequences that result.

Imagine the drama that would result if the "Ohio 16,000" were forced to live up to their pledge and only vote along their new party lines for the next election cycle. Now THAT would be worthy of more than a few choice words.

Language is the thing that separates us from the animals. It's what makes us human. It's also what makes us capable of prevarication, lies, and abuse of the truth.

What we say influences what we do. Saying one thing and doing another only cheapens what we originally claimed to stand for. It becomes "Conviction of Convenience," able to be dropped, edited, or manipulated at a moment's notice.

While it's true that saying something doesn't make it so, there is no escaping the fact that saying something untrue does make a person a liar.

Harsh language? Perhaps. But don't get offended. After all -- it's only words. Right?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Good Advice on Script Consultants

My friend, Sheila Gallien , screenwriter and script consultant to the stars, has written an excellent article about how to get the most benefits from a script consultant.

We writers need good criticism. We know that. But we often don't know where to get it. Our family and friends serve one purpose -- to tell us how fabulous and creative we are. But as the rejections accumulate from agents and producers, one quickly comes to the conclusion that perhaps Mom may not be the go-to person for an honest appraisal of a work.

Finding a qualified consultant to discuss your script (or book) with you, to point out story strengths, and to illuminate weaknesses isn't always easy. Several things have to happen first:

* The writer must be ready to hear an unvarnished critique.
* The writer must realize that NO work is ever perfect. No consultant will ever read a screenplay and say "It is perfect. Change nothing. Let me put you in touch with my agent who will make all your dreams come true."
* The work must be thoroughly edited and as polished as the writer can make it.
* The writer must believe in the merits of the work so much that criticism doesn't dissuade the writer from championing the project.
* The writer must have done his or her homework in order to choose a consultant who is a good fit -- creatively and professionally.

Ms. Gallien has been a consultant for years. Her credits are impressive and impeccable. If you have a script that you are ready to take to the next level, and are considering a script consultant, you owe it to yourself and your work to read what she has to say about making the writer / consultant relationship work for you.

In addition to addressing things like creative communication, the consultant's tone, and avoiding a consultant's baggage, I especially like the article's Tip #5, which addresses the consultant's experience with scripts in different stages of development.

When I consult with writers on books they are working on, I am very up-front about my experience with the publishing process. I feel that I bring the most to the table when discussing non-fiction works, because those are what I have the most real-world, hands-on experience with. I have actually taken books from concept through creation to publication. I understand how a project's parameters might change during each phase.

In the same vein, when I work with a script consultant, I want to make sure that the consultant has worked with many optioned and produced scripts. Otherwise, I'm essentially paying for a glorified reader's opinion -- and that won't help me or my script much.

Sheila Gallien is the real thing. She has literally written the book on screenwriting. She has worked with a veritable Who's Who in the film industry. And she took the time to work up an article dispensing free advice to writers ready to take the next step in polishing their work.

Is your script ready for a consultant? Only you can say. Perhaps, after reading Sheila's article , you'll agree with me that the better question might be: "Am I ready to hear what a consultant has to say?"

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Not in A Million Years

What's the difference between a million, a billion, a trillion?

A million has 6 zeros (1,000,000)
A billion has 9 zeros (1,000,000,000)
A trillion has 12 zeros (1,000,000,000,000)

A million seconds is 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds.
A billion seconds is 31 years.
A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

The United States of America has not existed for a trillion seconds.
No civilization -- Western, Eastern, or Middle Eastern -- has been in existence for a trillion seconds.
Recorded history has not existed for a trillion seconds.

A million minutes ago was 1 year, 329 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes ago.
A billion minutes ago was over nineteen hundred years ago -- just after the time of Christ.

A million hours ago was in 1894.
A billion hours ago, man did not exist -- regardless of what "Origins of Man" theory you adhere to.

A million dollars ago was five seconds ago at the U.S. Treasury.
A billion dollars ago was late yesterday afternoon at the U.S. Treasury.
A trillion dollars ago, we were halfway into the current "War on Terror."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 300 million people in this country.

If Bob Herbert's New York Times editorial is to be believed, the current war our Fearless Leaders have waged in the Middle East will cost this country (read: us) at least $2 billion.

The war in Iraq will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers not hundreds of billions of dollars, but an astonishing $2 trillion, and perhaps more...

On Thursday (Feb. 28, 2008), the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Which means, if you do the math, that 3 hundred Million people will bear the financial burden of at least 2 TRillion dollars.

To the tune of $6,667 per person.

Did I authorize that expenditure? Hmmm....

Not in a Million Years.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Don't Know Much About History

"In fourteen hundred ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue..."

Thus begins the little rhyme designed to help schoolchildren learn Important Dates in History. Our focus on Columbus as the "discoverer" of America completely ignores the Norsemen who made the same discovery five centuries earlier. And, according to British author Gavin Menzies, it also discounts the Chinese who beat Columbus here by over 70 years.

Ancient maps, pre-Columbian Chinese beads, Native American folklore, and even the upheaval that accompanied a change in Chinese ruling dynasties are all cited to support the "1421 theory" that Menzies proffers in 1421: The Year China Discovered the World his bestselling book.

Of course, for every historian who embraces the idea, there are hordes of scholars who are slavering to debunk it.

Which just goes to show that no matter how much you think you know, there will always be someone waiting in the wings to prove you wrong. Regardless of one's expertise, regardless of the study, research, blood, sweat, and tears one pours into an endeavor, there will be someone else willing to invest the same amount of effort to show the chinks in the argument's armor.

It's the yin and yang of truth.

No matter what we believe, we can never be 100% SURE. What is true may be absolute. (Whether or not history ever remembers his name, someone commanded a ship that discovered North America and brought it to the attention of the rest of the world.) But that doesn't mean people will ever buy into it and accept it without argument.

Whether or not you subscribe to the 1421 Theory, it's a fascinating undertaking for someone to pour so much time and energy into questioning the veracity of such a historical behemoth. It's the amateur historian David against the Goliath of conventional wisdom. And it reminds us that though we expect the future to surprise us, our past is just as much a cypher.