Saturday, January 10, 2009

Who's this 'Pete'?

My husband and son are convinced I'm having an affair with some guy named Pete, because for the last week or so, I've been wandering around in a daze, randomly muttering or loudly exclaiming, "Oh, for the love of Pete!" I'm not unfaithful; I'm just trying to eliminate profanity from my repertoire.

The latest random outburst was provoked by a response to one of my comments on the CPSIA - the sort of response that goes, "Oh, it can't be THAT bad. You'll see. Someone else will take care of the problem before it affects US."

When I suggested that the poster actually read the law in question - you know, to see what the words say (since we're both writers here, one assumes words matter), I got: "I don't need any 'factual basis' to form an opinion."

Oh, for the love of Pete!

My dad used to joke around and say, "My mind's made up, don't confuse me with facts!" I didn't realize people really thought like that until a couple of years ago, when I asked, on Microsoft QnA, which was more important: fact or opinion?

The majority seemed to favor opinions, even those formed in a vacuum.

Watching Leno reruns last night, I caught him asking some woman on the street who she voted for in the election. "McCain."

He showed her a photograph. "Who's this?"

"Cheney?"

"No."

"I don't know, then."

"John McCain."

Oh, for the love of Pete!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Open Letter to Artisans and Authors Regarding CPSIA

We cannot sit by and hope that someone else will be our voice. Think "Horton Hears a Who." We have to join together and add our individual voices to the call to action.

You know that the artisans were among the first to realize the impact of this ill-begotten law known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This was hot news on sites like Etsy, well before most of us woke up and realized there was a new law that would have a swift, direct, and negative effect on our livelihoods. Of course they thought of their art, first, which is understandable. Had they looked at the broader implications, they might have raised the red flag earlier and gotten the attention of kids' clothiers, authors, publishers, and resellers, which might have made their combined voices loud enough to be heard in Congress before this law was passed.

Kids' clothiers were next. They wisely brought in the resale shops, the thrift stores, the charitable organizations and pointed out that under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, you can't sell or give away any children's products that have not been independently tested by a third-party lab and certified compliant with this law. The law is retroactive, so it applies to that box of children's clothes you just gave to the local thrift store. In recognizing this secondary market (which, normally, does them little good), and getting those groups to stand up and cry out, they widened the circle of influence.

Somewhere along the line, someone noticed that this overreaching law would apply to books, too. Authors and book publishers immediately saw the connection between books, schools, second-hand book stores, and public libraries. We connected the dots and saw the ludicrous implications: textbooks banned in grades K-7, children banned from public libraries, classic books destroyed because they could not be sold or given away. We even saw the connection between self-publishers, small press, and large imprints.

We need to get artisans who produce toys, clothes, and accessories for kids; children's book authors; and publishers on the same page - hammering on all these issues as if they were of equal importance to us all. Because really, if we writers "win" an exemption for books, but handmade toys and clothes are still facing the same predicament, the U.S. economy suffers as a whole - and it affects all of us in the long run, because no one's going to be buying our books if they can't afford clothes for their kids. If the artisans "win" an exemption, but books are not included, kids will have their toys and clothes, but what about books to nourish their minds?

As writers, we should be writing eloquent arguments. The article "Industry Scrambling to Comply with Child Safety Act," by Karen Raugust at Publisher's Weekly was excellent - the first of its kind that I would truly call "excellent") at presenting the facts and issues clearly. We need to be writing more like it. We could write interviews with others who are affected, and articles predicting the unintended "collateral damage" along the way. I'll bet no one in Congress thought about textbooks and libraries when drafting this law.

And we need to stop attacking our own. I'm tired of fellow artisans, writers, publishers, and others dismissing these very real concerns and issues as "alarmist," just as I'm tired of Republicans and Democrats standing behind their Party platform without ever having read it. By the way, you can't blame "the other side" for this mess - though the Act was sponsored by a Democrat, it passed unanimously among those who voted. It is truly a bipartisan disaster.

To anyone who has not READ the entire text of the law, and to those who say they've merely "skimmed" it: READ the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 before pooh-poohing the very real concerns and issues raised.

To parents who are concerned with unsafe products designed for and marketed to children: We agree with you! Many of us are parents and grandparents, too. We love our kids, and we are just as outraged by the callousness of mass-market toy manufacturers (and dog food manufacturers, and baby formula manufacturers, and...the list is virtually endless, isn't it?) who allow even small amounts of toxic chemicals to come in contact with our kids. But show me one incident of harm to a child that stems from handmade toys, children's clothes, or accessories made in the U.S. Show me one incident of harm to a child that stems from books - any books produced in any country in any decade.

To anyone who is unfamiliar with law in general, don't try to offer a "legal opinion." Your "legal opinion" is likely wrong and it's wholly irrelevant. Don't speculate on what will or will not be enforced, or what penalties will be handed down - the only facts we have are the law itself, as written, and the CPSC's pathetic attempts to "clarify" it. You don't get to make stuff up or interpret what you think it "really" means when it comes to law - only the CPSC has that power now.

We need to agree on a purpose and work together to achieve it. Mine would be to get the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 repealed and sent back to committee with orders to hire a professional writer who can help to craft it so it makes sense, achieves its meritorious objectives ("to protect children from toxic materials") and doesn't trash the U.S. economy further. I'm not interested in compromise and clarification - short of immediate repeal, a very clear statement exempting all books and all items of clothing, toys, or fashion accessories hand-made by U.S. artisans and craftspeople from onerous testing requirements would satisfy me. Hold them responsible if there is an incident of lead poisoning that can be traced to their products - I have no issue with that. Certainly, hold suppliers - both domestic and international - responsible for any toxins in their materials. But this is ridiculous.

 

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Good News for Thrift Stores & Consignment Stores

Read this "clarification" of the CPSIA very carefully:

The new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that children's products made after February 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban. Sellers of used children's products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.

The new safety law does not require resellers to test children's products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children's products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.

(excerpted from "CPSC Clarifies Requirements of New Children's Product Safety Laws Taking Effect in February: Guidance Intended for Resellers of Children's Products, Thrift and Consignment Stores" at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09086.html )

So, essentially, resellers, thrift, and consignment stores are exempt from the testing and certification requirements, but will still face stiff penalties if they accidentally sell something that contains lead or phthalates. Sure, that's great news - they escape the up-front cost burden, but still assume a risk if they sell secondhand goods that turn out not to be compliant. As if they had any control over the manufacturing process or materials that went into those goods.

But of course, now that we KNOW this... think there will be a huge uptick in donated toys and children's clothing prior to February 10?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thanks for the Form Letter, Senator

Last night, I emailed my elected officials: President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator John Cornyn, and Congressman John Culberson, asking them to take action to stop the potentially devastating consequences inherent in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. My email was a succinct version of last night's blog post, Save the Children's Books! CPSIA is a Road to Hell, Paved with Good Intentions . If you haven't read that, please take a minute now to do so.

Still with me?

Today, I received a reply from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison that makes it crystal clear that neither she nor her staffers actually read constituents' correspondence. Either they skim, or they use an autoresponder. (Fellow Twitterers, how do we feel about autoresponders? Riiiiight.) Here is the email I received from the Senator:

Dear Ms. Jahangiri:

Thank you for contacting me regarding consumer product safety.  I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.

Recent recalls of various consumer products, especially children’s toys, have prompted a review of how Americans are protected against faulty products.  Created in 1972, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the independent agency of the federal government charged with protecting Americans against the unreasonable risk of injuries associated with consumer products.  The CPSC fulfills its mission by researching potential hazards associated with consumer products, banning dangerous consumer products, developing voluntary and mandatory standards, and issuing recalls of products already on the market.  This agency has the authority to regulate the sale and manufacture of more than 15,000 different consumer products - such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals.

To address the concerns raised by these recalls, the Senate and the House of Representatives developed separate plans to enhance the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s ability to ensure our nation’s consumer product safety.  In the Senate, S. 2045, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act of 2007, was introduced by Senator Mark L. Pryor (D-AR) on September 12, 2007.  H.R. 4040, the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act, was introduced by Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) on November 1, 2007.

Between March and July 2008, I worked on the bills as a member of a conference committee between the House and the Senate.  At the end of July, we came to a compromise, which passed the House and Senate on July 30 and 31, respectively.  The President signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 into law on August 14, 2008.

            The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act includes a five-year reauthorization of the CPSC and provides more than $620 million for the agency to implement new rules, buy new equipment, and modernize its labs.  Additionally, this funding will be used to increase the CPSC personnel to at least 500 from 367, and it will place additional inspectors at ports of entry and in foreign countries to inspect manufacturing facilities.

According to the CPSC, paint and similar surface coatings of children's toys containing lead have historically been the most commonly recognized sources of lead poisoning.  Currently, paint and other similar surface coatings that contain more than 600 parts per million (PPM) lead are banned by the CPSC.  Under the new law, the allowable amount of lead in paint is reduced further in coming years, and the lead ban is expanded to regulate the surface of the products as well as the paint.  Currently, when the CPSC orders a recall, they will not announce it publicly for 30 days to permit manufacturers an opportunity to address the concerns of the CPSC and to prevent certain proprietary information from being released.  The final measure that we agreed to cuts this time period in half to 15 days, in order to allow information to reach the public more quickly.

Should a manufacturer be found guilty of violating consumer product safety laws, the bill we passed provides for an increase in the cap on civil penalties that can be levied against the manufacturer and provides expanded criminal liability.  As an additional enforcement tool, the measure allows individual State Attorneys General to bring actions against manufacturers for violations of certain federal consumer product safety laws.  The coordination between the state Attorneys General and the CPSC means that we will have a greatly enhanced monitoring and enforcement framework to protect the public against dangerous products, and to enforce recall orders once they are issued, by making sure that retailers are promptly removing the dangerous products from their shelves.

As a mother of two young children, I empathize with parents who are anxious to protect their kids against unsafe products.  As a U.S. Senator, I must also ensure that federal laws do not go further than necessary when attempting to guarantee the safety of consumer products.  I believe this bill struck a good balance between these goals, and I will continue to work to protect our children from unsafe products.

I appreciate hearing from you, and I hope that you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue of concern to you.


Sincerely,
Kay Bailey Hutchison
United States Senator
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
202-224-5922 (tel)
202-224-0776 (fax)
http://hutchison.senate.gov


PLEASE DO NOT REPLY to this message as it is not a valid e-mail address. Due to the tremendous volume of mail Senator Hutchison receives, she requests that all email messages be sent through the contact form found on her website at http://hutchison.senate.gov/contact.cfm .


If you would like more information about issues pending before the Senate, please visit the Senator's website at http://hutchison.senate.gov .  You will find articles, floor statements, and press releases, along with her weekly column and monthly television show on current events. You can also sign up to receive Senator Hutchison's weekly e-newsletter.
Thank you.

 

 

So, folks, when you write to complain to your elected representatives, be sure not to agree with anything: Don't say that "children need to be protected from products with lead and phthalate content" even if you do believe that - because they'll stop and likely break an arm patting themselves on the back.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Save the Children's Books! CPSIA is a Road to Hell, Paved with Good Intentions

As a mother, I wholeheartedly agree that children need to be protected from products with lead and phthalate content. However, when it comes to books, the burden is being placed on the wrong people.

Publishers, particularly small publishing houses, and authors have little or no control over the materials used in the production of books, only the print vendors do. Yet, under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, publishers and/or authors must pay fees that will essentially put them out of business in order to prove that each book published complies with the federally mandated requirements for lead and phthalate. Small companies and their authors cannot afford to pay $110 for an initial test for one batch of one title, and then up to $500 or more for a thorough test. Further, each batch - each print run for each title - would have to be tested. Printers don't have to provide any proof of testing and safety; they are not targeted by this law, yet, they have the only control over materials used in books.

The law is retroactive. So, what about used books? Old textbooks? Will underfunded schools be forced to replace all of their textbooks and library books? What about public libraries? Will they have to replace their books - or ban children? It gets worse - the books also cannot be donated or shipped overseas. Who will pay to store them until the laws change? Will they be banned and destroyed?

With the global economy in abysmal shape thanks largely to our own government's failure to act, it seems a very bad time to allow a poorly worded piece of legislation - full of good intentions that will pave the road to hell - to drive countless small businesses out of business, including those of stay-at-home moms and dads trying to care for their families and make ends meet.

How many books contain lead and phthalate? How many children have been harmed by toxins in books? How many more will be irrevocably harmed by depriving them of a wide variety of books from which to learn to read and think?

As of January 15, vendors such as Amazon.com will refuse to sell our books unless we provide proof that our books have been tested and meet the requirements. Even if each batch of each title passes muster, we've still paid thousands of dollars to prove it - and are still left without any real control over the materials used. Place the burden of proof on the people who provide the materials and manufacturing, not on authors, artists, and craftspeople. Large toy companies like Mattel might survive this legislation, but small businesses will not.

-----------

Please help save Trockle and his friends (all books that might be enjoyed by children under age 13) from the real "monsters" - write to your Congressional Representatives and ask that this law be repealed and rewritten (its intentions are laudable, its current implementation is horrendous). Spread the word. Blog about it, tell your friend, write a letter to the editor. Note that CPSIA also places an unfair burden on other small businesses, including stay-at-home moms and dads who make handmade toys, jewelry, clothing items, blankets - any product designed for children under age 13.

For additional information, search for "CPSIA" and "books". Here's a good post that goes into some detail:

http://bookshopblog.com/2009/01/04/book-burning-on-feb-10th-2009-due-to-cpsia/#comment-2557

Here's a copy of the letter sent out by Amazon.com:

http://issues-in-publishing.blogspot.com/2008/11/cpsia-sneaking-up-on-us.html

The law has already passed and goes into effect NEXT MONTH, so this is urgent.

 

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

bodybugg® and I: About to Part Ways?

I love the bodybugg®. Unfortunately, what I didn't know when I purchased it was that it required a subscription to the Web site in order to get data out of the bodybugg®.

First, I object to this in principle. I should have done more research, but I did know it was a bargain when I saw it on special for $99 when signing up for five 25-minute personal training sessions (also a good deal) at 24 Hour Fitness. I just stupidly assumed that a physical electronic device like the bodybugg® would be like a PDA (or any other physical electronic device I've bought in the last 20 years) - it would work with software I installed on my PC, period.

Second, it came with a three month subscription (which expired two days ago) to bodybugg.com (apexfitness.com). I don't like the user interface; the site's slow; and it does only ONE thing I want: gets the data out of the bodybugg®. I have other tools I prefer for tracking my food intake and such, and those tools are FREE (see SparkPeople.com). I lost nearly a month's worth of the three-month subscription when my PC crashed - my new PC runs Vista Home Premium 64-bit operating system, and getting the right version of Java to work with the bodybugg® was a little tricky (hint, it's the 32-bit version - the 64-bit version doesn't contain all the needed components, but rather than display an intelligent error message explaining the problem, the Web site just hangs when you attempt to log on).

We interrupt this rant to give compliments where they're deserved: Customer support gave me the clues I needed, but I couldn't stay on the phone with them long enough, right before the holidays, to troubleshoot the problem and configure the new PC it properly. They get major kudos, though, for friendliness and for having a clue, which was enough to enable me to eventually solve the problem on my own. 24 Hour Fitness and bodybugg® customer support do treat their customers well, and in an era when so many customer support centers are bearing the brunt of customer ire and so deservedly so, this is worth mentioning.

Third, the subscription plans are expensive, in my opinion, for what you get (remember, all I want to do is download the data from the device - I am not using any of the other tools on the site, nor do I have any interest whatsoever in doing so):

Renewal Option:
bodybugg® Web Subscription Monthly Recurring ($14.95)
bodybugg® Web Subscription 1 Month Only ($29.95)
bodybugg® Web Subscription 3 Months ($39.95)
bodybugg® Web Subscription 12 Months ($99.95)

Fourth, the Web site doesn't work with anything but Internet Explorer. Need I say more?

So, it's a bit of a dilemma:

Keep paying, over and over, just to keep the $99 device (normally $249 and now a newer, sleeker model) functioning? Give it up and call it a $99 trial and an expensive lesson learned in assuming anything ("user error" in failing to do extensive research)? Smack myself repeatedly for making a stupid "impulse purchase" at 24 Hour Fitness (which OWNS the bodybugg®)?

And to think, I was actually really tempted to buy the display unit. Until I realized it still required the @#$% Web site subscription. Now it's not even an either-or choice (obviously, if it were, I'd get the display and skip the Web site altogether).

I'm going to have to think about this a while. Meanwhile, the bodybugg®'s been tossed aside and my arm - which looks a little like I ripped a Band-Aid off wet skin, since I forgot to move the device around and let my skin breathe - is happy to be rid of the thing. My brain, still hyped on fitness resolutions for the new year is less jazzed - it's still urging me to consider the overpriced subscription.

But right now, I'm leaning towards listening to my arm. Unlike my brain, it has never led me astray.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Flaming Red Pen of Death™ Award

Flaming Red Pen of Death Award

This award will be given to the bloggers who exemplify the spirit of the Red Pen of Death™ by consistently exhibiting at least 5 of the following traits:

  • Ruthless honesty in writing;
  • A knack for irresistibly engaging the reader, compelling him or her to immediately act - or at least leave thought-provoking comments;
  • Ability to argue one or both sides of an argument effectively, without being wishy-washy or Namby Pamby as to which one they agree with;
  • Ability to make clear distinctions between personal opinions and assertions of fact;
  • Ability to distinguish truth from cruelty, tact from "political correctness," and worth from popularity;
  • Unflinching appreciation when presented with constructive criticism, and the ability to let hateful negativity fall off their shoulders like chocolate cupcakes off a well-greased pan;
  • Fearlessness and uncompromising honesty when giving constructive criticism, coupled with the ability to find something positive and encouraging to say without "sugar coating" the truth.

Nominations are open now for the first recipients of the Flaming Red Pen of Death™ Award. There will be no voting. There will be no passing of the flaming pen. You nominate; I choose. I reserve the right to choose additional judges should the nominations FLOOD in (and I hope they do, but choose your nominees wisely or I reserve the right to completely ignore future nominations from you for any awards whatsoever). Spammers, sploggers, and scrapers need not apply.

Now, click Mr. Linky and send me a link (enter your NOMINEE's name and URL when prompted for yours):

Down there in the comments, tell me why you think this blogger deserves the award.

Nominations for the first award will close on January 16, 2009. I hope to make this a monthly award, with nominations being open for the first two weeks of each month.

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Prémio Dardos Award

premios_dardo_2008_best_blog_darts_thinker_bordered

Jane Kennedy Sutton, author of the blog "Jane's Ride," has honored me with the Prémio Dardos - or Darts Prize. Obrigado, estou muito grato, Jane.

The Prémio Dardos is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

Though I have been unable to ascertain the origin of the Prémio Dardos, I believe it began in Portugal or Brazil, and I believe this is the closest rendition of the original intent available:

Com Prémio Dardos se reconhecem os valores que cada blogueiro emprega ao transmitir valores culturais, éticos, literários, pessoais, etc. que, em suma, demonstram sua criatividade através do pensamento vivo que está e permanece intacto entre suas letras, entre suas palavras. Esses selos foram criados com a intenção de promover a confraternização entre os blogueiros, uma forma de demonstrar carinho e reconhecimento por um trabalho que agregue valor à Web.

The rules are:

1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.

2) Pass the award to another 15 blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award. So, I am passing the torch to:

Home Is Where The Cars Parked

Lea Schizas - Award-winning Author/Editor

June Cleaver Nirvana

How to be a Woman..?

La Vida Es Un Sueno

Lion's Ima

ApronStrings 

My terrene reality

Ramblin' On

Mark Salinas, MN

jill jill bo bill

Beba

Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap

Straight From Hel

Notes on a Writer's Life