Retail Shopping Redux

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In case you missed it, the last Friday Column was rife with complaints from yours truly. Mia hates it when I bitch on my website, and I must admit, re-reading it makes me cringe a little. But, it did garner some back-and-forth, which I always enjoy. Check out an email I got from John Stone, whom I've had an on-and-off correspondence with for a couple years now. John is restoring a Cape Dory 36 and documenting it meticulously on his website farreachvoyages.com. I got the idea for retrofitting a tiller on Arcturus  from John's website, and we've been in touch ever since. Here's his email, partly in response to my whining:

"Andy, I read your article in SAIL magazine on the Cape Horn windvane. Very well done. Clear and articulate . . . probably the best I have seen on windvanes in a long time.

Some random thoughts:

I learned photography with a manual SLR 35mm camera. There is nothing like it to teach photography. I use digital now because I got lazy. I miss the SLR 35mm. With the common snap-shooting pocket digital it is very hard to get the photo one really wants. Technology may make things easier but it does not always take us forward. I applaud your efforts and philosophy.

We share a similar philosophy about keeping things simple—that is apparent in our boats. Though I think we are not alone, we are a very small group. The vast majority of folks are victims of consumerism . . . in all things. But for sailing . . . I think you have to love to sail if you want to keep things simple. I suspect most folks don’t really like sailing . . . they like what it represents. They are not really comfortable under sail . . . thus they motor.

Regarding your Friday column on the economy, etc., I share your idealism but as you probably know it is all about the bottom-line for most businesses. That means advertising. Whatever you can do to generate interest increases your advertising revenue. I have noticed whenever I write anything the least bit controversial the number of visits to my site skyrockets. That is interesting to me. So, if you are NBC, and you have data that shows that running tweets generates interest, viewership goes up . . . revenues go up. etc, etc. I think this is foolish in the long-haul but they are not thinking about the long-haul . . . just quarterly profits.

When I was a student at the war college we were visited by a well known national reporter. He went on and on about the first amendment–which we all profoundly support, of course. But when we asked “why does the news only run the bad things that are happening in Iraq (this was 2004) and not all of the good stuff we had seen every day while operating there,” his answer was that “good news does not generate as much viewership and revenues as the bad events and the news after all is a business.” Well of course that is very hypocritical. He (the news media) is playing both sides of the coin to their business advantage—arguing the moral high-ground of the first amendment (the people need to know) all the while making decisions based on revenue vice ethics.   It’s an interesting subject and of course it has a life of its own. I don’t really know what the solution is except to say that we (the public) need to be aware of, and discriminating in, what we read and we need to pay attention and understand the specifics of what is at stake . . . political, economic, social, and military policy decisions, etc, etc.

Regarding my website, I have been asked why I don’t have advertising links. Well, first I don’t think I would make that much money. But more importantly, I don’t want to be unduly influenced to write something differently than I normally would just because I think I can generate more revenue.  Not only that, it seems to me that I would only be helping to provide advertising to companies who so often don’t seem to be really interested in selling the best product . . . just a product. I would, in fact, be helping to support the very thing that you and I agree is harmful—excessive consumerism.  

For those who would like to make a living as a writer this poses an interesting dilemma—one has to generate interest in the product to make money. Idealism vs reality. I once read an article by

Yvon Chouinard the founder and owner of Patagonia.  I admire him for several reasons but the most relevant to this discussion is that he seems to have developed a philosophical solution to the conflict between ethics and consumerism.  If my memory serves me right, he basically said, we at Patagonia talked so big and mighty about how green we were. But, we finally had to concede that we were polluting the environment with our manufacturing process just like the companies we put down . . . we make synthetic and plastic clothing and gear which require harmful chemicals for manufacturing them, etc. But, he also said we are a profit making company. How do we bring our profit making capitalism efforts better in line with our environmental ideals? He said that is when they decided to lead the way towards greener practices, use post consumer recycling in their manufacturing processes, and donate significant sums of money to the environment. Chouinard also said that by making the best products they could, even though they cost more for the consumer, they would last longer and therefore the production levels would be less than if they made cheap stuff that had to be replaced all the time. I admire him for his honesty and think he has developed a more reasonable moral position . . . blending ethics with capitalism.

With regard to writing and advertising, I think writing about topics that are important and will help others, combined with a writing style that is clear, articulate and interesting to read is the way ahead. The subject, and the writing that takes the reader there, should be the driving factor.

So what does all this mean? Perhaps it is that we need to make sure we know what we believe and be careful about straying from it because we start to see dollar signs. I think this is easier said than done. Nonetheless, if we know what our core beliefs are . . . and incorporate them in everything we do . . . I think we can do something now that we will still be proud of when we are sitting in the rocking chair in our old age. Moral decisions always stand the test of time.

Sorry to ramble, but your writing caused me to think today and that is what a good writer does. Well done.

John"