Mischievous Muse

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Location: Austin, TX, United States

Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The One Turtle

There was a story about baby turtles' race to the sea, after hatching, while the sky was black with seagulls. A man began to fling the turtles into the sea, one by one, while thousands perished. His friend told him he couldn't make a difference, to which he replied: "It makes a difference to that one turtle that makes it." Similarly, no single person can wipe out poverty or all the world's ills, and people often tell me not to try. I always tell them, "It's about that one turtle."

A few days ago, I encountered the website/charity "Wish Upon a Hero." Through it, people in need can post their wishes, and anyone can help. Some of the wishes are small: "Our Christmas will be meager, but if people could send Christmas cards, maybe with some stickers, our children would be delighted." Some are wishes for small gifts or donations. The most heartbreaking, to me, are the ones where parents ask for warm winter clothes they cannot provide for their children. If you can spare the money for a card and a stamp, you can be a hero. If you can send old children's clothes, you can be a hero. If you can purchase a set of crayons or a toy from a parent's wishlist, you can be a hero. You can help within your means and make a difference.

There are hundreds of posts, and reading them can be disheartening—no matter how much you, or I, or all of us together, do, we can't help everyone. But it's not about that. It's about "that one turtle."

If you can, be a hero. Thank you.

LINK: Wish Upon a Hero

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on the Day After

Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity and emotion. Nearly from the time I woke up to when I went to bed, the Amazon/Pedophilia case consumed me. I was hooked up to the phone, email, Twitter, and Facebook without pause (except for a quick trip for groceries), talking and writing to anyone and everyone who would listen (and to many who wouldn't).

The number of people around the world who were horrified and ready to act grew exponentially by the hour, everyone waging their own grassroots-level activism against Amazon's unethical behavior. Individually, our voices were being dismissed by Amazon one by one, but as the number of us grew, we became a nuisance to Amazon's customer reps (whose hands were quite tied). Two Facebook pages of people ready to boycott Amazon, and Twitter full of enraged customers, and people bombarding newsmakers with requests for coverage finally began to turn the tide. Our voices combined finally began to reach the ears of those with real clout — big-named journalists with respected news outlets.

After CNN's Anderson Cooper reported on the matter last night (see two clips at http://www.cnn.com/video/), interviewing Dr. Phil, under the title of "Peddling Pedophilia", Amazon suddenly and silently removed the book from both its US and UK Kindle stores. It took a while before most of us could believe it, and many reloadings of the page, but sure enough, the book was gone. I received an email from Amazon at 3:25am ET/2:25 CT, stating simply "Hello. This book is no longer available for sale." Clearly, Amazon still has a long way to go in the PR department. Even a two-liner stating: "Thank you for your concerns over [Book Title]. We have reviewed the matter and the book has been removed from our site," would have been smoother.

Considering the hours and hours we spent trying to effect that result — the shock, horror, disgust, anger, and even grief most of us felt throughout the process — would, in my opinion, have merited a better statement from Amazon. It would have been nice, even if they were not sincere, to issue an apology to their customers for having to wage the battle in the first place, for leaving us feeling betrayed, and for the outrage they made us feel over their first, callous responses. Where was the PR? Why did a company with Amazon's revenue not hire a special Damage Control PR Team?

The book is gone. That is the result we wanted and achieved. And while most of us will probably slowly trickle back to Amazon over time, their handling of the entire process, ending with a surreptitious concession without gracious apology... leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many, myself included.

For over a decade, Amazon has been my go-to online store. All of my experiences have been positive ones — until yesterday. And yesterday, they irreparably damaged my image of the company and, more importantly, my feelings toward them as a customer. Many of our buying decisions, where the product and price are near equivalent from one store to the next, are based on emotion: "I'll get it through Amazon because I've always had a good experience with them and I like them." They've damaged my trust, and damaged the relationship.

I will not be moving my baby registry back to Amazon, even though most items are a few dollars cheaper there. I don't know when I'll be buying books or other items from them again. Someday, certainly, but not in the near future. Their behavior throughout the whole issue was... sleazy... underhanded. It will be a long time before I can forgive, and even longer for me to forget.

I want to thank everyone who called or emailed Amazon, everyone who tweeted and retweeted, everyone who got up in arms, everyone who did their own, particular, important part. Individually, our voices might have been too weak to reach the necessary ears, but together, we little mice made a mighty roar!

Thank you.


Image tinkered by "Yours, Truly" from a royalty free Image Zoo Illustration

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Open Letter to Amazon.com Re: "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure"

I was appalled to find out you sell a book promoting pedophilia in your Kindle store. The book in question is The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure by Phillip R Greaves II. I immediately called customer service (1-800-201-7575) to complain, and the first customer service representative was appalled right along with me. I was sent an email saying Amazon is looking into the matter and I will be notified of developments.

Some hours later, I called again. This customer service representative said "Amazon has a policy of non-censorship." I answered her that, while the First Amendment protects the author's right to say, write, and even publish his thoughts, the First Amendment makes no requirement for booksellers to sell any given book.

Booksellers have free reign in what they choose or do not choose to sell. There are many books on, for example, Medieval Literature which Amazon does not carry, not because they are offensive or poor in quality, but simply because they are not found appealing or marketable. Nobody is raising a question of censorship in that case. A bookseller can choose not to stock his shelves with books on birds, if he finds birds repulsive. Or he can choose not to order a book on Linguistics, if he thinks it is not interesting or will not sell. Similarly, a bookseller has the right to not order books he personally finds offensive. There is no law, no amendment to the Constitution that requires a bookseller to sell every book ever published.

By Amazon.com not pulling the book in question off their shelves means implicit endorsement of the subject matter. It means this bookseller, Amazon.com, finds some merit in the book; does not find it morally repugnant.

Thus, it begs the question: would Amazon.com similarly choose to offer for sale books with titles such as "How to Torture Animals: Step-by-Step Instructional Manual", "Serial Killer 101", "The Rapist's Guide: How to Excel", or "School Shootings: How to Kill as Many People as Possible in the Least Amount of Time"? If someone wanted to self-publish such titles through Amazon Kindle, would Amazon just shrug and say "We don't want to be accused of censorship", as they have so far done in the case of "The Pedophile's Guide", or would Amazon actually show some ethical backbone?

I have been an Amazon.com customer since the first day Amazon opened its website over a decade ago. I buy everything from books to Kindle books, from shower heads to decalcifiers for my coffee maker, from birthday presents to Christmas presents. I've been part of Amazon Prime from almost its inception and our family spends hundreds, some years thousands, of dollars through Amazon.com. Currently, even my entire baby registry is through Amazon. Please feel free to check my purchase history for the last decade.

I am distressed and grieved that Amazon would hesitate for a minute to pull this title. Where does it say it is acceptable in the name of profit to throw ethics and basic human decency out the window?

Anniina Jokinen (anniina@luminarium.org)

*** UPDATED TO ADD (5:30pm ET/4:30pm CT) ***

Immediately after posting, I sent this over to Amazon as an email. When I got back from getting groceries, I had a reply awaiting. Here it is in its entirety:

On 11/10/2010 3:25 PM, Amazon.com Customer Service wrote:


As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking. That selection includes some items which many people may find objectionable. Therefore, the items offered on our website represent a wide spectrum of opinions on a variety of topics.

Let me assure you that Amazon.com does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts; we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.

Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable. Therefore, we'll continue to make controversial works available in the United States and everywhere else, except where they're prohibited by law. We also allow readers, authors, and publishers to express their views freely about these titles and other products we offer on our website. However, Amazon.com doesn't endorse opinions expressed by individual authors, musical artists, or filmmakers.

We value all feedback from our customers, and I thank you again for taking the time to send us your comments about this issue. Although we won't be able to comment further on this topic, we hope you'll allow us to continue to serve you.

Best regards,

Prince A.


I, of course, wrote right back:

On 11/10/2010 4:17 PM, Anniina Jokinen wrote:


Your reply is a form letter and it is woefully inadequate. It does not respond to the specific points I've brought up in my letter to Amazon (see http://alaydhien.blogspot.com/2010/11/open-letter-to-amazoncom-re-pedophiles.html). This is not a case of "gray area" or run-of-the-mill objectionable or offensive content. This is content that directly promotes crimes against children. This is a black or white issue and as such there are only two options here: 1) Amazon keeps selling it, which means Amazon thinks promoting child rape is acceptable; 2) Amazon pulls it, thereby clarifying its position and sending a message saying child rape is not right. How does your CEO, Jeff Bezos, feel about this matter? Are all the stockholders also quite alright with Amazon selling a book that is a guidebook on how to successfully rape children?

Anniina Jokinen

No response as yet.

*** UPDATED TO ADD (6:45pm ET/5:45pm CT) ***

Amazon terminated the customer service email thread. I called them again just now and spoke with two people. The first was a woman who had no idea such a book was being sold by Amazon and who was, understandably, horrified. She transferred me to the Kindle department. The gentleman told me he was not allowed to say anything more than what Amazon had released in their formal statement (which is nearly verbatim to the email they sent me). See MSNBC's article:

Amazon defends 'Pedophile's Guide'

He made it clear no further statement would be made by Amazon, but agreed to forward my further complaints.

*** UPDATED TO ADD (7:55pm ET/6:55pm CT) ***

I have removed my baby registry from Amazon.com. I can't have people purchasing gifts for my baby from a company who at the same time sells a book on how to molest that same baby. This whole thing makes me want to vomit.

*** UPDATED TO ADD (12:45am ET/11:45pm CT, Nov 11) ***

After Anderson Cooper did a segment on this on CNN tonight,


Amazon has quietly made the page for the book unavailable through either direct link or through their internal search engine, on both the US and UK sites.

Thank you to everyone who tirelessly campaigned for this today.

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