Tuesday, June 16, 2015

David Brooks: "The Road to Character": stories on How to Be Good

Author: David Brooks
Title: “The Road to Character
Publication: New York: Random House, 2015; ISBN 978-0-8129-9325-7, 300 pages, hardcover, 10 chapters
Amazon link
Fareed Zakaria featured this book recently on his Global Public Square, as a treatise on how we can “be good”, crossing all cultural and religious traditions underneath western civilization.
Most of the chapters deal with some aspect of the evolution of character, like “Self-Mastery”, “Struggle”, “Self-Mastery”, “Dignity”, “Love”, “Ordered Love” (an interesting refinement), and “Self-Examination”, winding up with “The Big Me”.
Each chapter presents a couple of historical figures whose lives demonstrate the concept. The book almost has an anthology feel, something like John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles In Courage”, which we all had to read in history class in high school, or even David Boaz’s companion “Libertarian Reader”; so many of those essays in some way discussed how individual character interacts with individual freedom.
Brooks starts out with stating a dichotomy, between the “resume self” and the deeper self that one would want to be remembered for, in an afterlife.  Early, in a chapter called “h Summoned Self”, where he talks about the expectation that social service workers at a place called Hull House  avoid any sense of superiority to their clients, but instead tale turns walking in their shoes.
In the chapter “Struggle” Brooks describes activist Dorothy Day, who sought a kind of purification through loneliness, and then in writing, eventually to feel ashamed enough of her book “The Eleventh Virgin” to want to buy every copy.
In the chapter on Dignity, Brooks chronicles the life of civil rights activist David Rustin, who had to work out own his own his identity both as black and as a gay man, and found these were quite independent, despite political correctness today.
But perhaps the most compelling chapter, “Love”, is the story of British novelist George Elliot aka Mary Ann Evans, who had rejected the upper class compliance with religious practice as intellectually dishonest, to the displeasure of her family, and refused conventional ideas of marriage, before really falling in love, and finding that love required a submission of the self, not a seeking for one’s own virtue.  The story here almost reminds one of Paul Rosenfels.
Then comes “Ordered Love”, with the examination of St. Augustine, who came to question self-ownership and personal autonomy (and the illusion of self-sufficieny), and an acceptance of one’s own need for God and others. I find this off-putting, yet my own schizoid insistence of autonomy and self-sufficiency makes me vulnerable to the first accident.  I think that Brooks could have added a chapter on Resilience here.  One need relationships with others who may themselves be far less than perfectly virtuous in order to keep living after adversity.  One could talk here about the “Upward Affiliation Fallacy” which conservative author George Gilder described in the 1980 in his “Men and Marriage” (April 12, 2006).
“Self-Examination” leads to the narrative of indie English writer Samuel Johnson, who wanted to see everything in moral terms (rather the way I do), in contrast with French writer Michel de Montaigne.
This all leads Brooks to discuss meritocracy, along with the idea in modern culture that everyone gets to broadcast himself as special (the “Selfie” culture – where the other day I noted that a friend, while tweeting his own birthday, offered an Instagram of a food offering rather than of his own handsome face and body.   Meritocracy and the “value of human life” will come into tension, even contradiction.

Monday, June 15, 2015

National Geographic issue covers "Weed"; new legal medical and recreational use

National Geographic, in the June 2015 issue, offers a big booklet article on “Weed: The New Science of Marijuana”, by Hampton Sides and Lynn Johnson (photos).  There’s a link (paywall) here
One of the most effective pictures is a “crop circle” in Colorado, where some marijuana is grown legaly for recreational use within the state. CNN has recently run a series on legal recreational marijuana in Colorado. It’s still a cash business which banks refuse to do business with, so security problems are enormous.
The potential medical benefits for some people are amazing, such as control seizure disorders, as well as controlling nausea from chemotherapy.  Few natural substances have such a varied effect, from beneficial to dangerous, on the body.
Still, it’s hard to see why approved medications can’t be made “legally” even by federal standards that provide all the benefits to patients who need them, from the chemicals that make marijuana effective.
Marijuana is probably less “harmful” in the quantities used than tobacco and even alcohol. Still, one wonders:  did someone like Jahar Tsarnaev go off the rails as a teen and become susceptible to brainwashing because of pot use?  It seems more dangerous to the developing brain (under age), but so is alcohol.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Looks of companies that offer twitter campaigns for authors and even provide pushes of chapters to Kindle

Recently I’ve gotten some “Twitter life” messages suggesting more ways to promote my self-published books.
First, let me point out a Vox article by Ezra Klein on the glories of Kindle (and probably Nook) for readers, and the awkwardness of PDF’s for long articles or position papers published as “booklets”, here

Next, let me point out the “new” sales page for my own books, here.   Tweeting this one link seems to have gotten me an unprecedented rush of followers, but many of them try to sell obvious services to authors. 

There seem to be numerous sites that offer twitter-advertising campaigns for member authors (like “Booktweep” and “Book Tweeter”), claiming to place the books with purchase links in front of hundreds of thousands of people. 

There is a site called “Kindlemojo” that, among other services, has a “Books and Bacon” campaign, link ) intending to push early chapters of books onto large numbers of Kindle devices to encourage future purchases. 

I don’t know if this would be practical for a book like mine (already published) when it is more “academic” in many ways and not as “entertaining” as a lot of consumer items.  It might interfere with other campaigns to place books in stores. 

I've long depended on "passive" advertising of my material, letting it be found by search engines without any specific SEO.  That has worked for a long time in the past  But the people who find "your" material this way may be mostly those in "your choir", not the public at large, because they already are familiar with "your" issues and where to look for them.  
A huge portion of the traffic that I see seems to be fantasy or “alternate world” sci-fi.  

Update: June 15

Note the short film by Calumet on how "self-publishing" and hybrid work today, and on how the traditional publishing industry used the word "vanity" in a vain attempt to gate-keep the book supply smaller. Note the mention of many self-published authors, including Vince Flynn.

I'm seeing a lot of this on Twitter lately.

Update: June 21

Here's another link, "5 Horrible Mistakes Self-Publishing Authors Make" by Laurence O'Brien on "Services 4 Authors", here. Four of the points I agree with.  The email list is more problematical. People don't like getting mass emails today because of the spam problem.  It's easier to get lists of Twitter followers, but you have to be careful not to act too spammy there, too.  I think his idea that it takes traditional publishers a long time to publish a book, partly because they want to have have a lot of favorable reviews accumulated is interesting.  But that means that if a book is about something really important and current (like terrorism) it takes too long to get out.  For fiction this could make sense.  For "How to" in the tech area, it could lead to quick obsolescence.The idea also leads approaches to sensitive social or political issues that over-commercialize and dumb-down the material, and lose objectivity. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Lessons from book publishing in the days of Shakespeare

Vox, in an article by Phil Edwards, talks about how the book industry in Elizabethan England through the nineteenth century faced issues that foreshadow media piracy today. It is titled “What Elizabethan Book Pirates in the 1500s Cam Teach Us about Piracy Today”, link here

In those days, publishers were “licensed” to print and distribute certain content, especially religious or political.  Publishers accommodated to piracy in order to control it.  Licenses were sold, but underground, illegal presses existed.
The idea of “licensing” the right to publish might have seen natural in early centuries after earlier books were copied by hand.  A copy of a book was itself a valuable commodity.  How different that seems today, where companies and authors have physical and digital copies of their work (the later often free or much cheaper) competing with each other.  That’s true with music and video, too.
But fiction was popular, and “fan fiction” was sometimes included with pirated copies. 

The article notes how “John Wolfe” became the “Martin Luther of printing” for printing works that he didn’t have a license to produce.  In those days, government saw public speech as a privilege to be regulated. 

Today, "print on demand" makes the physical copy less significant than ever.  It would seem that even traditional trade publishers could move toward POD technology after filling initial store wholesale (through distributors like Ingram) and initial online purchases with a print run.  But then how would the book distribution business change?  There might be less difference between trade and subsidy publishing, and a lot more of it might be "cooperative" as well as POD.  Branding in publishing would then be affected.