Friday, December 30, 2016

"Interstellar: The Science and Secrets of Solar Systems", from NatGeo, could show more extrasolar planets

“Interstellar”, besides being the name of a 2014 Christopher Nolan movie, is now the title of a glossy coffee table booklet, "Interstellar: The Science and Secrets of Solar Systems", by Patricia S. Daniels, for National Geographic and Times Books, 112 large pages.

The booklet comprises five chapters: “Children of the Sun”, “Rocky Worlds”, “Ringed World”, “Small Worlds”, and “Foreign Worlds.”   The material on the Sun warns us that the average Earth temperature will rise normally to 110 F in half a billion years because the Sun slowly brightens, dwarfing global warming.  And Earth probably faces an extinction-causing asteroid hit every few million years, and will need to develop the technology to deflect them.

Rocky Worlds has a spectacular mural of the volcanic surface of Venus, and says that it is very likely briny water can flow on Mars today.  The ringed worlds gives some attention to Jupiter satellites Europa and Ganymede, and thinks it is likely that some sort of life could evolve in them similar to ocean life near volcanic vents on Earth. It does not pay much attention to Titan, which has real geography.

It does give a lot of attention to Pluto and Charon and small planets beyond, in the Oort cloud, which extends almost half way to Alpha Centauri.  The section on extrasolar planets is a little disappointing.

National Geographic has a several-part “Life Beyond Earth” series free on YouTube, which is well worth investigating further.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How do some authors sell 100 million books are more?

The Style section of the Washington Post today (Wednesday, December 21, 2016) has a long article about selling books, “Publishing’s 100 million book club: The secret to the success of writers such as Rowling, King and Coelho”.  The online version title starts with “meet the writers…”

Several aspects to this scale of commercial success seem significant.  One is that these writers simply have fans, and aggressively cater to them.  Another is that they have a sense of “what other people want” (to follow some old Writer’s Digest advice).  It’s interesting that they are willing to make their heroes somewhat flawed and vulnerable.  That’s in comparison with my own manuscript (“Angel’s Brother) where there are two heroes, one a middle aged man pretty much in mid-summer of life, and the other a college student who seems a bit like Smallville’s “Clark Kent”, or at least someone who seems much closer to “perfection” than others.  (Some other lead characters that I like are the teen pianist Ephram from WB’s “Everwood”, the young filmmaker Danny in the film “Judas Kiss” or both protagonists of “The Dark Place”, or maybe someone like Cobb in “Inception”.  Some writers have ghostwriters who write for them (without recognition).  But that makes me wonder what it would be like to write for a soap opera.

In the trade publishing business, remaining on the mid-list is no good, and big publishers of fiction often wonder if big selling first novels can lead to track records.
I recall reading Dean Koontz, “Midnight”, in the early 1990s, with a conspiracy theory of “monster” takeover appropriate for the technology known in the 80s.  The world hasn’t gone that way.
One of the biggest problems with big political thrillers is that history often doesn’t go in the direction fiction authors expect.  Irving Wallace’s “The Plot”, which I had read in the Army in 1969, never got off the ground as a promised movie (despite the outstanding setup of major international characters in the opening chapters, one of whom made obesity into a virtue) because the Soviet Union fell apart sooner than expected.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bronx librarian brings children's books to homeless shelters

Here is an NBC News story about Colbert Nembhard, manager of the Morrisania branch of the New York City Public Library,  He brings children’s books to homeless shelters in the Bronx.

The video link, with Lester Holt interviewing  is here. (It won’t play with https turned on.)

The New York Times has a similar story Nov. 24, 2016 by Nikita Stewart here.

This is a genre I’ve never entered, but I keep getting emails for children’s books to review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"The Ultimate Guide to 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'" from Entertainment Weekly (sold in supermarkets)

Supermarkets are selling “The Ultimate Guide to ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’”, 96 pages, glossy paper, published by Entertainment Weekly as a “Collector’s Edition”.

The booklet has a preface (“A childhood dream, realized”) by director Gareth Edwards, but most of the content is authored by Anthony Breznican.

On pp 24-29 there is a detailed “Star Wars” franchise timeline, which places “Rogue One” just before the time of the original 1977 movie. The “rebellion” has a female general Jyn (Felicity Jones), who is described as the kind of revolutionary young woman that might have been in the People’s Party back in 1972 when I collided with that group.  Earlier, the federation had become militarized, first with conscription and then by creating clone or robot soldiers. 

On p. 70 there is a “Cosmic Cartography” map of the “Galaxy” with the Key Planets (about 20 of them) without a clear indication of what stars the revolve around. There are galactic regions like “The Core”, “The Colonies”, the “Inner Rim”, “Expansion Region”, and “Mid Rim”.   There are routes on the diagram that make it look like a board game template (like “Global Pursuit”).  Planet seem to have single ecosystems (some may be tidally locked).  Much of this new movie happens on a newly introduced “tropical paradise” planet called “Scarif”.  On p. 68 there are typical scenes from some of the planets, starting with the richer “core worlds”.

Of course, there’s no way you could develop a political organization among different worlds in a “Hyperspace” (around different stars) without breaking the speed of light barrier, with warp drives or wormholes (or The Alcubierre Drive ).

The timeline is helpful in my contemplation of my own novel manuscripts, as what is now “Angel’s Brother” is a contracted story (from the viewpoint of two particular characters, Randy and Sal), extracted from a much longer narrative originally called “Brothers”.  At one time (in 2004) I had designed a “Hauge screenplay analysis” (here ) from the viewpoint of each of the major characters and place them on one Access database.  The “Star Wars” story line seems to have been developed along a similar technique.

I had strung together narratives called “Brothers Prequel”, “Rain on the Snow”, and “Tribunal and Rapture” (all on one Access database), from which I extracted my current 27-chapter novel manuscript. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"Nick Denton, Peter Thiel, and the Plot to Murder Gawker" (Vanity Fair "booklet")

This isn’t a whole book, but it probably deserves to become one (like for a high school English class book report).  That is, the Vanity Fair "Hive" article (Holiday, 2016/2017) by David Margolcik, “V.C. for Vendetta”, a title based on the 2006 WB movie (“V for Vendetta” about an overthrow of a future dystopian British state).  The alternate title on line is "Nick Denton, Peter Thiel, and the Plot to Murder Gawker".

But this is about the odd legal battel between two similar personalities:  Peter Thiel, and Nick Denton.  Thiel helped bankroll (Terry Gene Bollea) Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, which has now driven Gawker under, more or less.   I had covered this in some detail on my May 26, 2016 posting on the “BillBoushka” blog.   The magazine cover asks “what does Peter Thiel really want?” without telling.

The site is still there, as a blog, that ends with the shutdown of Aug 2016.

Both Denton and Thiel are gay, and both are libertarians.  So this sounds like the bitter battle between the GOP last spring.  Thiel could have been disturbed by Denton’s “outing” him in 2007; even then, things weren’t quite as open as they would get under Obama.  Or Thiel might not have liked the coverage of the straight-white-Asian-male world of Silicon Valley.

The article gets into the subject of crushes on straight men (a subject of filmmaker Jorge Ameer).

But Thiel  (who spoke at Trump’s convention as a proud gay man worried about bigger problems than bathroom bills in North Carolina) has a possibly critical contribution to make to the new Trump world.  He gives scholarships to entrepreneurs to skip college (which he sees as a scam to create student debt).  One of these went to Taylor Wilson, now 22, who built a fusion reactor at 14 and whose ideas could save the power grid from solar storms or terrorists some day.  However determined Trump may be to save jobs for coal miners in his base and help oil industry profits (which have helped me), Trump needs to listen to Thiel and Wilson, if he doesn’t want an enemy to make America small again. (See Clynes book review Dec. 14, 2015).

I noticed recently that former GLIL (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, quite active in the 1990s) president Rick Sincere has a book review blog (he talks about Jimmy Fallon and ought to track Jimmy Kimmel too).  A posting in 2014, mentions a book by Stephen Snyder-Hill, “Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement”, Potomac Books.  I immediately ordered the paperback.  Apparently it covers the war in Iraq during the last days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”;  some may be concerned about the conclusiveness of the repeal because of proposed Defense Secretary Mattis’s comments in his “Warriors and Civilians”.  I’ll review  Hill on my Wordpress blog soon.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

"Unprecedented" The Election that Changed Everything", from CNN

Today, I walked in on Politics and Prose (on a visit to the Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria) just in time for a CNN panel on the new coffee table book by Thomas Lake, edited by Jodi Enda, with a Foreword by Jake Tapper, and an Introduction by Douglas Brinkley.  The full title is “Unprecedented: The Election that Changed Everything”. The book came out less than 30 days after Trump's upset electoral win, which CNN called at 2:48 AM EST Nov. 9.

There appear to be 19 chapters, ending with “Trump’s America”, 288 pages published by Melcher Media (ISBN 978-1-59591-096-7).

The last chapter does a number on Obama’s “Yes I can” by retorting, “You can’t vote for a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women” and who has his finger on an imaginary red button.

On p. 259, the book blames the result on the erosion of the supremacy of straight white men, to identity politics, with advances for so many groups, whereas old-fashioned men who have kids, and work for a living stay in place or lose out, yes, as their jobs are sent overseas.

The earlier chapters also explore the implosion of the GOP, and the inability of conventional candidates to hold off Trump because of their “common decency.”

Trump is characterized as vulgar and secular, and not a social conservative.

Amazon sells it for $26, but this local bookstore was charging full list price of $40, although membership discounts are possible.  This reminds me of the days when some people paid list price for records and I didn’t.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Could Trump's anti-fetish over outsourcing labor affect print-on-demand books?

I have wondered if the Trump presidency could affect on-demand book publishing companies.

Many of these companies do a lot of the set-up overseas in countries like the Philippines (with whom UA relations are strained now), to take advantage of cheaper labor  This may be comparable to tech companies using labor in India or eastern European countries.

Printing, however, is still largely done in the US, because it is relatively light in labor demands and because physical books are then shipped.  Printing companies are common in the Midwest, and in the Shenandoah Valley and in Piedmont (like in North Carolina).
Trump is likely to penalize companies who set up new operations in low-labor cost less developed countries (by definition, including China and Mexico, with whom Trump has a fixation, even though China is well developed, with its low wages).  I don’t expect him to interfere with operations already outsourced in the past.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Virginia school system bans "Huck Finn" and "Mockingbird" over supposed racial slurs

Bad boy Milo Yiannopolous (Breitbart editor, banned from Twitter, etc, and rather like Shane Lyons in "Judas Kiss" although the actor who plays that character is a great person) has noted on his own Wordpress blog site that a country on the Virginia shore (the isthmus below Maryland, Accomack county) has banned both "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee and "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens, post here. What about "Tom Sawyer".  I read that in 11th grade.  I read Huck in college freshman English.

I reacted with a comment pointing out a passage in "Huckleberry Finn" in Chapter 8, Page 6, according to Spark Notes (which literature teachers view as a source of cheating). It's the passage where Jim says, if you have hairy arms and a hairy chest, you will be rich.  It sounds like a substitute for being a Caucasian male (even if you look at the old World Book Encyclopedia article on race, where Caucasian body hair is "profuse" and all other races is "sparse").

Milo, by the way, says he has given up smoking by sheer will power. Good and virtuous for him.

It's worth noting that Atticus Finch, the lawyer who loses the case defending Tom Robinson, was mentioned as a major judicial influence by the federal judge who presided over Timothy McVeigh's trial (link). The character however shows racist tendencies anyway in the shocking sequel (but written first) "Go Set a Watchman" published in 2015. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

BBC offers a supermarket booklet on "The Amazing Brain" for coffee tables

The BBC offers an interesting supermarket counter booklet “The Amazing Brain: The Newest Discoveries About Memory, Consciousness, and Free Will”, from the editors of Science Focus,
The booklet has three parts: Neuroscience, Mental Health, and Future Minds.

The Neuroscience part includes two important essays, “What Makes You, You” (by Rita Carter), and “Free Will: The Greatest Illusion” (by Simon Crompton), and “Memory” by Nicola Davies.  The material tends to follow a strictly physical explanation of consciousness and of personality types.  Extroversion, conscientiousness, and anxiety are all connected to concentrations of neurons in specific areas of the brain.  “Free will” is said to be an illusion of numbers.  Although, a lot of us think that a feral cat who adopts a new owner is showing free will.

Identity has always been a bit of a puzzle.  If “I” commit a crime and go to jail, it is “I” who experiences the imprisonment.  It was “I” who felt the ritual of danger of basic training.  If I get hurt, it is “I” who feels the pain.  All of this seems to have something to do with the idea of irreversible causality in physics (which makes reversible time travel impossible).  There is no way I can wake up and have the body of a 21-year-old friend.

The Mental Health book has a chapter on Addiction, and Alzheimer’s Disease (Robert Matthews).

Huffington Post has an article about how microtubules inside neurons resonate with a quantum universe.  This is “Jack Andraka” nano-man type stuff, but the article is a good summary.

I wanted to give a couple of links on whether consciousness survives death.  Here’s one on Quora, and another by Sam Parnia at Southampton University in England, showing consciousness surviving total stoppage of the heart for at least several minutes.  It’s quite likely that we know that we have died, for some time, and that time might seem to stop.

Another thing to look at is distributed consciousness.  This is best known maybe in social insect colonies.  Because insect colonies usually center around one or a few queens, all are relatives, so social organization reduces the need for individualization of the brains of individual workers.  In vertebrates, social groups include non-relatives, so increases the need for complex brain capacities, to function both as an individual and as a member of the group (the old elementary school report card problem). But dolphins and killer whales may have their own distributed sense of self on top of their individual personalities, that is much stronger than for humans.  A comparison of dogs and cats shows how social interaction affects brain and learning capacities in otherwise somewhat similar animals.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hazlitt's "The Foundations of Morality" on PDF from FEE now

I wanted to mention the E-book, “The Foundations of Morality” (2010), by Henry Hazlitt, from the Foundation for Economic Education, at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, pdf link here.  The book comprises 26 chapters and runs close to 300 pages including romans.
The author generally is following a libertarian foundation for morality, and at one point notes that the center of moral behavior is the ability to hold back on immediate pleasure or gain for the self, for greater good for both the self and others farther in the future.  A lot of it has to do with the cognitive ability to “see around corners”.

The author seems to discuss utilitarianism, as Bentham defined it (the way we studied it in high school government class in 1961). 


Chapter 14, “The Problem of Self-Sacrifice” will need careful attention.  Hazlitt does not deny that such an idea as “duty” exists, and that societies generally may rightfully expect individuals to take personal risks to save or otherwise help others in some situations.  He does not deny that in exceptional circumstances an ultimate sacrifice can be expected.  But “sacrifice” is more likely to be expected when some greater general good comes from it.   Giving money to panhandlers probably doesn’t qualify.  But willingness to work in dangerous neigjborhoods or take on risky jobs, like police officer or fireman (even as a volunteer) or in military service, may well be appropriate for many people at points in their lives.  Some risk taking and exposure to “sacrifice” may give the appearance to others of having “skin in the game” and make one more credible later when pursuing one’s own goals.  Most of us can’t get anywhere in life without these experiences at some points.  Trump's claim of sacrifice last summer when confronted by Khzir Khan was quite shocking. 
Hazlitt seems willing to accept the idea that morality involves a lot more than just answering for one's own deliberate choices. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

NatGeo and USA Today publish primers on colonizing Mars

National Geographic and USA Today have major issues dealing with Mars, especially with Elon Musk’s idea of starting colonization in 2033.

The NatGeo issue (“Race to the Red Planet”) supplements the television series that premiered Nov. 14 and places great emphasis on the health of passengers in the 6-month journey.  It says that theoretically some of the health risks could be overcome with a centrifugal force wheel arrangement providing a kind of artificial gravity.

The NatGeo issue also has an atlas of both sides of Mars, and diagrams showing how the living quarters would be laid out.  They might be constructed inside lava tbes.  NatGeo implies that small fission reactors could provide power.  This gives some credibility to Taylor Wilson’s idea that the Earth’s power grids could be made more secure by decentralization using small fission reactors as supplemental sources.  That’s an idea that the new Trump administration could actually take seriously.

The NatGeo issue also has an interesting issue on octopuses, among the most intelligent of invertebrate animals.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Electronic Frontier Foundation publishes booklet "Censorship in Context" about social media companies' own monitoring

Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a booklet online in PDF format, “Censorship in Context: Insights from Crowdsourced Data on Social Media Censorship”, link here.  The authors are Jessica Anderson, Kim Carlson, Matthew Stender, Sarah Myers West, and Jullian C. York.

The report shows that pre-emptive censorship by social media companies has been common throughout 2016.  “Milo” was banned from Twitter soon than I had thought (and “Real Strategy” has just been banned).

One concern is to make content moderation more transparent, especially if content is taken down because of user report or some other scheme.

There are fine distinctions, between criticizing and country, and criticizing the people of a religion or ethnic group.  Donald Trump had a lot of trouble with this, to be sure.

The report does consider the "fake news" problem that the 2016 Election amplified.

NPR has a detailed story on Twitter's recent ban on some alt-right accounts (especially associated with white supremacy), and a "whitelash" today, here.  It's pretty ugly.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Revisiting "Catcher in the Rye"

“Gabe the Babe” has a quickie review of J. D.Salinger’s classic “Catcher in the Rye”, the 1951 coming-of-age novel by J.D. Salinger.

Holden Caulfield, Gabe says, hates “fake people”, as he runs away, deals with prostitutes and street life.

Wikipedia notes that the book used to be censored a lot in public schools, and was connected with John Hinckley and Mark David Chapman.

I recall a particular line early in the book where Holden notes physical degeneration of men in power.  “Old guys’ legs always look so white and unhairy.”

I read it myself when in the Army.  When I worked as a substitute teacher, I handed back book reports on it one day in a ninth grade class in northern Virginia.

A book that seems a little related is Gunter Grass "The Tin Drum". (1959)., a film in 1979.  The little boy who doesn't want to grow up hides in his mother's dress. I read this book when in the Army in 1969.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Children's book on Malala Yousafzai in library at local church

While at Mt. Olivet Methodist Church this Sunday morning, I saw a children’s book “Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words”, by Karen Leggett Abouraya, with illustrations by L.C. Wheatley, published by  Star Walk Kids.  The basic biography is here.

The book communicates her being shot and recovering toward the end, in a gentle way appropriate for children.

This is an example of a very serious subject being crafted into a children’s book. This not a genre that I do, but I see that it can be very profitable and useful.
See Movie reviews, Oct. 9, 2015 for major film review.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Mission to Mars: Our Journey Continues": nice illustrated supermarket book from Time

Time special editions sells a coffee table closs book “Mission to Mars: Our Journey Continues”, 96 pages, with a Foreword by Buzz Aldrin.

The three parts are “The Journey”, “The Plan”, “The Allure”.

Many of the articles are by Jeffrey Kluger. But one of the most interesting appears on p. 66, “How to sneeze in space”, about the medical challenges people would face during the six month journeys and living for years (maybe for a lifetime) at 38% gravity.

Artificial gravity on a spacecraft doesn't really work when the traveler is not in touch with the "ground".  This is a problem in my own screenplay "Epiphany".

The health problems are considerable, with mineral loss and bone changes, and loss of muscle tone.  The journey might not be approved for people with families;  you wonder if only single and childless people would go.

The section on the other interesting places in the Solar System leaves out Titan, the most interesting moon of Saturn;  instead it focuses on Enceladus and Europa (Jupiter).  The closeup of Pluto is interesting.

It’s interesting that sunsets on Mars would look blue.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Is meritocracy sustainable? This, and a true story about a gay murder mystery go onto my reading list; also, more on demographic winter

Here are a couple more for my reading list:

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy” (2013), by NYC professor Chris Hayes (Broadway Books) views individualized moral values based on meritocracy, as valued by the libertarian right, as unsustainable.  Vox has a post-dated review today by Henry Farrell, link here.    Sounds like Twilight of the Gods?  One trouble with meritocracy is that parents tend to pass it on by class (also an argument of Posner in “Our Kids”).  But is the moral sustainability of a free society the “sum” of the moral compasses of all its free individuals, or of their karmas – and of their willingness to walk in one another’s shoes, sometimes?

The Vox review notes the irony of Trump's appeal to those left behind -- the racism and tribalism, the "take care of your own" -ism that riles David Brooks, despite the idea that Trump himself benefits loudly from inherited wealth and privilege.

The second book is a non-fiction mystery that sounds worthy of Dateline, “Cobra Killer: Gay Porn Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice”, by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway, which appears to be self-published on the hard copy (paper) which arrived today. ReelAffirmations is showing a film “Cobra Killer” which a schedule problem will keep me from seeing, but I hope there will be a DVD or Netflix or Amazon video soon. (I also hope to find a video for “Retake” as I had a conflict tonight.)  The story concerns the murder of Bryan Charles Kocsis aka Bryan Phillips aka Brent Corrigan, as explained on imdb here. I’ll try to get to this book soon (which can work about as well to convey the newsworthiness of the story as a film).

Update: Oct. 20

I picked up Jonathan Last's "What to Expect when No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster". 2013, from Encounter Books, paper.  The book will get into why immigration is not a good substitute for having your own children (in the U.S.).  Will this be the "more White babies" argument?  About demographic winter, as Carlson and Mero call it? The last chapter is titled "How to Make Babies" and an earlier chapter is "SEX! (and Maybe Marriage"). 

Monday, October 03, 2016

Quick intros to three more books: A novel by a retail owner; a parents' handbook; a warning about low birth rates

I continue my “two-tiered” practice for book reviews by presenting some books when I buy them, if it will take some time to get them read before doing full reviews on Wordpress.

I’ll introduce three books right now.

One is a novel, “Diana’s Magic,” by David A. Hicks, owner of the Westover Market in Arlington VA. Published by Oitskirts Press, 2016, 459 pages, 23 chapters, paper.  You can buy this at the checkout line of the neighborhood market, and it has been covered in the Beer Garden Book Club in Arlington.

The first chapter actually starts on p. 1, and it is indeed intriguing.  Sarah is preparing to become an elementary school teacher, and helps coach basketball with her fiancĂ© Eric. They both have to deal with another coach, Stan, bigger and taller and a big of a bully.  Stan seems to have a “Donald Trump” personality and believes that winning is everything.  As the first chapter ends, Eric is in a serious auto accident that appears to be going to test their intimate love.  Sarah has also envisioned an innovated class art project for the kids.  The whole setup seems intriguing to me because I worked as a substitute teacher in the Arlington and Fairfax County school systems 2004-2007.

Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens”,2016,  by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney, was sent to me free for review by Cleis Press.  The book is paper, 338 pages, indexed, with a 20 pages roman introduction.
The book looks like a handbook inasmuch as there are gray panels to highlight teaching points and sidebars. It does not offer blank lines for note-taking, which other handbooks do, as if they thought their readers were grade school pupils.  The book begins by reviewing what is now taken as science, but has only been so recently.  There are mathematically many combinations of gender, sexual orientation, perceived gender identity, and (by Rosenfels) polarity.  They all happen in nature for humans and parents have very little to do with it.  (The authors say there are 51 identities, but it should be a power of 2).

Even as shown by, finally, a willingness by the US military to accommodate transgender soldiers (when until 2010, gay soldiers were such a big deal under “don’t ask don’t tell”), advanced democratic societies are much more willing to accommodate inborn inclination than they were a few decades ago (or are most authoritarian, religious or tribal societies), where those who are “different” were scene as forcing others to take more risks for them.

 I’ll also mention Jonathan V. Last, “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster”, from Encounter Books, 240 pages, paper (or Kindle).  I mentioned this on the News Wordpress blog Sept. 30 in conjunction with a piece on adoption and foster care.  The books seems to have a similar thesis to Philip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle” from 2004.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Newsweek publishes glossy "Killing ISIS" coffee-table book

Newsweek Magazine offers a special heavily illustrated supermarket booklet, “Killing ISIS: America’s All-out Assault on a Global Threat” , no individual author or editor listed.

The book comprises three parts “ISIS Rising”, “State of Terror”, and “Striking Back”.

The overall tone of the book is that US policy – agreeing with the Iraqi government to leave on a timetable (Bush made that promise) and leaving a power vaccum, combined with civil war in Syria, allowed the cancer to arise.

The book reinforces the brutality of the group (although we can make comparisons to the Nazis and even the Khmer Rouge) but it also notes that the group is trying to drive the last Christians from the Holy Lands.

Maybe the most important report appears on p. 64, “Storming social media: ISIS’s intuitive understanding of how we communicate today marks it as a threat born-and-bred in the digital age”. 

 ISIS amazingly has command of first-rate media production values, and its recruiting videos appeal to teens and young adults who don’t fare well in an individualistic western world.  The US government does not have the smarts to produce counter-propaganda videos to counter a “revolutionary” or mass-movement mindset, but the book points out that the Kurdish media network Rudaw has had success in getting youth to watch its more subtle product.  ISIS recruiting on social media has led for calls for more censorship by social media companies (especially Twitter)  It could lead to calls to sharply reduce ungated normal user expression on social media as we know it today.  Does the First Amendment protect the mode of distribution as well as the speech content itself?  

Wikipedia attribution for picture from Raqqa by Lazhar Nefiren under CCSA 2.0 

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Quick takes on new books by Putnam ("Our Kids") and Toobin ("American Heiress"); my new book review strategy ; also Gladwell

As a number of mainstream-published socially and politically relevant non-fiction books accumulate, it is difficult for me to keep up with them all.

On my new Wordpress media commentary blog  I’ve given certain emphasis to lesser known or self-published books, and to books (and movies) with more direct relevance to the content in my own books.  So from time to time, I’ll list a few new mainstream books here, order them, and review them in full there later, while bringing up the issues in a more timely manner.
I’ll mention three new books today in summary fashion.

One is “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam (Simon & Schuster).  The New York Times has a review by Jason De Parle here .  The book makes the point that education, rather than being a class equalizer, seems to be a class “fortifier” as the legacy of accumulated income (and wealth) inequality accumulates within families.  I saw this sentiment among other soldiers and the cadre back when I entered the Army in 1968 (the “too much education” attitude).  The book also seems to bear some relation to Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” when it comes to views on social capital, even if the policy prescriptions are different (March 14, 2012).

A second book is “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst” by CNN legal columnist Jeffrey Toobin (Doubleday). Here is a review, “Comrades”, by Laura Miller in Slate.     Toobin has said on CNN that today Americans have forgotten how violence and domestic terrorism had become weapons of the radical left in the 1970s.  The Symhionese Liberation Army intended to martial indignation and cause expropriation and revolution, communist style, but the workability of its plan was total fantasy, even given the way it was able to manipulate Patty Hearst, who wound up helping pay for their crimes by prison herself. I can remember the indignation of the “People’s Party of New Jersey” myself in 1972 when spying on them in Newark, especially concerning unearned, inherited wealth. 

I saw, at church, a flier advertising some books from the Baptist-related Judson Press, particularly “The Spiritual Act of Raising Children with Disabilities” by Kathleen Deyer Boulduc and a foreword by Ginny Thornburgh.  This is an approach which “sells” today, but probably would not have in the more distant past.  I get prodded (at least indirectly) on why I wouldn’t write something like this.  I guess if I actually “did it”, it would not be for the purpose of writing a profitable book. 

The publisher was well known in faith circles when I was growing up.  Everett Goodwin, a progressive Baptist pastor (left First Baptist in Washington DC in 1993 and pastored for some years at Myers Park in Charlotte) authored “Down By the Riverside: A Brief History of Baptist Faith” in 1997, with a second edition and Study Book in 2006.  He also authored “Baptists in the Balance: The Tension Between Freedom and Responsibility “(1997), a book that supports libertarian political ideas of individual freedom and individual accountability. Goodwin helped pre-read 1996 drafts of my own first “Do Ask Do Tell” book.   

Update: Sept, 27

I've ordered Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath: Underdog, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" 2015), and want to note the article in the Guardian by Oliver Burkeman, "If my books seem oversimplified, maybe you shouldn't read them:  There's an interesting philosophical question: why do we allow inborn genetic advantages (like more red blood cells than usual) in sports, but not doping. Gladwell looks for a principled answer.  It will be interesting of Gladwell talks about ideas like "giving back", inherited wealth, or particularly "right-sizing". 

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Mascot Books in Herndon VA illustrates how cooperative book publishing works for authors

Between traditional trade publishing (based on advances) and total self-publishing there exists an intermediate model that some people call “cooperative publishing.”

Apparently, Mascot Books, in Herndon VA, owned by Naren Aryal, is such a company.  Here is Aryal’s own account of his business model -- and apparently he wants to appeal to previously trade-published authors who need more energy on the distribution side.  He seems to prefer some genres (like children’s) more than others.

Thomas Heath has a story in he Washington Post on p. A12 on Monday, September 5, 2016, This Herndon publisher’s business plan doesn’t go by the book”. Aryal was stiffed by a book distributor and had to take out a home equity loan to keep his business going. His own narrative shows that for him books were business and a living, in a way that “books” have not been for me, where content evolution is the goal.

The video above happens at Herndon Elementary.  I have substitute-taught (usually history) at the high school, across the street as I remember.

Mascot might work for my first full novel, "Angel's Brother", sci-fi, which I hope to have finished editing myself in early 2017.

Monday, September 05, 2016

NatGeo's "Blue Zones: The Science of Living Longer"

National Geographic has published a coffee-table-sized paperback, “Blue Zones: The Science of Living Longer”, by Dab Buettner, 112 pages, gloss, heavily illustrated (professional photographs).

The book comprises three parts: Discovering the Blue Zones, Build Your Own Blue Zone, and Cooking in Blue Zones.

The Blue Zones include Nicoya, Costa Rica, Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California, where the Seventh Day Adventist denomination is active.

CNN’s Sanjay Gupta has covered the zones before.

A lot of attention has been given to Blue Zone diets, with are not completely vegan (salmon and some fish is eaten and considered healthful), and which stresses lots of natural oils and nuts, and even wine.
But it is the social lifestyle that catches attention.  Blue zone people are heavily socialized in layers, putting families first.  They are not very interested in public or global recognition as “accomplished” or “esteemed”.  They live for the moment.

Of course, there are notable individualistic outliers, of people (scientists and inventors, and sometimes musicians) who accomplish a lot on their own, while remaining strong and healthy despite less than the usual amount of social interaction.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

"Holocaust Image", epic poem by Baylor scholar James Langley

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC has handed out printed copies of a long poem, “Holocaust Image”, by James A. Langley.

The poem fills 8 full-sized pages and has sixteen stanzas, unrhymed.

The story of a boy taken by the Nazis during the Holocaust reminds me of Ellie Wiesel’s “Night”.

The poet delivered the featured address at the Corner Stone Laying Ceremony for the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University in Waco, TX.  The Baylor Browning Collection was compiled by Dr. A. Joseph Armstrong, head of the Baylor English Department.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

On a road trip, intimations of book fairs and why they can matter to publishers

Book fairs are still popular.

While on a trip last week, at a rest stop I saw an announcement for a Green Valley Book Fair between Harrisonburg and Staunton, VA.

Later, when having dinner in Proctorville, Ohio (across the river from Hungtington W Va), I saw a local newspaper story of a book fair to open a local school, as an initial get together and a place for parents to pick up supplies.

There seems to be quite a market for “popular” hardcover books, used, with an artistically low ambition level relative to the interests of many authors, but necessary for public interests in areas like literacy.  They could become relevant to publisher business models.

Wikipedia attribution link CCSA 4.0 (JaGa) for picture of East Huntington Bridge

Saturday, August 06, 2016

OutWrite LGBT book fair holds exhibits today.

This was my first event at the DC Center, and first book fair since 2012 in New York, and even then I didn't have a table. I haven't manned my own table since 1998 in Minneapolis at LPMN conventions.
I did exhibit my three "Do Ask, Do Tell" books at the OutWrite LGBT Book Fair today, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, in the DC Center, in the atrium of the office building that houses it.

There were perhaps twenty tables, including a couple of independent book stores, fantasy and romance authors, as well as the DC Public Library ("It's Free") and the Signature Theater. There were multiple readings all day, with one of the largest being from "Queer Brown Voices" which will be reviewed on Wordpress soon.  Friday night, there had been a reading and discussion of "Love Unites Us", a history of gay marriage. .  

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Restoring Amazon direct sales links to some book review postings

Today, I have restored Amazon Prime direct sales links to a few books on this blog, and to a number of them on my new Wordpress blogs.

I had started using the Amazon Associates program on this blog in early 2010.  Sometime in 2012, it stopped working through Blogger, and I could not figure out why Blogger always gave an error on it. Eventually, I learned that Amazon had separated it from Blogger.

The program now requires the associate to generate the box links from his/her own Amazon account, bit it appears that the generated html can be pasted into any blog posting on any platform, or into a legacy blog file.

I will try to restore the links for more books over time, and add them for some films and music items.

 This will take a while, and at first I’ll emphasize the items that are more recent, or that are more likely to sell, or that deal with issues of more relevance to my own books and movie proposals.
Some items, especially music, are not available on Amazon but appear on other platforms, like
Bandcamp. I’ll look in to see whether active sales links can be implemented for these.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Non-profits work on the problem of college textbook expenses (like Open Stax)

Textbook prices were a racket even when I was an undergraduate and then a graduate student in the 1960s.  But more recently there has been a push to use open-source materials, peer-reviewed, as ourse textbooks, as the Washington Post reported on June 26

An important player is OpenStax, which produces free texts.

It’s pretty hard to contemplate how this works with some bukwark courses like, well, organic chemistry.  I remember Fieser, and also a separate lab textbook, perfunctory enough, "Laboratory Practices in Organic Chemistry".  A lot was known in 1963,

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Outwrite LGBT Book Festival to happen in August in Washington DC (by DC Center)

The DC Center for the LGBT Community will sponsor the Outwrite LGBT Book Festival Friday-Sunday August 5-7 2016 in Washington DC.  Details are at this website .
I was at a volunteer meeting tonight and there is still room for some authors as exhibitors, as well as a need for some more volunteers.

I did enter to become an exhibitor to show the three books in my “Do As, Do Tell” series and speak briefly on Saturday, August 6.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Cosmo" Baton Rogue police killer had authored a self-help series, still on Amazon (Whooops -- now taken down)

Surprisingly, and disturbingly, we learn that the “shooter”, Gavin Long, of several police officers, killing at least three, in Baton Rouge LA early Sunday, July 17, 2016, (story ) had created a book series on Amazon under the pen name Cosmo Setepenra.  As of right now, the self-published series is still available on Amazon, pretty much informally trademarked as “Cosmo”, with the most recent book being titled “The Cosmo Way: A W(H)olistic Guide for the Total Transformation of Melanated People, Vol. 1, the Detox”,  The self-help cure had allegedly included weight loss.

Amazon Prime subscribers can read for free on Kindle as of (1:30 PM 7/18 EDT) now (link removed -- see below). There are a few YouTube videos of his speaking and "promoting" his work.


Actually, this 8:44-long video is rather disturbing to listen to. At about 3:00 he starts talking that going to demonstrations isn't enough, he says people have to fight back. He says that the "establishment" only listens to blood and money (or words to that effect).  He also says that in tribal Africa, women will kill men who come back to villages failing to dispense with enemies.  He also says (at the beginning) that there is a disconnect between white people (European) fighting off the British as their oppressors (during the Revolutionary War) and black people fighting off slavery and discrimination later -- he starts out this way at the beginning of the video, and maybe that makes some sense!

It’s hard to say how long this book entry is likely to stay up.  Amazon has taken down items before when there was public outrage (as with a series in the past advocating pedophilia, as exposed on AC360).

It’s curious that this appears to the a “self-help” series very predicated on racial identification, rather than a "manifesto" from on-high.

Well, it looks like it has been taken down, just about the time of the posting. Coincidence? Caching? Proof of life?

ABC affiliate WJLA did play about 20 seconds of the video today at 5 PM news (I had emailed the link to them).

Update: July 22

CNN reports that a "manifesto" by Long may have surfaced.

Reminder: Since mid May 2016, most new book reviews have gone to a new Wordpress review site, URL