Thursday, February 28, 2019

Washington Post explores the business unexpected success of independent bookstores in DC area and country

Fritz Hahn offers an article in a “from the cover” series on p. 15 of the Washington Post Weekend magazine from Friday, February 21, 2019, “That old stack magic: The indomitable – and the new – indie bookstores.”  

The article examines at least eight independent bookstores in or near Washington DC.  They are flourishing as community centers despite the low cost competition from Amazon.

What is striking is that some of them are niche bookstores, as for African American readers and authors in some cases.  Lambda Rising used to be a thriving chain for the LGBT community but it gradually disintegrated because of low cost competition from Amazon (after 2009).  But in the 1990s it was a good place for readings and debates on topics like gays in the military (Joe Steffan had a booksigning at the DC Connecticut Ave. store in Sept. 1992). Maybe they got out too early.

I’ve been approached about the idea of buying quantities of my own books and dealing with independent bookstores.  Because my most recent book is now five years old, I have been reluctant;  most stores will do readings only for books in their first year of publication. This idea will become important for my novel “Angel’s Brother” and I will work the local bookstore idea on that.

A possibility would be to encourage independent bookstores to advertise on my Facebook page (FB has suggested allowing them administrator access, which I don’t quite understand and which sounds risky, given the recent purges).

There has been an increase of 35% in independent bookstores in the United States since 2009.

Picture: One More Page Books, East Falls Church, VA.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Stephanie Land goes from maid to "established" trade-published author with "Maid"

When I have more than one substantial book to read, I sometimes put one of them in the queue and do a preview here before a full review on my Wordpress site. I’ve got a treatise on climate change to do right away, so I’ll do a preview today of Stephanie Land’s “Maid”, from Hachette Books (2019), 2t chapters, 268 pages, hardcover.  The book is easy to find on Amazon and should be at most bookstores now.

The full title is “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive”.  There is a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich (“Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America”, 2001; and “Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream”, 2005.

The author, raised in the state of Washington near the coast, had desired to become a writer, the formal way through a college education and formal employment. But some indiscretion led to a pregnancy, and unsatisfactory marriage and divorce, and raising a daughter on her own, working for near minimum wage without benefits, and depending on various assistance programs, such as food stamps, WIC, and Section 8 housing.  I have to say that even so far, the description of Section 8 is quite disturbing.  You don’t want to lose your own housing independence.

The author would become a writer indeed, and get published by an industry trade company, and not do it herself like I did.  She would get others to pay for her work and not do this for vanity. She paid her dues.

 I visited Anacortes in 1996 driving back from Olympic National Park with a rent car to SeaTac.

CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sneak preview of Joel Simon's "We Want to Negotiate" about governments' ransom dilemmas

Jason Rezaian writes a combo op-ed and book review in the Washington Post Outlook Sunday, February 24, 2019, “What will the U.S, do to get hostages back?

That embeds a book review of Joel Simon’s “We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages and Ransom”, 189 pages, paperback, Columbia Global Reports, published Jan. 22, 1989.

The United States does not appear to have a completely predictable policy, and for national security that is probably good.  Trump hasn’t said anything – but of course it was the return of Otto Warmbier from North Korea, effectively kidnapped, that sets the tone (as Trump sits down with Kim Jong Un this week in Hanoi).

In fact, as an aside, Japan and maybe a couple other countries have had to deal with possible kidnappings in their own territory, and China seems to have indulged the practice.

More common, of course, is when a westerner or American, especially a journalist or high-profile business executive, is taken abroad, even in western countries.  There was a case where someone was taken in Italy in 1978 and deafened in captivity by loud music.

Of course, the US government believes that if it negotiates with kidnappers, it encourages more incidents. But otherwise, the victim is essentially sacrificed .

Since I did inherit a big part of an estate at the end of 2010, I have become more sensitive to the idea. I have a statement on a Wordpress blog that I cannot be bargained for, worth linking here.

Private ransom payments have been illegal, but Obama was willing to look the other way (2015 US News story).  A good question for a social media platform or hosting company would be whether it violates an AUP or TOS to do a fundraiser for a private ransom payment.
I’ve reviewed a few films on my sites and blogs on this problem (“Ransom”, with Mel Gibson”) before.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

"Total Invincibility", according to Martin

Author: Martin Goldberg, aka “Economic Invincibility” YouTube Channel

Title: “Total Invincibility: How to Crush Failure and Maximize your Human Potential

Publication: Digital, 2019/2/16, Amazon Digital Services LLC/Self, 115 pages, Kindle only (no ISBN listed), 9 chapters.

The author, who looks and says he is in his late twenties, as I recall, and I believe lives somewhere in Florida, runs the “Economic Invincibility” YouTube channel.

Today (Saturday morning) was the first time that I saw mention of the publication of the e-book on his channel.  I downloaded ($7.99) it and read it in about two hours.  Better use of my time and money than Netflix.

The matching video today was called “The Cure for Modernity” pretty well explains his moral philosophy.  You could say it is a kind of libertarianism with a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility,  but with awareness on the possibility of suddenly needing interdependence with others.  Charles Murray might be a fair comparison.  He says he is independent and denies any party and criticizes blind tribalism and political partisanship. You get the impression that if he were president he would get things done and put “Trump” to shame (even though he supported Trump, with no orange balloons).  OK, Peter Thiel is old enough to be president – oops, born in Germany. So maybe Thiel should fix the madness in the EU (like Article 13?) Nevertheless, I like the idea that “the young people will win”.  That could be Martin, David Hogg, and now Nick Sandmann, young people of various political persuasions who give you the feeling that they can make things happen. OK, any of a number of young people I can think of would have become “The Apprentice” (including Martin) and would make a real difference.

The book is aimed for young adults, with particular advice toward school (college, grad school, b-school, Ph D, trades) and work and staying out of debt.  He talks a lot about credit cards, savings, 401(k), rents, mortgages, and how credit scores work (without getting into China’s experiment by extending to “social credit scores”).  He also talks about job interviewing and dealing the politics in the workplace, especially the risks of accidental involvement in supposed sexual harassment.

He believes people should be strict with their own self-assessment.  Don’t go to college just because you do well on tests.  Can you do manual labor?  Can you change your own oil?  Can you camp out.  (OK, science fair winner Jack Andraka – “Breakthrough” [March 18, 2015], was an avid camper in high school and kayaker today – and finishing at Stanford – I think EI would approve.)  There is some recommendation of an almost Maoist humility.  My phrase for that was always "pay your bills and pay your dues."

He also advocates minimalism and even talks about living out of a van as a possibly effective lifestyle.  He likes rural communities.

What’s interesting is his views on free speech and social media, and how this relates back to self-assessment and how one regards others. In the past, he has been critical of people's naïve belief in their "rights" on platforms run by private entities, and has said that at some point if you want to he heard with sustainability, you need to play ball with the political system that is there and run for office or support candidates, even if you think some of it is corrupt; only "you" can make it better.

Toward the end, he does insist that critical thinking is important, and the capacity to speak for the self (without going through activist organizations) matters.  Yet he discourages most people from using social media very much, particularly if they get addicted to popularity or followers.  For many people, social media will be a valueless trap where one slip-up or wrong impression will mark one for life – and it is so easy for misleading content (from trolls) to go viral. He mentions his concerns about video channels as a source of income, given the recent scandals (Patreon, which he doesn’t name specifically, payment processor and advertiser queasiness).  Many people will be in positions where they have to be very careful about their personal privacy and the possibility of targeting (or even framing) by hostile others. But he thinks that books, or more permanent items (like real films or peer-reviewed articles) are a better way to engage media.

Martin never mentions the idea of suspect class or oppressed group. His views of personal resilience follow those of Haidt, for example (“The Coddling of the American Mind”), or Taleb (anti-fragility). Sometimes he seems to denigrate people whom he sees as weak, gullible, or incompetent, but other times he talks about the need to help others and cooperate.  He advocates localism and personal fitness, ranging from cooking one's own food from ingredients, to vigorous fitness physical fitness (large numbers of situps, pushups and even pullups, at least for men).  He warns that technological dependence makes us vulnerable and that the Internet or modernity could be taken away by a determined enemy or even natural event with no notice (no direct mention of EMP of extreme solar storms, but that may be what he refers to).

There's just one homonym error in the text, "right" as a verb when "write" is what was intended. But his vocabulary, finding rich metaphors in some little used old English nouns and verbs (like "dollop") is striking. That keeps the writing terse with fewer adjectives and those dreaded adverbs.

He makes a useful reference to Lin Yutang's "The Importance of Living" a real life, because you never know when artifices can be taken away by "Black Swans" (Taleb's concept).  Despite his rather Ayn Rand-like outlook, he does remind us that anything can happen to anyone (car accident, criminal violence, or cancer).

Martin has said he is working on two novels, a fantasy, and a sci-fi scenario (I wonder if it's about who gets to evacuate Earth and start over.)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Natgeo long article: "Life probably exists beyond Earth"

Jamie Shreeve has an article “Life Probably Exists BeyondEarth; So How Do We Find It?” on National Geographic.

The photos are by Spencer Lowell, with art by Deena Barry.

The article mentions a software designer who has spent ten years in rural northern California supporting an array of radio telescopes, and Russian venture capitalist, Yuri Milner, who is looking for alien civilizations.

Many of these might be around smaller M stars and be located in twilight zones of tidally locked planets. That would be politically dicey.

Relativity says you can’t even pass information faster than the speed of light (partly because with quantum entanglement the observer affects the particles – who don’t like to be stared at) –  so if you could pass a person’s consciousness through a wormhole shortcut – could the person rent a body on a visit to another planet, maybe the same body with every visit?  Like renting a car or Airbnb.

The article (from March 2019) darkens and asks you to log in.  I did, and it asked for the account number from the print version, which I don’t have (I have the digital account, but has the print expired?).  How clumsy.  But you can still read the darkened vision.  Maybe I can find a print for this issue at the supermarket tomorrow.

(Picture: Baltimore science museum)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Patricia Nell Warren, author of "The Front Runner", passes awat at 82

Numerous sources provided an obituary for author Patricia Nell Warren, who passed away Feb. 16 at age 82.  For example, Daniel Reynolds writes for the Advocate, here.

She is best known for her pioneering gay novel “The Front Runner” (1974), published by William Morrow and Company.  I read the paperback around 1977 when I was living in New York City. The novel never quite became a film; it should have.

The novel concerns an ex-Marine who has led a straight life and impregnated a woman, but is driven, by rumors, out of his athletic coaching career to a job in a small school, where he meets and falls in live with Billy, who also has led a straight life. (Somewhere I remember a transvestite character.)  Billy finally qualifies for the 1976 Olympics race in Montreal.  Much of both major characters’ lives had been led pre-Stonewall.

Warren wrote several sequels and other novels.

She should not be confused with actress  Patrician Neal ; and the book should not be confused with an unrelated political film of the same name.

Wikipedia attribution for second picture, 1976 Olympics in Montreal: Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0716-0111 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA 3.0 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff's "Surveillance Capitalism", previewed

A 691-page dissertation by a Harvard Business School professor needs a book preview here. That is specifically, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power”, by Shoshana Zuboff, hardcover, Public Affairs, New York, 2019, ISBN 978-1-61039-569-4.  . The book has four large parts and eighteen chapters. Here's a detailed sample review on the Intercept by Sam Biddle.

The real book ends at p. 525, with a lot of endnotes and index.

And her writing style is like mine, especially in my “Do Ask Do Tell” books and she gets into some of “m”" old themes and takes them much further. I’ll do a full review on Wordpress when I’m done.

But I wanted to note some highlights.

There is a Definition page for Surveillance Capitalism, that serves the same purpose as the Hamlet battlefield quote (“fust in us unused”) in my own DADT-1 book. But the alternative dictionary definitions are all rather Marxist.  Does the Axiom of Choice follow?

Harvard undergraduate John Fish (computer science major) recently said in one of his Friday afternoon videos that managerial capitalism isn’t just replaced by surveillance capitalism – it’s that transactional capitalism is replaced by attention capitalism – like attention compares to dark matter in the Universe. Well, transactional life is the heart of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “skin in the game”; attention capture is just virtue signaling.  “Economic Invincibility” is bound to do a video on these ideas soon.  It’s hard to apply Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” (2014/7/22) to its dark version.

Zuboff’s idea of a “human future” comes right out of Paul Rosenfels in the 1970s (April 12, 2006 on this blog).

Here exposition is Taleb-like.  The paradigm for surveillance capitalism is unprecedented.  But so were many other stages of social development.  Zuboff describes how the basic essence of individual self-concept must have evolved among her ancestors, when a century ago you were born into roles that you didn’t question and had no individual right to be heard; you were part of a tribe.  But modernity went through three phases, she writes, the first one recognized by Ayn Rand as making way for individualism. But individualization is not the same thing as individualism. The irony of surveillance capitalism is that it drive everyone back to life in a hive (like on the spaceship in the 1996 movie “Independence Day”, where Bill Pullman is much less convincing as president than a future David Hogg.

She points to the date of Wednesday, August 9, 2011 as important for several reasons, one of which was the establishment of “the right to be forgotten” in Europe.  That has mattered a lot in my own “second career”.

But I wanted to jump to the conclusion, “A Coup from Above” (that is, "a manifesto"), where she deploys the epigram “No More!”, which is lifted right out of David Hogg’s amazing speech to the March of our Lives crowd in Washington March 24, 2018.

Hogg starts as a freshman at Harvard in the fall of 2019 after his gap year and surely will have courses from her. But he has already started running for president himself, at 17. And it’s surveillance capitalism that gives “the young people” every advantage for winning.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Life: "The Day Kennedy Died"

Life Magazine has another historical coffee table book, “The Day Kennedy Died”, Nov. 22, 1963, edited by Robert Sullivan, 112 pages.

The  coverage of the day of the assassination doesn’t start until page 38, “That Day in Dallas”. The preceding pages cover the Camelot “royal” family and then the events like Bay of Pigs, Berlin Wall (ironic now for the US), and Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kennedy was making the trip to shore up his shaky political base, and Dallas was said to be a “city of hate”.  The Kennedys had stayed in a hotel in Fort Worth and made the very short flight to Love Field.

The book starts its frame-by-frame analysis of the Zapruder film on p 88 with the most critical probablt being 262 and 313. The book does not come to a definitive conclusion as to whether Oswald was the only shooter.

This all happened in a troubling period of my own life.  The Kennedy assassination occurred slightly less than two full years after my own William and Mary expulsion. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred while I was a “patient” at NIH, about 13 months before the assassination.

I had started my first wage-earning job at the National Bureau of Standards on the old Federal City college on Van Ness St, in the oil viscosity (rheology) lab.  My boss came into the lab at about 1:50 PM EST (one hour ahead of Dallas) and announced the shootings and turned on the radio. Within about 45 minutes we heard that the president was dead, and we were dismissed for the day. The announcement didn’t come until 1:38 CST even though he was pronounced at 1:00 PM CST.

The CBS video above was from the soap “As the World Turns” and the soap as allowed to run for a while after the first announcement. News was slow then.

I can recall the classical station WGMS playing the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, on the old Zenith radio in the basement where I had heard the Washington Senators lose a lot of baseball games (1963 was a particularly bad year, although the MLK March had happened in August).

On Sunday, we were at the First Baptist Church at 16th and O, and leaving and I was riding down 17th St with my father driving, with radio coverage of the transfer of Oswald.  I literally heard the shooting over the car radio.  “He’s been shot”.

The wound to Kennedy’s head from the second shot was particularly gruesome.  There is no way it could or should have been survivable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Atlantic offers big article on animal consciousness

Ross Anderson, in the March issue of the Atlantic, explores what consciousness is. “Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition”.   He talks about the intelligence of crows in solving problems in getting at food (dropping nuts at stoplights). Crow brain structures are complex but very different from mammalian; there is no cerebral cortex. Crows also seem to recognize people in their environments and will revisit them (so do mockingbirds) to “check up on them”. I had a crow scream at me to get inside the day of Hurricane Sandy.

Later he gets into the consciousness of fish and even social insects, and possibly one-celled organisms. But he doesn’t get into integrated information theory as have some other articles.

One thing of interest to me is when wild animals do make friends with people (bobcats, foxes).

Back in 1993, Time Magazine had an article, “Do Animals Think?”

In January 2017. Geoffrey Smith had written about research in the consciousness of the octopus, which is considerable, even if the brain is distributed through the body.  It may resemble wavering among dream-like states.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Life Magazine redux: "The 1960s: The Decade Where Everything Changed"

Life (as part of Time) is offering a supermarket coffee-table paperback, 112 pages, “The 1960s: The Decade Where Everything Changed”, edited by Robert Sullivan.

In January 1960 I was a junior in high school, and in history class we were just about to cover the War Between the States.  At the time, “negro” was an acceptable word, even in class.

During the summer we would hear the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and Kennedy would start out with the “Ask Not” inauguration speech on a day after a sudden thunderstormy blizzard in Washington.

As I’ve documented elsewhere, the early 60s were still quite homophobic, as would continue into the middle 60s with Dean Rusk’s firing people from the State Department and CBS’s 1967 documentary “The Homosexuals” with Mike Wallace.  But it would start to change fairly suddenly with Stonewall.

But the pivotal years were 1962 (Cuban Missile Crisis), 1963 (Kennedy Assassination) and 1968, when I was drafted.  I was in BCT when I heard Johnson’s non-acceptance speech on March 31.
There would be a Poor People's March on Washington in May 1968, just as a major even in 1963 with MLK.  When MLK was assassinated we were on "red alert" at Fort Jackson.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

"Asylumist" blog recommends some children's books on immigration

The Asylumist” is a blog run by Washington DC attorney Jason Dzubow, and today he has an unusual and inviting post, “Some Great Immigration and Refugee Books for Kids”, link

A couple of the books are actually in the format of graphic novels.

I’ll mention maybe three of them.

Two White Rabbits” (2015), by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yochteng, translated by Elisa Amado. 32 pages, Groundwood books, tells the story of a migrant journey through Central America from the viewpoint of the kids, sometimes riding on top of trains, facing the border, wall or not.

Illegal” (2018) , by Eoin Coffer and Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano, 144 pages. Sourcebook Jannerwocky tells about a journey to Europe from Niger across the Sahara.

An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yosuf Omar” (2015), by Reinhardt Kleist, by Self-Made Hero, 152 pages, represented Somalia in the 2008 Olympics on Beijing, and lost her life on her journey home.  This graphic novel is based on a true story.

Monday, February 04, 2019

"Kids These Days" by Malcolm Harris, explains why millennials act the way they do -- because "capitalism" has exploited them and disposed of many of them

Sean Illing gives a preview, in an interview, of a new book from Little Brown by Malcolm Harris, “Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials”, 272 pages.

The Vox article that does the review is called “Why are millennials burned out? Capitalism”.  This sounds so much like Umair Haque. 

Harris seems to feel that there is something morally corrupt about turning labor into capital. The article leads back to an earlier article about Steven Pearlstein, who wants to save capitalism from its excessive shareholder-driven form. Managerial capitalism isn’t so bad – but it comes down to keeping individuals socialized and getting too deep into their own fantasies about meritocracy. That’s supposed to happen in the families, but you have to get individualized out from under that into intermittent periods of national or community service, he thinks.

Harris admits the influence of Marxism, and seems to think you can’t save neo-liberalism because it is too lost in its own idea of self-concept.  Like people need to join up. 

Saturday, February 02, 2019

John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, "The Lifespan of a Fact"

Authors: John D’Agata (essay author), Jim Fingal (fact checker)

Title: “The Lifespan of a Fact

Publication:  New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2012, 124 pages, paper, 9 chapters, ISBN 978-0-393-34073-0

This is a most unusual book, another innovation like Thomas Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus” (Dec. 2, 2013), a meta-book.

On 2003 Harper’s magazine approached author John D’Agata (“Halls of Fame”) to write a lengthy piece motivated by the suicide of a teenager (Levi Presley) by jumping in Las Vegas. It was not accepted, but another periodical, “The Believer” assigned a fact-checker, Jim Fingal, to examine the piece.  The piece (“What Happens There”) would eventually morph into D’Agata’s “About a Mountain” (concerning the storing of radioactive waste in Yucca Mountain).  The latter topic actually fits into an early incident in my novel “Angel’s Brother”.

So this new compendium book presents the essay, with continuous fragments centered on each page, surrounded by Fingal’s extensive fact checking remarks.  So this is a “book about a book” or a “book about an essay”.  Imagine this being done to one of my longer blog postings.  Harvard undergrad John Fish (previous post) should find this interesting to read.

The meta-book has become a Broadway Play, at Studio 54 (with Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale), but the show has closed.  I was in New York Jan 7-9 but to go to another event and didn’t have time to see it.  I wonder if it will become an arthouse film.  Actually, we need a documentary on Yucca Mountain, too.
The New York Times has an analysis (2012) by Jennifer B. McDonald, "In the Details". And Alice Gregory writes "Truth and Consequences" for NPR in 2012. 

Baseball player Bryce Harper has a home near Las Vegas.  We’re wondering where he will sign for 2019.