Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal" after Covid settles down; David Rubin's meta-book

The Atlantic has a rather shocking long essay by Jack Goldsmith (Harvard Law School) and Andrew Keane Woods(University of Arizona), “InternetSpeech Will Never Go Back to Normal  In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely right and the U.S. was wrong.”

The tone of the article is a bit Marxist, heeding to the discipline of China’s social credit system and saying that tech companies are being nudged by the general climate of social justice (more centered around inequality than anything else) to implement social credit de facto.

The Coronavirus problem creates a real emergency. Tech companies can reasonably fear that well-intentioned videos or blog posts could make social distancing look like a debate, that na├»ve or illiterate people will be persuaded by a misread of a poster’s intentions, disregard legitimate medical and local government orders to stay home, and more lives will be lost.

But as the article points out there have been tremendous problems of other kinds of harm accumulating, perhaps since about 2014.  Ten years ago, the writers argue, the accumulation of systemic harms (particularly against less literate people) had not really started to accumulate exponentially.  The authors talk about Snowden’s revelations in 2013, and the Russian trolls in 2016 with the election of Trump (not to mention Cambridge Analytica).

I think the inequality makes many users cynical about what they see online, as those who criticize them don’t have skin in the game or have to pay their dues.  That’s the “privilege of being listened to” in my own third DADT book.   

Tucker Carlson, above, mentions this article, and interviews David Rubin on his "Don't Burn This Book" (July 2019, Penguin).  Amazon lists an audio book with a 5+hour listening time.  

Monday, April 27, 2020

Lawrence Wright's novel "The End of October" overplays the virus

There is a new novel “The End of October”, from Knopf, by Lawrence Wright, to be released April 28, as reviewed by Dwight Garner today in the New York Times.  

The novel describes an Ebola-like virus that wipes out 7% of the world’s population and leads to complete societal breakdown, with people defending their homesteads with guns.

The novel has a scientist, or microbiologist, as a protagonist.

There is a major episode involving the hajj in Mecca.

The question is, did the author come up with the plot before the real coronavirus became public? Probably so.  Sci-fi authors can often predict how viruses will behave ("The Stand") with chilling prescience, enough to make one wonder if an enemy could try to replicate a fictitious virus in a lab. 
It is external shocks that take people off pedestals they have never earned their rights to live on.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Bookshop.org" fills in as Amazon's book business apparently slows down competing with medical items; a new lift for independent sellers?

The Washington Post, in an article by Sindya N. Bhanoo, explores “The little book sellers who could; How indie stores took a slice ofAmazon’s business,” in the Sunday business section, of course.
The story concerns Bookshop, which is now shipping books and benefiting from the disruption of Amazon, which is slower to ship them because of having to ship so many COVID-related items.

I found only the first of my three books on their catalog, at list price.  I find them all on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million. (The original 1997 print run is not available, it sold out in 2000; I have a few of them at home.)

Amazon is encouraging Kindle right now because the shipping business is overwhelmed by items from the pandemic (like masks).  Also, I’m starting to notice more authors are starting to sell PDF’s themselves with a PGP third party credit card engine.

In the video (“A People’s Guide to Publishing”, from Portland OR), the commentators criticize the publishing industry for not trying hard enough in marketing.

I have thought about Booktube (in January John Fish did a big video with them).  Coronavirus has certainly gotten in the way of starting things.

Update: April 27

Publisher's Weekly has an article with some constructive criticism of Bookshop by Alex Green.

PW (Ed Nowatka) also describes a campaign by James Patterson to raise money for independent bookstores. Other sources credit Bookshop with actually helping with the fundraising. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Time Magazine issue cheerleads for social solidarity during pandemic

Time Magazine has a cheerleader issue April 5-13, “Apart, Not Alone”.

There are so many articles, and the one that strikes first is Jose Andre’s generosity with his restaurant business feeding people all over the world. (He has a restaurant in Crystal City).

Ian Bremmer takes to task the blame-China game (p. 25).

The feature article is “The Storm Crashes In: How the Covid-19 Pandemic Is Changing American Life.”

P. 32, “I’m mentally and physically exhausted”, health care workers.
The other big one is “The Online Learning Divide”, on p 40, with kids with no broadband at home sent home for online learning.

There’s an article about remote work from home, with an office filled with holograms of people.

There’s a detailed report about Americans caught in Venezuela.
But Connie Schultz espouses, “We’ve always needed one another”.  I;ve never felt that way personally, I am pretty much off to the side, like an alien.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Mitch Albom's "Human Touch" project: a serialized novel attempts to raise money for charity

I did visit Mitch Albom’s book site, called “Human Touch” and read the first chapter, and did a donation to a Detroit charity.
The book seems to comprise maybe eight chapter, with each chapter having several “weeks”, each rather like a scene in a screenplay.
Readers may return weekly and read the next chapter.

The novel follows the pattern of some Nineteenth Century English novels that were published in installments in magazines.  Many readers got quite captivated in those days, especially by Dickens, with ordinary people like them as characters, to find out what happened to each person.

Between each week an illustration will open up, sometimes a photo.  That sort of artistic style was common in reading texts in grade school back in the 1950s.  You wanted the pages to have a lot of pictures then. I don't know if this was done with Wordpress and a specialized theme for this kind of use. 
The narrative centers at first around a little boy, his mother who is a housekeeper, and various other families and church members they interact with. In chapter 1, they learn of rumors of a new virus, and of events being canceled, and don’t have the intellect to process this the way people in the media would. But close knit families have a culture where they protect one another from germs (sometimes requiring personal fastidiousness) which is not as common with educated city people. The text refers to the city of Flint, which has had the water quality crisis with lead levels, along with official neglect.
This is certainly a challenging way for a writer to raise money for charities during a troubling time of need. My own material doesn’t really lend itself to this.  I suppose more conventional (character based) science fiction could.  Say, a story is set in an O’Neill Cylinder in the future.  But how many perspective readers would know what that is.  

Picture: Comerica Park in Detroit, my visit, 2012 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

"Little Dorrit" by Charles Dickens showed how novel serialization can sell

As I noted on my TV blog Monday, Joe Scott noted in a video that in the 19th Century most novels were first published in serial form, in order to pay their own way and attract an audience.
Little Dorrit” by Charles Dickens (1857) is such a novel. It tells the story of Amy Dorrit, a youngest child born in a debtors’ prison, who befriends a world traveler Arthur Clennam, a world traveler returning to England from quarantine related to the bubonic plague after travel to China (sound familiar?)  Author Mitch Albom is offering a novel now, more of that in a future post.

This novel was enormously popular at the time, and people would mob boatslip docks to get the latest installment every week, to the point of having riots; that’s how much they cared about Dickens’s characters, who are numerous;  but they are all distinct and readers could keep track of everyone of them.
The book does deal with inequality and the catch-22 inherent in a debtors’ prison.
I don’t recall hearing this novel mentioned in senior English in high school (when we did take up English literature)  I had a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities” at home, and we read some of Oliver Twist in class. I don’t think it was mentioned in the English lit course at GW when I was an undergraduate either.

But the idea of taking advantage of narrative hook based on characters and giving readers a chapter a week or month may be something literary agents love.  Stephen King has tried it.
The novel has also become a series on the BBC. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Laurie Garrett indicts Xi JingPing, Trump both in New Republic long article, "Grim Reaper"

Laurie Garrett’s featured long article (paywall after free articles) in The New Republic, “Grim Reaper”, says it all.
New Republic, remember, had a period of ownership by Chris Hughes (Mark Zuckerberg has too much power.)  Well, this article might make him wish he still did.

She goes over the best evidence as to how the virus jumped species naturally in late 2019, and how the Chines Communist Party held back evidence and tried to avoid disruption before capitulation by controlling Wuhan, and how the CCP made it harder for western governments to know what was going on.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration enough information by late January to understand that there was community spread in western US, and that this could lead to exponential infections and a health care crisis. To be fair to Trump, maybe it wasn’t as clear that travelers from Europe would provide a greater risk than those from China.

Now almost everyone on the planet is at some risk for serious disease, and the courses of many lives changed forever.  This may be the greatest disruption caused by one head-of-state since WWII.
By Baycrest - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Yup, Amazon considers more books objectionable to sell now than it used to

Reader’s Digest, some time back, listed the things you can’t buy on Amazon.  It makes sense that they won’t sell weapons, tobacco, lottery tickets, weed, etc, things socially questionable (in the minds of many people).

What’s interesting now is that Smart News, today on my phone (and I can’t find the story now) noted that Amazon won’t sell some books based on fascist or racist ideology, or anti-LGBT books (as well as books that promote pedophilia, which has been covered here before).

Particularly they removed Joseph Nicolosi (book I reviewed in Jan 2009 here).

They carry only German-language versions of “Mein Kampf” and removed some Nazi propaganda books.

But they do carry Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto (with Engels)So f from Chiron’s Academic Press. I will decline to carry the Amazon ad for it (if there is one).  No, I don't expect them to carry angry rant-like manifestos like Rodger's or Christchurch. 
So far I haven’t seen Amazon remove books for slow or no sales, but I can imagine ideological reasons to do so, given today’s polarizations.

Picture: Microsoft, unusual ice jellyfish 

Monday, April 06, 2020

Can smaller publishers effectively provide their books for the blind? It doesn't sound easy, as for the economics

Since we’ve heard about issues for ADA compliance with the blind for websites (at least when they are selling things aggressively or raising money) it’s natural to wonder, should the same question exist for books themselves?

It doesn’t look like it’s easy for the digital world to make Braille effective.  Forbes has an article here from 2012, as does the Braille Institute.   Wikipedia has an article here.

You can ask what the role of audio books would be.  For best selling authors, the traditional publishing industry churns them out. 

Andrew Liptak writes for the Verge that traditional publishers don’t like Amazon’s recent rush to make audio captions widely available.
And for self-published authors with smaller book volume, the numbers can’t possibly work.  Audio books are expensive to produce until you have a lot of scale.
People with disabilities can reasonably be concerned that entrepreneurs, even small ones, should pay attention to them if they will be in business with the open public at all.  But it isn't really possible without a lot of scale, so aggressive pursuit of aims like this could affect smaller publishers (or businesses in general) if aggressively pursued. Furthermore, industry standards of what should be expected would be vague and hard to pin down for along time. 

I find it interesting that John Fish’s channel has videos sponsored by Audio Books.  For a video content producers who encourages visitors to read prodigiously large numbers of books, the time taken to listen to an audio book (a lot longer than to watch a film) seems like a contradiction.  But you can play them when jogging (for a marathon – John is a runner) or working out (when the gyms can reopen).
Update: Monday, May 4, 2020:
If a book is available on Kindle the user can copy the Kindle file to a PDF on their computer and probably then use a screenreader if needed. Gizmo article.  Theoretically, this idea might satisfy ADA concerns if anyone raises them. But this sounds like a troubling question. 

Friday, April 03, 2020

Tyler Mowery's "Practical Screenwriting"

Author: Tyler Mowery

Title: “Practical Screenwriting: Cutting Through the Noise and Focusing on What Matters
Publication:  2020, Practical Screenwriting LLC, ISBN 978-1-64826-150-3, 96 pages, 4 sections, 7 chapters.  Purchase link. 

Tyler has an interesting YouTube channel on screenwriting and offers a course, named above.  It’s very easy to see his talking points from the names of his videos.

Tyler’s philosophy is somewhat in three parts.  There is plot with the usual opportunity for ironies and surprises.  There are characters with the normally desired (often selfish) goals who face danger. 

But, finally, and most important, there are questions as to whether the characters’ goals are morally appropriate:  the events of the story will typically force the character to chance who they are in some existential way.  It isn’t hard to imagine that the current public health crisis is capable of doing that.

On p. 19 he self-references a statement he makes about the importance of understanding psychology and philosophy before taking on the mechanics of writing screenplays.

He warns writers about “shiny ideas” (lest they become an aging character’s shiny shins?) and, toward the end, he distinguishes between mystery and ambiguity.  I must say, however, that I enjoy a bit of ambiguity (I think both “Inception” and “Cloud Atlas” had ambiguity too).

I think his ideas about philosophy and morality, as challenged by an external global challenge, will map to parallel issues in a character's life and create irony, sometimes a sequence of ironic situations. 
Mowery's ideas remind me of (Canadian Harvard undergrad) John Fish, especially in the first chapter where he talks about learning to read stories.  In some ways he reminds me of Martin Goldberg (Economic Invincibility) too. 
There's one other thing here. Mowery sells this book himself. I didn't see it on Amazon.  His payment page, from a third party, worked normally and connected to Paypal.  I could place more emphasis on doing my books this way.  You get a PDF (one file) to download (rather than a Kindle file, although maybe you can get that).  In my own case, I have separate PDF's for the separate chapters of my three DADT books, so I would have to combined them to work this way.  Right now I am configured to sell hardcopy myself from my own inventory (rather clumsy now with the "lockdown").  Maybe I need to look at following his example.

Picture: Imaginary sci-fi world, my own trainset in my condo during "stay at home".