Monday, December 28, 2020

New York Times op-ed magazine, "Let's Start Over" after pandemic -- not so much as you think


Home-made pinball-baseball stadium from the 1950s

 The New York Times on Dec. 28 had a magazine-sized op-ed, “Let’s Start Over”.

The rag is in four sections.

One is Politics, Education, Feminism, and Work (Bruni, Mehta, Brooks, and Petersen).

Bruni says that Biden will test if we can bounce back from our floor of collective common decency.

Mehta pretty much echoes John Fish’s video “The Mundanity of Online School”, and notes that the point of education, getting beyond the obsession with SOL’s when I was subbing and regarding grades as a kind of cryptocurrency, has been in flux for decades.  But minority kids are doing poorly in online school.  You get the impression that school systems could hire a  (YouTuber) John Fish or Tyler Mowery, themselves not much older than high school students, to do all their online AP English for starters.

Feminism has been blown apart by the disruptions, as moms carry the heaviest loads of all.

The future of work will be flexibility, desk sharing, people renting their own little local offices, a certain decentralization away from the cities, and even more melding of entrepreneur, gig worker, and employee.

Part Two is Friendship, Conversation, and Sex (compare to the age of AIDS)

Part Three is Sports, Travel (Mzezewa), and Food.  I am particularly concerned about the crimp on personal mobility, so individualized as it was for my own life, as something that the virus evolved on top of.  (We just couldn’t keep it out of China.) You might need a good “reason” to fly personally in the future.

Part Four is Literature, Fashion, and Cities (Manjoo), which in western countries are going to seem even more challenged.  But that’s what I thought when I left New York City for Dallas at the end of 1978.

The end result of all these essays seems to be, not as radical as I would expect.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Non-profits distribute books in remote Arctic areas

Sheep Slot Rapids, Firth River, Ivvavik National Park, YT


 Here is another story about distribution of books to the needy, especially children’s.

It is “Special Delivery: Thousands of Books”, by Charlie Locke, describing “The Neediest Cases Fund”.

These books go to the small libraries in Alaska and the Yukon.

The two nonprofits assisting  were the Alaska Fishing Relief Effort and First Book.

Yukon scene, Wikipedia embed, click for attribution 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Phishing emails target author novel drafts and even screenplay scripts or treatments


The Angelino Hotel on the 405

Well, authors’ book manuscripts have been stolen by phishing, mainly from well-known fiction or other popular writers with longer series, through email, Elizabeth A. Harris and Nicole Perlroth write in the New York Times.

This has also happened with screenplays, in popular franchises or when there is controversy already.

Generally, publishers (and agents)  will communicate with authors through secured emails, with DocuSign, much like financial institutions. 

 Something I have talked about on the movies blog, I think, for scripts: Generally, you have to go through a third party agent to talk to an established studio or production company.  (Now you know what Wilshire Blvd is for.)

west hollywood

  The Internet may have loosened that up on the lower budget end. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

LA Times reports on uneven attempts to help independent bookstores


my books

The Los Angeles Times has a story by Dorany Pineda, about independent bookstores holding Gofunde campaigns to hang on during this extended pandemic.  This is particularly bad in the LA area with the unexpected severity, given the warmer climate.  The store in question is Brentwood’s Diesel.

According to a linked story, thriller author James Patterson (“Along Came a Spider”) has donated $500000 to well-organized fund to save bookstores. He reportedly partnered with Reese Witherspoon and wound up with a “” site, but Squarespace reports that the website has expired (has not been renewed).

I have visited a couple of indie bookstores, including one in rural Maryland last January before the full extent of the coming pandemic was appreciate (see Jan. 20, 2020, the visit took place Jan 16).  

I have, since 2012, gotten numerous calls from my own POD publishers about buying copies of my books in volume and setting up events in bookstores myself, rather than “lazily” depending on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  That would also mean credit card processing myself (which technically I have on one of my Wordpress sites).  In that case, support of independent bookstores would make sense. 

The idea also goes along with the idea that authors (and independent websites) should show commercial viability if they are to remain in the public space, even if the owners’ motivation is personalized speech and not just financial. That’s an idea that may be starting to get traction. People need jobs, not just speech and ideology!

John Fish had been working with Booktuber (and Bryan Stevenson) in Canada and the US before the pandemic.  Here's a funny story about the Capitol Hill Bookstore in Washington DC, 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Exclusive Audiobooks (ACX) create moral controversy


My physical books

Mark Pearson has an important piece on “The harmful impact of audible exclusive audiobooks”.  

Authors are sometimes encouraged to sign up with the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) for higher royalties, but have to give the exchange exclusive rights for sales. It's rather like an 800 number 

This winds up depriving local libraries and independent bookstores access to the books, which might be particularly harmful during the pandemic lockdowns.

The group Fight for the Future offers a petition against the practice. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

"How to Publish a Book on Amazon" as explained by Martin Goldberg


snow flurries, northern VA

Martin Goldberg (aka Economic Invincibility, see Dec 10 post) has an interesting video on how to self-publish on Amazon (“How to Publish a Book on Amazon”).  He is mostly interested in Kindle Direct Publishing, which incorporates what we used to call Create Space.

The process seems to be quite a bit simpler than going through an Author Solutions company like iUniverse or Xlibris. 

Martin likes to write out his text longhand before typing.  In this case, there is no separate typesetting, it appears.  Microsoft Word is used essentially for the typesetting.

I would recommend at least using Microsoft Publisher for typesetting.  Right-aligning the columns makes a book look more professional (you can do that in Word, but it is not as good.)  Also, you can get a product called Grammarly to help edit. 

You definitely need to have another pair of eyes copyedit your book.  Typically, for a 100,000 word book expect that to cost around $500.  Amazon eliminated its own editorial support (which was located in South Carolina) in early 2019, as I recall.

I do wonder if terms of service or subject matter issues could become more sensitive for Amazon in the future, given our polarized and relentless socially divided climate.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Foreign Policy asks "Can America Recover" and looks hard at the Chinese Communist Party

Beijing skyline from northeast 4th ring road

The January-February 2021 (dead of winter) issue of Foreign Affairs is certainly eye-catching/

At the bottom there is a caption, “Can America Recover?”.  It comprises seven essays.

I’ll mention two of them. 

To Stop a Pandemic: A Better Approach to Global Health Society”, p. 36. By Jennifer Nuzzo.

The author says that the western world was “singularly unprepared” for a pandemic of this nature.  It would be hard to anticipate in advance how a respiratory virus could seem to cause very trivial illness in most people exposed, yet fill up hospitals and morgues quickly – it spreads that quickly before someone has noticeable symptoms (and many more people than we realize never have symptoms).  And a troubling percentage of people who recover from milder cases have residual complications (long haulers). The idea that a respiratory virus does such damage to blood vessels sounds novel.  But there are many other bizarre viruses out there.  It’s just that this one is new. 

At the end, she warns that an even worse virus is conceivable – maybe one that is slow and that causes dementia in everyone.  It is impossible to avoid the possibility that a foreign power could design a pathogen.  Indeed, the behavior of SARS_CoV2 sounds imagined to undermine western individualism and to reinforce personal sacrifice for the group as in communist countries.

David W. Blight has an essay on p. 44, “The Reconstruction of America: Justice, Power, and the Civil War’s Unfinished Business”.  Indeed, the period right after the war (as in “Gone with the Wind”) was more radical in its interventionism in the South than most of us realize. But Blight discusses the Radical Republicans, who made strides between 1866 and 1868 (leading to Johnson’s impeachment), pressed for a “civil rights act” and engineered the 14th Amendment with its refinement of individual rights and the use of the incorporation doctrine.

On p. 78 there appears an 18 page essay “The Party that Failed: An Insider Breaks with Beijing”, by Cai Xia.

The author worked as a writer for the Chinese Communist Party establishment, for over a decade. She lived in a world where you don’t originate your own thinking but sell the ideology of others. Sometimes in doing her propaganda work she was forcefully isolated. The CCP tried to invent a doubletalk to invent a statist capitalism that still belonged to “the people”.  But rather than talking about workers as an exploited class, it could make something of Maoist thinking about poverty-sharing and radical purity on a personal level.  She talks about the coverup of the death of Lei Yang in 2016.

She talks about being interrogated about her writings in more recent years.

She was caught away from home by the pandemic.  Authorities wanted he to come home but she would not.  But all of her assets were frozen.  

Vijay Gokhale has a December 18 FP article about China’s commitment to ideological manifest destiny, “China is Gnawing at Democracy’s Roots Worldwide”, The Communist Party is putting ideological battles first.

Wikipedia embed of Beijing eastern skyline, click for attribution. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

USA Today huge piece: “It may not have started here, but the novel coronavirus became a U.S. tragedy” (aka "American Virus")


New York City, 2015

Gus Garcia-Roberts, Erin Mansfield, and Caroline Anders provide a very detail account of the history of COVIS19 in the United States, Dec. 11, 2020.  It is very well illustrated with lots of fancy insets.

The title is “American Virus: It may not have started here, but the novel coronavirus became a U.S. tragedy”.

The article starts out by noting many more specific infections and even deaths in the United States as early as December 2019.  The death in California Feb 6 of a woman who had exposure to people who traveled from China, to a heart rupture, is mentioned.

It also notes the incredible volume of flights from China, especially Wuhan, to the rest of the world, including the US West Coast. But the East Coast was seeded a lot by flights from Europe, especially Italy.

The article notes how the virus percolated for at least three months in the United States, before life “as we know it” suddenly caved in, during the middle of March 2020. People had no concept of how mitigation would be handled and how many lives would be crushed permanently.

The article follows one particular family in Chicago in detail.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Washington Post booklet story about a laid-off Walt Disney World cast member


near Epcot, Orlando, 2015

The Washington Post Magazine has a feature-length story today, heavily illustrated with photographs, “I Didn’t Make It”, about a Disney World waitress, called a “cast member”, who had worked there for fourteen years.  She had emigrated from Brazil in 2006. She has two daughters, one of whom is autistic.

The layoffs came in late October with “Dear Cast Member” letters.

The article is by Greg Jaffe, photos by Eve Edelheit, videos by Drea Cornejo.

The severity of Florida’s second wave, when people went indoors for air conditioning, and now the third wave, have apparently led the layoffs to be permanent.

Yet, in six months or so, business might be close to normal again if the vaccination program works.

Toward the end of the enclosed video the woman says she always knew she was in a very privileged position for a very special company.

The article did not link to a personal fundraising page.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

"The Truth about Mussolini and Fascism", by Martin Goldberg

Has seven 1 a


Author: Martin Goldberg 

Title: The Truth about Mussolini and Fascism

Publication: Self, 2020, ISBN 978-8697759745, 114 pages, Introduction plus 7 chapters, over 500 endnotes.  Review is based on the printed version;  right margins not-aligned. 

The author has a YouTube channel under his own name, and it used to be called “Economic Invincibility”. Generally his perspectives on how individuals should behave given the polarization and anger of our times sounds pretty sound to me.  He sounds like a conservative, although he says he is not; be is willing to challenge over investment in individualism and isolated personal responsibility, able to criticize Jordan Peterson’s idea of “clean your room”.

Apparently, he was born in Italy but raised in the US.  He apparently has a career in software support, and bought a house “somewhere in the South” (I think it’s Florida).

He says he spent eleven years working on this book, to clear up what he say are misconceptions about fascism in Italy.  When it started, the far Left (that is communists) were doing destruction on ordinary people, which the “fascists” stopped.  Stalin was seen as the big threat.   He says Mussolini and his team, so to speak, put an end to slavery in Ethiopia.

He says that World War II (and probably I) as motivated by the oppression caused by the western nation’s financial system.

The last chapter has the attention-getting title “The Fascist legacy”.  The last sentence is “Sometimes tyranny is a vessel of peace, and freedom the herald of war”.  He does not really connect directly the experience of Italy with everyone today.  But once can presume some things.  Everyone grows up in some kind of community, which should envelop a family. The sustainability of the community matters.  Population demographics, and low birth rates in more affluent people leads to unhealthful dependence on foreign sources of manual labor (as if this sounds like a bit of autarky).  In a sense, this sounds like the conservative side of critical theory, because your extended community / country could commit or have recently committed wrongs that you personally could be assessed for (that sounds like reparations).  Fascism, even when “soft” (like Hungary, Poland. Etc today) presumes people have some moral obligation to remain fit, and to take care of others immediately around them (the “natural family”) rather leave it to the rest of the world.  Fascism would seem to contradict over-investment in personal self-concept or agency (although less so than communism) outside of a structure place in society. On pp 10-11, the author cites writings saying that the individual exists but his purposes must be circumscribed by the needs of the overall state or nation. 

Here is a YouTube link where he describes his book.  Listen to the end where he explains his publication and circumstances. His view of self-publishing, stated near the end, deserves note.  He no longer shows his own face as he used to, even though he is around thirty and looks quite fit physically, don’t know why.  He does not seem to like to have videos embedded, so I will just give his link.  I have embedded the Khan Academy’s account of Mussolini, which is similar.

Picture: Embed from Wikipedia, Mussolini and his Blackshirts 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

"How we can stop the spread of COVID-19 by Christmas", in Time, by Michael Mina at Harvard (article review)


Michael Mina has a major article in Time, Nov. 17, “How we can stop the spread of COVID-19 by Christmas”.  Mina is a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, MA.

Mina explains how antigen tests work (compared to the PCR) and are a test of contagiousness (not as sensitive as the PCR – and note that there is recent controversy about the latter and cycle counting – see the International Issues blog).

He also says you would need about 50% voluntary compliance from individuals and families for this to break the reproduction of the virus (R0 way below one, and bringing down the dispersion by getting enough people to forgo gatherings or large events if they test regularly).

Other implementations would probably require some automated contact tracing and communications to health departments. Software to communicate test results to smart phones exists already.