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Social Media Dump Sept 16-31

See also: Sept 1-15 and Oct 1-15 (View all)

Reddit discussion about the similarities and differences between the Irish Potato Famine and Holodomor (the Ukraine famine in the 1930s). Also discusses the economic writings of Amartya Sen.

Some research into copyright and fair use. 2 legal experts comment on how fair use should be used in modern society. Very perceptive article. They also wrote a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts.

Legal guide to podcasting.

Here’s a profound discussion about news media, social media, censorship and propaganda. Lots of good insights and references. This discussion was posted two days ago, and very current. They reference a new book by Yochai Benkler which is here.

NEW TERM: CONTEXT COLLAPSE: “the flattening of multiple audiences into a single context; i.e., ” “trying to comfortably chat with your mother, bar buddy, work colleague, and ex-boyfriend at the same time.”

Nardwuar interviews raunchy comic Whitney Cummings. Nardwuar is a great interviewer, but Cummings truly had no idea what was going to happen.


Social Media Dump Sept 1-15

See: August 16-31 and Sept 16-30  (View All)

CNN report on the healthiest and most sustainable seafood to eat.

Ted Baxter is finally right about something:

Chris Perez (husband of slain Tejano singer Selena) announced on Facebook today that he has resolved a lawsuit with Selena’s family. This is good news, and actually Perez deserves his fair compensation. Apparently, when Selena died, she had no will, so the husband would stand to receive 100% of her estate. However, two months after her death. Selena’s father made him sign an agreement to receive 25% of the Selena company’s earnings. Perez (who was 22 at the time) was in mourning and hadn’t even consulted an attorney.

I’m not sure we say Selena’s father defrauded Chris Perez, but certainly he didn’t disclose to Chris Perez his legal rights at the time. Then he maintained strict control over the Selena name (which was trademarked). Also, the father sued Chris Perez a few times, mainly over a memoir he wrote about Selena and his plans to develop some sort of TV show about their marriage.

It’s interesting because this disagreement mirrors the cultural disagreement between the two of them as presented in the 1990s biopic of Selena starring Jennifer Lopez. I had the good fortune to see Chris Perez perform in Houston in the early 2000s– what a class act — great musician who really wrote a very personal memoir many years later, when he felt the time was right.

RIP Norm McDonald. I only discovered his comedy recently. Faves: Moth Joke, Logic Professor joke. Also, his compilation of OJ Simpson jokes from SNL were hilarious (here’s part 2).

Great (and devastating) opinion piece on 9-11 by a leading Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami . FUN FACT: Her “Moor’s Account” novel is a fictionalized account of a Muslim man who went with Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca in the 1530s through Texas and southern parts of the US:

The fact that the United States itself went on to attack, and wreak even greater violence against innocent civilians around the world, was largely omitted from official narratives, as it was in the museum. This erasure is not accidental. After the initial phase of fighting, the Pentagon did not release regular and precise reports of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We got out of the body count business years ago,” Mark Kimmitt, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and former State Department official, said in 2018. “The numbers, while relevant, are not something that we quote, nor do we keep in our back pocket.” The work of counting the civilian dead fell instead to human rights groups, research centers and special sections of newspapers.

Likewise, the speeches of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were more likely to offer assurances that the nation was “staying the course” or “fulfilling our commitment” than to give an honest accounting of the wars. Every time I heard them speak, I wondered what goals they wanted to achieve. Was it the surrender of the Taliban? The capture of Osama bin Laden? The fall of Saddam Hussein? The staging of elections in Iraq and Afghanistan? Each milestone was reached, and yet the wars continued, largely out of sight. Within the first few months of combat operations, news of the wars disappeared from front pages. Nightly news broadcasts spent so little time on the wars that yearly coverage was measured in seconds per newscast.


Robert’s Roundup #23 (Sept 2021)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers).

Indie Author Spotlight


Under the Radar

Bell Hammers: True Folk Tales of Little Egypt by Lancelot Schaubert.

Luz at Midnight by Marisol Cortez. (Home Page). Here’s a podcast interview with Cortez about the book.

Rub-a-Dub Double: SWAP Story by Ivy Garcia.

Quite, Please! by Scott Douglas. (Home page and book blog).

Blink and it’s Gone Sales

Why we Swim by Bonnie Tsui.

Library Books/printed books

Sugar among the Freaks: Selected Stories by Nordan Lewis.

Literary Articles and Essays

PROLIFIC PLAYWRIGHT/NOVELIST REDISCOVERS LOST CLASSICS: David Blixt is one of the best kept secrets in the US literary world. He’s been cranking out all kinds of stuff (especially historical novels taking place in Elizabethan theatre). Now he has republished some novels by famed 19th century muckraking journalist — Nelly Bly. Most of Blixt’s novels (as well as the Nelly Bly novels) are less than $2 each on Amazon — sometimes 99 cents or even free.

What is the ideal size for a printed book? A bookseller discusses the pros and cons of different dimensions. I don’t really read a lot of printed books anymore, but my philosophy is the bigger the better. (My middle-aged eyes will complain less).



Capsule Book Review


Multimedia, Podcasts, etc

Podcast interview with Hilma Wolitzer. Her most recent collection includes a covid story (Wolitzer and her husband contracted covid in March 2020. Two other great podcast episodes on Texas Book Talk.

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. Check them out! Starting at the end of September I’ll be starting a mailing list for people to stay informed about upcoming sales and promotions.


Music Discoveries Sept 2021 #9

See also: August 2021 and October 2021 (View all)

Wow, a week has gone by without my posting anything about music. I actually put off music for a few weeks until I faced several important tasks: figuring out the best way to rip CDs on my new computer (done with dbpoweramp), figuring out podcast subject (done) and dealing with the mess which is bandcamp (more below). Actually I went ahead and bought a final $200 credit (really only $75) for emusic. Practically speaking though, I’m more focused now on Bandcamp.

Articles and Interviews

WORK SONGS PLAYLIST: Here’s a nice YouTube playlist created by music critic Ted Gioia. He has written 12+ books about music — including one called “Work Songs” which presumably provided the songs for this playlist. Here’s an article he wrote about why pop songs are 3 minutes long … and why they shouldn’t be.

Emusic Purchases

I put my account on hold last month, but at the end of the month I bought a big shack of credits.

  1. Flames to Ashes by Elissa Pernu. 4.99, 41 minutes. Australian country singer.
  2. Pendulum by Originalii. 99 cents, 24 minutes.
  3. Best of Valerie Dore. 1980s Italo Disco group. I wrote an article about this band’s origins which showcases mainly works by Monica Stucchi but at first was fronted by Dora Carofiglio.

Bandcamp Purchases

Here is what I have learned about bandcamp from the last occasion.

First, if you contribute something (any amount) to a NAME YOUR PRICE (NYP) album, that gives you the right to stream it through the bandcamp app.

Second, you have the ability to follow FANS, not just musicians. Following fans can be a great way to discover low-cost albums from a variety of places and styles. Also, you can follow fans of other fans.

Third, significantly, whenever you pay for some bandcamp thing, you have the right to write a short review/praise. This praise will appear on the album page. That’s interesting, but more importantly, it will appear on your collection, so if other people are browsing through your collection, they can see these annotations as well. For example my Bandcamp fan profile is here, but there’s another fan I follow, Oddiooverplay, who annotates her favorite purchases — which immediately makes me want to hear them.

Fourth, when scrolling through people’s collections, you can see how many other fans have the same album in their collection. I hesitate to make a general rule here, but the more fans who have an album in a collection, the more likely the price is to be less.

Fifth you can browse through albums by following tags — which refer to styles, locations or even price. When you land on a tag page, you can choose to view HIGHLIGHTS or ALL RELEASES. Obviously All Releases is a way to turn on the firehose, which usually what you don’t want. The Highlights view is obviously more limiting to maybe 12 titles, but sometimes that’s the way to get started.

Ultimately though, surfing music through collections of other fans can be more satisfying and allows for more serendipity.

I haven’t really found a way to find a way to filter out picks to include under $3 or $5 and for the album/EP to be substantial (like over 30 minutes). Bandcamp has feature articles about albums, except that they are some of the pricier titles. Everything is about the $10 range, something I buy very rarely.

Bandcamp lets you sign up for mailing lists, but that is pretty arduous. Suppose you signed up for 500 mailing lists. I suspect most of these announcements are about single tracks or overpriced albums, so I don’t need to hear about it. On the other hand, I really want to hear about name your price deals.

I would think that blogs or social media could come up with a new way to track Name Your Prices. How about setting a twitter search result to capture the latest NYP

Youtubey Things

Thank god I didn’t see this 70s performance of Parton-Rondstandt-Harris, or I would have developed massive crushes on all 3 people.

Biff Gore vs. Sisaundra Lewis: “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” on the Voice.

Here’s a nice environmental song:

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Cosmic Psychos. Australian punk band I found out about by watching the Australian Dramedy Five Rooms.
  2. Social Distortion. s/t
  3. Elza Soares. Brazilian.

Letter to the Houston Chronicle

Here’s the letter I wrote to the Houston Chronicle about climate change. Like the previous ones, it will probably not be published. Oh well.

Uncertainty Cuts Both Ways

I thought Sunday’s front page story about climate change skepticism presented the issues in a muddled way. Indeed, why, did the article keep citing Steven Koonin and his book which is already under fire from climate scientists? Climate scientist Ben Santer wrote, “It is simply untrue that Prof. Koonin is confronting climate scientists with unpleasant facts they ignored or failed to understand. The climate science community treats uncertainties in an open and transparent way. It has done so for decades.” Merely stating that uncertainty exists about climate predictions ignores the fact that predicted harms could turn out to be even worse than predicted. Says Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt (two leading climate scientists), “there is a great asymmetry in risk between the high and low end estimates. Uncertainty cuts both ways and is not our friend.”

Practically speaking, policymakers and citizens can and should still make decisions based on available scientific information and assessment of risk. That is why the IPCC Summary for Policymakers uses clearly defined phrases like “virtually certain,” “high confidence” and “medium confidence” to help nonscientists weigh the cost and benefits of various actions. Unfortunately, delaying action on climate change imposes additional risks and costs on both our natural system and global economy.

A carbon fee and dividend is a fast and effective way to reduce the production and consumption of fossil fuels. It also brings substantial benefits: cash dividends to consumers, reduced deaths from air pollution (estimated at 100,000 annually in the US alone) and more jobs created (renewable energy historically has created many more jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuels do).

Robert Nagle (not a climate scientist!)


(Read more of my unpublished climate change letters to the Chronicle here).


Social Media Dump Aug 16-31 (2021)

See:  Aug 1-15 and September 1-15  (View All)

You have written some famously bad blogposts (here and here) predicting who will win the race for president. In 2016 and 2020 I was ridiculously wrong, but had a lot of fun predicting things. I’m thinking of writing up a 2024 election version — and to be wrong again. The real question is whether anyone will run on the Democratic Party ticket; I’m tempted to say it will be Inslee, Klobuchar and Kamala Harris. On the Republican side it will be Nikki Haley (duh!), Ron DeSantis and Paul Ryan. Possibly Ben Sasse too. (and because of DeSantis, I predict far right-wingers like Tom Scott and Rick Scott won’t run). Incidentally, I’m currently 55 and even though it’s not bad or anything, it’s hard to imagine someone younger than me winning the presidency.

A typographer makes his Oscar picks — solely on the basis of fonts on the poster. He designs types himself and has an online “book” with suggestions about using fonts and typography on the web.

Nestflix.fun is a Netflix parody consisting of fake movies (which usually appear in TV shows or films). My favorite is a whole page listing movie parodies from Arrested Development.

Fun with Glass and Trampoline. Here’s a more perfectly realized choreographed number (and longer too). Kudos to YOANN BOURGEOIS for devising this performance concept.

To give you an idea of how strange my life is: 1)my floor lamp beside my bed fell on me in the middle of the night (breaking the main light bulb) and 2)my TV has been powering up at random intervals. (I have to unplug it to prevent that from happening). UPdate: I think I’ve found the cause. My PC seems to be sending bluetooth signals to my TV.

Pet peeve: I inevitably keep dozens (if not hundreds) of browser tabs windows open. I’m always in the middle of something — these WordPress edit windows are especially easy to misplace. I just want to kill everything and start again.

Here’s a good diagram illustrating plot.

“Comirnaty!!??” Seriously, the marketing department couldn’t come up with a better name for the Pfizer vaccine than that? I can barely pronounce or spell it. Why not give it a memorable name and just move on. (MY suggestions: Bongo-Pongo, Perkosan, Gradifex).. Or reuse names of comic book heroes or rap stars or other celebrities designed to appeal to a demographic –i.e, Spiderman, Cool Juice, BigPicasso, LambofGod. Think outside the box.

Article about a Shapeshifting cam girl rewriting the rules of digital porn. Apparently the digital artist (in her 30s) used various graphical tools to make herself look younger (and prettier?!). Here’s her instagram account pics, which are sort of PG-13 rated, sort of NSFW. She’s managed to monetize everything, so good for her, although I’m not sure she’s getting that adulation only for the money.. Good case study though.

I’ve been really amazed at the Jane Ferguson on-the-ground reporting in Kabul, Afganistan. She is one of those amazing PBS reporters who manages to get accepted in Muslim countries under fire. Actually CNN has a good reporter in Kabul as well — not to mention the English-speaking Afghanis. The big question is that if 70% of Afghanis have access to smart phones with Internet, how will the Taliban be able to crack down?

I’m preparing a wiki page for a writer and am floored by the amount of wiki guidelines. (Look at this wiki style guide and this help page on citing sources. Hey, here’s the draft of that article in the submission pile. Let’s see if they approve or massacre it some more.

I stumbled upon an old blog post complaining about politicians who use the phrase “Make no mistake.” NAGLE’S ADDENDUM ON POLITICAL RHETORIC:  Whenever a politician uses the word “strongly” in a speech, you should always substitute that with the word “stupidly” to capture the exact same meaning.

“It’s completely lovely—and also bonkers,” said her mother, Laura. “Betty climbs in Lacey’s long hair like it’s some kind of jungle.”(About a teen girl who has adopted a bumble bee). There’s a killer line at the end.

““Up to 50 kilos of fish caught in Brazil are thrown away for every kilo that arrives on land; more than 400,000 tons of marine life were discarded between 2000 and 2018 in just four states.”(Source)

I’m used to John Oliver uncovering some little known scandal, but his clips about Housing Discrimination, the Pace program (a home renovation program) and how EMS programs around the country are underfunded are shocking. Apparently some EMS technicians don’t even get health care or a living wage.

Comedian Fumi Abe did a hilarious set on Stephen Colbert. Watch that name.

Comic reporter Jordan Klepper (from the Daily Show) interviews a lot of anti-vaxxers. He really is an incredible comedian.

Here’s a profile on Brit comedienne Flora Anderson.

Some shrewd analysis about sitcoms by comedian/writer Olivia Cathcart. Why the show What We Do in the Shadows shows how TV serials have more comedy potential than movies.

While the Shadows movie is indeed fantastic, the very premise it set up was always more conducive to TV. The point of the film wasn’t to send these vampires on some grand quest to carry out an evil plan, it was a look into the average day-to-day lives of vampires who, other than eating humans, live relatively mundane lives. If TV is a diary, then a film is a book report. With the show, Shadows is able to perpetually expand their world and fill in gaps from the movie, namely adding more female characters like Nadja to the main cast as well as guest appearances from Kristen Schaal, Vanessa Bayer, Greta Lee, Sondra James’ little Joanie, and former Great British Bake Off contestant Helena Garcia (honestly, case closed right there). And then there’s Colin Robinson, the energy vampire who feeds off people’s energy, nearly boring them to death in cubicle-filled office spaces and town hall meetings. Such an off kilter character might seem out of place in a movie about blood-sucking vampires, but here these subplots can run parallel to the main story without feeling distracting. On that same note, more writers on staff means more jokes from more perspectives, while too many contributors on a film script often leads to a disjointed story.

See also her wondering why late night talk shows still exist (post-Conan and post-Covid)? (I’m a big fan of late night talk shows. They are celebrity-obsessed (not to mention obsessed with anything new). But it’s nice to follow the host and cast.

Here’s my take on talk shows and Covid. Stephen Colbert was mostly terrible during COVID, Jimmy Fallon was fun and silly and still could play games and run music vids. Seth Meyers was even more brilliant and entertaining; he was perfectly comfortable transitioning to No Audience. Trevor Noah and his gang has really been killing it with every episode. Great sketches, great interviews and fast-paced. Very intellectual too. Now that things are returning to normal with talk show audiences, Colbert is much more entertaining and can really milk a joke when he wants to.

About the political thing, our country has experienced a national tragedy with Trump; if talk show hosts weren’t sounding the alarm, I don’t know who else could be. It’s good though that talk shows have stepped back and focused more on traditional entertainment. Talk shows used to be even-handed towards both parties, but the lack of a credible conservative leadership has made it impossible to treat them as anything more than a bunch of crazies — especially when it comes to climate change and vaccine mandates.

How much is ton of carbon dioxide? The U.S. EPA has found that a typical 22 MPG gas-based car emits about 5 tons of carbon dioxide per year. On average, you emit one ton of CO2 for about every 2,500 miles you drive—about the distance from Boston, Massachusetts to Salt Lake City, Utah. (The US annual carbon footprint is about 16 tons annually). Concludes the report:

Most of the CO2 humans emit doesn’t come from everyday activities like driving. In fact, when we say that the average American emits 16 tons of CO2 a year, most of this isn’t from our direct emissions. Instead, it’s from large-scale processes, like making electricity or manufacturing products and building materials, which are averaged across the whole population. For example, the World Steel Association estimates that, for every ton of steel we produce, almost two tons of CO2 are added to the atmosphere.

A while back my ebook press published Hanger Stout, Awake about a teenage boy who competes in contests to see who can freehang from a bar the longest. Apparently, some Youtube celebrity has challenged all kinds of people to freehang for money. For those interested, I wrote a nice essay about that novella, pondering the ephemeralities of youth.

I am saddened to learn about the deaths of US servicemen and Afghani citizens in Kabul (presumably at the hands of terrorists). It’s important to remember that US soldiers are often asked to provide protection for international humanitarian efforts in risky places and can become a target for bad actors. (To a lesser extent, this happens also with UN peacekeeping troops). Without having these spaces secured, it can be hard to run humanitarian operations. It is only on tragic days like today that we can appreciate the risks and sacrifices that enlisted people take during such missions. We should honor them for that.

Here’s a 16 minute audio interview with James Loewen from 2015 (audio link is in middle of page).

After Ed Asner has died, I was recalling favorite Mary Tyler Moore show moments with him. Here’s him with Ted Knight. Hilarious scene. The most interesting (for me at least) is that the scene is so unimportant; all Ed and Ted are doing is hamming it up to absurd levels. I saw an interview with Asner where he said the serious drama Lou Grant (which I never watched!) was his best performances. I look forward to watching it somewhere.


Social Media Dump Aug 1-15 (2021)

See    July 16-31 and August 16-31  (View All)

Malcolm Gladwell talks about his latest book about understanding strangers. He talks about the TV show Friends, where it’s easy to interpret the words and gestures of characters — which is the opposite of real life. Some other shows which are easy to decode: Larry Sanders Show, Third Rock from the Sun, Brooklyn 99, Taxi. (all favorite shows btw). These shows have types and then have actors who give them unique and quirky qualities.

Here are two tweets which just astonished me:

  • PAULA JEAN SWEARENGIN: It’s a fair assumption to think I have millions of dollars because I run for office. Most of our representatives come from privilage. I am a single mom and never made $25,000 a year in my life. Paula Jean Swearengin, who ran for US Senate twice in West Virginia. She ran against Joe Manchin in 2018 and then against Republican Shelley Moore Capito — losing both by substantial margins, but putting in enormous efforts both times. She was also featured in the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House (about how first time politicians ran political campaigns). She’s West Virginia’s version of Bernie Sanders, she’s a great speaker, and even though her main issue is opposition to coal, she embraces a lot of other progressive cause. I found out about her from a 3 minute speech she gave at a coal mine protest — which was one of the most remarkable political speeches ever. Perhaps it was her first political speech ever. Despite losing massively, she became a much measured and better speaker and capable of talking about policies and reading the room. Also, her volunteer staff punched well above their weight. She has learned a lot and I would love for Paula Jean to stay in politics. (Her twitter feed is always remarkable).
  • SETH MACFARLANE: Tucker Carlson’s latest opinion piece once again makes me wish Family Guy was on any other network. Look, Fox, we both know this marriage isn’t working anymore. The sex is only once a year, I don’t get along with your mother, and well… I’ve been having an affair with NBC. This is certainly the case of biting the hand that feeds you, but it’s amazing and sad that MacFarlane lacked the insight to see a disconnect between his personal values and the values of the company which run his shows.

Thomas Geoghegan on that time I ran for Congress:

VIDEO Training cats to do tricks with dominoes.

To my delight, the South Park people are contemplating buying the Casa Bonita Mexican Restaurant. They used it as the setting for the hilarious Casa Bonita restaurant episode. Totally worth it. I was looking up a South Park clip and came across this gem. Here is Cartman Bra being interviewed by NPR interview Julie Rovner. Would like to see that full episode without paying, but can’t find a way! Wow, here’s a 1997 interview of Trey & Matt on South Park with Jay Leno and an outrageous trailer to their comedy movie Orgazmo (which is pre-South Park!)

To my amazement, I see that they made another sick comedy in college called Cannibal — the Musical. It’s available for free on Youtube. I’ll admit, it never occurred to me when I was in college that college students could make passable movies — maybe I would have tried to make a few myself! (Instead I was writing plays and stories in creative writing classes).

An interior designer imagines and reconstructs the spartan set for the Honeymooners TV show. She also draws inspiration from famous movie sets.

Don’t ask me how I surfed to it, but here are interviews with people who survived the Titanic. Here and here. “An iceberg? I’ve always wanted to do see one!” The most amazing was the inteview with Frank Prentice who dived from the top before it started sinking. Two more interviews here. 16 minute interview from 1960 here. Here’s a 50 minute audio recording by survivors.

IPCC 6 just hit the streets today. Here’s a 42 page Policymaker’s Summary PDF (which is surprisingly hard to find on the ipcc site). Carbon brief gives a very interesting deep dive into IPCC6 . In particular I was interested in climate sensitivity (aka, what is the effect of doubling CO2 over preindustrial levels?) IPCC AR6 report gives a central estimate 3.0C, with a likely range of 2.5-4C and a very likely range of 2-5C. (Likely = 66-100% and Very likely = 90-100%)

Here’s a succinct summary of IPCC6 and climate scientist Gavin Schmidt writes several responses and analyses here and here. According to a guest article, the best estimate of when 1.5ºC warming might be reached in the AR6 report is around 2034.5 (the year on which the 20-year period 2025-2044 is centred), with lots of wiggle room. (More symbolic than important is when the North Pole will first have an ice-free summer, which could be happening any year now).

Climate sensitivity is a vital scientific question, but even more vital is how quickly will we be able to reduce carbon emissions? (“we” meaning “the entire world.”) I am very pessimistic at the ability of our country (and even developing countries) to reduce emissions. It requires a lot of capital and a lot more planning and political will to do this. My prediction (based on not a lot of study) is that the world will underdeliver on its goal by a significant amount — leading to the possibility that we may end up tripling our emissions — an almost unthinkable possibility). As a result, there may be a need to do “negative emissions” (figuring out a mechanism to remove CO2 from the atmosphere). Technology Review has the lowdown about what negative emissions are all about the tall price they exact in the future.

See also Emily Atkin’s cynical take on responses to IPCC 6 (one of which was sponsored by Chevron).

I have to say, I am not particularly impressed by Biden’s infrastructure plan — which has been watered down. Frankly, I’m surprised that carbon fee and dividend hasn’t been a centerpiece of any climate change legislation.

Just for kicks I will google my name and see what comes up. My blogposts no longer show up at top; instead I see lots of obituaries for various Robert Nagles around the country — and 2 wedding announcements! Apparently I am married either to someone named Medora or Alicia, take your pick. Still no TikTok vids about me (although there is one for Robert NAUGLE). Several Robert Nagles are dentists and real estate agents, but my favorite is the item on RATEMYPROFESSORS: “Robert Nagle is the worst professor I have ever had in my academic career. He knows very little about his subject and will brag about his 10 years experience of teaching a class incorrectly. I would avoid him at all costs, even if it means waiting until the next semester to take this class,” and “This professor does not like women!” Hey, with praise like that, it’s no wonder that my namesakes across the country are kicking the bucket! Just to be on the safe side, maybe I should consult a psychologist who specializes in my ailment.

Had an argument with my mother about which kinds of plastics can be easily recycled. Here’s a great deep dive by NPR into how oil and gas companies have sold the myth that plastics can be recycled (when in fact only categories 1 and 2 are easily recycled). This 2020 Greenpeace report (PDF) covers the material in even greater detail. Some materials are recycled at relatively high levels: more than two-thirds of paper and about a third of aluminum. But for plastic, the rate is just eight percent. Another 16 percent is incinerated. The vast majority of plastic — that remaining 76 percent — ends up in landfills. Here’s a screenshot from a PBS Frontline investigation:


Robert’s Roundup #22 (Aug 2021)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint. NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers).

Last month’s column was very long because of the Smashwords sale. August will be much lighter. Actually that may give me extra time to actually read the books I blog about 🙂

Oops, I ended up buying some more print books (see below).

The craziest thing. Ever since my Kindle app updated to the latest version, I have noticed the books in my library disappearing for about 5 minutes. I will often need to kill and restart the process. It’s at the point of being annoying, but not so much that I’m going to try technical support (not yet anyway). It’s surreal going from having a library of several thousand ebooks to a library which shows absolutely no titles at all. Strangely, in this state, you can see collections easily — and it shows that all the titles are downloaded onto the device’s memory card. So there’s no problem with the external storage. This is happening regularly and almost predictably. The main solution is to stop the application and restart — problem solved.

Another issue raised by the above software bug is how important it is to assign a new ebook to a collection. That makes it easier to find invisible ebooks.

Indie Author Spotlight


Under the Radar

How to Self-publish and Market a Children’s Book (Second Edition): June 2021. Self-publishing in print, eBooks and audiobooks, children’s book marketing, translation and foreign rights Kindle Edition by Karen P. Inglis (author website). I know next to nothing about children’s books, and so in Aug 2021 I paid 6.99 for the second edition which just came out. It’s an excellent book which covers a lot of ground. The author is from UK, and UK/Europe has a different market than USA, but most of her tips still hold true.

Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home by Abigail Williams. (Academic page) 2.99. A Yale U. Press about how people read to one another and used books for social purposes. Fascinating! Here’s a book excerpt.

Laughing Dolphins by Amber Polo. (KU,LE). (Author website) . “A rom-com story of lovers living parallel lives for twenty years….Tales of the City, without the sex and drugs.” (Here’s the author’s explanation of where she got the idea for the book).

Barrie Hill Reunion by Lisette Brody.

Layers: A Collection of Short Stories by Zusanne Belec.

Puppets of Prague by David Canford.

Lessons from my mother’s life by Tam May.


Blink and it’s Gone Sale

Conjunctions Radical Shadows issue (Recent translations of 19th century works). Edited by Bradford Morrow. I love it when Conjunctions is discounted to 1.99.

Hard Times: Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel. 1.99. Have a hard copy which is falling apart.

20th century: memoirs of a Hungarian Mathematician by Miklos Farkos. Free.

Editors on Editing: by Gerald Gross. Good essays about what editors were like in previous decades.

Had I known by Barbara Ehrenreich. (Latest essay collection). Ehrenreich is unstoppable! (one of my faves).

Creative Commons/Academic/Public Domain


Library Books/Printed Books

I can’t believe that I spent more money on print books, but I found several rare titles for under $5.

Conversation in a Train and Other Critical Writing by Frank Sargeson. Sargeson is a New Zealand author aren’t easily available here.

The Lesser Bohemians: A Novel by Eimear McBride. Detailed intimate look at a young Irish girl’s sex life. “McBride evokes brilliantly the distinctive pleasure of days spent in bed, moving imperceptibly between humour and passion, and between violent and tender desire. ” (Source)Here’s a 2021 interview with her (hey that’s last week!) I’m going to keep an eye out for her latest novel, Strange Hotel .

Taking Stock: A Larry McMurtry Casebook (Southwest Life and Letters). Edited by Clay Reynolds.

Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician by Christopher Wolff. Nice biography which I checked out of the library a year ago and started reading. He answered a key question I always had: how could Bach compose the brilliant and artistically perfect Mass in B Minor? The answer: This actually wasn’t an original composition, but he borrowed many melodies from previous choral pieces Bach composed; he stuck everything inside one mass. (So it’s like a Greatest Hits compilation).

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein. Cultural Criticism. Dickstein has written a lot about 20th American literature; I guess this is a good place to start.

Literary Articles and Essays

Wow, I didn’t realize that my “Conversation with a famous technical author” link no longer works. Here it is (please excuse the awful layout and look — it’s still readable though)

I spent several weeks working on a wiki article about Texas author Clay Reynolds. (Here’s the draft submission).



Capsule Book Review


Multimedia, Podcasts, etc.

I really enjoyed the 44 minute zoom call between southern authors Ron Rash and George Singelton. As I wrote on the youtube comment, Book Titles mentioned: From GEORGE: Lewis Nordan, Barry Hannah, John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle, Lake Life by David James Poissant, Blue Marlin by Lee Smith, Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh. FROM RON: Hieroglyphics also (“dark and sad but true and wise”), Randall Keane (sp?!?), Chekhov. RON: “I can’t read Faulkner while I’m writing — he’s just like a magnet — he pulls you in” (George says that the author who does the same for him is Cormac McCarthy — although he admired the earlier editions). Earlier in the interview, they both praised Denis Johnson‘s TRAIN DREAMS novella. I love this fun talk… Big fan of both authors.

(I ended up buying a story collection by Lewis Nordan called Sugar among the Freaks : Selected Stories. I definitely plan to buy the Jill McCorkle book very soon. I already have one book by Poissant, but not the most recent title. I was an early fan of Denis Johnson (before it was fashionable). Indeed, purely on the basis of Denis Johnson’s stories, I applied to the Phd program at Michigan State in Kalamazoo. I got in and wanted to go, but the money wasn’t there, plus I had already gotten into Peace Corps by that time. But I often wonder why I passed on the opportunity to study with Mr. Johnson.

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. Check them out! Starting at the end of August I’ll be starting a mailing list for people to stay informed about upcoming sales and promotions.


RJ’s Geeky Explorations — 2021 August

See also: July 2021 and Sept 2021

I’ve been testing a drupal website this week. One of the hardest things about drupal is figuring out what to learn. I am no developer, but would regard myself as a site implementer or planner. Part of the challenge is just figuring out all the moving parts of drupal core. Then, it’s using the core features to develop a website that does what you want it to do. Then you have to figure out what external plugins you absolutely need and how to customize those things. Then you have to figure out look-and-feel issues, usability, security and maintainability.

When I installed wordpress for the first time in 2003, it was fairly straightforward: mysql + php. Frankly I’m amazed that this blog has remained on wordpress for as long as it did. I took a lot of things for granted about WordPress — that its upgrades were easy, that I didn’t need to learn many features and that I wouldn’t need to install many plugins. I’m using a mobile-friendly theme that I actually paid for, but frankly, it was a shock to learn a few years ago that a majority of my

One of the hardest challenges is figuring out what the current status of drupal is — not just the core, but the plugins.

What Drupal Needs

In many ways a project like Drupal offers an abundance of documentation. But there’s one thing that web projects like Drupal just never seem to do.

It’s nice that Drupal has a lot of functionality, and I do appreciate the walkthroughs via screenshots and screencasts. What the docs never seem to do is explain why a feature is useful.

I can usually figure out the how, I just can’t figure out the why.

When using a CMS, you start out with business needs and try to figure out how you can solve these business needs using a tool like Drupal. Take for example taxonomies (which I basically understand, but not as a Drupal content type). How does creating a taxonomy help a site? Why would a user need this? (At this point, I still do not know, although that is not a super difficult task).

there are lots of documents

Drupal Links

I’m just going to jot a few things down:

How to keep your drupal site secure.

From robertroose.com, When to choose drupal as a web designer or web designer. helpful tools for drupal web designers and site builders.

a big long thing about nomenclature for content entities and fields.

what’s ahead in Drupal 10.

Making a custom theme for Drupal 9.

Theming in Drupal 8. (official docs)


Music Discoveries August 2021 #8

See also:  July 2021 and September 2021 (View all)

Articles and Interviews

Here’s a nice profile by Houston music journalist Joey Guerra of hip-hop artist, Sabyn (who is Dolly Parton’s nephew!). He did a wicked remix of his auntie’s 9 to 5 song. By the way, I really like music videos that put words onscreen to highlight certain lyrics.

nice article by Joshua on the influence of Aaliyah.

Ted Goia asks, Did Music Create Human Rights? We need to reevaluate how we define a political song. When most people hear that term, they conjure up images of antiwar chants at student protests, or defiant workers singing union anthems. What they don’t realize is that even the gentlest songs of introspection are potentially political songs—the same today as back in ancient Egypt—and have repeatedly laid the groundwork for every significant expansion in personal autonomy and human rights.

Youtuber Rick Beato on how he sold a million records. Beato is a songwriter and producer who analyzes many songs. He tells the story of having written songs for Brett Smith (who formed the group Shinedown). His point is that the song writers often produce one version of a song for the demo, and then when the label likes it, they produce it again using a totally different producer. I’ve watched several videos of Beato before. He’s a fun and knowledgeable music insider, with videos on all kids of topics likely to interest only musicians (while laymen like me can still enjoy it). Examples: Insane Story of his #1 song

Emusic Purchases

  1. Ребята нашего полка by Любэ. 4.99, 79 minutes, 21 tracks. Compilation of wildly popular Russian pop band who sing songs with an army theme. Goofy, sorrowful, beautiful, energetic, you never know what to expect from them.
  2. Further by Intimate Stranger (4.99 for 17 tracks, 72 minutes). Incredible synthpop/dreampop band described as “gritty, dirty, calm and ethereal at the same time, with beautiful vocals”. This is a compilation of several albums and excellent overall. Tessie Stranger is the English/Croat vocalist, but the guitarist is Anglo-Chilean. I also liked Above which has many songs in the same style.
  3. HiiDe by Babii, 9 tracks, 3.99. (bandcamp).
  4. Pasca Hipnotis by It’s a Different Class. 4.49, 10 tracks, 48 minutes. Every song here is a delightful surprise; these songs have a cheerful, dreamy quality. Singing is great, and the arrangements are always clever and appropriate. The songs feel progressive or jazzy or sometimes even bluesy. HEY BIN is a really rousing song….
  5. Zhnivo by Shuma. 10 tracks, 43 minutes, 4.49. Really beautiful and ethereal dreampop by a Belorussian girl’s group. Much much in the same territory as Ukraine’s Onuka or Russian/Kazakh singer Linda. This remarkable early album mixes the primitive folk with high end club electronica, with lovely folk-style singing by Rusia. Similar to Onuka, except that Shuma is all electronic and sampling. Later albums are slower & more meditative, but this album is a great introduction to their sound.
  6. Spill out by Mytbe.
  7. Two albums by Welsh folk singer Mary Hopkin (of “Those were the Days” fame). Here’s a great Live at the Royal Festival Hall 1972 (5.99, 13 tracks, 49 minutes) and Painting by Numbers (a later album with original songs). Also, here’s her website for the latest.
  8. Sulinys by Babadag. 10 tracks, 57 minutes. Another gem from Karrot Kommando label (from Poland).
  9. Tourists by Psapp, 13 tracks, 43 minutes, 5.99.
  10. 7 Bidaderi by Naif (a very well known Indonesian band).
  11. Kubizm by Paweł Mańka Semiotic Quintet (a jazz band from Katowice Poland) , 19 tracks, 3.99, 46 minutes.
  12. In Search of Sunrise 15 by Markus Schulz, 3.99, 5 hour long mix.
  13. Ratatat by Malka. 34 minutes, 10 tracks, 4.99.
  14. Lenine in Cite (Deluxe) by Lenine. 99 cents, 79 minutes, 20 tracks. This live jazz album won an Emmy!
  15. Quando Brinca by Bel, 8 tracks, 26 minutes, 3.49.
  16. EPs from Moya Michelle (Моя Мишель): Дура (Deluxe Version) (5 tracks, 2.49) and Наивность. Часть 1 (3 tracks, 99 cents). Minor but lovely recordings by a young Russian pop singer before signing onto a major label. Here’s two vids here and here
  17. Several eps by 9T Antiope. (bandcamp & website) These experimental music duo (from Paris and Iran) make eerie & distraught soundscapes that employ voice, violins, electronic glitch and environmental sounds. The most decidedly classical is Grimace (1.99, 24 minutes) which despite being “constructed” seems most to resemble a conventional performance of classic music with some electronic noises occasionally throw in. Ithmus sometimes devolves into mindless/distracting world of electronic glitch, but it’s balanced by the singer’s lovely voice and the incessant energy of the violin. Placebo (1.49, 40 minutes), feels more glitchy and droney, with much less emphasis on voice except as distant background. (I think the vocalist Sara Bigdeli Shamloo is reciting a poem). Everything blends very well. I’m less impressed by the other albums which seem louder and more glitchy, but I like this group so much I might get them later.
  18. Percepcao by Poty, 99 cents, 38 minutes.
  19. Posguerra by Dafne Castaneda, 7 tracks, 26 minutes, 1.49

Bandcamp Purchases


Youtubey Things

Have you ever heard of Fat City? Me neither until yesterday. They were a folk rock duo consisting of Bill Danoff and Taffy Danoff who did stuff with John Denver (indeed, they wrote John Denver’s biggest hit Take me Home, Country Roads and sang the background — indeed, on the hit record, Fat City was given equal credit. (Here’s a 1973 concert for BBC they did with John Denver in 1973). I’m not saying the punch line. Bill & Taffy did Fat City for a few years, and then hit it big — I mean really big — when the pair teamed up with another pair to form the Starland Vocal Band. That led to the song Afternoon Delight –which people laugh at today. But as someone who obsessively listened to 1976 pop music — it was the awakening of my musical consciousness, Afternoon Delight just sprung out of nowhere and hit the world by storm. I remember the first time I heard it on the radio. I remember thinking, what is the name of that remarkable song — and I immediately bought the record. (The sexual innuendos totally went over my head — hey, I was 10 years old!)

The song was relaxing to listen to, syrupy, full of hoaky sound effects (fireworks!?) but the harmonies were just soaring. There’s a little James Taylor, a little country twang, a little pop. This was the pre-disco, pre-Yacht Rock, pre-heavy-metal era. Glen Campbell was really big that year, so was Hall & Oates, Captain & Tennille, Fleetwood Mac, Barry Manilow, Elton John. The chart toppers was Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs and Elton John’s Don’t Go Breaking My heart. That’s not to say that other styles weren’t developing in the wild.. But that bland, mellow, wholesome pop style was still the rage, with syrupy arrangements, lots of violins, everything blended and sounded so relaxing on the radio.

Of course, we all know that Starland Vocal Band disappeared from pop music — even though they had a TV variety show (which happened to be hosted by David Letterman — his first show ever!) Who knows why they disappeared from the public eye? After 3 Grammy Nominations, both couples split up, well I guess it was bound to happen. Back when they were Fat city, they produced two albums: Welcome to Fat City and Reincarnation.

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Jar of Chains by Alice in Chains.
  2. Battle of Los Angeles by Rage against the Machine
  3. Various tracks by Elza Soares.
  4. Fat City (selected tracks)
  5. Mid-Century Sounds: Deep Cuts from the Desert (compilation).

Social Media Dump July 16-31 (2021)

See   July 1-15 and August 1-15  (View All)

Miami Herald reporter Julie K Brown described how Kenneth Starr used his political connections to get the Trump DOJ to review Epstein’s case. Related: In 2018 David Brock (ex-conservative who runs Media Matters) talks about how Kavanaugh and others really hated Bill Clinton. The gang who was behind the Paula Jones lawsuit are the who’s who of Trump’s extremism.

Wow, I just checked my spam filter for something and noticed that in the last 2 weeks I have been pelted with junk email asking me to buy toenail clippers. What’s the deal? Maybe I buy some clippers once a decade (or two?). I can’t even remember the last time I used them. To the spammers who are are trying to lure me with the prospect of low-cost toenail clippers, maybe you should try a different product?

Related: Aaron Osborne defends single payer with lots of recent research. Here’s more research. Osborne has written some mythbusting articles: defending anti-poverty programs and understanding the effects of increasing the minimum wage

With regard to minimum wage, I use the livable wage calculator to figure out what income you need to meet the level needed to afford basic experiences. The biggest problem behind raising minimum wage is the propagation of the idea that there is a labor shortage and that companies have no choice but to raise wages. These stories arise because major companies are shooting off press releases about wage increases, but somehow these wage increases only seem to occur to a segment of the company’s workforce (and not everybody), plus this may apply to one national region but not the rest. It can be hard to figure out how low-paying retail jobs are, but in my experience, starting pay at these jobs tend to be lower than what these business articles are reporting. I live in a part of the country where wages are low to begin with, so that complicates things as well.

Related: low wages and the tip-based economy (2019).

One author points out why the opponents of raising minimum wage tend to win the argument at the end:

The claim that if wages go up, jobs go down isn’t a description of reality at all. Nor, in my opinion, does it reflect legitimate economics. It is a negotiating strategy. It is a scam, a con job, a threat—more precisely, it is an intimidation tactic masquerading as a legitimate economic theory. I believe this is where being a businessperson and not an economist leads to greater clarity. Very few economists have ever run a business or negotiated wages. But the first rule in the businessman’s handbook on wage negotiation and suppression is always, always, when they ask for a raise, threaten their jobs. It works like a charm, and has since the invention of capitalism. You see, the claim if wages go up, employment goes down isn’t made because it is true. It’s made because if people like me can get people like you to believe it is true, I’m going to get richer, and you are going to get poorer. The lower your wages are the higher my profits will be. It’s that simple.

I realize this is harsh, but I believe this claim is best understood as a way of subtly and legally threatening the economic, and hence, physical security of the most vulnerable people in our society. If you haven’t already lived through it yourself, imagine what life must be like for a typical minimum wage worker, barely hanging on, always a paycheck away from financial ruin and the economic abyss. And by abyss, think homelessness—think real hunger: not the hunger that comes from working through lunch or from starting a new diet, but from not having enough money in your pocket at the end of the week to buy food. Imagine seeing your own children go without the basics that all children need to succeed and to thrive. Imagine not having enough savings or credit to smooth over the rough patches; imagine not having a safety net, because your friends and family are as desperately poor as you. It must be terrifying, particularly if you have children, to be constantly threatened in this way.

Nick Hanauer, Democracy, (reprinted on PBS Newshour)

A recent roundup of reactions from climate science about all the weather events:

“The scientific community has done a really good job, projecting when we would get to like 1.2 degrees Celsius, which is about where we are now,” Kalmus said. “The community hasn’t done as good of a job projecting how bad climate impacts would be 1.2 degrees Celsius.”.. It’s already worse than what I imagined. I feel like the heat dome event in the Pacific Northwest moved up my sense of where we are at by about a decade, or even more,” said Kalmus. “I think a lot of my colleagues probably feel the same.

How to escape quicksand. (Starts at 1:10). TL;DR version is to put your hands on one side and twist the opposite leg to the side of you to gain enough momentum to get it above ground. That will make it easier when you do it with the second leg (although you may have to alternate a few times).

Larry David does a twisted tribute to Steve Martin at the Mark Twain awards.

Here’s a profile of Dr Mercola, a leading “COVID disinformer” according to the Biden Administration.

I am a giant fan of Eurovision — embarrassingly so, and I am delighted to see that Eurovision — which blocks a lot of stuff to US viewers is making available full shows of earlier years. It looks like these shows stay up only for a short time though. Currently the 1980 show is available to US viewers on Youtube. It is a lot less flashy, with more original language songs; I even heard Arabic from the Morocco performer (their first year).

I’ve started wearing a mask again — shazbut, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Probably the most shocking thing was ready the comment section in a NYT article about breakthrough infections and reading that a number of vaccinated people are reporting being infected and getting sick anyway. None of them are getting hospitalized or anything like that, but these people report being out of sorts for a week or more. The thing I really want to know is whether breakthrough infections are causing problems related to long COVID. That’s what keeps me up at night.

“An analysis by Media Matters found that the NBC, ABC, and CBS morning shows devoted 212 minutes to Bezos’ little jaunt. In comparison, those same shows spent 267 minutes covering climate all of last year.” (Source).

Nice interview with Mel Blanc — the “man with a 1000 voices.” This was on public access TV in 1979, but Dennis Tarden is a well-respected interviewer (who hails from Austin, no less).

It’s strange. I’m a heavy consumer of news, and yet these posts contains a small fraction of newsworthy stuff. Maybe it’s because I assume that certain news stories get ample attention. I’m just mentioning the things that don’t get mentioned elsewhere.

Here’s a report on Chinese censorship and Hollywood. Little by little the Chinese government has been taming Hollywood (and the videogame industry) to remove any speech which might offend the authoritarian Chinese government.

Biden must persuade Germany and Austria to stop the “Schroederization” of Europe by Anders Åslund and Benjamin L. Schmitt. Apparently, further German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been paid by Putin/Gazprom to lobby Western Europe to have a massive gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe. Germany has been trying to influence Russia through expanded trade, but the reverse has happened (also, it is contributing to climate change).

I’ve been shocked and horrified by the downfall of the Texas unemployment insurance system. I mentioned in a previous column that my unemployment was canceled inexplicably after the deep freeze in February, and the appeal process has just not taken place (noting that historically Texas has been very slow in handling appeals). Now it appears that the State of Texas claims that massive fraud is siphoning off unemployment funds from Texas. In a May 2021 piece by Jody Barr on KXAN, there are reports of many people’s benefits getting stalled because Texas Workforce claims that cybercriminals have been stealing 1 billion dollars from the agency. I am skeptical. All the accusations seem to come from Texas Workforce, very few arrests have been made, and the so-called evidence is the observable increase in unemployment claims. Perhaps fraud has increased; I don’t know. I have been waiting 5 months for the Texas Workforce to acknowledge that they seriously erred on my case. My case has nothing to do with identity theft or fraud, but I fear that it has been a victim of the agency’s obsession with rooting out fraud. Update: Wow, just realized that the agency also messed up on the accounting as well…par for the course.. Update 2: Well, at the end of August, they had the hearing and ruled in my favor (as I predicted). To my delight, apparently I was owed more money than initially expected, and it seems that I am eligible for 3 more months of unemployment — albeit with conditions. They are going to paperwork me to death. That’s okay because I’ve been close to getting some sort of job.

Annie Lowrey has written the definitive piece on this phenomenon: The Time Tax. She documents in excruciating detail how state governments set up meaningless rules and means tests to complicate aid programs. The aim and the result — is to discourage people from using the system in the way that was intended:

This is not easy to do, by design. The United States has no unified social security agency. Instead, federal, state, and local offices administer dozens of different programs with different rules and application processes. Some are direct-benefit programs; others are complicated tax expenditures. Some are entitlements, where everyone gets the benefit if they qualify; others are rationed benefits, where submitting an application means spinning a wheel and hoping for the best. Some benefits have easy online applications; others are old-fashioned paper nightmares. (And many digital systems are just as bad as the analog ones.) The Johns Hopkins political scientist Steven Teles has memorably described this system as a “kludgeocracy.”

Let’s take a tour d’horizon. The unemployment-insurance system was the primary bulwark against the economic ravages of the coronavirus recession, keeping the country’s finances afloat. It is, in fact, not a bulwark, but a patchwork of 53 unemployment-insurance systems, many of which are meant to frustrate users. Its designers’ goal was to “put as many kind-of pointless roadblocks along the way, so people just say, ‘Oh, the hell with it; I’m not going to do that,’” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis admitted during the pandemic. “It was definitely done in a way to lead to the least number of claims being paid out.” An estimated 9 million Americans left jobless by the pandemic never got a single unemployment payment.

Or consider the tentpoles of American assistance for working families: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps; the earned-income tax credit; and the child tax credit. Food stamps reach some 40 million Americans in 21 million households. In many states, applying for them involves a quick online request, a quick approval, and a quick turnaround to start getting benefits. But not always. SNAP is workfare, meaning that adult participants judged to be “able-bodied” need to log their work hours or demonstrate that they are looking for a job. Folks get thrown off the rolls constantly for, say, not having a functioning computer. (These work requirements do not boost employment, by the way.)

TEXAS 10,000+ COVID CASES TODAY: Shockingly, today’s numbers are approaching peak levels. It appears that Governor Abbott’s executive order prohibiting schools from requiring masks now appears short-sighted and even dangerous.

Paste magazines has some great pieces about sitcoms with some analysis. Here’s Greg Garcia (creator of My Name Is Earl) talks about how he wanted to end the series:

I had always had an ending to Earl and I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to see it happen. You’ve got a show about a guy with a list so not seeing him finish it is a bummer. But the truth is, he wasn’t ever going to finish the list. The basic idea of the ending was that while he was stuck on a really hard list item, he was going to start to get frustrated that he was never going to finish it. Then he runs into someone who had a list of their own and Earl was on it. They needed to make up for something bad they had done to Earl. He asks them where they got the idea of making a list and they tell him that someone came to them with a list and that person got the idea from someone else. Earl eventually realizes that his idea started a chain reaction of people with lists and that he’s finally put more good into the world than bad.

See also: a defense of Peggy Hill (on King of the Hill), an encomium to Columbo, and Third Rock from the Sun. FYI, I wrote a post about how to write a sitcom (still holds true today). In my alternate timeline I would have been a full time sitcom writer).

BRITISH COMEDY. The funny takes of British comic actress Flora Anderson (Twitter). What great calling cards! Below is Flora being a horse. Also, see Flora being the generic wife of movie hero and a sexy talking phone.

Finally, I just realized that I have never mentioned having a Twitter account. Here’s my current twitter account @nagletx and in fact I abandoned my original twitter account @idiotprogrammer because it had too many letters. Fun Fact: I had actually run into the Twitter guy Evan Williams back before he had even started twitter (but was doing blogger). I exchanged a few casual words with him — he was the wunderkind at SXSW and he could care less who I was. I had sat next to him at one or two events. Then Twitter made its big premiere in March 2007 at South by Southwest. I got what it was about, but I could care less. (I did find it moderately useful at a local geek event where people were having a chat commentary about my talk via twitter. I really don’t engage on twitter at the moment — although I follow it more closely for lists which I use for special topics. Also I use a private list of 16 people which I check most. These are people on twitter who post interesting/heady stuff, rarely retweet and don’t post a lot of garbage. I guess you can what I’m reading/enjoying by looking at my LIKE tab (I mainly like things as a form of bookmarking).

Speaking of social media, although I’m no fan of Facebook, I’m happy with how I use it… I mix politics with personal stuff and pop culture stuff and self-promotion (a teensy bit). I grasped what FB was from the outset — its benefits and dangers. I also saw the privacy challenges it posed. I simplified things by just making all my posts public — the default setting is for only your friends (or friends of friends) to see something. FB, like Snapchat, is all about the ephemeral; it’s not really interested in helping you to create an archive of your thoughts or interactions. Indeed, search on Facebook is so incredibly clumsy that I download an offline copy of my posts for reference and of course sticks things onto this blog.


Music Discoveries July 2021 #7

See also: June 2021 and August 2021 (View all)

First, I want to mention two podcast episodes from Out of Obscurity: a discussion of Austin group Many Birthdays and 13 Year Cicada (I was the guest for that one). Also, a discussion of the Faint and Nurses.


Here’s a profile of Jade Bird, the British folk rock singer living now in Austin. I missed her Houston concert. I would love to see her live.

Here’s NPR’s best albums of the year (so far).

I didn’t love Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s In the Heights, but some of the songs were catchy as well. Pretty amazed to learn he wrote the play in college.

Emusic Purchases

  1. La Plaga by Mireia Vilar, 10 tracks, 35 minutes, 4.49
  2. s/t by Matazar (bandcamp page). Matazar is a bluesy rock band from Ecuador
  3. Elements by Nicholas Guerrero. Lovely understated mood music reminiscent of Glass (Drop, Sparks) or Debussy. There’s a sort of minimalist vibe here — like the way Glass used lots of repetitions set against melodies. Everything starts with a piano, then other symphonic elements are introduced (in Breeze, with ethereal strums of a harp). The last piece, Seeds, has the most dramatic progressions, with indistinct voices dipping it at key moments. Sparks starts with jerky piano moments and then progresses into settles into a nice symphonic where everything seems to jump and dissipate.
  4. The Lighthouse/everything’s Calm by Yann Tiersen. (musician web site). 24 tracks, 70 minutes. Nice instrumentals with a French flavor. His music is found on soundtracks for some well-known movies (Amelie, Good Bye Lenin!, etc)
  5. s/t by Staran — 9 tracks, 39 minutes, 3.99. recent Scottish folk music. Lovely.
  6. Moult by Clara Lannotta. 4 tracks, 58 minutes, 3.49. Classical music
  7. Tenquén by Monstruos del Mañana /
  8. Hell Yeah Recordings – Selfie 1 (Summer 2018) – Various. 6.99, 187 minutes, 27 tracks. This very nice sampler of Hell Yeah artists from Italy mixes New Age with laid back jazz and occasional Eurodisco. In other words, a little something for everybody! Although primarily instrumental, there are a few vocal tracks as well. Not always excellent, but always interesting.
  9. Abandoned Garden by Yujun Wang & Timer. 4.99, 107 minutes, 19 tracks. Taiwanese jazz pop band with a quiet and almost intimate sound. Some of their concerts are on Youtube. Instruments backing the vocalist are cello, oboe, violin and drum. From what I’ve heard they’re not taking a lot of chances, but it’s still pleasant listening.
  10. Floreal by Sontag Shogun, 99 cents, 25 minutes, 4 tracks.
  11. Two EDM albums by Porter: Prometheus and Belle. Both 99 cents, 5 tracks, 25-30 minutes.
  12. Äska stuka rubank och dyvla dääng by Zoon. 99 cents, 48 minutes, 6 tracks.
  13. Slash/Primitiu by Vanessa Worm and Sau Poler. 99 cents, 4 tracks, 22 minutes.
  14. s/t by Los Dias Silvestres. 99 cents, 18 minutes, 5 tracks.
  15. Sweet Mortality by Annie Taylor. 42 minutes, 4.99, 12 tracks.
  16. Wismut by Sascha Funke & Niklas Wandt. 4 tracks, 34 minutes, 99 cents. Also, I liked Kreidekreis (1.99, 31 minutes).
  17. Embeleso by Nikola. 99 cents, 5 tracks. Very slow dreampop with almost dissonant arrangements from Dominican Republic. Nikola has a lovely voice , very easy to listen to. Like a very mellow Nelly Furtado on downers. The songs are not very melodic, and her voice just warbles all over the place. Recommended!
  18. Patio 29 by Slowkiss. 3.99, 10 tracks, 27 minutes. Alternative rock from Chile. Song titles are in English. and some of the guitar blasts are gratuitous and grungey, but still fun and energetic.
  19. Solomon by Cigarbox Man. Blues album by Chili musician. (It mysteriously disappeared from emusic?!)
  20. Seterra by Smicker. 2.49, 6 tracks, 22 minutes
  21. Matrioshka by Club de Carta Inglesa. 99 cents, 22 minutes, 5 tracks.
  22. Homework by Coals. 1.49 for 15 minutes, 4 tracks.
  23. And Still Winter paints white by Arash Akbari. 1.99, 29 minutes, 5 tracks.
  24. Epistolas by Pedro Mo. 99 cents, 19 tracks, 75 minutes. Also Urka Runa by the same artist. 99 cents, 7 tracks, 26 minutes.
  25. Various pieces by Hello Seahorse!. Bestia 99 cents, 36 minutes, 10 tracks. Lejos, No Tan Lejos,, 3.99 for 12 tracks, 53 minutes. Actually, I bought Arunima for 4.99 as well, 12 songs, 57 minutes. Cool group from Mexico City with an Art Rock sound. Love that lead singer — who is like the Mexican version of Blondie, only cooler (see this music vid)
  26. unojoalfuturo by Somontano. 99 cents, 13 minutes, 4 tracks.
  27. Albatros by Mundaka (bandcamp). 4.99, 40 minutes, 13 tracks. Cool Peruvian pop.
  28. Vanduo by Paulius Kilbauskas. 3.99, 60 minutes, 4 tracks. Lithuanian ambient composer who has done a few film scores. This piece is serene and beautiful, but the whole album has a lot of crackling or rainfall noises, which I find distracting.

Bandcamp Purchases

Youtubey Things

A nice live 2017 concert by a favorite family-friendly Ukrainian pop/rap band, Potap i Nastiya. Here’s a dance song they do with a kid’s chorus. God, Potip i Nastiya certainly are fun and charismatic.

I’ve been flipping over Hello Seahorse!, a art-rock band from Mexico City. (sea above) Here’s a live show they did for KEXP.

God, this Little Big song SEX MACHINE is a earwig comparable to the Sacred Cows :

I’ve really admired the satirical videos accompanying each song. They are the work of Alina Pasok and Ilia Prusikin who are also in the band. Just amazing stuff!

A musical analysis linking Britney Spears’ song Toxic with Bollywood and James Bond surf music. Here’s the sexy music vid which looks clever, unbelievably busy and too much like a videogame/superhero movie. The charm of Spears’ videos is the kineticism of the bodies, Some of Spear’s elaborate dance numbers just seem so kinetic. Apparently some of her Las Vegas show numbers are on Youtube; check out Work Bitch (which is a pretty amazing piece of choreography).

Here’s an early performance of the cute and upbeat Greek Cyprus singer Anna Vissi (22 years old) at Eurovision. (This is her first of 3 appearances throughout the years — Vissi later had a promising singing career lasting a few decades). I noticed that Eurovision is putting full shows on YouTube for a limited amount of time (1 month). Here’s the latest link for the 1980 Eurovision show, but I expect it to expire fairly soon.

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Mercedes Sosa, especially Le Voz de La Zafra
  2. More KPM Albums (can’t get enough!): Look on the Bright Side, Counterpoint in Rhythm, Impressions
  3. Anna Vissi — Greek Cypriot singer.

Social Media Dump July 1-15 (2021)

See   June 16-30 and July 16-30 (View All)

I’ve always been a fan of Robert Cialdini — a marketing professor whose book, Influence changed my life. I read it in Albania when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. In 2016 he did a sequel called Pre-Suasion — which was more academic. I’ve heard some of his talks which are on Youtube. Here’s a dynamite talk he gave about these ideas . Later, In 2015 he and linguist Steve Pinker gave a 2 part talk which is great and fun. Steve Pinker talks mainly about writing style (familiar stuff, but entertainingly told) and Robert Cialdini talks about how to use reciprocity in business situations. Cialdini actually is off his game for the first 10-15 minutes of the talk (he was not expressing himself well, but eventually he hit his stride — especially during the Q&A.

Here are the 2021 SXSW keynotes.

This tweet/thread from a veteran NYT financial reporter explains the significance of the charge that Trump.org “falsified business records.” EICHENWALD CONCLUDES: “given that those of us who covered his business for decades – back when he (Trump) was a democrat/reform party/whoever would have him – and always knew he was a crook, all I can say is, what the hell took so long? “

Beloved Houston comic store Third Planet sues neighboring hotel Crowne Plaza for allowing its guests to throw debris and yes — fire extinguishers off its balconies. The amazing part is that the lawsuit includes a comic book retelling of events. You can view/download the entire comic book here.

CARDIO EXERCISE TREAT: For about 5 years I would do various exercise DVD in my apartment. This vid by Denise Austin was always favorite. The cardio kickboxing and integrated strength training is pretty amazing between minutes 15-30. enjoy. This exercise uses an exercise stepper, which I used to use regularly. It’s a good tool, allowing you a greater variety of exercises. By the way, I really need to lose those Covid pounds, so I’m developing a new exercise routine. In 2006 I wrote a review page of exercise DVD’s — it still is relevant — indeed, many of the DVD’s can be bought for next-to-nothing or are on Youtube. I’ll mention my favorites (written 10 years ago!)

  • Billy Blank’s Tae Bo Cardio Circuit 1 Tae Bo is boxing/kickboxing with an emphasis on cardio. It was started by Billy Blanks. This workout is really fast, not too complex and only 36 minutes. Highly Recommended
  • Crunch Boot Camp Training with Sue Hitzman. Rigorous fast-paced workout with lots of weird moves. Some emphasis on upper body strength. I didn’t like the camerawork; spare me the quick cuts, I just want to follow the moves! Personality-wise, Hitzman is a little too tough for me, but she’s an effective trainer. I don’t love this workout (too many pushups!) but I used my entire body for this one. 
  • Ultimate Fat Burner (Denise Austin). Austin is bubbly and chipper and always talking (“You can do it!”) The exercises aren’t that much fun, but they are well-organized and make for a great workout. Highly recommended, especially the circuit training. Also, is by far the best produced. I get exhausted very quickly from this, and my only complaint is that there is a bit too much emphasis on upper body stretch (biceps, etc). The exercise using the step bench is among my alltime favorites! Finally, the camera prominently show you the foot movements. Note: you need free weights and a step bench. Highly Recommended. (I own). Update (one year later). This still is my favorite video, but if you want to get a lot of mileage out of it, I would buy a sturdy step bench.

Here’s a random Youtube playlist from these exercise DVDs.

As someone trying to improve his exercise regimen while overweight and 55, I see several challenges: 1)boredom. Some of these routines are very monotonous. 2)limited floor space. At the moment I have very little floor space. I am essentially exercising in place and 3)I am more interested in cardio health rather than strength, though Denise Austin’s video does manage to do most.

HILARIOUS COURT ARGUMENTS. In December 2016 Supreme Court Justices (current and future) debate the wrongful death of Romeo & Juliet. Starts at 5:43. Elizabeth Prelogar (the primary advocate) is currently Biden’s acting solicitor general (whose primary duty is arguing before the Supreme Court). Also, sitting among the panel of judges is Kavanaugh (before he was nominated for the Supreme Court) and Ketanji Brown Jackson (a heavy favorite to be Biden’s pick for the next Supreme Court opening). Also present are Samuel Alito and other federal judges. Prelogar is very clever and witty and likeable — a really important quality for Solicitor General. If that gig doesn’t work out, she should try standup comedy.


RJ’s Geeky Explorations – 2021 July

When I started this blog in 2001 (over 20 years ago!), I used to link to a lot of geek articles — about 50% of my postings. Then I wandered into artsy fartsy stuff — although I still am learning about technology every day. At the moment, I’m immersed (embroiled?) in a lot of geeky things, so I guess I should do a monthly linkdump for that as well. Eventually I’ll stop doing that when I stop finding cool things.

As an aside, even though I’m committed to more blogging than previously, it is psychologically comforting to create these monthly “baskets of links” which I can dump stuff into. No more pressure to publish often; I just throw stuff into baskets (and occasionally comment on them).

10 modern 1 line layouts by Google Developer Una Kravets. (website, twitter). I watched this instructional video last year — and it utterly blew my mind! I always knew I was falling behind on web design — a fact made clear to me a few years ago when I tried to view this blog on a mobile device. I just didn’t realize how much and how much more efficient CSS has become.

Una Kravets has a blogpost showing the new way of thinking about web design and a YouTube series on Designing in the Browser. Way above my pay grade except for my special projects, and I certainly want to try a few things out in modern browsers. Just being able to test better or have a better understanding of how to evaluate themes or skins would be a win for me.

One frustrating thing about ebooks is how behind reading systems are when compared to browser CSS. There is a bad guy here -definitely Amazon, which never has felt the need to improve CSS support for epub3. This is actually 2 separate problems: the fact that epub3 hasn’t been updated and that Amazon’s support of epub3 is so shitty. Offtopic, but it really is mind-blowing at how much Amazon dominates the ebook space (Like about 98% of my ebook sales are on Amazon — even though I promote the other distributors).

I’m revamping my publishing website — trying to decide between a wordpress install vs. a drupal install. My default choice has been wordpress, but wordpress has grown a lot more fractured and proprietary, plus it doesn’t really do what I need without plugins. Drupal can do that out of the box, but it requires more maintenance and more complexity.

While researching FSF’s push for a free ebook reader, I see a web-based ebook reader as a javascript epub.js . This script has been around for more than 5 years and minimal documentation, but several implementation questions on StackOverflow

How to avoid ransomware. Here’s a general background of ransomware.


Robert’s Roundup #21 (July 2021)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint. NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers).

Smashwords is doing another sitewide promotion. That’s first on my list to check out, but to be honest, last sitewide sale wasn’t that interesting (and besides I’d already bought some incredible deals in previous years).

Indie Author Spotlight

Sorry for not choosing an author for this month or last month. Next month will certainly name an indie author, I promise! (This month’s column was a lot longer than usual!).

Smashwords July Sale

As I mentioned above, I have been somewhat disappointed by how few quality titles have been discounted in their seasonal sales. In my March 2021 column I linked to my favorite publishers on Smashwords (and don’t forget that Personville titles on Smashwords are discounted for this month).

I notice that titles by Paco Jones (home page) are being discounted. If I were to oversimplify, I’d say that he’s an aging California hippie with a Phd in religion who has written some conventional suspense novels with some sexy elements thrown in. Actually he’s written several series — with 2-6 in each series. These Girls Can Play is about the trials and tribulations of a girl garage band. Castaway Island (6 parts) is a sci fi series about aliens helping humans to leave earth, Deanna, a coming of age story and Craft Faire Love (spies in love), Vietnam: A distant memory (based on the author’s own life) and Things to Come, about a Vietnam soldier’s love affair with one or more girls before going to Vietnam (not based on the author’s own life, he says upfront). Jones’ fiction hasn’t received much attention, and I’d been meaning to delve into his fiction — and given the substantial discounts, there is no better time than now.

Accursed Women by Lucianna Cavallaro. 0.99 (Author Website). Australian-Italian historic novelist retells some Greek legends. She has published two volumes in in the Servant of the Gods series which involve Greek gods contacting contemporary humans. Aha, volume 2 Labyrinthine Journey involves some time-traveling elements (surprise, surprise). The later works is about 30% cheaper on Smashwords than it is on Amazon. Here’s Cavallaro’s piece about what the ancient Phoenicians ate. (Reposted from last month’s column).

Jane Seaford (website) is a New Zealand-based author with 2 discounted titles: Dead is Dead and Other Stories and Insides of Banana Skins (1.99 each). The story collection is about “intimate stories that hold a spotlight on relationships. The stories delve into the complicated, challenging and diverse incidents that make up everyday life. They are disturbing and unforgettable, and will leave the reader gasping and wanting more;” The second book (the novel) relates the story of a 17 year old Sukey living on the edge in 1960s London. (“a time for experimenting, pushing boundaries, being outrageous.”) I read the first chapter of that one; it tugs at your heart while being frank about everything (she loses her virginity on page 2!)

Sex: Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth by Michael Adrian. (NYP!). Adrian is an “evolutionary advice columnist” who discusses dating and courtship — presumably from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Adrian is a Canadian psychologist and academic who hosted a radio show and might have interesting insights.

Lit Gloss: A rose by any Other Name by Crystal Carroll. According to a long interview, Carroll writes a lot of fairy tales and children’s stories. Most of her titles are free this month, and some are always free. Lit Gloss explores various what ifs in Shakespeare. What if Ophelia became pregnant, or Juliet has second thoughts about faking her own death? Corner of First and Myth puts Greek mythological characters in modern cities.

Chad Taylor is a well-known New Zealand author (author’s website) who has won several awards. Many of his ebooks are heavily discounted to a dollar or two this month. To generalize, many of his novels are noir mysteries with a dash of the bizarre. His books have been reviewed in several leading US publications. One review described him as a “stylish writer of noir novels who has been compared to Ross Macdonald. But his seductive command of the language and his elegiac tone more closely recall Thomas McGuane.” One book Heaven was made into a movie starring one of my favorite actors Martin Donovan. It’s about a man who meets a transexual streetwalker who sees the future in her dreams. Church of John Coltrane is a sequel to Heaven, (written a decade later) about how the character loses himself in the jazz collection of his dead father (!?). Man who wasn’t feeling himself is a collection of sci fi stories with some erotic elements. If you’re into that kind of thing, you can check out Aurelie and Aurelie 2 (which is an art heist thriller). Also, see the Marginalia blog which as best as I can tell, is a potpouri of observations about pop culture and movie.

C.Y. Croc (author website) has written a lot of sci fi /fantasy/romance novels that involve male aliens abducting human females. Her boxset for Perinqual Galaxy Aliens contains the first 3 volumes in the series and is discounted to 1.49, which sounds like a pretty good deal. (Here’s the 6 volume series on Amazon; apparently, they have received a lot of favorable reviews from readers). It sounds like sexy escapism and world building in a space opera, which sounds fun, I’ll admit.

I want to mention two other great authors whose titles are either discounted or free on Smashwords. Paul Hina, Harvey Havel and others. These were all my picks for indie authors of the month.

Mobi D’Ark (author website) is a retired Englishman who lived in Thailand for 14 years and after returning to England with his family, decided to write several novels about Thailand, full of intrigue, crime and passion. They are all free! (for July anyway). He varies the themes somewhat with one novel set in Nigeria. Most of these books have good reviews on Amazon btw.

Nonentity by Kirk Alex (1.49). Alex is a verbose author rough around the edges who wrotes mainly horror and other transgressive things. This novel is much tamer than his other stuff but hits close to home. It’s about a reclusive and unemployed author looking for work. Hey, we’ve been there, that’s as much as a horror story as a blood-slasher. Here’s an interview.

J. G. Frazer and the Platonic Theory of Being by Thomas Yaeger. Another volume by a London-based philosopher and scholar of ancient history. I’d blogged about his other books.

Idaho-based Brian Kindall (author website) has written several books about Didier Rain, a scalawag, poet and entrepreneur in the 1950s. He has two volumes with this character: Delivering Virtue Book 1 and Fortuna and the Scapegrace both on sale for $1.24 each. Scott Semegran writes, “This novel has several plot twists, almost too many to count, while the magical realism and pitch-perfect language of the period elevates this story above similar rote adventures from classic texts. I found myself laughing out loud to the predicaments Didier Rain found himself in.” Generally both books have been well-received on Amazon. Aha, I see from Kindall’s blog that he appeared on the Austin Liti Limits podcast. That should be fun.

William X. Adams (author website) is a cognitive psychologist who writes psychological science fiction. Scientific Introspection: Tools to Reveal the Mind. Among his novels is Alien Talk, Alien Body: First in the Phane Series and Intelligent Things. Reluctant Android is a NYP novel which is first in a series. In his interview, Adams explains that although he enjoys “hard” sci-fi stories but calls his works my work psi-fi, rather than sci-fi, because it’s about psychology, artificial and human, in a storytelling context. When I have androids or aliens in my stories, it’s to explore psychology. I have little patience with space ships and ray guns, alien empires and talking squid. Well, maybe I care about the squid, because that involves language, which is central to consciousness. I liked the movie, Arrival, for that reason.

2 Name your price ebooks by Ian Gabriel Mitchell (author website): Mr Schlepper and Alternate University.

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints

In previous columns I used to link to amazing books from Amazon imprints which were selling at 2 dollars or less. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t seem to be publishing many new titles and their older titles are at more expensive but still reasonable prices (usually 1.99 to 4.99). So I may have to discontinue this section for future columns.

Under the Radar

Open Me (LE, 2.99) by Lisa Locascio (Website) Here’s an interview with Aimee Binder and a listicle about the best literary sex scenes and the best books about domestic labor (fictional and nonfictional). Fun description, Locascio has an MFA and Phd and writes a lot of book reviews and essays.

Razorback by Carter Ettore. (KU, LE) (author website). Book description: “Hilarious, absurd, and surreal, Razorback is an outrageous modern take on the “superfluous man”. An epic disintegration of consciousness and composure that questions the true nature of who we think we know, who we may very well be, and the limits of redemption.”

No Taller than my Gun by David Rothman (LE, 2.99). (Author website here and more book info). See my capsule review below. (PS, Rothman is a friend who ran Teleread.org). Here’s a little profile Rothman wrote about the ebook cover designer.

Collected Poems by Michael Vaughn. (Author Website). Vaughn is a prolific fiction writer and poet. I’ve captured some of other Kindle ebooks before.

Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner. (1.99) Orner (author website) and writes a lot of fiction and has received several awards, but this is an essay collection. This was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Update: Orner apparently was a frequent guest on the Book Public podcast — today while exercising, I was listening to Orner and podcast host Yvette Benavides dissect a lovely story by author Gina Berriault.

Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. (Only 99 cents!) Here’s a Zoom reading/interview for this book with Kevin Barry (who is also a novelist himself). Both are Irish authors, and this interview is fun and talks about Irish writery stuff. Here’s the book page and a review. Apparently one of her stories, Psychobabble won 1st prize from Moth Magazine. Fun fact: As a dual Irish/American citizen, my grandfather hails from Roscommon county in Ireland — where the novel takes place.

Men who lost America: British Leadership, American Revolution and Fate of the Empire by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. (1.99, LE). This intriguing subject is part of the Lewis Walpole Series in 18th Century Culture and History – run by Yale University Press. I was telling someone the other day how fun it can be to read some history books: some of my favorite reads in the history genre have been Roll, Jordon, Roll by Eugene D. Genovese and the Great Cat Massacre by Roger Darnton. Recently I’ve been reading Paris, 1919 by Margaret MacMillan and I keep wondering, why don’t I read more history?! As good as it can be to read primary resources, a good historian or biographer can put things together in a highly readable narrative.

Blink and it’s gone sales

Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. 1.99

Essential Ginsberg 1.99. A nice anthology of Allen Ginsberg poems, plus essays, letters, commentary.

Poetry of Pablo Neruda (bilingual edition). 2.99. Over 1000+ pages.

Successful Aging: Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. by Daniel Levitin. 1.99 (author page). I’ve read his earlier book This is Your Brain on Music.

Creative Commons/Academic/Public Domain

Downloaded several books by Thomas Wolfe from fadedpage.com (Haven’t read any Wolfe before although I distinctly remember a high school classmate doing so).

Library books/printed books

Purchased several books at my now open library:

Thurber Carnival by James Thurber. Compilation. Found replacement copy at library.

Best Novels of the Nineties: A Reader’s Guide by Linda Parent Lesher . You can view the full version online on archive.org (for an hour at least). The book was written in 2000, so it’s hard to think it can capture everything, but it gives rundowns of 700+ novelists. In a future post I will make a list of my favorite “book reference guides and book recommendation books”). For now you can browse the Lists of Neglected Books found on the right sidebar for the Neglected Books blog. I ended up buying a hard copy.

Presidential Anecdotes by Paul Boller. A political website recommends these light-reading books by Paul Boller on various presidential topics.

Eight White Nights: A Novel by Andre Aciman. I’m pretty much going to buy anything by Aciman I can afford (I blogged about him in last month’s column). His ebooks are not cheap though.

Coming Soon!!! by John Barth. Also Tidewater Tales. Two giant self-indulgent novels written in the 1990s when Barth was basically saying “fuck off” to readers, but I really want to read them now (PS, Barth was a former professor of mine at JHU).

Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum. (Author’s Twitter). Essbaum is a poet based in Austin

The Trace by Forrest Gander. (Author Website).

Literary Articles and Essays

“We are like books. Most people only see our cover, the minority read only the introduction, many people believe the critics. Few will know our content”. Emile Zola.

Michael Barrett summarizes the literary career of Margery Latimer (who died at an early age). By coincidence, a college friend of mine and author Joy Castro wrote a nice biographical essay about her fiction. Here’s the wikipedia page for those keeping score.

Wickedly good book review by Ted Goia: You want predictions about the future? Well, Bradbury’s most accurate forecast in The Illustrated Man may have simply been the title character’s full array of tattoos. Who would have guessed, back in the 1940s, that radical top-to-toe body art would be so popular in the new millennium? A few piercings, and the Illustrated Man would be at home in your trendiest modern-day nightclub, and ready for his own reality show on MTV. We may have made few steps toward colonizing Mars, but we are tattooing like there is no tomorrow.


When you are a full time writer and publisher, you do very little pleasure reading. I browse through a ton of books and literature (mainly to write this column), but it’s rare that I read novels from start to finish that are unrelated to my publishing projects. Partly it’s due to professional exigencies or the lack of a good chair to read from. Ultimately I am spending a lot of time before the computer writing or researching; when the day is over, I end up either watching one or two episodes of a sitcom or reading a chapter of a book. Last week I was working very hard on editing and formatting, but I was too exhausted to take a reading break; does that sound strange? Every day I see the books on my shelf and my ebook reader — so much fun stuff to read. Perhaps I am not as fast a reader as I used to be, but I read a lot of online periodicals (mostly about current events) and listen to podcasts. I am still as intellectually engaged as ever. I am just not reading as much fine literature as I should be.

Authors are pulled in different directions: to write stories, to research, to discover new authors, to explore the classics, to write book reviews and criticism, to blog about one’s life, to play around with new ideas, to investigate other genres. Finally for me as an indie publisher, I have to be a publicity machine, a tech genius and a savvy business man. It’s hard to figure out how many balls to juggle at once or whether I should be in the juggling game at all. Maybe I should volunteer at a homeless shelter or try politics? Go on more dates? Blog more? Life was so much simpler when I only had to write the occasional story.

Rant #2

Another rarity: I shall rant twice in one column. It’s about ebook covers. As much as I appreciate a good cover, I don’t really need one to get interested in a book. Everyone knows it’s all part of the Great Global Conspiracy to Impoverish Indie Authors by making them think that book covers impress people more than the book contents do.

That’s fine. One thing that bothers me is lack of a decent book description. Sometimes I can’t make head or tail out of these things. I have no idea what I am about to read. That’s especially true in the more artistic genres like poetry and short stories. The potential reader/buyer needs ideas about moods or themes of these pieces. I have a hard time figuring out what’s in store for readers. This is partially offset by the ability to read previews on Amazon. But not always.

Sometimes obvious details are not apparent. Like, when was the book first published? What country or region is the author from?

Capsule Book Review

No Taller than My Gun (2.99, LE) by David Rothman. (Book website and author website). This novel is a fast-paced Oliver Twistian rags-to-riches story set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unlike Western portrayals of the young computer genius (who inevitably achieves fame and ample venture capital), this novel has a twist: a teenage supergeek runs away to the capital city (Kinshasa) with dreams of a better, safer life — and instead ends up working under duress for a criminal racket. Lemba’s story about how technology can be both liberating and oppressive in corrupt societies offers a sober counterweight to Western techno-utopianism.

Written in a brisk style full of action and suspense, this story — and the violent actions described — can be a sometimes shocking read for U.S. audiences. The “happy ending” seems a little too forced for me — and I remain unconvinced that the road to success (and emotional recovery) for the brother and sister is as easy as presented here.

IN SUMMARY: It’s a quick & good read — with lots of incidents and dangerous escapes though it raises unsettling questions about how easily crime can exploit poverty in a society.

Multimedia, Podcasts, Etc

Wow, I’ve pleasantly surprised to learn about a new Texas book podcast (or two).

First, I was already aware of the excellent Austin Liti Limits podcast (which is run by Larry Brill and Scott Semegran). I haven’t listened to many of the episodes, but I’m sure they are excellent.

Just an hour ago I discovered Book Public, a podcast hosted by San Antonio creative writer Yvette Benavides. Apparently she is interviewing lots of authors on a weekly basis. Interestingly, about 1/4 of the episodes are discussions of stories by famous authors, which is always a delight. I just finished an episode with Andre Aciman about the paradoxes of time.

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. During July 2021 almost all these titles will be discounted on Smashwords. Check them out! In August you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump June 16-30 (2021)

See  June 1-15 and July 1-16  (View All)

Governor Abbott has mostly been driven by ideology and he’s overreached several times over the past year — even for a conservative-leaning state. I’m expecting at least a mild Democratic bounceback in 2022 and 2024. In contrast to 2018 (where TX Dems made significant inroads and Beto increased enthusiasm) , in 2020 Republicans kept their majority in the Texas legislature, and even made gains in congressional races. During COVID and the February blackouts, the governor basically was the problem, while county and local officials were earning respect from everybody. The part time TX legislature has been consumed with ideological bills — they are out of sync with what Texas has been going through.

When the subfreezing power outages occurred in February, Abbott immediately blamed the renewable energy industry. He has overruled cities and counties on practical issues related to COVID. He and Attorney General Paxton have joined several lawsuits against the federal government and Democrats, most of which he has lost. Abbott has passed laws restricting abortion, complicating voter rights and making it easy to carry guns, made countless executive orders and sided with right-wing crazies way too many times. Frankly, I lose track of all the awful things Abbott and his group have done. Now it appears that Abbott wants to spend $250 million on a Texas border wall. (Or maybe we don’t have the budget for that?)

Jon Schwarz: The GOP is the party of ideas, with two strong intellectual currents. The first is that Social Security and Medicare will inevitably lead to Stalinism, and the second is that Social Security and Medicare are Stalinism. (A later tweet says This tweet is actually out of date, the strongest intellectual current in the GOP today is that Social Security and Medicare are space lizard plots to steal your children and harvest their adrenochrome. (Googling, I see that adrenochrome is one of the Qanon talking points).

JOYCE CAROL OATES: that heart-sinking sensation when you type in your old faithful password & are told: “invalid.” worse yet, the stunning message: “you are locked out.” — poor Kafka, in all his paranoia, had not a clue what awaited in 2021.(Tweet)

For the record, I don’t like to embed tweets or even link to them.

RIP Ned Beatty. This American actor starred in the fantastic & hilarious Irish comic-biopic HEAR MY SONG about the long-missing Irish singer Josef Locke. You can rent it for $4 on Amazon. Amazingly, Beatty sang all the Locke songs in the movie -one of my alltime favorite movies! (I cued it to one of his songs). Here’s a clip of Beatty singing a Locke song. Favorite throwaway line: I’d rather be in jail than in love again…

John Oliver does a lowdown about summer heat in prisons. Apparently 70% of Texas prisons do not have AC — and Texas has already spent millions defending lawsuits. This is a scandal I’ve known about for a while. I have a family member in prison and he tells horror stories. Apparently even if the state spends money on fans on alternate ways to cool — these alternate methods don’t actually reduce temperature but merely reduce the perception of heat. For aging populations sustained period of raised temperature can aggravate chronic conditions.

Aside, I’m currently working on a new website for my publishing venture Personville Press. I’ve learned that WordPress has grown into a big monster. I’m actually changing my mind about whether to do WordPress and go back to installing Drupal (which has always been a big monster).

Study: The February power outages in Texas were primarily caused by failures in the fossil fuel infrastructure and specifically in one coal/natural gas plant within 20 miles of where I live. The study reports:

.. all major fuel sources except solar failed to meet ERCOT’s expectations during the February freeze, but natural gas was “responsible for nearly two-thirds of the total (electricity) deficit.”

“Cascading risks: Understanding the 2021 winter blackout in Texas,” 

In a 2020 piece by the environmental advocacy group Public Citizen, the WA Parish plant — the one which went completely offline in February is owned by NRG and is considered one of the largest polluters in Texas among stationary sources. This pollution is calculated to cost 178 deaths per year — making it among the deadliest industrial facilities in the US.

Brian Strasert, Su Chen Teh & Daniel S. Cohan (2018): “Air quality and health
benefits from potential coal power plant closures in Texas,” Journal of the Air & Waste Management (Link)

As it happens, another Fort Bend project, ACCIONA will provide 750 MW of renewable capacity in Texas. This is compared to 2700 MW total capacity of all the Parish power plants (Further proof that the primary problem isn’t fossil fuels that we aren’t building renewable energy plants fast enough!)

Here’s a different study analyzing the February outages with a summary table below:

Comments about this table:

  1. It really is striking how little renewable energy was being generated at that time — compared to Gas and Coal.
  2. Solar production more than doubled — although that may statistical noise.
  3. In terms of actual generation, it’s clear that gas and coal underperformed, although that may simply be plant-dependent.
  4. Coal and gas is said to be more reliable, but in fact, coal plants are frequently offline for maintenance during winter months. Natural gas is more likely to be on, but bad planning and weatherization probably was the major culprit.

Texans have already read that the entire Texas power grid was minutes away from a complete shutdown.

Katharine Hayhoe on how individuals avoid thinking about climate change.

We humans are really good at psychologically distancing ourselves from things that we think will matter in the future, but not now, from how much money we save for retirement, or how much we exercise, or don’t, or what we eat and what we shouldn’t.

And it’s same with climate change. It turns out, in the U.S., almost three-quarters of the people would say, oh, yes, climate change is real, it will affect future generations, it will affect plants and animals, it will affect people who live in countries far away.

But when you say, do you think it will affect you, the number drops precipitously to just over 40 percent. That gap is our biggest problem, not the gap of people who say it isn’t real, the gap of those of us who say is real, but we don’t think it matters.

PBS Newshour

Austin vs. Houston revisited in 2021 (by Evan Mitz). I enjoy these kinds of articles (and I wrote an Austin sucks piece a long ago). I know a lot about this subject. Here are my 2021 takes:

  1. Houston restaurants are 10x better than Austin’s. No comparison. Austin’s are overpriced, limited and too crowded.
  2. Houston’s traffic is just abominable. At least with Austin, there’s a decent chance you’re not going to be stuck in traffic on a particular day.
  3. Houston still is run and supported by the fossil fuel industry. Sure, there’s the medical field, but mostly there are dying dinosaur industries which inhabit the skyscrapers.
  4. Houston’s downtown culture is lively, but it takes forever to reach it.
  5. Finding a job in Houston is way easier than finding one in Austin — just be prepared to drive 45-60 minutes to get to it.
  6. Houston has a much better music scene, mainly because of its population. Anyone at SXSW or Austin City Limits eventually hits Houston. Miller Theatre has a lot of free outdoor shows, and you can catch some amazing things.
  7. Houston is a lot more vulnerable to hurricanes and heat waves (and power outages). On the other hand, our water supply is in much better shape than Central Texas.
  8. It is theoretically possible to rely mainly on public transit in Houston (though not easy). The new trains inside the loop have really revolutionized things. By contrast, Austin has bus coverage in several areas, but nothing like the extensive park and rides of Houston.
  9. In terms of education and universities, University of Houston has been growing in overall reputation, and there are still distinguished graduate and professional programs (at Rice, UH, UT Health Science, Baylor, South Texas College of Law). UT-Austin might rank better nationally, but Rice has a better music school, UH has a better creative writing program.
  10. Houston museums are fantastic and world-class.
  11. Unlike Austin, Houston is still a place where you can make a decent living (and the work force is much more varied). The main challenge is that job sites are all over the map, and you’re constantly tempted by jobs which are 60 minutes away by car and 2 hours by bus. Houston has 669 square miles, while Austin is 271.