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Social Media Dump June 1-15 (2021)

See  May 17-31 and June 16-30  (View All)

Egad, it is so annoying only having one monitor! (I’m transitioning computers and am using one for my old computer).

This tongue-in-cheek look at gas stoves reveals some unsettling truths. “Gas stoves emit a lot of the same pollutants that come from our car tailpipes in our home… Burning gas from our stoves is actually contributing 10% to our carbon emissions.” (says Brady Seals from Rocky Mountain Institute). Here’s the PDF of the report. Rocky Mountain Institute may not be a household name, but it was founded by Amory Lovins, who is a leading researcher into renewable energies.

I found some remarkable TV shows on the various streaming services: Undone, Kim’s Convenience (last season). Also watched earlier seasons for ground-breaking NBC series, Superstore.

SEX ROBOTS & COMEDY: Netflix’s Whitney Cummings does a 30 minute comedy routine about why having a sex robot wouldn’t be so bad — then she appears onstage with a sex robot of herself which she paid for. Hilarity ensues…

Last week CBS 60 minutes had a great segment about the health of the 90+ population and a medical study trying to learn from them. Among the insights: “Half of all children born today in the United States and Europe is going to reach their 103rd or 104th birthday.” according to neurologist Claudia Kawas. Another key insight: It’s hard to diagnose Alzheimer’s or dementia on the basis of brain scans. Some brain scans show lots of  beta amyloid (the alleged cause of Alzheimers) but no memory loss — and vice versa.


Musical Discoveries June 2021 #6

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

This is my first month with a new computer, so I’m transitioning my files and equipment. This is the first PC I bought without a CD/DVD drive, so that makes me somewhat nervous in the CD media department. (I’m going to keep my previous computer for a few months in case that becomes an issue). I’m going to play around more with ibroadcast which lets you upload and stream your music collection for free. Also, as luck would have it, I’m on a 3 month trial premium membership for Spotify. Mainly I’m using it to listen to albums I’m thinking of purchasing on emusic with emusic credits.

Capsule Reviews from my Collection


Books/Articles about Music

Here’s a music journalism book by Suzanne Rothberg (sister of 90s rockstar Patti Rothberg). Just For The Record: Featuring candid interviews with famous rock legends.

Speaking of Rothberg, I’ve been listening to Patti Rothberg’s Pizza Box album (reviewed here). So far I’m really loving what I hear. Rothberg put out an amazing album, Between the 1 and 9 in the nineties, and every few years she puts out a new one. I’m pleasantly surprised at how contemporary her later albums seemed. Occasionally her sister videotapes her performing at a local club or bookstore (like this one or this one). These videos are kind of sad — the gigs are 2nd gig and kind of throwaway, and yet Rothberg is such a wonderful performer and has a lovely positive attitude all the time.


Ако си дал (Ako si dal) Emil Dimitrov

Emusic Purchases

  1. Still life on Fire by Mises es Scene. Canadian girl’s country rock. A lot of fun.
  2. Confessions by Sarah Jane Scouton
  3. Legends Live in Concert Vol. 23 by Ozark Mountain Daredevils. 70s Country concert which was dynamite.
  4. Loveless Unbeliever by The School (Elefant Records).
  5. Totem Tongue by 13 Year Cicada.
  6. Doomin’ Sun by Bachelor, Jay Som & Palehound. Smart album with a dumb name.
  7. If you’re dreaming by Anna Burch
  8. Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason-Dixon Line by Ola Bella Reed. 7.49, 147 minutes, 58 tracks.

Bandcamp Purchases

  1. Albums by Tanya Donnelly (free). Donelly is the half-sister of Kristin Hersh and they both sang wild stuff in the band Throwing Muses, then Donelly moved onto other bands and projects (Breeders and Belly). I’m happy to see a good number of freebies here. Hey that merits a photo, doesn’t it?
  2. s/t by the Clears
  3. Black Mountain Blue Sea by Many Birthdays.

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Heart. Songs.
  2. Deep Purple
  3. Between Waves by Album Leaf
  4. Songs of Joan Baez.

Robert’s Roundup #20 (June 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.

Just wanted to mention a remarkable deal I found: New York Review of Books subscription to 10 issues (6 months) for $10. That includes print + digital + access to the archives.

Indie Author Spotlight


Smashword Sales

There’s a sitewide sale coming in July (and some of the Personville titles will be discounted there). The July column should have some interesting finds. In the meantime, I found some freebies:

As a Firefly in the Night: Collection of 20 Stories by Rosko Tzolov. (Free!) Bulgarian immigrant living in New York. “I enjoy writing about “ordinary” people who find themselves in unusual situations. In such a way, they discover something new and surprising about themselves or their experience.” Currently he is working on an autobiographical novel, Robert Ratman is Sound, Sane and Optimistic.

No Gun’s in Little Cavern by Craig Sholl (Free!) . I see that there is another semi-memoir on Amazon: Truth in This by the same author (for 99 cents – KU, LE).

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.

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints


Under the Radar

Loitering: New and Collected Essays by Charles D’Ambrosio. (Here’s wiki page, and a long interview).

Other Hamlet Brother by Luke Swanson (author website). 0.99 Swanson is an Oklahoma writer, and this novel (which I snagged for free) is about Hamlet’s identical twin brother who has abandoned royal life and traveled around Europe, running into Romeo Montague, Prospero, etc. Here’s a great blurb by Dusty Crabtree: Hamlet meets A Knight’s Tale meets Gulliver’s Travels in this serious—but not too serious—nod to Shakespeare. Swanson wrangles words into unique turns of phrase that give you the perfect imagery, make you contemplate life, or leave you laughing hysterically. It’s several classic stories stuffed into one big Shakespeare sandwich…extra Hamlet.”

Just for the Record: Featuring candid interviews with famous rock legends by Suzanne Rothberg. (author website) 3.99 Rothberg is the sister of alt-singing legend Patti Rothberg who writes music articles on the side. She has also worked to publicize her sister’s music. Most of these pieces are repurposed features and interviews about musicians of yesteryear, plus a few autographical interludes. Wow, no review on Amazon, I guess, I need to post a review there eventually! (For the record I am a total fanboy of Patti Rothberg’s music and love reading these kinds of random music books.

To the Stars by Shannon Bradley-Colleary (which was made into a movie. From Bradley-Colleary’s Storytelling blog, I can see that she writes a lot of journalistic pieces on woman’s issues and

Lazy Creativity: Art of Owning Your Creativity by Kyle Bernier. (KU, LE). A series of short reflections about the artistic process by a visual artist/art therapist.. (Personal website).

Fractured Globe by Angela Fish. (KU-LE)

Storms of Malhado by Maria Elena Sandovici. (Author book page ) $0.99 MAGICAL REALISM IN GALVESTON: This Houston-based author writes a magical realism story about hurricanes past and present. “Through three different timelines, this paranormal historical novel weaves a story of Galveston’s past, underscoring its danger and isolation, as well as its remarkable resilience, its capacity for both nostalgia and reinvention. Full of contradictions, at once insular and open to the world, magical but stifling, stuck in the past yet determined to overcome, Galveston Island is as much a character of the novel as Suzanne, Betty, Katie, their lovers, and their confidantes.” The author also teaches political science in the Houston area and paints watercolors. Here’s a nice interview she did with olmistudio about her painting background, where she said, “I started writing more than ten years ago, mostly because I was bored, but also because novels with a certain kind of character – a young woman who feels inadequate and lost in the world – appealed to me, and there were simply not enough out there. “ I actually snagged her Dogs with Bagels novel she wrote a few years with the determination to read it.

I’m on the fence about paying the discounted price of 5.99 on VersoBooks, but I’m certainly interested in the subject matter of Katherine Angel‘s Tomorrow Sex will be good again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent. Angel has done a lot of zoom interviews, including one with Olivia Laing See angel Angel’s twitter feed and

Blink and it’s gone sales

Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing By Roy Peter Clark, 1.99. I have raved about all of Clark’s other works. He’s by far the best craftsman of writing I’ve seen.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby 1.99. (Twitter). Recently a friend made a reference not to the movie (which I had seen) but the book (which I had certainly not read). I realized then that I had not gotten around to reading any of his books. Let this be the first!

Best American Essays 2020 edited by Andre Aciman. 2.99. I usually skip these series, but this collection had a lot of contributions from indie mags. Editor Andre Aciman is an Egyptian-American with a CompLit Phd who wrote Call Me by my Name (which became the inspiration for the Oscar-winning movie of the same name). Strongly, no website, but Aciman has a lot of Youtube channels on various subjects: On Proust, and Call Me by your Name. Update: I really recommend the Proust lecture! Wonderful, deep stuff.

Speaking of Proust, I’ve read 3 volumes in my twenties. I would love to return to volume 4 and finish everything off. Proust has a timeless quality;

Inventology by Pagan Kennedy (1.99) accounts of how inventors got started, a nice exploration of science and entrepreneurship. (Author website)

Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy. 1.99 Humor book about history which was published posthumously after the author died. I’ve always been a fan.

Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. (personal website) In addition to writing for videogames and Dr. Who radio dramas. Writes Savannah Schroll Guz (who is also a writer, mixed media artist & cultural critic)

While locating the specific textual emergence of Hall’s influence is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, it is an academic mission best saved for someone’s undergraduate thesis. After all in the literary world, what is more immediate than an interpretation of the new? And in the case of Hall’s debut novel, the weaving together of influential threads has produced something that, once unfurled from the literary canon, also has extension beyond it.

It is Hall’s exploration of intersticed possibilities that are the most captivating part of the book. The main character, Eric Sanderson, in seeking out the mysteries of his identity, in fleeing a conceptual predator, in looking for the sensuous physical and emotional experiences once offered by his deceased girlfriend Clio, plunges into worlds between the actual and the recognizable. And he subsequently achieves an existence that operates sometimes in tandem with, but usually beneath and between, aspects of active reality.


Review Copies Received




Library books/printed books

Here are several books I bought at library book sales — all for a dollar or less.

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. This is about the Galveston hurricane. Also, be sure to check Maria Elena Sandovici‘s book about the Galveston hurricane above.

What the Dog Saw: And other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell.

Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. This nonfiction tale about explorers who get lost in the Brazilian Amazon sounds intriguing.

Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry.

Pumpkin Rollers by Elmer Kelton (Texas/Western author). I still have not read Time It Never Rained (his most famous work).

Flashman and the Angel of the Lord by George MacDonald Fraser. From a series of 19th century historical adventures involving someone named Flashman.

A World of Ideas : Conversations With Thoughtful Men and Women About American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future by Bill Moyers. Moyers taught the master class about interviewing. This book came out several decades ago, but should still be readable. The oversized printed book is nice and inviting.

Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman. Another anthology involving short mostly nonscientific pieces.

Reconstructionist by Josephine Hart. Author of Damage. (Wiki page) Aha, she’s an Irish author who died in 2011.

Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman — source book for Roman Polanski’s film, Piano, about how a musician survives the Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis. (Wiki page).

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I typically avoid historic novels, but Mantel’s novels are supposed to be the best (and this one won borh Man Booker and National Book Critics Circle award). Aha, I see that Mantel has published a lot of essays in NYROB (lucky for me I started a 6 month subscription!) Here’s a Paris Review interview:

Literary Articles and Essays

Rats, after I learned that master reporter and essayist Janet Malcolm, I realize that I don’t actually own a copy of any of her books. (I have checked out several of her books and read occasional New Yorker articles she wrote. Here is a Paris Review interview she did .

I’ve been writing about an incredible novel by the Pulitzer-winning poet Robert Hillyer, and I searched for a list of other fiction works written by poets. Naja Marie Aidt wrote a nice listicle of best novels by poets, At about the same time Forrest Gander came out with another more adventurous list. See also Jeremy Noel-Tod‘s list at fivebooks about the best prose poetry. Speaking of which, Gertrude Stein‘s Tender Buttons is the subject of Andre Aciman‘s essay in Best American Essays 2020. Finally Jeff Sommers has written a 5-sicle of novels written by poets with no obvious picks.

Multimedia, Podcasts, etc

Happy to come across the YouTube channel for London Review Bookshop. One nice effect of the Covid year is that bookstores are beginning to do Author Zoom interviews — although I can’t quite understand how bookstores can benefit from them. Maybe bookstores should just stop selling physical books and publish their own ebooks or run book review services or ebook deal newsletters.

Clay Reynolds talks about his books, Westerns and Texas culture in a 80 minute Youtube video. I am in the process of interviewing him about his books as well and will be writing several reviews of his books. A fascinating author.

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 June 2021 A Workers Writebook will be regularly discounted to 99 cents. Check them out! In July you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump May 17-31 (2021)

See May 1-16, June 1-15,  (View All)

Houston’s own Dwight Silverman does a rundown of adblockers. Ironically it appears on forbes.com, which has a shitload of

Here’s a fascinating comment to another article about adblockers:

I agree. What good is an ad blocker that only gets you locked out of perhaps 70% of all Internet sites you want to visit? I believe HTML5 is directly responsible. Only after it came into general use were sites magically able to detect you are using an ad blocker. Web pages used to be simpler. I remember loading them on 56kbps modem in the 1990s. Now, to read a 2 kilobytes of TEXT, I have to load 5 megabytes or more of cumbersome web pages graphics and ads when all I care about is the 2 kilobytes of text that actually compromises a typical news article, for example. THAT is progress?

Meanwhile, I’ve found “Techblocker” to be better than any of the above ad blockers as it actually bypasses the ad blocker detecters on over a dozen major sites (including Yahoo Mail), but I think it’s only available for Chrome at the present time (itself an inside source of info for Google itself). Ironically, it still didn’t block the detection on Tom’s Guide here, but then I find it ironic this site has an article on the best ad blockers while using an ad blocker detecter itself.

The truth is if web sites loaded static photo ads (like quaint newspaper ads) in pre-loaded image sized forms (that didn’t cause web pages to “jump” like crazy as it loads yet MORE ads for the same 2K of news text), most people wouldn’t even feel the need to “block” ads. But greed is an infinite black hole that can never be filled and so it’s abused to the point where we need an ad blocker just to keep our 2-year old phones from crashing from running out of memory when we only want to read that 2k of text! It’s miserable. But when one of the world’s greatest web browser creating companies is also the world’s greatest seller of ads (Google Chrome and Google/Alphabet), some might say there’s a conflict of interests happening at the very least. What else can the average person do but find a way around the roadblocks? They want to guilt us for using ad blockers, but they don’t care if they send us 5000x the actual information content in the form of ads and make us pay to receive it as well (bandwidth).

In my last dump, I mentioned the long time of waiting for Texas Workforce to consider appeals. I’m still waiting on that appeal (it’s been 14 weeks of waiting for me). In the meantime, Gov. Abbott has helpfully refused the federal extension of unemployment benefits and Texas Workforce Commission is sending out weekly announcements about how they can clawback overpayments. I’ve tried to avoid complaining about personal things on my blog, It’s never been clearer to me how much unemployment benefits and federal extensions of it provide a boost to the economy — irrespective of whether it provides a disincentive or not. Money is money. The same holds true for the refusal of states like Texas to expand Medicaid. The net effect is less spending overall on health care in Texas — that affects jobs and salaries, to say nothing of medical outcomes.

The underlying problem seems to be that Texas fails to set minimum standards about employment and welfare. Texas still has the minimum wage of 7.25, and while the argument commonly is that nobody pays the minimum wage anymore, it means that in a place like Katy — where a living wage for a single person without kids is 14.25, a lot of wages were in the 8-12$ range 5 years ago– and post-COVID, it’s only slightly better (probably 11-15 per hour). At the same time, a lot of jobs are part time (without benefits). People basically end up having to do the 60-90 commute to Houston. Driving time and transportation is a huge factor for me in working unfortunately. On the other hand, I can work from home very efficiently and cheaply for IT/freelance writing job — if only there was enough of those things.

On why we should be putting more insect repellent around our feet and less around our face:

Riehle noted that most mosquitoes are not attracted to our heads. Rather, these bloodsuckers may be more inclined to seek out our feet, which sport bacteria that give off mosquito-enticing aromas. However, most people probably don’t notice a mosquito buzzing around their ankles, he said. 

Yesterday while cooking dinner, I watched several comedy specials with middle aged women: Whitney Cummings and a sex robot (truly ground-breaking) and Jen Kirkman. Both have Sarah Silverman vibes. The funny thing about both of them is that both are charismatic — sexy and fun, yet middle aged or approaching middle age. A lot of female comics do sexy humor — in their 20s a female comedienne often tells much dirtier jokes than men because she can get away with it. Nikki Glaser is much dirtier than most stand up comics. Truthfully, I get bored of comedians who go dirty. Actually, that’s not so much an issue than comedians who tell jokes in the exact same format


Musical Discoveries May 2021 #5

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

Oops. I forgot to start my May musical discoveries blogpost until May 13th!. Luckily though I have been listening to a lot of great music on YouTube and emusic and bandcamp. Eventually I get caught up though. I’m totally looking forward to Eurovision next week though apparently I will have to go through the usual ruses to view it.

Capsule Reviews from my Collection

Harmonium by Soundcarrier. Psychedelic rock, full of sunniness a la Stereolab, except there is less playfulness, more energy and lots of exciting drum-crashing crescendos (like the Doors minus Jim Morrison). On the one hand, this album is traveling in well-trodden territory of Stereolab, Ladytron, Komeda, The Clean — and doesn’t seem to try anything outrageous or radical. But really I like how fierce and funky the guitar can become, how many odd sounds creep in and how the vocal male-female duet usually enter mid-song and blend in with the rock sound without overshadowing it (Let It Ride).

Books & Articles about Music

none here yet


While listening to a British electric pop group named Soundcarrier, I was feeling nostalgic about Stereolab — and remembered that although I possessed a few Stereolab, I was missing a few others. Then I stumbled upon this live appearance.

Awesome early track by Stereolab

Youtube has several awesome live appearances including — amazingly, a 1996 concert at Fitzgeralds in Houston.

Emusic Purchases

Finally I’ve gotten around to spending all my credits due to expire on May 14; indeed, I found so much great stuff (with the help of omnifoo I have no shortage of bands I want to explore. To be honest, even though I generally enjoy most of omnifoo’s recs, when I go on my listening sprees, I find so many interesting things on labels not on omnifool’s radar — which is saying a lot; he knows a lot.

  1. Harmonium by Soundcarriers. (BC) (See Above)
  2. Entropicalia by Soundcarriers. 48 minutes, later album
  3. In Search of Sunrise 16. Various. 4.49. Basically 3.5 hours of music — not including the full mixes. The trance music series goes on even after DJ Tiesto does it no more. In this case Markus Schulz, Giuseppe Ottaviani and Sunlounger divide the duties to great effect.
  4. Smoke From A Future Fire by The Howard Hughes Suite
  5. Odd Songs by Marc Cunningham.
  6. OOYes by 13 year Cicada.

Bandcamp Purchases

I’ll probably be talking in a podcast about the amazing Austin band, Many Birthdays. I’ve been following this band for more than 15 years, and only recently learned that John Dixon has been doing a sidegig as an experimental art rock musicmaker. His new group Bass Earth Sun focuses on making experimental instrumental pieces. I’ve only started to listen.

Jon Dixon of the band Many Birthdays

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Deerhunter
  2. Olga Guillot
  3. Teena Marie
  4. Mercedes Sosa

Less than Perfection

It never fails. I always have multiple IT problems affecting me simultaneously. Now here’s what I’m dealing with:

  • buying a new computer and monitor.
  • Dealing with a PHP incompatibility problem on my web host.
  • Trying a new database backup system. (Apparently the first time I tried, it was misconfigured, so it dragged all my sites down for almost an hour!
  • Doing research for a new wordpress site I’m about to build. Building this site — and getting it right will literally save me hours or weeks of time — and I have still not gotten around to starting.
  • Troubleshooting a user interface problem on my blog editor. (It’s kind of fixed). I need to upgrade this current blog as well.
  • dealing with the usual CSS and testing BS for ebooks.
  • Also on ebooks: Troubleshooting and reducing encoding errors, consistency of m dashes and n dashes and Microsoft’s smart quotes.
  • Figuring out why some multimedia projects are not working (this will have to wait until I buy the next computer).
  • Being called in by family members to solve their own technical problems (most of which involve iPhones, which I have never owned).

I’m a creative person. I’d prefer to be writing stories and working on new blogposts and essay topics. Instead I’m living in a state where things are always underperforming, messing up or being vulnerable to hackers. Every day I have to reassess my priorities: job search or fix the blog? Write this old client or do online research? Research new business opportunities or contact potential employers to pay bills in the meantime?

My current life problem is that I keep putting off creative projects in order to master the business of publishing and catch up on job search (and lose weight and start an exercise program, etc). During several periods of my life, I suffered through being unable to do any writing. While working abroad with Peace Corps, my word processor broke in the first month or two, and so I literally wrote nothing for 2 years. Between 1999-2003 I was caught up in trying to upgrade my technical skills (and going to grad school and trying to maintain an ill-fated long-distance relationship). Then between 2009-11 unemployment made it hard to concentrate on writing at all. Then in 2014-Spring 2016, I spent every waking moment preparing for my teacher’s certification, trying to prepare for class, trying to teach myself how to teach better– and then ultimately giving up when I couldn’t find a job. During 2017-2019, my writing productivity improved, but 2020-now I’ve done very little writing to speak of (though I have been very busy with publishing business stuff).

This is hard enough. When you throw technical problems on top of the heap and a little poverty, suddenly you feel perpetually stuck. Objectively, I know it shouldn’t paralyze me. You should slowly patiently prioritize and try to eliminate one obstacle at a time. On the other hand, it’s important to recognize sometimes that a problem won’t go away easily — that sometimes it is better to leave it alone or work around it or pay someone to handle it for you.

In the technical world it can be easy to get sidetracked by the tantalizing nature of a problem. A good example is with Windows issues. Sometimes the time it takes to figure out a Windows issue is greater than the time of wiping everything clean and starting over. I often solve many of the same problems over and over, but I do it so rarely that I often forgot how I did it last time. Better documentation might help, but not always. It still takes a lot of time to reacquaint yourself with old problems.

As I come closer to being an ancient geek, I see the value in just paying somebody to do it or just figuring out that I don’t need to do X after all. Sure, if you can fix your own computer, you save a little bit of money. On the other hand a competent amateur can miss out on many new opportunities when most of their time is consumed by learning how to do a repair on their car and trying to devise a Visual Basic solution to your Windows problem.

After a while, the average geek like me develops a tolerance for (and even a blindness to) being perpetually behind, putting things off as much as possible and learning to live with less than perfection.


Robert’s Roundup #19 (May 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.


Welcome to the “Just Phoning It In” edition of Robert’s Roundup. I already moved onto the June edition, and so I’ll clean up this skimpy mess when I have a spare moment.

Indie Author’s Spotlight

none yet

Smashword Sales

none yet

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces by Laura Turnbridge. I’m beginning to love arts biographies, and this one presents Beethoven’s life by presenting 9 pieces. The price has been 3-4$ for over a week.

Olive Branches don’t grow on Trees by Grace Mattioli.

Sentience: A Science Fiction Exploration of AI Through An Epic Turing Test (Book 1) by Courtney Hunter.

HOTEL OBSCURE: A Collection of Short Stories by Lisette Brodey.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, & Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne.

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Unusual personal story about an author’s relationship with the Crow species, with some biology and ecology thrown in. As usual, I love this stuff.

Creative Commons /Academic /Public Domain

none yet

Once in a Lifetime Deals

none this time

Review Copies Received

none this time


Between Worlds: A Poetry Collection

Stumbling Toward Happiness: Haibun and Hybrid Poems by Kat Lehmann.

Library Books & Printed Books bought (better world, Amazon, etc)

Dos Passos: A Life by Virginia Spencer Carr

Courtesans and Fishcakes: Consuming Passions of Classical Athens by James Davidson.

By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept. by Elizabeth Smart.

Ebook Reviews


Literary Articles and Essays


Literary Audio/Multimedia


Personville Press Giveaways and 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 May 2021 Soldier Boys and Abruptions will be regularly discounted to 99 cents. Check them out! In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump: May 1-16 (2021)

See also:  April 16-30, May 17-31 (View All)

NETFLIX FILM RECOMMENDATION: Stowaway is a thoughtful and suspenseful sci fi drama/adventure about a Mars-bound space mission gone awry. Top-quality acting and script, fairly realistic action (although the movie’s premise seems slightly implausible). Still, this recent Netflix-produced film is much more focused and interesting than the overlong Netflix mission to Mars series, AWAY. By the way, don’t watch the trailer — the less you know, the better!

Russian analyst Anders Aslund and Maria Snegovaya write a long report (PDF) about the state of the Russian economy under Putin: It has the startling conclusion:

Western sanctions have hit the Russian economy badly. Since 2014, it (the Russian economy) has grown by an average of 0.3 percent per year, while the global average was 2.3 percent per year. They have slashed foreign credits and foreign direct investment, and may have reduced Russia’s economic growth by 2.5–3 percent a year; that is, about $50 billion per year. The Russian economy is not likely to grow significantly again until the Kremlin has persuaded the West to ease the sanctions.

Here’s a long Washington post profile of Mary Ann Vecchio, the girl who was photographed crying in grief at the Kent State shootings. What makes this particularly poignant is that even though Vecchio was on a college campus, she was actually only 14 years old (she was unusually tall for her age at 6 feet). She was a teenage runaway

Silly story about a young Japanese man who dated 30 woman purely in order to get them to buy him birthday presents. One reader comments, “He’s an awful person, but I envy his time-management skills,” 

If Texas Workforce commission rejects your claim for unemployment benefits or (as in my case) accidentally removes you from the eligibility list because of a bureaucratic mistake, it can take up to 18 weeks for the appeal board to consider your case. I’m in my 11th week of waiting for my case to be resolved. It’s funny how my initial attitude of “they should be able to correct this mistake fairly quickly” has turned to dismay and even anger (and I’ve only been waiting 10.5 weeks).

XKCD sums up scientific research papers. People think was a satirical look at papers, but I see it as scientists just doing their jobs.

TEXAS COMEDY CLASSIC! I’m astonished to see that YouTube has a 50 minute production of the original GREATER TUNA play available. Apparently the show’s creators did a production specifically for HBO in 1984. I had actually seen their sequel GREATER TUNA CHRISTMAS at a Houston theatre in the early 1990s. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. (All the characters — including the females –are played by 2 men).

AMAZING! Two days ago I visited BEST BUY to recycle/dispose of some old computer equipment. To my surprise, I learned that BEST BUY would accept all of the items except my monitor. Apparently Best Buy’s new policy means that they charge $29 to dispose of 1 computer monitor. So the next time you buy a monitor (or big screen TV), you should factor in the costs of having to dispose of it later.


Social Media Dump: April 16-30 (2021)

See also: April 1-15, May 1-16 (View All)

RECOMMENDED (FREE!) EXERCISE APP: I really liked J&J’s exercise app for doing indoor exercises. Lots of levels to choose from, plus animation to illustrate each movement. This trainer worked with the New York Times to produce this app — which is phenomenal on a tablet. Here’s a long NYT page explaining the different exercises, Here’s a 5 minute summary of these exercises (boring but useful), Here’s a 50 minute discussion between the NYT reporter and the fitness trainer who invented it.

I’m actually trying to exercise more and lose weight (to take off those COVID pounds!). After reading about it on wirecutter, I started using the Bodyelastics Stackable Tube Resistance Bands. It’s great equipment and offers a range of exercise options. One major problem with this exercise method is that the exercises take a while to learn and the enclosed booklet is not well-organized. Indeed, it took 6 months just to get around to figuring out to do the exercises! The main problem is that book lists the resistance bands as attached to the top, middle or bottom part of the door, but it’s in random order in the book; also, you have to switch bands and alternate between using handles and straps. I printed out a summary of the exercises for easy reference.

Food critic and high school friend Mike Riccetti wrote about his favorite pizza restaurant in Houston: it’s Tiny Champions on the East side of downtown Houston. A while back Riccetti wrote about three great restaurants right next to one another on a bland shopping strip. It always has been crazy how many restaurants Houston has — there are several Venezuelan/South American restaurants in the Katy area where I live, and I haven’t even gotten around to eating there.

This comedy sketch reveals why it’s always better to make sure your translator is competent. Another reveals things only women would understand.

My secret Youtube obsession is watching old Craig Ferguson clips. Most of his shows seem to be flirtatious double-entendres with beautiful young actresses. Here’s Kristen Bell, Brittany Murphy, Alison Brie, Actually Conan O’Brien’s interviews are also great. Here’s a dating coach’s explanation of Ferguson’s appeal. Hey, here’s another 55 minutes where you can watch the master in action.

A FB friend alerts me to the fact that bitcoin mining is nullifying the gains from solar power production. According to a Techcrunch article, newer cryptocurrencies like Ethereum might have a smaller carbon footprint. Some proposals to do carbon fee and dividends do cross border taxes to implement a fair carbon price, but it seems hard to imagine doing this for cryptocurrencies. According to Forbes,

A single bitcoin transaction uses roughly 707.6 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy–equivalent to the power consumed by an average U.S. household over 24 days, according to Digiconomist. On a yearly basis, bitcoin consumes more energy than all but 38 countries, falling in line with countries like Finland, Chile and Austria.

I imagine that the huge carbon footprint affects the perception of value, and so eventually it will lead to a decline in price. On the other hand, governments can and should accelerate this process; I mean, it’s not as if jobs are at stake here; it’s just computer cycles.

WE ARE BEHIND ON ELECTRIC CAR ADOPTION: If every new vehicle sold today was an electric vehicle and it was entirely powered by renewable energy overnight, it would take 10 years or more for us to achieve a 50% redeuction in greenhouse gases. (Chris Atkinson, engineering professor). “We are not going to be able to meet the target with new-car EV sales only, said Aakash Arora, a managing director with Boston Consulting Group and an author of a study on electric vehicle adoption. “The fleet is too big.”

As it happens, I’ll be on the road until the end of the month and relying on a substandard laptop, so postings will be lighter than usual.

As family and friends can attest, I have an uncanny knack for predicting which film will win Best Picture at the Oscars months before the nominations are announced — and before I even am able to watch the movies. (I predicted Nomadland in early January). I can finally reveal my secret: I am a time traveler. If you have any questions you need answering about the next 12 months, feel free to ask them before I make my next jump.

NEWHART AND COMMUNITY THEATRE: This 80s sitcom was known for its droll humor and unpredictability; this episode is about Bob’s wife pressures Bob to direct an old play he wrote for the town’s community theatre. I love this show to death. Amusingly, while watching the DVDs for season, one extra (produced in the early 2010s) had commentary from the actresses who said it’s now apparent their wardrobes and makeup and hairstyles looked ghastly. They were exaggerating a bit for the camera, but they had a point.


Musical Discoveries April 2021 #4

See also: March 2021 and May 2021 (View all)

Capsule Reviews of my Collection

I like to start out the month with a blank template and then add to it over the month. Stay tuned for more content!

Musical Mystery Meat

none yet

Articles about Music

none yet


Here’s the lovely Sesame Street closing song, with improvisations on the harmonica. I’ve been searching for this special closing number, and the name of that harmonica player is Toots Thielemans.

Every so often I watch documentary excerpts about musicians — especially the Wrecking Crew. Here’s a nice piece about Carol Kaye , There was a Wrecking Crew documentary a few years ago. You should check out Polyphonics’ other musical analysis. Here’s a fascinating vid about Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon (which is based on and a fantastic 1976 live performance for Midnight Special and an early 1975 audio from a Boston concert. Tusk, as I mentioned before was one of the earliest albums I actually bought, and holds up very well.

Speaking of childhood, I never can get enough of Schoolhouse Rock. Here’s a TED talk with Bob Dorough (he performs 2 songs). Here’s a clip of Bob Dorough and the original singer Jack Sheldon singing Conjunction Junction.

I made a Fito Espino playlist (he’s a Panamanian accordionist who was popular decades ago.

I’ve been downloading and listening to lots of South American music as I download emusic albums. Here’s a beautiful duet between Joan Baez and Mercedes Sosa where amazingly Baez plays backup. Apparently they are singing a beautiful Violeta Parra song called Gracias a La Vida (which apparently is world famous). Here’s Parra’s own famous version of the song.

Apparently Ishkur finally revamped his guide to electronic music. In the 2000s Ishkur made this amazing interactive website which used flash player to help explain the evolution of different subgenres of electronic music. I’m pretty well-schooled in EDM, and I don’t know 90% of the artists or genres listed, so it’s a delight to rediscover a bigger and badder version of the original site.

Emusic Purchases

  1. Wisconsin Mining State by Thet Liturgiske Oswasendet
  2. Golden Voices of Africa by Miriam Makeba. 4.99, 67 minutes. I was hearing and watching the incredible music video Makeba by the French singer Jain (which she wrote in Makeba’s honor). Then, Pomelo Records has this and several other compilations (see below).
  3. Folklore Argentino by Atahualpa Yupanqui, 6.99, 140 minutes.
  4. Piano y voz con su orquestra by Mexican composer Agustin Lara, 40 tracks, 120 minutes, 6.50.
  5. Te recuerdo Amanda by Victor Jara. 27 songs, 90 minutes, famous Chilean guitarist and folk singer who was brutally tortured and murdered at the age of 40.
  6. Sus primeros exitos by Rocio Jurado. 6.49 60 minutes. Spanish traditional singer, with orchestra.
  7. Voodoo Chicken Shack & Dirty Blues by Southbound Snake Charmers. $4
  8. Albums by Quilapayun (long running Chilean folk band). I bought the s/t and Q3
  9. Albums by Violeta Parra (a Chilean folk singer from the 1960s).
  10. Walk with Me by Pepper Adams. 6.49, 1 hour. I fell in love with a budget jazz album (The Adams effect) by this saxophonist when I first signed up for emusic. That album fell from emusic, but luckily this one is still here.
  11. Very Best of Antonio Machin. Vol 1 and Vol 2. Machin is a Cuban singer and musician who recorded in the 1930s and 1940s. I thought Volume 2 had better sound quality and better songs.

Bandcamp Purchases

Freegal Downloads & Library CDs

  1. Outrospective by Faithless. British trip-hop band fronted by Dido’s brother. Also No Roots.
  2. Varios by Mercedes Sosa
  3. Various by Olga Guillot.

Robert’s Roundup #18 (April 2021 Edition)

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.


The last 5 years has seen a revolution in ebook pricing, and the best way to learn about it has been deal newsletters. So far I have been looking at Bookbub, Bookgorilla, etc, but recently I’ve noticed that some deals are happening on publishers’ own newsletters. I actually read and enjoy Simon & Schuster’s newsletters — though it is true the deals are mostly in the 2.99-3.99 range.

On the publisher’s side, many authors have been using personal newsletters to promote their brand and publicize discounts. I’m in the process of creating a monthly newsletter for Personville Press (which will wrap many things up — including parts from this column). You can talk about whether it’s possible to keep up with so many emails from individual authors, but there’s no doubt that individual authors are likely to pass along deal announcements to subscribers.

After reading about the multiple scandals involving literary biographer Blake Bailey, I now realize (too late, I’m afraid) that I should have stayed in academia to write literary biographies. I certainly enjoy reading them and would have enjoyed writing them too. No matter. A good literary biography can include history, gossip, cultural history and even literary criticism. Frankly, when I read biographies of people from previous centuries, I am amazed at how much material is available for the author to cull through and how some biographers do it admirably.

Indie Author’s Spotlight


Smashwords Sales

(Skipping this time).

Ebooks published by Amazon Imprints

For a few weeks, Amazon had their World Novels promotion. Basically, they are publishing and promoting translations by distinguished authors from around the world. Here were their freebies for this year:

  • At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano, Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling, Shelly Bryant
  • The King of Warsaw: A Novel by Szczepan Twardoch, Sean Gasper Bye
  • The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury by Marc Levy, Chris Murray
  • The Son and Heir: A Memoir by Alexander Münninghoff, Kristen Gehrman

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Thin for Life: 10 Keys to Success from People who have lost weight and kept it off by Anne Fletcher (2.99). Use this for shedding your extra COVID year pounds. I discovered this 2003 book the last time I tried losing weight. Although Fletcher is a dietician, the most interesting thing about the book is how she identifies what behavioral strategies worked for successful dieters. Fletcher didn’t spend much time talking about nutrition or what to eat or how to exercise — and in fact, this makes the book still current today. I’m now trying to lose weight, and my first thought was go back and read this book again.

Invisible Pyramid by Loren Eiseley. 1.99

Emotional Rescue: Essays on Love, Loss, and Life–With a Soundtrack by Ben Greenman

Shakespeare’s Secrets – Romeo & Juliet: Essays and Reflections on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet by David Blixt.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

Penthouse Uncensored series (I have to admit, I enjoyed reading one of these).

Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq. I spent $10 on this translation of a classic Arabic literary work. I only did this after realizing that I was willing to pay 9.50 for a used copy of this book, and then thought, why not pay 50 cents more and ensure that the author actually received the royalties?

An Event, Perhaps: Biography of Jacques Derrida by Paul Salmon. I can’t explain it, but I’m interested in biographies of significant people in the arts and literature. Perhaps intellectual history is more accessible than reading the works themselves.

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. Remarkably, I bought it after seeing this professor’s interview on Trevor Noah.

Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison (author website).

Heaven’s Edge by Romesh Gunesekera. Sir Lankan novelist. Mary Whipple comments,

Sometimes enigmatic and even a bit preachy, the novel is at once magical and nightmarish, full of myth and allegory at the same time that it offers haunting, cautionary tales about the past and the use of violence to change the present and affect the future. Echoes of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the fall of man, legends about peacocks and leopards, and episodes telling the importance of love and respect pervade the novel, giving it immense color and depth. Clearly a pacifist, Gunesekera says, “The art of killing cannot be our finest achievement…Nothing is inevitable.”

Creative Commons — Academi/Public Domain

This is just a teaser, but I will soon be digitizing a monograph containing 3 public lectures from the 1950s by Robert Hillyer, Richard Wilbur and Cleanth Brooks. Apparently it’s in the public domain. Expect it next month!?

Once in a Lifetime Deals

There There by Tommy Orange.

Indie Titles/Other ebook distributions

None this time

Review Copies Received

None this time

Library books & Printed books bought (Better World, Amazon, etc)

Bought a haul from Better World Books this time.

Love, Life, Goethe: Lessons of the Imagination from the Great German Poet by John Armstrong.

Goethe: The Poet and the Age: Volume I: The Poetry of Desire (1749-1790) by Nicholas Boyle

Collected Stories by Carol Shields

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty

Terminal Experiment by Robert S. Sawyer. I enjoyed the TV adaptation of his Flash Forward book, so I’m trying to read his others.

Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. Called by several people the best sci author and this is his best book.

Starting Over: Stories by Elizabeth Spencer

Festival of Insignificance: By Milan Kundera. Crap, I just realized that I bought the wrong book. I had meant to buy the essay collection, Encounter instead. (I probably will end up buying it). Just bought it.

What Light Can Do by Robert Hass — essays on poetry

Hell or High Water by Joy Castro (college friend)

Question of Bruno: Stories by Aleksander Hemon. Also, Love and Obstacles.

Pomegranate Lady and her sons: Selected Stories by Sara Khalili. Autobiographical stories by Iranian woman from pre-Shah days.

American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late by Andrei Codrescu. Alternative anthology of Codrescu rounding up stuff by his friends. Some really off the beaten path poets here, including Lorenzo Thomas. (UPDATE: This out-of-print anthology is really good especially at the price I paid for it. Highly recommended!

Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami. Really looking forward to this. Story about a Muslim who explored the Gulf coast of America in the 1500s with Cabeza La Vaca (and based on real events!)

Also, I’m going on a diet, so I found two books on that: The Diet Myth: Why the Secret to Health and Weight Loss is Already in Your Gut by Tim Spector and The FastDiet – Revised & Updated: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. Update: Diet Myth consists of a series of articles on popular diet subjects for BBC. Well written and summarizes research well, but isn’t earth-shattering. FastDiet (in praise of intermittent fasting) is pretty innovative and very interesting, but is only one approach to the subject. (Here’s what Harvard School of Public Health has to say about it).

Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past By Simon Reynolds. Excellent musical and cultural history though a bit too cerebral about what should be a light-hearted and uplifting art.

Unknown Woman by Alice Koller

Suburb by the Sea by Robert Hillyer. I bought this to complete my collection of Robert Hillyer’s poetry.

Ebook Reviews


Literary Articles and Essays

Maria Popova has a wonderful short essay about the unrequited loves of H.C. Andersen. His permanent infatuation with Jenny Lind is well documented (aka, the Swedish nightingale), but apparently he had tender/erotic feelings for a man named Edvard Collin. In a related post, Popova writes of the intense relationship that Emily DIckinson had with Susan Gilbert:

To make art out of heartache is, of course, the most beautiful thing one could do with one’s sorrow, as well as the most generous — no artist knows how the transfiguration of their pain into beauty will salve another heart, give another sorrower the language of their own truth, the vessel for navigating their own experience.

Popova of course has a famous and wonderful literary newspaper which always amazes me every time I find time to read it. Apparently portions of Popova’s essays are found in the very expensive ebook Figuring (which despite the price is always something I’ve wanted or planned to buy).

Here’s a great elegy by poet Edward Hirsch on Adam Zagajewski: (Hirsch’s website and Z’s website)

Adam challenged those students. He chided them gently, “So you all have been writing a lot of small poems about small things. I would like for you to try something larger.” He assigned one class to write elegies to the 20th century. He made space for students to probe big questions with utter seriousness and depth. The course titles speak for themselves: The Imagination and Its Enemies. End of the Century, End of the World. Memory and Oblivion. Poetry and Doubt.

Here’s another fine obituary without a paywall.

He preferred to use traditional free verse (“Rhymes actually irritate me, a bit like the bell calling you to kneel in church”) and avoided poetic experimentations as his focus was on communication and understanding, yet still engaging in “a dialogue with the imagination”. He demanded that poetry tell the truth (“we write to understand the world,” he claimed), and once wryly concluded that “some French poets say Polish poetry is just journalism, because you can understand it”.

As an aside, I’m depressed at how expensive poetry books are. Apparently if you sign on with a prestige publisher, the price of your ebooks stay above $10. Who on earth has the dough to pay that much!? I have bought a few expensive poetry books in my day — usually they are collected poems, not individual titles. I remember that at grad school I paid $20 for a collected works of Richard Wilbur and another for Howard Nemerov. Also, one for Elizabeth Bishop. More recently, I paid $10 for a collection by Paul Otrembra, a young Houston poet who died recently. I suppose you could say that I’ve paid a handsome price for a nice bilingual collection of sonnets by Petrarch, a collection of Bhartrahari poems and Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry : From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century by Burton Watson. Maybe if the poet is extremely well known and beloved, I could justify paying 9 dollars, but even then I bitch about how expensive it is.

Literary Audio /Multimedia

U. Penn has an incredible website of poets on audio. Notable poets included here are Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, Ezra Pound, Donald Hall, HD, Kenneth Rexroth, Ferlinghetti, Jorie Graham. Lots of names I don’t recognize, looks like there’s a NY/New England bias, but still just an incredible number of names here!

Here’s a brief and funny exchange between Neil Gaiman and Harlan Ellison about why film critics always blame the writer instead of the filmmaker.

Cool Things Coming Soon!

In about a month I should finally have created the Personville website. Shortly after that, I will have a gigantic book promotion of upcoming titles. Should be monstrously great.

Personville Press Giveaways and 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. In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump: April 1-15

See also: March 17-31 and April 16-30 (View All)

How well do over-the-counter food allergy test kits? Not well, reports several doctors and a medical group.

Wow, funny, just realized that I am saving a lot of links on twitter instead of in my browser (or my blog!).

Immigration and Border issues are becoming big political issues again. Here’s an Atlantic piece about it:

Here’s a shocking but compelling story about the time Cicero defended a powerful man against the crime of assaulting an actress (thanks to Mark Oliver for writing this one up):

She lived with that memory to the end.

It was a cruel reminder that, no matter how much horror a man put her through, nobody would do anything to protect her.

But she’d done something. There’s no way she could have understood the significance of what she did, but she’d changed history.

Countless Roman actresses went through what she’d endured before her, and countless more suffered through it long after she died. But her story is the oldest one we’ve found of a woman like her standing up to a man like Plancius.

She didn’t get justice, but she lived to have her story told, and history remembers that she said no.

At the moment I have spent almost all day prepping my computer for a Windows Update. I’ve been trying for weeks to apply updates, but they’ve been failing. I kept delaying these updates until a convenient time. I actually spent a few hours updating a backup laptop which I used just in case my main PC fails to start.

Wish me luck! See you on the other side!

Whew! I’m back. Lessons from the whole updating experience:

  1. Windows is basically forcing your hand by not letting you choose which updates to apply. The only tool you have is pausing the Update temporarily and choosing not to do the optional updates.
  2. Some of the updates for the previous build just never worked. Then after I did the feature update to 20H2, all the other updates ran perfectly.
  3. The Update History panel has improved by breaking down Updates into several categories: Feature Updates, Quality Updates, Driver Updates, Definition Updates (for MS Defender) and Other Updates. Bravo, MS, well done.

For some reason, my computer would not sleep at all after the update. That is a big problem because it turns my bedroom into a heatbox. Aside from that, the noise is really really distracting for me. When the PC goes to sleep, my blood pressure literally goes down 10 points — even if I have music playing.

There’s a lot of outdated information on the web about how to solve sleep/power issues, but the short answer is that you run powercfg -requests in a Windows command window in Administrator mode; that will show what process is keeping you from sleeping. In my case, it was Windows Search; apparently something about the update forced a reindexing of all the files. All I had to do was to wait for this to finish (6-8 hours), and then everything worked peachy.

Another thing I accomplished: buying a webcam and a USB microphone. The webcam was a good-but-not-great Logitech; the microphone I chose was Razer Seiren Mini USB Streaming Microphone (Amazon) which some youtube guys raved about.

Jimmy Kimmel interviews 4 perfectly named people.

Youtube about Andy Rooney on why Ernest Hemingway was a jerk. FUN FACT: Andy Rooney and I took a class with the same professor while at college! Orson Welles has another fun anecdote — he narrated a documentary did in the 1930s about the Spanish Civil War, and ended up having a fisticuff with Hemingway.



Social Media Dump 2021: March 17-31

See also: March 1-16 2021 and April 1-15(View All)

Wow, that’s a first. I ended up moving a portion of this linkdump into a separate post. (See below). But what do I fill up the rest of my space with?

I’ll be getting my first COVID shot today. That’s worth a sentence (or two!).

US COVID DEATH RATE BY AGE: When compared to the risk of people 5-17 years of age, 18-29 years old are 15x more likely to die from COVID; 30-39 years old are 45x more likely to die; 40-49 years old are 130x more likely to die; people 50-64 years old are 400x more likely to die; people 65-74 years old are 1100 more likely to die; people 75-84 years old are 2800x more likely to die and people 85+ years old are 7900x more likely to die. What’s interesting is that the likelihood of getting COVID does not vary that much by age group; people 18-29 years old are 3x more LIKELY to get COVID than people 5-17 years of age; for all the other age groups, the risk of getting COVID is twice as high when compared to 5-17 year olds. (Data from Feb 2021)

I get my COVID shot Wednesday (first dose!) I’m excited. From NYT, here’s an interesting story about parosmia — losing one’s smell or experiencing phantom smells or awful smells while having COVID. Related but not the same: A long Brooke Jarvis piece about the Mysteries of Smell A long investigation and meditation about smell and what it means to us as humans. Jarvis is a science writer whose other pieces are here.

“KING OF THE HILL” RETURNS?!: BRENT FORRESTER, A TV writer & former producer for KING OF THE HILL tv show announced today (unofficially on a REDDIT AMA) that a sequel is in the works. QUOTE: “I am sure Greg Daniels and Mike Judge will murder me for sharing this but… HELL YES. They are in hot negotiations to bring back King of the Hill. The Trump administration made it suddenly very relevant again. The characters have all aged 15 years. The project is sooooo good. Okay I’ve said too much 🙂 ” My interpretation is that the project has not yet been greenlit but there is serious interest.

Speaking of which, I’ve heard rumors that Frasier might be coming back in some form. Also, I’m hoping — praying that they come up with that Community movie — or else I’ll be stuck watching reruns for the rest of my life.

This interesting analysis by anthropologist Jason Hickel suggests that using GDP to measure wealth and poverty in pre-20th century times is misleading. This leads to an excellent response to Stephen Pinker (who wrote the book, Better Angels which portrayed a generally optimistic vision of the current world in history).

My favorite quora topic: Why doesn’t Captain Janeway have to specify the temperature of her coffee, like Picard does with his tea?

I’m a little obsessed with the NBC Community show on Netflix. Here are some zany compilation clips on youtube: Annie’s gasping, Annie awwing and Community characters freaking out — here’s one of Annie freaking out. Here’s a compilation clip of “Anne Perkins” from Parks and Recreation.

Rothko Chapel documentary. It’s a little dull, but part of it is indeed the point (great external shots of Houston btw). For those who don’t know, Rothko Chapel is a great hidden secret in Houston; it’s next to Menil Museum and is a small meditation chapel which is nondenominational and based on Rothko’s dark solid color portraits. I’ve visited there several times; it’s a nice place to relax and be alone with your thoughts. I’ve also seen some small performances inside the building and some larger events outside — a Peace-oriented event with several Nobel Peace winners, Jimmy Carter and others…


Chevron vs. Donziger…. (continued)

This 11 minute video from 2019 talks about how CHEVRON/TEXACO got away with not paying for a 9 billion dollar judgment against it for polluting Ecuador and never cleaning it up. The human rights lawyer who narrates this piece has been under house arrest by a NY federal judge for 1.5 years — despite protests from Amnesty International, 55 Nobel laureates, and Marty Garbus (the lawyer who argued for Nelson Mandela’s freedom, defended Ellsberg, Andrei Sakharov, Cesar Chafez) etc.

From a recent interview with the head of Amazon watch:

“The real thing that’s going on here is Chevron is attempting to literally criminalize a human rights lawyer who beat them. He’s never been accused, let alone convicted, of a crime anywhere. And now Chevron’s machinations by Lewis Kaplan, this federal judge, and Preska, the judge that he has appointed, are on the cusp of turning him into a criminal because he didn’t comply with Kaplan’s outrageous contempt of court orders.”

And so, Steven Donziger, for Chevron, is a tactic. It’s a tactic for them to avoid talking about what they actually did, and have the world not look at what they actually did in the Ecuadorian Amazon. And what we want, as the human rights and environmental justice community, is for this new administration to check the corporate power that has manipulated the judicial system to turn Steven Donziger into an example of what will happen if you stand up to corporate power in the United States. And it’s a seriously chilling one.

Democracy Now interview, March 15 2021

An Intercept piece gives the full sordid history in the case.

“On the basis of (Judge) Kaplan saying, ‘I believe this witness; I find Donziger guilty of the crime of bribery of the judge’ — on the basis of that, he’s been destroyed. That is the pinnacle element of all of the other claims against him. And if you take that one out, the rest of them — they’re just not there,” said Charles Nesson, an attorney and Harvard Law School professor. “He has effectively been convicted of bribery by the finding of a single judge in a case in which bribery wasn’t even the charge,” Nesson said of Donziger. “I teach evidence, that you have to prove what you assert. But the proof in this case is the thinnest.”

Charles Nesson, Harvard law professor,

I’ve looked at some of the briefs on both sides and the various judgments. The bribery/RICO charges seem wild and incredible; also, it seems ludicrous to apply RICO to a case where a lawyer is trying to fund a lawsuit by promising to the law firm a percent of the amount recovered.

Leaving aside the case of Donziger’s arrest, several things about the case have been shocking:

  • Chevron’s attempt to change the venue from US and Ecuador and then after they lose after multiple appeals in Ecuador, they try to vacate the judgment through US courts:
  • The amount of money Chevron has paid in legal fees — and the legal tricks they have employed to drain the funds of the litigants and their attorneys. I saw one estimate that the amount of legal fees spent by Chevron to be over a billion dollars.
  • Kaplan’s judgement was shocking; but also shocking was that the judgment was upheld on appeal, and when it was appealed en banc to the 2nd circuit court of appeals, it was unanimously denied. Later, the appeal to the Supreme Court to grant certiori was denied.
  • After reading the evidence on both sides, I remain very skeptical that Donziger’s team was involved in any way in bribing the original judge in Ecuador. If anything, there was information sharing (sharing documents and undoubtedly copying and pasting parts of legal briefs). That is insufficient to establish a case of bribery, RICO and fraud. Donziger once said that sharing MS Word files was commonly done in Ecuador when drafting judgments. The Ecuadorian judge (who was actually well-respected in his home country and flown in to testify in the NY courtroom about how he made the decision) said that the case was gigantic and overwhelming, but he and his secretary did manage to draft the judgment without outside influence — though there was cutting and pasting where applicable.

I have a small personal connection to the case. My dad worked for Texaco in the 1960s and 1970s, and once my dad bought me 2 shares of Texaco stock as a way to help me learn about the stock market. Interestingly I remember periodically receiving a glossy stockholder portfolio containing corporate information and financial disclosures. I didn’t really understand it, but I clearly remember that the brochure includes photos of oil drilling in Ecuador several times. In the 1980s my dad (who had become a lawyer) and I were both filing the Penzoil vs. Texaco case which Texaco ended up losing a 10 billion judgment for not honoring a contract between Penzoil and Getty. Texas was egregiously in the wrong, and in fact their legal defense team was incompetent as well (for not disputing the damage claim).

In the 1970s Texaco was making a ton of money — and so were its competitors, but Texaco seemed to be the least law-abiding of the majors.

Last Christmas I listened to an amazing podcast series Drilled, where a podcaster tried to follow the long history of the case and interview the major actors. I know a lot of this already (following this case was almost an obsession with me over the last 20 years), but the thing that surprised me the most was an interview with an expert on multilateral arbitration about how awful it is and how easily corporations can avoid the civil and criminal courts on the country level. (See this great interview on S5 E 4 “THE SECRET TRIBUNAL” Oct 16 2020 corporate wrongdoers evade enforcement and how it makes enforcement of environmental lawsuits practically impossible. It even grants to corporations remediation by the government for changing their laws about multinational corporations. Wow, how convenient.


Social Media Dump 2021: March 1-16

See also: Feb 15-28, March 17-31

Outrageous! Emily Holden reports that gas companies in Texas have steered municipal power companies in San Antonio and Austin towards more reliance on natural gas and slower implementation of decarbonization plans. Climate change Emily Atkins wrote a column praising Holden’s articles, and I agree.

Thejuicemedia is an Australian-based video agitprop company which make “Honest Government Ads” — videos resembling corporate or official announcements. In fact these “press people” are in fact delivering cynical/condescending/paternalistic messages that make clear that the office is in fact pure evil. Everything is supposed to be satire, and this anti-Trump video . Also, you have why conservatives are incompetent at managing the economy. (Hint: it has to do with spending cuts, tax cuts and more subsidies for fossil fuel development).

There are a lot of Australian-themed ads (which is only logical and occasionally interesting to Americans — see this takedown of Kyoto carbon credits — wow! Recently they have been making revisionist history disguised as satirical tourist ads — See the ones for Puerto Rico, Hawaii and E. Timor.

Actually alongside these satirical ads are interview podcasts on Youtube with well-known liberals.

A GREAT REPUBLICAN! Sen. Bob Dole announced his presidential campaign on Letterman. David Letterman invited him back to the show a few days after he lost. Here he was relaxed, gracious, self-deprecating and very respectful both to Clinton and the institution of the presidency. Here is a man with class. He also is extremely funny too!) About a decade later, I happened upon a humor book edited and written by Bob Dole. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to.

COMING 2 AMERICA — FRIDAY ON PRIME! I am genuinely excited that the sequel to Coming to America will go on Amazon Prime this Friday…. It’s a nice and silly fairy tale with lots of great lines and comic performances. This sequel should be great as well.

Hadley Freeman writes a much-needed defense of Woody Allen after the release of the “true crime” style documentary of his alleged child abuse. I kept an open mind about the subject until the last time the scandal eeked out again 5-10 years ago. Then I read all the related documents in a single day. The investigation in the 1990s established that there was no evidence of child abuse, that at worst, Allen was a strange/neurotic (but loving) father, and that there was a good chance that Farrow was “poisoning the well” in her children’s minds. I’m sure Dylan believes that she was abused (and chivalrously, Ronan Farrow has come to her defense), but the film presents no new evidence, and I’m more inclined to trust the doctors and judges and investigators closer to the time of the event. What is true is that Mia’s charges have already wrecked a director’s movie career even if they were poppycock. I’m not that much of a fan of Woody Allen’s films (so I am not personally invested in whether he did it). But his account of events remains highly plausible to me — while Dylan as an adult seems to have adopted an unprovable claim which only hurts herself and her adoptive father in the long run. Ultimately to me the case doesn’t seem to be about sexual molestation than the use of an inflammatory accusation to pressure the court to refuse child custody to Allen. (Lawyer Alan Dershowitz was probably responsible for such scorched earth tactics).

Here is a long interview from Sun Yi Previn in 2018 . It criticizes many things about Mia Farrow’s parenting skills; and even if Sun Yi’s version of events includes a degree of self-interest, it’s hard to read it without concluding that Mia Farrow was a bit of a nut job herself and a bit too obsessed with children and adoption.

MOVIE RECOMMENDATION: Totally loved the COMING 2 AMERICA sequel (which premiered on AMAZON PRIME yesterday). It was exactly what I expected; a big Hollywood film with most of the original cast and lots of celebrity cameos. Jokes and snide references to the original movie were everywhere. The pagaentry was a feast for the eyes: great costumes and choreography and extravagant silliness. The soundtrack also could not be beat — a mixture of 80s classics and recent funk and comic songs. (like this song).

REVISITING SPINAL TAP: Here’s new footage of Spinal Tap which was used to promote it on SNL. Here’s video of Tony Hendra (who played the group’s music manager) about what it was like to be in the movie. Hendra — who was a British comedian with lots of experience had several major failures and letdowns before showing up at the set — and he found Spinal Tap so relaxing, so easy to improvise for, calling it “practically a documentary” of Heavy Metal fans who expected that kind of music to take over the world. Here’s a Moth story by Hendra about being a teenage Catholic boy seduced by an older woman.

Ebook /Technology blogger Nate Hoffelder has lots of “power user” tips for using gmail. Funny I’d been using gmail for a long time and hadn’t heard of many of them. RELATED: Nate rags on a new Dell laptop which gave him lots of grief.

I’ve been enjoying Ezra Klein’s NYT podcast . Some good interviews with environmental writer Elizabeth Kolbert (Feb 9) and productivity expert Cal Newport (March 5).

Speaking of which, someday I should write a post about my productivity habits.

BERNIE SANDERS AT THE MALL: You may already know that when Bernie was mayor of Burlington, VT in the 1980s, he used to take a camera crew out and ask random people about their outlook on life and put it on Public Access TV. Here’s a fun (and actually insightful) interview with 2 punk students at a shopping mall. Perhaps Bernie’s true calling would have been a talk show host in the spirit of Donahue or Oprah. According to Wikipedia, after the Department of State forbade unsanctioned contacts between US dipolmats/businessmen/journalists with USSR, Sanders set up a “sister city” program between a Russian city and his own.


Musical Discoveries March 2021 #3

See also: Feb 2021 and April 2021 (View all)

Many people don’t realize this, but many public libraries have a service called FREEGAL, which lets you download 3-5 albums per week for free. Their selection isn’t great and they often don’t let you download tracks longer than 10 minutes,

For Saint Patrick’s Day, I relistened to some albums by the Cranberries — and realized that I hadn’t heard their last few albums.

Capsule Reviews of my Collection

Here is an extremely pleasant and upbeat collection of Panamanian tunes from the 1960s and 1970s with an awesome and jamming accordion. I’m assuming that Espino plays the accordion and sings. The female singer is also lots of fun.

Musical Mystery Meat

Last month I mentioned how I regularly download this gigantic stash of audio tracks by all sorts of musicians who perform for South by Southwest. I was bowled over by Nigerian Afropop sensation Yemi Alade; here’s an infectious song bumbum (she also sings in English and Nigerian language), and almost all her songs have well-made vids. These songs are just about dancing as they are about the melodies. All the songs have a joyous — get off your feet quality.

Articles about Music

I have noted early about my love for the Ukrainian electronic-folk band Onuka who did this dynamite debut as the “interval act” during Eurovision. Here’s a nice interview of the lead singer Nata Zhzhchenko in a Kiev publication and a profile in Odessa Review. Lots to chew on in both articles, but delighted to learn that her husband’s band Maneka is on the same label, and the two frequently collaborate. Here’s a nice live concert (with a popin from Nata in the middle).

Maybe you already know this, but the song You Light Up My Life was written by a serial rapist named Joseph Brooks, and Debby Boone ended up having to re-record the song after the original singer for the movie soundtrack (Kasey Cisyk) refused to sleep with him, and Brooks wanted to take revenge. It got pretty sordid. Cisyk’s singing of the song was nominated for an Oscar for best song and won, but Brooks instead had Debby Boone perform it at the Oscar ceremony and removed Cisyk from the song credits in the movie and album. (She later sued and won. 3 decades later, NYC indicted Brooks for 90 charges of rape, and he killed himself before he got to trial). Strangely Debby Boone was in the dark about all this — and admitted that she was told simply to copy the original singer’s performance for the recording, and she sang it as if it were a religious song.

Here’s Cisyk’s version . It’s an excellent version and not very different from what Boone did. Although this was a definite low point in her career, she did a lot of singing in US commercials — and recorded a lot of Ukrainian folk albums in the 80s before dying of breast cancer. But you have to wonder, what would have happened if the version with the original singer was released and not Debby Boone’s version. For the record, my sister loved this song when we were growing up… and I couldn’t stand it….

Emusic Purchases

  1. Blow Up by Television. 6.99, 13 tracks, 82 minutes.
  2. Sale% by the Maneken. 61 minutes, 6.49, 14 tracks. On the Vidlik label (the same label that produces Onuka). Maneken is married to the lead singer of Onuka and kind of runs that band. Here he is doing Bruno Mars like pop stuff.
  3. Lost Art of Longing by BT. I have downloaded several BT albums. Great EDM stuff — very frenetic and energetic. This one feels slower, more relaxing, more like Robert Miles’ dream trance. This is great stuff to listen while taking a nap — never too intense or harsh — well, the remixes are somewhat more intense
  4. Sketches in D Minor by Hardy Tree, 99 cents
  5. Summer by Iorie
  6. Fiesta by Chick Corea. 99 cents, 5 tracks, 34 minutes.
  7. Gran Riserva by Dzihan & Kamien
  8. Singing through the Hard Time: Tribute to Utah Phillips. 39 tracks, 6.49 130 minutes. Nice performers of songs for an acclaimed writer of folk songs.
  9. Slugger by Sad13. 35 minutes, 11 tracks for 6.49. (BC page).
  10. Several releases from Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records: Make it Beautiful by Sara Lee (10 tracks, 48 minutes, 5$), Dilate by Ani DiFranco (same), Knuckle Down by Ani DiFranco and Binary (4.99, 11 minutes, 49 minutes). Will buy some more of that label later.
  11. Hofors 1975 by SBB, 1 hour budget purchase which seems like jazz fusion with a hard rock and drum sound.

Bandcamp Purchases

  1. Tough Love by Hamell on Trial. (BC, Pay What You want), Songs with an Attitude. Actually about half of his albums are PWYW. I really love the guitar jamming; these are real bluesy rock songs! Update: Ok, there’s some bluesy rock, but there’s also punk a la Violent Femmes. Versatile, never know what to expect.

Freegal Downloads & Library CDs

  1. Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple. Grammy winner.
  2. Bubba by Kaytranada. EDM Grammy winner
  3. Afro-Peruvian Classics. Great compilation.
  4. Roses by Cranberries — an album released shortly before Delores O’Riordan’s death.
  5. Revolutionary Love by Ani DiFranco. Hey I bought a few other DiFranco albums, I deserve this freebie!