It’s been a day

Today turned into quite a day. When it started, I thought it was going to be a calm day spent reading a manuscript while sitting comfortably on the sun porch, enjoying the not-oppressive weather (which was a change from the last several days). But then I got a text message from a Mensan friend in New York, telling me he’d had Covid-19 in March, and though he is recovered, he’s spreading the word for any potential contact tracing needs.

As we were texting, I got a text message from another, long-time science fiction friend, telling me that F. Alexander Brejcha had died in February. Alex was a writer I knew when I worked at Analog. I set about writing his obituary for SFScope, and discovered that the February in question was actually February of 2019. So I felt terrible, not only for having lost contact with him, but not knowing he’s been gone for so long. As I was writing the obituary, I emailed Trevor Quachri, the current editor of Analog, to ask him to pass the word along to Stanley Schmidt, who’d been my boss at the magazine, and who had discovered both Alex and me.

Then, before I could post the obituary, my mother called to talk about several things. In that conversation, however, she told me of another New York Mensan who had also had Covid-19. She had been much sicker with it, very much in danger, and has only recently recovered enough to get home from the hospital.

I posted Alex’s obituary, and then glanced at my email again. Trevor had responded, promising to tell Stan the news, and then incidentally telling me he’s going to buy my story that has been on his desk for a month or so. (I don’t normally talk about sales until I actually get paid, but today really needed a dose of good news.) So that turned things around a bit.

Then I decided I needed a break, and went out for my daily walk. Around the neighborhood, and then to the woods, and by the time I got to the turtle pond, the intermittent thunder I’d been hearing all day resulted in drops in the water as the rain started. So I didn’t get all the way to the blueberry bushes (which I’ve been enjoying, and tasting, every day for the last week or so), but instead turned around and headed out. By the time I got out of the woods and to the street, it was big, heavy drops of rain, so I was wet by the time I got to the house.

Like I said, it’s been a day.

Happy Anniversary, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter

When former First Lady Barbara Bush died on April 17, 2018, she and former President George H.W. Bush had been married for 73 years, 101 days, the longest-married presidential couple. (They were married on January 6, 1945.)

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter married on July 7, 1946, a year and a half after the Bushes, so they passed the Bushes to become the longest-married presidential couple last October. Today is the Carters’ 74th wedding anniversary! They keep setting records with their longevity. Jimmy is the longest-lived president in American history (he was born October 1, 1924, and has been the longest-lived since April of last year, when he eclipsed George H.W. Bush’s record). He is the longest-retired president ever (he left office on January 20, 1981, more than 39 years ago).

After the Carters and Bushes, the presidential couple with the third-longest marriage was Gerald and Betty Ford, who were married just over 58 years.

Yet more chapters in Ranking the First Ladies that need to be updated.

The Washington DC Admission Act

I’ve just sent the following letter to my Congressional Representatives, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Representative Yvette Clarke:

The Washington, DC Admission Act (https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/51/text), on its surface, appears to be written to rectify a seeming inequity: the fact that the residents of the capital district do not have elected voting representatives in the House of Representatives or Senate. Thus, the DC license tag slogan “no taxation without representation.”

I agree with the concept that the national capital is not part of, and thus not subject to, any particular state. As we’ve seen recently, a state governor could, if in control of the territory of the national capital, declare the city closed, and prevent federal officials from reaching the place of government. That was, and remains, the best reason for an independent capital district.

I’ve often wondered if we need to grant DC statehood to rectify that problem. My original thinking was that no one is forced to live there, and that no one moves to the district without knowing about its special status. However, I’ve recognized that this argument is not very convincing to most people.

Now we hear that the House has adopted H.R. 51, The Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which will sever most of the territory of the federal district from that district, and make of it a new state. This may be a—slightly—more palatable solution, but the gyrations the act goes through, and the partisan bickering it will engender, make me question if the proposers truly want the residents to have Congressional representation, or if their true goal is to modify the make-up of the Senate by adding two seats from a new state which will almost certainly be controlled by the Democratic party. Wouldn’t it be far easier, far less disruptive, for the federal government to simply cede that territory back to the state of Maryland?

Such a cession would immediately give the residents the elective representation they seek, while at the same time not causing disruption to the Senate. There would be no need to escalate the power of the city government to that of a state, the mayor would not suddenly become a governor

A transfer of territory back to Maryland (from which the territory was originally given) has a certain elegance to it. But I would take it one step further.

The act very clearly, in minute detail, describes the boundaries of what would be the new national capital (generally, the buildings and monuments around the Mall), which has only one residence: the White House. I would add to that tiny bit of property by asking Virginia to cede back some territory (originally, the national capital was a 10 mile square of territory from Maryland and Virginia); specifically, Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon. These sites clearly fall under the rubric of “monuments and office buildings,” as detailed in section 112(a) of the act.

While there is no legal block against accepting a city-state into the union, the proposed state of Douglass (which would be called the Douglass Commonwealth, in order to preserve the postal code), would be a scant 68 square miles, 5% of the size of our current smallest state (Rhode Island, 1,200 square miles). Our current concept of states derives from the original colonies, which were, in effect, mini-countries. And even today, each of the 50 states has the geographic ability to serve as a country: there is land for food growing and production, a variety of industries, places urban and rural for people to live and work, and so on. Our newest state, DC, would lack nearly all of those abilities. It would indeed be nothing more than a city with pretensions of statehood.

In summation, maybe it is time to remove the non-governmental pieces of the national capital from the national capital, but let’s not state-ify those pieces. Instead, shift them into the state from whence they came; make those pieces once again a part of Maryland.

Some things really do change

It’s interesting how we assume that what is has always been. In the realm of presidential politics, the format of the party nominating conventions—four-day long celebrations of a candidate whose identity has been known for months—is a relatively new thing. The Republican convention in 1976 was the last time a major party convention began with any doubt as to who the nominee would be (President Gerald Ford narrowly defeated a strong run by Ronald Reagan, who would win the nomination and the election in 1980). But the primary elections (which determined the delegates, and thus the nominees) weren’t nationally adopted until 1968 for the Democrats, and 1972 for the Republicans. Before that, delegates met at conventions to discuss, debate, and ultimately choose their party’s nominee. Sometimes, it took a lot of debate. In 1924, the Democrats met for 16 days, taking 103 ballots to finally settle on John W. Davis of West Virginia as their nominee (he lost the presidential election to Calvin Coolidge).

But now, the current “issue” (or surprise) is that Donald Trump will accept his party’s nomination at a satellite convention in Florida, even though the Republican convention was scheduled to be in North Carolina, and some of it will still take place there (see this article, for instance). But the in-person accepting of the nomination is also fairly new. The first presidential candidate to accept his party’s nomination in person was Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1932 won the Democratic nomination after the four rounds of voting at the convention. Roosevelt was at home in Hyde Park, New York, on July 1, 1932. He learned of his nomination, and flew to Chicago (where the convention was meeting) to accept the nomination in person on July 2.

Public Lectures in the Era of Stay-At-Home

I just gave a lecture on the presidents to the Learning in Retirement Association of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. It’s a talk—modified, as always—I’ve given before (the title of this talk is “John Kennedy’s grandma, Bill Clinton’s mother, and John Tyler’s grandchildren: Familial oddities of the Presidents of the United States”).

But it was a method of speaking that was new to me: via Zoom. I think (hope) I was as entertaining as usual, but it’s much harder when I can’t easily see my audience, can’t feel their reactions, and tailor my presentation to them. Nevertheless, it’s the way of the world today, and there were several questions at the end that showed they were interested in the topic (and that they’d been paying attention: one question was “I noticed you didn’t say anything about President Polk…”). So, overall, I’m very happy with the experience.

It also means I’m available to speak to groups farther afield (at least, in this electronic format), since there is no issue with travel time or expense. I speak most often about the presidents and presidency of the United States, but I also talk about writing and publishing. If you’re part of a group looking for speakers, do please contact me, or pass along my contact information to whoever makes the scheduling decisions.

Maybe we cut the government too much

It has become fashionable to view our government as the root of all evil, to denigrate its existence, and look upon it as an enemy. But no government is a naturally occurring thing that must be chained, caged, or neutralized. Governments exist because we the people have willed them to be, and have provided their sustenance, purpose, and direction. People come together and form governments to do those things for them that they as individuals can’t. Several people may come together to form a local fire brigade, but unless it’s funded and supported in fat times and lean, it is useless, and we are all in danger from fire. Similarly, we as individuals may have arms to defend ourselves from a bandit, but unless we can form a full army in time of need, we’d better put together a government to provide that army for us, to protect all of us from the army of brigands out to rape, pillage, and plunder. And any two people can come to an agreement that your three sheep are worth my cow, and trade, but it takes a government to give value to those pieces of paper, those electronic ones and zeroes, we’d rather trade for a steak or a dozen eggs.

Should there be limits on the government? Absolutely. There are many things we as individuals can and should do far better than an outside authority coming in to tell us: we can decide who we live with, where and how much we want to work, how and if we want to pray, and so forth. We don’t need a government to decide every little detail of our lives.

But we do need a government to harness our collective will to achieve things far greater than we can individually. It was a government program that put people on the Moon. It was a government program that built the interstate highway system. And it is governmental intervention that protects individuals from overweening corporate interests through things like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sherman Antitrust Act, and the Glass-Steagall legislation.

Our current, tarnished view of government in general, and the US federal government in specific, probably dates to the era of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

Government works best when it’s doing what individuals can’t, and what must be done. The US government harnessed the manufacturing and intellectual capacities of the nation to take us from a standing start to people on the Moon in ten years. Along the way, those efforts designed remarkably new abilities that today we couldn’t live without, but which no one individual or company would have invented without the government contract that got us there (computer technology, velcro, etc.). And today, we see the proper use of that research and development, when we consider the space program a nearly mature technology, that the government has spun it all off to private companies. The next American astronauts that launch into space from the US will be going on craft designed and built not by the government, but by US industry. Meanwhile, the R&D efforts and spending can be re-focused on other projects that won’t show a profit for years or decades. That is the way government should work.

Unfortunately, we live in an era when we’ve been denigrating the concept of government for so long that we elected a person who promised to destroy as much of the government framework as possible. And through either direct action or simple neglect, he has managed to do so. But now, as we suffer through the greatest medical pandemic in living memory, which has no clear end in sight, and we pray that our medical experts can work miracles, and develop an effective vaccine in short order, we’re starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, we did need to keep funding “unprofitable” governmental activities. We did need to maintain governmental abilities and supplies against the unthinkable, because it does sometimes happen.

And maybe, just maybe, we need to elect a president whose goal isn’t to destroy the government, but to re-enable it to do all those things for us that we need it to do. That’s why I’m voting for whoever is most likely to defeat Donald Trump’s bid for re-election.

(This essay was prompted by the article “Crisis exposes how America has hollowed out its government” by Dan Balz, published by the Washington Post on May 16, 2020, and retrieved from MSN.com at this link:
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/crisis-exposes-how-america-has-hollowed-out-its-government/ar-BB14ba6F?li=BBnb7Kz )

Several pertinent quotes from that article:

“A fundamental role of government is the safety and security of its people,” said Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of homeland security. “To me that means you have to maintain a certain base level so that, when an event like a pandemic manifests itself, you can quickly activate what you have and you have already in place a system and plan for what the federal government is going to do and what the states are going to do.”

***

“One thing to keep in mind is that government takes on hard problems,” said David E. Lewis, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University. “They’re often problems that can’t be solved by the market and there aren’t private entities to solve them.”

He added: “We’re seeing a government that is suffering now from a long period of neglect that began well before this administration. And that neglect has accelerated during this administration.”

***

“I think this event is revealing of what governance wonks have been warning about for a long time, namely that we haven’t been very focused on the basic governing systems we need to execute policy successfully,” said William Galston of the Brookings Institution. “The competency of government to serve as an instrument of policy delivery has been weakened substantially. One of our long-term tasks is to rebuild that capacity.”

***

“Fundamentally we have a legacy government that hasn’t kept up with the world around it,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service. “We create government and capacity around the problems of the day and there’s not much refreshed. It does not lie with a single administration. It is endemic through modern times and not just the executive [branch] but in Congress.”

***

Much of the work done by government is now carried out by nongovernmental employees — private contractors, consulting firms, nonprofits and others not technically on the federal payroll. Tina Nabatchi, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, estimates that as much as 70 percent of the work of government is done by these outside entities. “We’ve taken out the middle levels of bureaucracies,” she said.

One reason is the desire of some leaders to run government like a business, though the two are not alike. Another is to mask the true scope of government. John DiIulio, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said that earlier in its existence, the Department of Homeland Security had more full-time-equivalent contractors than full-time-equivalent employees. “We want a lot from government,” he said. “We don’t want a lot of government.”

#government #politics #donaldtrump #draintheswamp

“What Editors Want”: a discussion

Wednesday evening, I was one of the guests for the Pocono Liars Club’s new series of weekly online panels. Hosted by Michael A. Ventrella, it was Alex Shvartsman and me talking about “What Editors Want” via Zoom to an audience of about forty people. And the recording worked, so now you can see the whole thing at your leisure on YouTube. Let me know what you think.

Achoo! Ah.

Somewhat lighter fare than I’ve been posting of late. Yesterday, when I went out for my walk, I sneezed. Nothing out of the ordinary there; I always seem to sneeze when I go outside. But this time, I decided to think about it. I found a few articles talking about the photic sneeze reflex, telling me that it’s an autosomal genetically dominant trait, that 10 to 35% of the population have it, and that we actually know just about nothing about it. What I didn’t find was something I thought I remembered about it. I seem to recall reading somewhere sometime that it’s a hold-over from caveman days, when walking out of the cave into the sun, a sneeze could help get rid of mold spores accumulated in the dank cave. Anyway, so, yes, I’m one of this minority. How about you?

A few articles:

“Looking at the Sun Can Trigger a Sneeze” (from Scientific American)

“Why Looking at the Sun Can Make You Sneeze” (from PBS)

“Photic Sneeze Reflex” (from Wikipedia)

Small Businesses are Going the Way of Large Dinosaurs, Even Though Mine May Survive

Annie Lowrey, writing in The Atlantic today, has an article entitled “The Small-Business Die-Off Is Here.” And I have to agree with her: we’re in trouble. I’m one of those who had been complaining about Amazon’s monopolistic behavior, and trying to support small businesses for the variety of thought and product they engender. We’re about to lose all of that, and the corporate behemoths are about to have all their tiny competitors wiped out through no action of their own.

On the other hand, my professional views are bifurcated. On the positive side, Gray Rabbit Publications and Fantastic Books will most likely survive this die-off, because I’ve taken the company into semi-hibernation. Our entire catalog of books is still available for sale, and still selling (albeit, much more slowly than I’d like). I’ve cut expenses to the bone, and then some, so we’re not burning through our cash in the bank. It may be a struggle to get back on the upward growth trend we’d been experiencing before all this, but that’s what entrepreneurs do: struggle.

But the bulk of that linked article talks about the failings of the government bail-out programs, the PPP [paycheck protection program] small business loans and grants, and that’s a case in which my company is not receiving any help. We’ve all heard about the huge companies taking advantage of the small business loans (rightly or wrongly), but we haven’t been hearing about the companies like mine: those too small to qualify. This is my fifth start-up, and after the failures of the first four, I was deathly afraid of taking on debt. As a result, I’ve built the company on sweat-equity, and grown the company very slowly, never committing to spend more than the cash on hand and conservatively expected income allowed. As a result, the company is alive (see previous paragraph). Unfortunately, it means I have no direct employees (other than myself), but rather some freelancers. And I’ve never taken out a loan for the company. So I have no loan history to qualify for a loan, and my payroll is nowhere near three-quarters of my usual expenses (which is what would be required to turn a PPP loan into a grant). And yet, ironically, at the beginning of the year, I was considering the advisability of seeking a loan, to finally enable the company to grow a little more quickly. I have several projects I expected to launch this summer—but which I’ve now delayed until the economy seems more ready to support them—and I was considering a loan to get them all started with a bang.

So I continue to grumble that the company is too small, while at the same time relishing the fact that it’s so small that it may well survive the Small Business Die-Off of 2020. Difficult times are ahead for us all.

#publishing #smallbusiness #fantasticbooks

Dark Times for Book Publishing

fb-logo-300pixel-revKristine Kathryn Rusch has some very dark warnings about what’s happening to book publishing right now, and I can’t disagree with her on any of it. If you’re at all involved in the industry (as a writer, a bookseller, or a reader), you ought to take a look at it: https://kriswrites.com/2020/04/22/business-musings-the-trainwreck/

As the publisher of Fantastic Books and Gray Rabbit Publications, I’m one of the smaller publishers who actually did respond to the crisis fairly quickly. I slowed down our publication schedule. I’ve mentioned it in a few places, but this is a public announcement: I’ve delayed publication of the anthology Horror for the Throne, edited by James D. Macdonald, Tom Easton, and Judith K. Dial. The stories have all been paid for, the book is laid out, the authors have seen galley proofs, and now it just sits. If the world hadn’t fallen apart, review copies would be out with all the reviewers, and we’d be making plans for a big launch at an upcoming convention. Instead, the book is sitting here, awaiting more normal times. The books that were in the pipeline immediately after it are also on hold.

grplogobannerflatBut on the positive side: all of those books will be published when I feel the economy coming back. The company has gone into hibernation mode: there is enough money in the bank to pay the recurring bills, no one is owed any money at the moment (our last royalty payments went out on schedule at the end of January, and our next round, scheduled for late July, should similarly pose no problems).

My biggest fear is the loss of all the science fiction conventions. Our sales at those conventions were a significant chunk of our income (and book sales), and suddenly they’re all gone. Just before we all went into quarantine, I laid out a lot of money to increase the size of our inventory, and to reserve tables at several new conventions. So now the company has a lot of cash tied up in boxes of books sitting in my house. But we’ve already missed three big conventions and one smaller one, and a bunch of planned conventions running through July have already been pulled off the calendar. In some things, I’m a pessimist, and this is one of them: I don’t expect to see another convention before March 2021 at the earliest. I hope to be proven wrong on that, but I’m basing it on the experts saying we’re twelve to eighteen months away from a Covid-19 vaccine. And to my mind, everything else we’re doing is just temporary measures while we wait for that vaccine.

I’ve also delayed plans for our next Kickstarter campaign. It was going to be for two or three fascinating anthologies. But I just don’t think enough of our readers are going to feel comfortable pledging money for a Kickstarter campaign right now. The editors I’m working with understand, and we’re all doing background planning to launch when we feel the time is right.

Our books continue to be available via the online booksellers, in both print and electronic formats (and when you get to the point in Rusch’s piece where she talks about the traditional publishers’ self-destructive ebook pricing, remember that our pricing is much more reasonable). I have seen a slow-down in those third-party retail sales; that’s only to be expected when all our economics are suddenly unsure. But my company remains healthy; we’re moving more slowly, conserving our resources, and we will be able to survive.

Thank you, as always, for your faith and support. Stay well, stay safe, and look forward with me to the time when we can comfortably gather again.

#books #publishing #bookselling #fantasticbooks