About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I was thinking of re-reading Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series...

...when the great and terrible Web intervened.

I followed a link about plot development - I couldn't resist the tone of ridicule - and found Nick Lowe's mocking 1982 "educational" essay, The Well-Tempered Plot Device.

Lowe takes down Donaldson, Susan Cooper, and JRR Tolkien (and several I don't know) for obvious plot devices, and proposes, tongue-in-cheek, a more appropriate manual for science fiction and fantasy than the usual how-to-write-a-good-novel. He proposes a how-to for cheap plot devices to get books into print and keep the sequels coming.

This all makes me feel better about struggling to write. I thought perhaps I was a hack. I thought I was taking clich├ęd approaches. I thought I was wasting my time. On reading Lowe's hilarious piece, I think now that I have been avoiding the simplistic plot devices he accused, almost two decades ago, of cheapening the genre I'm trying to contribute to.

I think I feel a little bit better.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reason, facts, logic; or: a distemperate exposure of my biases

Svelte troglodyte Ann Coulter (TM) claims in a pathologically misleading and anti-brain-function blog post March 16, 2011 that radiation has beneficial health effects.

She went on Fox's O'Reilly Factor to talk it up on St. Patrick's Day. Not that anyone with a conscience would have been watching except to debunk it, or because we're forced to in public places. Or to induce vomiting.

One part of this was brought to my attention, and I read it (whence the applicability to my blog), and now, after wiping the contents of my stomach (carrots? when did I eat carrots) off my computer monitor, I feel like doing the easiest thing in the world, debunking right-wing idiocy.

Not that it matters. Right-wing idiocy is spewed from high-pressure hoses in every home in the country, in bars and airport lobbies, truck stops and hotel rooms. We're soaking in it, a kind of reverse-Palmolive that you really shouldn't let get under your fingernails.

Here's the paragraph that got me. Ready the buckets!

Dr. Dade W. Moeller, a radiation expert and professor emeritus at Harvard, told The New York Times that it's been hard to find excess cancers even from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, particularly because one-third of the population will get cancer anyway. There were about 90,000 survivors of the atomic bombs in 1945 and, more than 50 years later, half of them were still alive. (Other scientists say there were 700 excess cancer deaths among the 90,000.)
Now, that just cries out for attention, doesn't it? Knowing a very little (but vastly more than the entire blowhardosphere on the right) about Japanese history, I was able to search for the term "hibakusha cancer statistics," and immediately came up with a dandy first page of links. You see, "hibakusha" is the Japanese word for the survivors of the only nuclear attacks ever carried out in the history of the world. (And let's keep it that way, chickenhawks!)

Reading just the first one, from the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, the first paragraph is:

Increased risk of cancer is the most important late effect of radiation exposure seen in A-bomb survivors. For cancers other than leukemia (solid cancers), excess risk associated with radiation started to appear about ten years after exposure. This was first noted by a Japanese physician, Gensaku Obo, in 1956, and it led to continuing comprehensive analyses of cancer mortality and to the creation of tumor registries by the city medical associations in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And the rest of the page is filled with similar references. Here's a paragraph and a table from later in the same article that reference the data collection, scope, and results of one form of direct study that seems to directly contradict Coulter's source and conclusion:

I think I'm able to read from this that a study spanning four decades in Hiroshima and Nagasaki found 848 cases of certain cancers above the expected norm, out of a total of 44,635 patients observed, concluding that exposure to the bomb blasts and environmental effects accounted for a 10.7% additional risk of these types of cancer.

I decided it was about time to meet Professor Moeller. It was easy to find one possible source of Coulter's column, because it contained several of the same quotations and bits of data she uses.

Remember: Coulter's point is that radiation is good for you!

The point of the article ("For Radiation, How Much Is Too Much?," by Dr. Gary Farr at www.becomehealthynow.com) - the conclusion - is that it's not possible, despite the opinions of Prof. Moeller, and despite the increased cost of assuring lower radiation exposure, to discount a linear relationship between radiation exposure and cancer risk. 

Here are five paragraphs from the article. The first is from the middle of the piece, and it describes the linear relationship. The next four are from the end, and contain the conclusion of the article. 

Scientists usually rely on a mathematical model in estimating radiation risk. The most widely used model is known as the linear-nonthreshold dose-response model. It assumes that there is no safe dose of radiation and that the risk of getting cancer or genetic damage increases along with radiation exposure.
A recent report, issued in June by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Risks, is 287 pages long and devoted entirely to evaluating the linear-nonthreshold model. It explains that the council "has sought to leave no significant aspect of the subject unaddressed."
Its conclusion?
For lack of a better model, it recommends keeping the linear one.
"There is not conclusive evidence on which to reject" the model, the report says, adding that "it may never be possible to prove or disprove the validity of the linear nonthreshold assumption."
So where are we? It's fairly simple to see that a nonspecialist, nonjournalist, working stiff on his lunch break can come up with viable counterarguments. However, the pathological liars on the right keep propagating lies. They are paid well, live in a cushioned world, and have lots of low-information fans.

And they are screwing up the world as fast as they can cash coal industry* paychecks.

[*Substitute, or add, the corporate villain of your choice.]

So what do we do? They want to kill public education, workers' rights, our only domestic source of reliable information, consumer protection, the public safety net, and access to affordable healthcare. They don't want death panels. They want starvation in the streets.

For my part, I feel like walking away and muttering "Bastards, bastards!" under my breath. Maybe I'll throw in an occasional "¡Sinverguenzas!" for flavor. I just don't look at that as a long-term solution.

A very mild-mannered person I've known since, well, forever, as long as I'm concerned, recently commented to me she thought we might be near a tipping point. I didn't mention mobs with torches, and neither did she, but I did think it.

Here's a note about teapartyism and the whole anti-intellectual, fsked-up, the-one-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins attitude, versus capitalism with a conscience. I heard it on the radio and found it at Democratic Underground:

A few months ago a German manufacturer was being interviewed on one of our cable business programs. He was obviously very wealthy so the interviewer kept on about all the taxes he was paying in Germany. The guy just didn't seem interested in talking about it, but the interviewer would not let it go. Finally the German said. "I just don't care about the taxes I pay". The interviewer was speechless for a few seconds and then blurted out, "But why don't you care"? The German thought for a couple of seconds and replied. "Because I don't want to be a rich man living in a poor country".
I think I'll buy a pitchfork.


update 3/21/11: OK, it's not only me. There's a general projectile vomiting reaction: http://leftaction.com/action/ann-coulter-go-fukushima-yourself

Someone proposed a collection to buy her a one-way ticket to Fukushima. That's just cruel. You know how the TSA treats people with one-way tickets!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Great Historical Images - Library of Congress...and of course manga

Quick! Before the Republicans defund it and tear it down, in the interest of saving money, and give the no-bid trillion dollar contract to their buddies, check out the LoC's Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

It's full of fascinating (I don't use the word lightly) glimpses of US history.

For a book reissue I'm working on, I have to find an image of the Klan from the 19th century. There are a huge number from the early 20th.

There are also a lot of lithos and cartoons, depending on the era. Here's one about the Klan, from the early 20th century: "Like the moth, it works in the dark." You can download high-res images for free. If you're publishing them, you have to check the copyright status.

I used to love stuff like this when I was teaching. Now I somehow find my way back, for work and purely for interest.

All this is to say that I've been reading for work mostly these days. I'm still enjoying, but slowly, the biography of Dorothy Hodgkin. I'm holding off on new fiction novels till I finish. But I am indulging in comics. My favorite new one is Bakuman. I've read vols 1-2. It's kind of a kick in the pants for us wannabe creative types. (It's about two driven 15-year-old kids who start publishing manga with a major publisher, and it's very enjoyable, except for the nagging feeling of relative inadequacy reading it engenders...)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

reading from the blogs - anatomy of racist hype-mail

I get this crap all the time. Some people I otherwise respected and like have bought into the whole padded bandwagon of right-wing hysteria in this country. And when one misses something, others seem to fill in the loony/racist gap.

So I followed a link on the right side of this page, yes, that's it - the "urban legends" one. That goes to snopes.com. Today's click brought me to a frustrating demonstration of our current political landscape, and a reasoned, fact-based refutation.

The Pigford case was about racial discrimination at the USDA, and if presented with some facts omitted and some included, some rearranged and some distorted, makes it look as if Glenn Beck has a point when he fulminates against the uppity negroes running the gummint. ("Gummint" is a Molly Ivins trademark. Racist hysteria is widespread among social "conservatives," whom I call "post-integrationists," in the US.)

Fortunately/unfortunately, the case is more complicated. Fortunately because it means that Shirley Sherrod and Barack Obama did not conspire to rob the Treasury of $1.25 billion. Unfortunate because the refuted argument gets wide circulation among my former principal and beloved aunt and uncle.

Snopes is brilliant, but ineffective against the nightly chalkboard-enhanced rants of our country's premier fascist cheerleader.

just received: Revis, Across the Universe; Mihara, The Embalmer vol. 2

Mail-order book addict confession: I like bookstores. I never have the time to go to them, or almost never. I also like reading. A lot. So I order online. Probably too often.

I was happy this morning to collect my new books from the shipping dept. at work. I read the first chapter of Beth Revis' Across the Universe (sci-fi, romance, suspense, who knows what else?) last fall on a promo site, and felt the same electric tension (with more wrenching of viscera) as in Collins' Hunger Games novels. That is to say, a heckuva lot. It will be a struggle to put off reading this till I've whittled down the rest of my reading list.

Also in this shipment, a book I've already read, but for free, illicitly, online. I decided I wanted to own The Embalmer, which Tokyopop publishes in the US, and was having trouble getting vol. 2 from the publisher, so I ordered a used copy. There's a small dent in the cover, but it's otherwise fine. Mihara tells a somewhat unusual story about a pretty darned unusual character, since most Japanese are cremated instead of being buried in caskets. The art and some tropes are typical of seinen manga - the market segment of men over 20 or so. What I read before made me feel like committing to this series. Good thing most seinen manga have short runs. (The top selling shounen (boys') manga, like One Piece and Naruto, run above 200 chapters, that's dozens of $10+ volumes.)