A Little Something on Ferguson and Police

Yeah, I haven’t written anything about this yet. The whole thing seems to be winding down now, and frankly the best analysis I’ve read about the situation comes from Cracked. But I figured I should chime in with my thoughts.

We really do need to de-militarize the cops in this country. I’d go so far as to say that for normal, day-to-day police work, officers shouldn’t carry guns. I’ve thought about this before, and now I’ve decided that, yeah, they shouldn’t. They have many other non-lethal options when dealing with suspects (more about this later), and the risks to the general public from an officer who, say, shoot someone six times, including at least once when they’re already on the ground, are just too large. Yes, it does mean a potential increase in the number of attacks on police, but frankly if you’re determined to kill a police officer, the fact that they have a gun isn’t likely to be a deterrent as long as you can shoot first.

But at the very least, all their military-grade toys need to be taken away. All of them. Including SWAT teams for various cities. Maybe individual regions or counties should be able to have a SWAT team, but overall, cities don’t need them. And, yes, police don’t need APCs or the like, and they frankly don’t really need riot gear, either. It might make them feel better and safer, but their job is to make us feel better and safer, not themselves.

Second, the police need to go back to being a part of the community. Yes, this means getting them out of their cars and on foot. This means giving them classes on how to interact with the general public (I think this is already done, but clearly it needs to be done better). They need to earn back our trust, or in the case of the black community, gain a trust they never had in the first place. Being out among us is a great way to do that.

Next, the laws need to be more equalized. Let’s say someone punched me in the face and broke my eye-socket. Ow. Let’s say as well that I have self-defense training, a taser, a club, pepper spray, handcuffs, and a gun. Let’s further say that I used the gun and shot the other person several times. At the very least I’d be charged with manslaughter, if not some degree of murder. This is because I used more force than is required to get myself safely out of a bad situation.

The police officer in Ferguson almost certainly had a club, pepper spray, and handcuffs. He may have had a taser. He certainly had self-defense training, because police officers usually do. With all those options, including an option to just get into his car and call for backup, he instead chose to shoot someone six times. Someone who was unarmed, and someone who, under the law, was innocent of any crime. Someone who he was also sworn to protect.

Now I’ll wager that he’ll be investigated, but no charges will be filed, or if they are, they won’t be much, and on the off chance he’s found guilty, he’ll serve “only” a year or two in prison (I say “only” because no matter how long it is, or how nice, prison sucks). That’s because police officers are held to a lesser standard of behavior than the general public, when in fact it should be the very opposite.

Lastly, one thing I think might actually come about because of this…all police officers should be required to, at all times, wear video and audio recording devices. This will solve a huge number of problems. It certainly would clear things up in this case.

So…yeah. Those are my basic thoughts here. I really hope some positive change comes about because of this incident, but I doubt that it will. Still, we shall see.

TV Review – Doctor Who – 8.1 – “Deep Breath”

Well, that’s in the bag. After months of rumors, speculation and the Who community waiting with bated breath to see what the new Doctor would be like, now we know. And if the episode we got isn’t up there with “Spearhead from Space” or “Castrovalva”, well, at least it isn’t “The Twin Dilemma”.

The story begins in Victorian London with the Paternoster Gang, who I feel are very much in danger of overstaying their welcome, see a Tyranasaurus Rex stomping around. This is an oversized sci-fi T-rex that’s about three hundred eye-rolling feet tall, but never mind. It soon coughs up the TARDIS, and inside we find Clara and the newly-regenerated Doctor. There is a lot of post-regeneration silliness, some of which works quite well, and a plot involving a robot that’s stealing parts from humans to repair itself.

By the end, the bad guys are defeated, the Doctor is back to himself, we have the set up for the season arc and a special surprise that I already knew about, but enjoyed a lot more than I had expected I would.

The episode was good, but not great. It will probably hold up ok over the years, and does a great job of setting this new Doctor apart and different from the old ones. The story also did an interesting job of exploring what it would be like to see someone you know and love suddenly show up with a different face and personality. The one problem with this is that it is Clara, who, alone among all the companions, has met all thirteen versions of the Doctor, and she’s the one we see trying to come to grips with it. So, yeah. Sara Jane Smith had fewer problems.

There were also a few eye-rolling moments, as I mentioned. Madam Vastra and friends are a fun group in very small doses, but I’m really over them, and if we never see them again, I’m ok with that. The story also felt more than a little padded. Not “The War Games” level of padded, but it would have benefited from being a standard 45 minute episode. It didn’t really need the extra half hour.

All that aside, it was a fun little adventure. I really like the new Doctor, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with him in the future.

Two Days to Go!

Coming on Saturday…the new series of <em>Doctor Who</em> complete with a new Doctor! And, apparently, a newish TARDIS interior. I can’t wait!


Book Review – Last Orders, by Harry Turtledove


This series has been really irritating to me on several levels. Everything from the the so-called “big switch”, which promised to change everything but in fact changed nothing, right on down to the way this book, supposedly the last in the series, ended. And yet…the story has been interesting enough to keep my attention and if there winds up being another book in this series, I’ll probably read it.

As before this book follows several characters zipping around a slightly earlier version of World War II doing various things. There’s a Czech sniper in Spain (did you know it gets hot in Spain during the summer? In case you forget, you’ll be reminded several times), a Soviet bomber crew (did you know bombers get lighter as they drop their bombs? In case you forget, you’ll be reminded several times), a Jewish woman living in Munster (did you know the Nazis didn’t like Jews? In case you forget, you’ll be reminded several times), and others, all of whom have attributes to them that you might forget, but, don’t worry; you’ll be reminded about them several times.

Yes, as you may have gathered, one of Turtledove’s more annoying practices is back again. Also, it has returned. On top of that, it’s annoying. Plus it’s annoying, and back yet again.

But…still I read, and still I mostly enjoy. In fact, I was generally satisfied with this book until the very end.

SPOILERS from here on out.

You see, the war in Europe comes to an end in the last few chapters (and yet again, a major alt history writer misses a chance to put Hitler on trial for war crimes), and that’s all well and good. Germany isn’t as beaten as they were in the real world, and it could be interesting to see how that impacts things down the line. But if I never found out, that would be ok.

What isn’t really ok is that the war in the Pacific seems to finally be gearing up to take center stage. Midway and Wake are both taken and things are getting interesting, especially as the marines who invaded Midway are forced to remain there under quarantine for an undetermined time.

And…then the book ends. The apparently last book in the series. The war with Japan is just really getting interesting, and the book stops. Doesn’t even really end, as far as that part is concerned; it just stops. Now if this is a set-up for book seven, which as far as I know, isn’t a thing, that’s fine. If it’s just the end of the series, then it’s very sloppy writing.

Sadly, Turtledove seems to have lost his touch in recent years. The Atlantis series was drivel from the first book, so I didn’t bother with the second. The Supervolcano series showed so much potential, but the second book was so dreadful, I haven’t bothered with the third. Then there’s this series, which again, had much potential, but, really, it isn’t a very alternate history.

All that said, if there is a book seven, I’ll read it. If not, I’ll probably read whatever Turtledove puts out instead next summer. Even his bad books are still better than most.

The Coming End of Work

So first, take a look at this video. Yeah, it’s a bit long, but it’s fascinating.

So basically human work is largely going to be a thing of the past very soon. Like within my lifetime. As the video asks, what do we do then? What do we do once a huge portion of our population is unemployable through no fault of their own? In the past, we’ve gone with options like retaining, but what if those options no longer exist?

It is a sobering question, and I have no easy answers. I suppose we can rely on government to provide welfare for those in need. Of course, that gets expensive quick, and without a large tax base, I don’t know where the money comes from. But there would have to be at least some money in the economy, or the various companies that use robots wouldn’t be selling anything or providing any services.

I don’t know. I’ll have to spend some time thinking about this. It is going to be a very real problem very soon, and so we’d all best do some thinking and maybe come up with a solution.

Sic Transit Robin Williams – 1951 – 2014


Robin Williams, a fixture in my life ever since I was very young, has died. He was 63, and preliminary reports suggest that he died of suicide. I first became aware of him when Mork and Mindy began airing in 1978, when I was only six. I don’t recall much about the show, and haven’t watched it since it went off the air, but I know that as a little boy, I loved it.

As I aged, Robin Williams’ career progressed. He went on to play Popeye the Sailor in a rather odd musical film about the character. That movie…well, it wasn’t ever great, but it was at least interesting, as was his performance in it. Then he starred in one of my favorite movies, and his first real dramatic movie, Moscow on the Hudson. To this day, that movie, despite its 1980s stink, still holds up very well, as does his performance. He truly is convincing as a Russian sax player.

From there he went on to his first widely-known dramatic role in Good Morning, Vietnam, and that was quickly followed by various comedy and drama roles in movies like Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting.

Sadly, in the last decade or so, his career seems to have stumbled. His movies haven’t been critical or box office successes, and his recent TV show, The Crazy Ones, premiered to wide indifference from audiences and critics alike, and was cancelled after only one season. It didn’t help that he’d struggled with depression and drug and alcohol abuse, including a relapse into drinking, and a recent checking-in at a rehab facility.

That he is dead is a surprise to me. That it was suicide is not. He will certainly be missed. Now here’s something to laugh at.

Amazon Punches Back

You may have noticed I haven’t posted anything in the last couple of days. I’m fine, worry not (like you were). I just have decided to back away from daily blogging for a while. I’ve been writing at least one thing every day on this blog for over six years. The quality during the last couple of years hasn’t been what I want it to be. So I’m stepping back a bit. I’ll only post something when I’m really motivated to do so, and not just to use up a calendar date.

Anyhow, a few minutes ago, I got an email from Amazon. It’s about their recent kerfuffle with Hachette. The wrote to me as a Kindle book author (which I technically totally am), and asked me…well, have a look.

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.
With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.
The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.
Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.
Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team
P.S. You can also find this letter at http://www.readersunited.com

So I have no intention of emailing Hachette. I’m generally staying out of this one, though for the record I’m generally on Amazon’s side. But I did find this email from Amazon to be a very odd move. I’ll be interested to see where it goes in the future.

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