internet Disease

Ebay Final Value Fee Changes

 Ebay is changing the Matrix again. The main thing is paying sellers directly to bank accounts and avoiding Paypal (and Paypal fees). But they are raising the 'Final Value Fee', i.e. their take of your sale price(*). And despite claims of lower fees for all, they don't provide a side by side comparison. Which seems suspicious, so allow me.

I googled this page from searching for fees in 2019. I don't see 2019 in the document, but it looks roughly accurate.
And this is the new announcement.

OLD:

Most categories, including Music > Records, eBay Motors > Parts & Accessories, and eBay Motors > Automotive Tools & Supplies. For vehicles, see our Motors fees.

First 200 listings free per month, then $0.35 per listing

10.2% (maximum fee $750 per item)

Books
DVDs & Movies
Music (except Records category)

12.2% (maximum fee $750 per item)

New:

Most categories, including Music > Records, eBay Motors > Parts & Accessories, and eBay Motors > Automotive Tools & Supplies. For vehicles, see our Motors fees.

First 250 listings free per month, then $0.35 per listing

  • 12.55% on total amount of the sale up to $7,500 calculated per item
  • 2.35% on the portion of the sale over $7,500

Books

DVDs & Movies

Music (except Records category)

  • 14.55% on total amount of the sale up to $7,500 calculated per item
  • 2.35% on the portion of the sale over $7,500
But wait, there's more.
Old: Final value fee
New: 
Final value fee % + $0.30 per order


And more:
Old: The total amount of the sale includes the item price, and any shipping and handling charges. Sales tax isn't included in the calculation.

New: The total amount of the sale includes the item price, any handling charges, the shipping service the buyer selects, sales tax, and any other applicable fees.

Finally, the current Paypal charge is  2.9% on the total plus a 30 cent non-refundable fee.

So the fastest comparison is to say going from 10.2% to 12.55% is a rise of 2.35%, but the paypal fee was 2.9%, so you're saving a little money on each transaction.

But, if you live in a high tax state, and I do, that inclusion of sales tax in the price is significant. I will also point out it is fucking bullshit. As is the existing inclusion of shipping charges.

Current LA County sales tax is 10.25%. If we take 10% for simplicity, we can compare the fees on an item of, say, $100 (including shipping (which again somewhat rudely is subject to sales tax)).

Old:
FVF is 10.2% of $100 or $10.20. 
Paypal fee is 2.9% of $100 + $0.30 or $3.20
Total = $13.40

New:
FVF is 12.55% of $110 (with the tax) + $0.30 = $14.11

$0.71 cents more. If you live in some part of CA at the base sales tax of 7.25%, the increase is about $0.35.

I think if your local sales tax is 4.5%, then it comes out about even. If your local tax is higher than that, the new plan is worse, and vice versa.


agent

Galileo & the Science Deniers / Mediocre

Galileo & the Science Deniers is a solid biography of Galileo by Mario Livio, an actual working astronomer. I can't say that his scientific background adds a whole lot to the mix, but it can't hurt. He does bring an interesting flair for art (a subject of some interest to Galileo himself -- dare we call him a renaissance man?). One great illustration is a painting of the Virgin Mary by Cigoli, which features the BVM standing on a moon with craters and shadows. It may be the first such depiction of the Moon, and likely inspired by Galileo's sketches.

The history is presented quite credibly and with plenty of primary sources. Inevitably, it leads to Galileo's trials and tribulations with the Inquisition. It's not hard to draw a very short, denialist line between the Inquisition and modern day science deniers, but this was sadly a disappointment in the book. It's clearly an afterthought, with a paragraph or so wedged in at the end of each chapter to try to give the book some current relevance.

--

I wish Mediocre had managed to be mediocre, but in fact it's just not good.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, by Ijeoma Oluo.

One might think the book would be about white male America, but that's probably not even a majority of the book.

I guess I was hoping for something more sociological, or psychological. How white men think more highly of themselves than other groups, regardless of actual competence or status. An in-depth analysis of Lake Wobegon, where all our (white male) children are above average. Or an in-depth look at the improbable successes of the Homer Simpsons of the world, especially as contrasted with the Frank Grimes of the world (replacing Grimey with nonwhite nonmale equivalents). Honestly, these comedic takes have more insight into mediocre white men than this book.

Maybe I was just expecting the wrong content. If the book had been titled Shitty Things White Dudes have done in History, it would have been more accurate, and I could have saved my time. A lot of the book is really more of a polemic for a particular brand of progressivism, without much about the titular mediocre white dude (MWD). One of the first targets is Bernie Sanders, and his failure to be progressive enough on racial issues. While this is an accurate criticism, this is hardly about Bernie being mediocre. The author almost latches onto something with a discussion of Bernie Bros, but beyond mentioning hateful tweets from that corner, there is very little analysis of that phenomenon and how it relates to MWD. Any news article you might have read about some fraction of Bernie Bros voting Trump is more insightful than this book.

There's a long section that is basically a glowing biography of each of the four members of The Squad. While it's a great thing that these women who don't look like the politicians of yesteryear are succeeding, these encomia tell me nothing about MWD.

I don't really even know what to make of her schizophrenic treatment of academia and the NFL. Especially the latter since she claims little knowledge of the sport, so the presentation is somewhat shallow, apart from a focus on the Colin Kaepernick affair (worth discussing, but how does it relate to MWD?), as opposed to, say, Doug Williams. Or Brian's Song, fer crissakes.
mr. Gruff

Crazy stuff from the California Antiquarian Virtual Book Fair

 Odd to put Antiquarian cheek-by-jowl with Virtual. 

52 letters from HPL to Frank Belknap Long. This is the collection that the HPLHS recently had a fundraiser to help purchase (with a tiny help by me) with the intent of donating it to the collection at Brown. The pricetag at the fair is $225,000. Apart from the two houses, probably the highest pricetag of anything I've ever bought a fraction of.

The same dealer also has the original pencil manuscript of Chambers' "The Messenger".

The Recipe Book of The Mustard Club [with] Mustard Uses Mustered [and] History and the Mustard Pot.

Items written for Colman's Mustard by Dorothy L Sayers during her time at an ad agency, experience that wound up in her Peter Wimsey novel, Murder Must Advertise.

The Hobbit programme for the New College School, Oxford production, 1967, signed by Tolkien

The production of The Hobbit at New College School was the second stage dramatisation of Tolkien’s seminal work of fantasy to be performed, but the first to be authorised by Tolkien. 

Cats in the Isle of Man, by Daisy Fellowes

Rare novel by the French-American socialite and heiress (to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune) who was one of the most well-known and influential style icons of her day. At one time the Paris editor of Harper's Bazaar, she was one of the most important customers/patrons of couturier Elsa Schiaparelli -- who created one of her signature colors, Shocking Pink, expressly for her. As one journalist put it, "she lived on a diet of morphine and grouse, with the occasional cocktail thrown in" 

At any rate, it's got a fabulous Fantomas/Dracula-evoking jacket design, with a naked woman spreading her black cloak (which sort of resembles bat wings) as a dark-eyed stranger looms behind her. (And just for the record: none of the action in this book takes place on the actual Isle of Man, so I think we have to assume it's a metaphor, or something.)
agent

The Puzzle Universe, City of Stairs, games

 The Puzzle Universe purports to be a History of Mathematics in 315 puzzles. While that's not wholly inaccurate, it's more of an exercise in frustration. It is a beautiful book with bold, colorful illustrations. Alas, one or two of them are inaccurate and ruin the puzzles. A number of the puzzles suffer from setups that are not clear and unambiguous, and many of the answers are gnomic without any explanation or solution. While these are hideous flaws, there are many things to like about the book. Lots of clever visual proofs and little historical asides. I think my favorite was the Malfatti Marble Problem. In 1803, Malfatti declared that three tangent circles always provided the maximal area in a certain geometric problem. In 1930, it was shown that that's not always true. And in 1967, it was finally proven that Malfatti's solution is never optimal.

--

I can see why City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett, made several finalists lists for Best Fantasy Novel of the year. It's an engaging read, and the strange 'geopolitics' of its world are a big plus. The two main power-continents are an Indian-esque society and a Russian-oid society, at least so far as naming conventions and cultural touches are concerned. Oh, and there's a sort of barbaric Europe somewhere as well that doesn't come into the story much. There's something of a mystery of how some literal walking-the-earth gods have been slain, but echoes of the divine are still hidden here and there. The only drawback of the story is that our heroine and her burly companion are just too perfect. Too smart, too knowledgeable, too skilled, too fatally dangerous to be taken completely seriously. Or to fear for their safety at any point.

--

On the Playstation, been enjoying the fact that Katamari Damacy (Reroll) has been released for PS4. Still as delightful as ever.

Spirit of the North was a pleasant game, letting your little foxy dude run around and leaping about. While some instructions and guidance might have been useful at times, I like that they stuck to their guns and just let you experience it and figure it all out for the most part.

PSPlus freebies Concrete Genie and Control have also been fun. Control's delightfully loopy mind-bending story is a blast.


agent

Polyphemus, by Michael Shea

 Polyphemus is a collection of horror-tending to sf, or sf tending to horror stories, with one Nifft the Lean tale thrown in. I wasn't a fan of the title story, but the rest are good, with the standouts being "Uncle Tuggs" and "Horror on the #33". For the popcorn value, "The Extra" isn't bad. A nasty dystopian tale where being an extra means being tossed into an 'alien invasion' movie shoot where the robotic aliens are programmed to hunt and kill you all across the backlot, while robot cars and planes smash into each other.
internet Disease

The Raven Tower ; Forever Azathoth

The Raven Tower is another fine work by Ann Leckie. Her first fantasy novel is quite a departure from... from anything, really. At least half the fun is just discovering the world and its rules, so I won't spoil it all. But this fantasy world is home to various gods; beings with very peculiar natures and bound to peculiar rules. Half of the story is sort of palace intrigue type story, while the other is a history of history through the eyes of one of the gods. The story itself is so-so, but unravelling the mystery is the real draw.

Forever Azathoth is a collection of mostly humorous or parodic Lovecraftian stories by Peter Cannon. I very much enjoyed his Scream for Jeeves when it came out back in the day, and I longed after this collection when it was issued by the Tartarus Press ages ago. But it came with a large pricetag. Luckily, now there's a softcover edition by Hippocampus Press (with slightly different contents) following an edition from the Subterranean Press. Certainly I think the lower pricetag is more appropriate. I mean, these are parodies and pastiches, so I'm not looking for eternal greatness, but sometimes the in-jokes and leg-pulling gets a little extreme for my taste. 
agent

Saturn's Children, by Charlie Stross

An homage to Heinlein's Friday and Asimov's robots, Saturn's Children sets up an intriguing idea. What happens to the servants of humanity after all the humans have died. Robots have strict rules about harming humans, but when it comes to treating each other... it's anything goes. With predictable results. A highly stratified society of have and have-nots and slavery. Our heroine, a sexbot-turned-Mata Hari, slowly works her way into something big, at the behest of employers whose motives she only dimly understands. Clandestine labs are looking to produce a real-live human. Such a human would be able to order any robot to do anything. So whoever rules the human, rules the world. Along the way, gratuitous sex (see also, Friday). Reasonably fun read and less cringey than I remember Friday being.
agent

Qanon Quickie

 ‘My faith is shaken’: The QAnon conspiracy theory faces a post-Trump identity crisis
President Trump’s defeat and the week-long disappearance of its anonymous prophet have forced supporters of the baseless movement to rethink their beliefs: ‘Have we all been conned?’

President Trump’s election loss and the week-long silence of “Q,” the movement’s mysterious prophet, have wrenched some QAnon believers into a crisis of faith, with factions voicing unease about their future or rallying others to stay calm and “trust the plan.”

Some QAnon proponents have begun to publicly grapple with reality and question whether the conspiracy theory is a hoax. “Have we all been conned?” one user wrote Saturday on 8kun.

“The majority reaction from QAnon followers has been outright denial,” View said. Many expect Trump will seal his reelection through his team’s so-far-unsuccessful legal skirmishes, and “if that doesn’t happen and Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, the cognitive dissonance will be absolutely as big as it’s ever been for QAnon followers.”

“Do not worry. Do not be afraid. THERE IS A PLAN. IT IS A GOOD PLAN,” the QAnon supporter Major Patriot tweeted last week.

I think it will be very interesting to see how this shakes out. The conspiracy theory has seemingly gotten a lot of people tightly in its grip. Some will be disillusioned and fall away, but I think it will not completely dissipate. In Leon Festinger's famous 'When Prophecy Fails', the main evidence is drawn from a UFO cult, which prophesied that our space brothers would come meet them on a certain day to save them from the apocalypse. Needless to say, neither the apocalypse nor the aliens arrived.

In response, one might think people would leave the cult in disgust due to the failure of prophecy. But that didn't happen. Festinger theorized that to relieve the cognitive dissonance of the failed prophecy, the group became even more 'evangelical' in spreading the news. If more people believed it, certainly it can't be wrong. The 5 criteria Festinger lists for when this might happen certainly seem to apply or potentially apply to Qanon:

  • A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he or she behaves.
  • The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual's commitment to the belief.
  • The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
  • Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
  • The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.

So how would such a thing manifest? The belief in Trump's reelection (and the subsequent arrests of bad people) is sufficiently specific.

Obviously, at the moment Trump remains president and is showing a brave face about winning the election, despite the facts on the ground.

Ultimately, I deem that supporters will have to face the facts and it will become clear on Inauguration Day if not sooner. Over the next weeks, the cognitive dissonance is going to grow, twisting the screws on their psyches.

If I had to hypothesize, the ones who 'keep the faith' in the conspiracy theory will decide that Trump has become transformed into some sort of esoteric President. A secret president, still bent on his mission. And of course, they will continue to need to convert others to their conspiratorial beliefs. And sadly, they will see themselves as Trump's esoteric army. There's a potential for danger.

LINK

There are dozens of reports from family members of QAnon supporters showcasing how the election result has not diminished their beliefs, but has in fact reinforced them.

Right in line with the theory.

[M]uch of the real harm being done by QAnon is being seen by friends and families of believers. On the QAnonCasualties thread on Reddit, for instance, people talk about how the narrative that the election was stolen is having horrific real-world impacts. 

Under the headline “I hoped I’d never have to write this” one Reddit user wrote: “My aunt who was ultra QAnon shot herself earlier today, she left a note saying she was terrified the cabal was coming for her and her kids because of Trump's loss.”

dead

Warm Worlds & Otherwise, The House in the Cerulean Sea, The Last of Us II

 Warm Worlds & Otherwise is a 1975 collection of science fiction short stories by James Tiptree, Jr. For those not in the know, Tiptree is a pen name for Alice Sheldon, from back in the days when many women authors of SF were still using initials. I guess I didn't realize the extent to which Sheldon disguised her real identity, which was only know after this collection was published. Which makes Bob Silverberg's introduction that much more amusing, as he discusses the speculation about 'Tiptree':  "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing." It's so over the top, one half suspects Silverberg is providing camouflage, except that he's probably some small part of the reason why female authors were disguising their names.

Anyway, to the stories. Some of them have a bit too much of the 1960s/1970s experimentation with language for my taste. I adore Stand on Zanzibar, so it's not an automatic turnoff, but not everyone is John Brunner.

"The Girl who was Plugged in" won the Hugo for novella, and deserved it. Some of the stuff we take for granted today -- say that if you were in a VR rig and 'controlled' an android, you would come to identify with the android -- is carefully earned here in the story. And while some of the setup is absurd (advertising becomes illegal), some of the details (that influencers 'advertise' the products they use to their fans) probably rings truer now than in 1970.

"The Women that Men Don't See" is pretty astonishing. I can see the Heart of Darkness-y or Hemingway-ish slant that might have confused Silverberg, but.... I'll stop short of saying that no man could have written this story, but I will say that no male science fiction author in 1975 could have written this story. It takes a special sort of genius to craft a story like this and choosing the narrator to be someone torn from the cover of a men's adventure magazine. 

Both stories are decades old, but both still resonate.

--

The House in the Cerulean Sea is a lighthearted look at a world where magical, human-ish creatures exist and when these children are located they are sent off to 'orphanages'. Really, they are more to keep them out of the sight of polite society. Our hero is a mild-mannered government functionary at the ministry of magical youth, who makes sure these orphanages are properly run and the children properly cared for. The best part of the book just sets up how meticulous and fair he is at his job. While many in society are prejudiced against magical youth, he just isn't. So he goes about his job assiduously, everything by the book. Great character study in the set-up and early parts of the book.

Ultimately, he's sent to inspect a facility on the extreme end of the spectrum, where some of the most difficult cases are housed. And now that the stage is set, the plot moves dutifully along to its necessary conclusion. Over time, his heart is warmed by his connection with the little inmates, and his heart is stirred still more by the mysterious proprietor of the home.

It has a bit of an Auntie Mame feel about it -- to accept and enjoy our differences in the face of conformity -- done with charm and warmth. But the predictability of the story is a bit of a let-down.

--

The Last of Us Part II obviously picks up a bit after the events of The Last of Us. Let me quote a bit of that previous review: "[Ellie] slowly learns survival skills from you, and ultimately becomes a psychotic killing machine just like you"

In some ways, that's where the story takes off. In the sequel, you are now playing Ellie, and you are kind of a monster and grow more monstrous.

A lot of people complained that after about half the story, your viewpoint shifts to another character, an antagonist to the first. I guess I complain, too. I wanted some completion on Ellie's story, and the shift to someone else was not what I was looking for. Abby's story is also well-realized, and obviously you can sense the parallels being drawn, but it seemed a bit of a cheat.

My biggest disappointment? No Road Trip. The first game took us on a journey halfway across America. This one is largely a tour of Seattle. There's a lot of great variation in Seattle, but I missed that. I perked up when there was a mention of Santa Barbara. But I figured the plot was too far advanced for a trip down the coast from Seattle to California to be coming. And I was right. BUT I WOULD HAVE EATEN THAT SHIT UP WITH A CORDYCEPS FUNGUS COVERED SPOON.

agent

California Props 2020

There’s a whole mess of propositions on the ballot this year, and it certainly is a mess. As a reasonably smart and politically informed dude, I am at a loss on a lot of these. Having blogged my opinions on props many times, I have never been this at sea. In some ways this suggests a strategy. If you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it, regardless of what the supporters are trying to tell you. 


I reserve the right to change my opinions, especially if one of you other smart informed people can sway me in a no-holds-barred intellectual cagematch. Polite emails also acceptable.

Prop 14 – Continues the funding for stem cell research. When Prop 71 passed in 2004, it was a necessary poke in the eye at federal bans on stem cell research funding. As we often do, California led the way with a promising form of research, and the country has followed. It’s no longer quite so necessary to be the only voice in the wilderness, as the Obama era relaxed various bans and limitations. Also, as a bond measure, we have to consider costs. True, it’s not a big one. If you look at the bond debt graph near the end of the election phone book, this would only add a tiny sliver to the state debt mountain. On the other hand, COVID-19 is messing up budgets all over the place. We don’t need more debt. So in the end a No from me.

Prop 15 – This is probably the most contentious item. I think removing prop 13 protections from commercial properties is a great idea. I am concerned that it all seems to happen ‘at once’. A $10 million property owned since 1978 (or 1878 for that matter) will, when it gets reassessed, jump from a relatively small amount to $100,000. I guess I would prefer it to ramp up over a few years for an easier adjustment. And the detractors are right that some/all of this will get passed along to renters and consumers. Nevertheless, I am a YES.

Prop 16 – Undoes Prop 209 (1996), which banned the state from using race-based criteria in certain circumstances, notably college admissions. While I get itchy about the idea that some races are more equal than others, it’s certainly true that racial discrimination is illegal under lots of other state and federal laws, so the effects of any thumb-on-the-scale activity is already limited by these laws and the Bakke decision. Viscerally, I can remember what happened after 209 passed. Applications from black students to the UCs dropped by a huge amount. Right or wrong, they thought the state schools were no longer for them, and didn’t even apply. That discouragement may have had a greater effect on the lack of diversity at the UCs in subsequent years than the proposition itself actually did. Anyway. Yes.

Prop 17 – Serve your time, get your vote back. Yes.

Prop 18 – 17-year-olds to vote in certain elections. Look, it’s an arbitrary limit. Used to be 21 nationally. Now it’s 18 after the 26th Amendment. Could be 11, could be 19 and three months. This looks like a solution in search of a problem. Let’s just keep it simple and 18. No.

Prop 19 – A boon to old rich people with only one house who want to buy a bigger house – this was something like Prop 5 in 2018 that I voted NO on. This sweetens the deal with a disadvantage to rich families with multiple properties when they inherit. While it’s a bit of a shell game, I think overall it closes a loophole for the ultrarich, and will raise tax revenues, so YES. 

Prop 20 – This mofo does 4 different complicated things. No.

Prop 21 – Expands ability of local government to implement rent control. This is very similar to prop 10 from 2018, which I opposed. I think the main difference is this only applies to buildings at least 15 years old. So this would dilute my objection that this would dissuade new construction of housing (which we need). Also, since this doesn’t mandate rent control, but merely allows localities to consider it, this might allow for more experimentation with different types of rent control, and we’ll find out what works and what doesn’t. Yes?

Prop 22 – These apps want to exploit their workers, and their workers want to be exploited. Who are we to stand in their way? Well, maybe we’re the kind of people who don’t think exploitation is good, even if it’s desired by both sides. No.

Prop 23 – Kidney dialysis. Having medical professionals present at dialysis clinics seems like a good idea, but the same is true about abortion clinics. The question is, are they really necessary? How many people are dropping dead due to substandard care at these places? Beats me. That would be something the supporters should have provided. I had thought this was some play by the big dialysis companies (Davita, Fresenius) to squeeze out the smaller players who might be less able to afford a doctor on staff. But it turns out the truth is even weirder and more twisted. It’s a play by a medical union to get their members employed, and then unionize these facilities. No.

Prop 24 – Internet Privacy changes. I’m a pretty savvy netizen, but no expert in internet privacy. I have no idea what this does, or what will result. No.

Prop 25 – Cash bail thing. I’m torn. For once, our legislature has actually passed a law. This prop is (I assume) an attempt by the bail industry to have a do-over. But looking at the proposition (and SB 10), I don’t know that I like it. At the bottom line, we are creating a new bureaucracy that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars (to assess flight risk) in order to save tens of millions of dollars in jail costs. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. If we took half of the proposition – that most misdemeanors require no bail – that would cost us nothing to implement, and save us some money. But the other half – an untested bureaucracy that will declare some people free and some people not... Alleged murderers would have to stay in jail, no matter what. Arg! I vote No.