dead

The Russia House, by John Le Carré

 Kind of interesting for being written in the time of Gorbachev and glasnost and perestroika. Not long before the Soviet Union collapsed. But as a story, I found it kind of a let-down. The first two-thirds is kind of a jumble of bits and pieces, and while the last third holds together better, it's on some pretty inevitable rails that take us to the end. While Le Carré is often... arid... this one sinks into the sin of being boring.

While I'm usually a stalwart on the side of book in book vs. film, I admit I'm curious to see the 1990 film with Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. I expect a screenplay that cuts some of the fat and crap off could make for a better story.
quantum Mechanic

The Glass Hammer / A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

 The Glass Hammer, by KW Jeter, bears the stamp of Jeter's mentor Philip K Dick, both thematically and in a character that seems very much like a stand-in for PKD. There are some thoughtful idea about reality and media scattered throughout the science-fictiony tropes and Dickian paranoia of post-whoops America, psychic computers (or are they?), new religions, and the messiah (or is he?).

The book makes the case (pretty well) that what we're seeing now, most notably typified by Trump, but by no means confined to him, is a changing nature of conspiracies in modern political life. And that it is corrosive to democracy and the nation and the very idea of that 'knowledge' and 'expertise' are possible.

The new conspiracism is something different. There is no punctilious demand for proofs,4 no exhaustive amassing of evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of the operators plotting in the shadows. The new conspiracism dispenses with the burden of explanation. Instead, we have innuendo and verbal gesture: “A lot of people are saying …” Or we have bare assertion: “Rigged!”—a one-word exclamation that evokes fantastic schemes, sinister motives, and the awesome capacity to mobilize three million illegal voters to support Hillary Clinton for president. This is conspiracy without the theory.

For JFK and 9/11 conspiracy theorists, there was always a lot of talk about the evidence. Magic bullets, grassy knolls, the melting point of steel and so on. Now it's just smoke and bluff and bare assertion. Millions of illegal ballots? What's the evidence? At best you get allusions to affidavits that assert millions of illegal ballots. Referencing the claim itself is now tantamount to evidence for the new conspiracists. Obviously, this allows for a free-floating phantasmagoria of fraudulent claims. That lead to people shooting up pizza parlors or storming the Capitol.  Anyway, more quotes that resonated with me.
 

The most striking feature of the new conspiracism is just this—its assault on reality. The new conspiracism strikes at what we think of as truth and the grounds of truth. It strikes at what it means to know something. The new conspiracism seeks to replace evidence, argument, and shared grounds of understanding with convoluted conjurings and bare assertions. Among the threats to democracy, only the new conspiracism does double damage: delegitimation and disorientation.

the new conspiracists call for repeating and spreading their claims—“liking,” tweeting, and forwarding. Repetition takes the place of organized political action. What Trump, for instance, wants is not the architecture of an organized political party or even an organized movement but a throng that assents to his account of reality. “You know what’s important,” he said about his fantasy of illegal Clinton votes, “millions of people agree with me when I say that. Affirmation of his reality is the key act

Representative Bryan Zollinger perfectly capture the ethos of true-enoughness in his suggestion that the Democratic Party might very well have brought white nationalists to Charlottesville in 2017 to create a violent clash: “I am not saying it is true, but I am suggesting that it is completely plausible.” The new conspiracism sets a low bar: if one cannot be certain that a belief is entirely false, with the emphasis on entirely, then it might be true—and that’s true enough. 

When it comes to true enough, what matters is not evidence but repetition. Participation in conspiracist social networks triggers assent. Echoing, repeating, sharing, liking, and forwarding a conspiracist claim is a show of affiliation with others who are angry and confident that things are not as they seem. Conspiracist narratives refresh these passions by reminding members of the group of what they feel with renewed energy.

modern democracy depends on expert knowledge. This comes to bear especially in what has come to be called the administrative state, which comprises the myriad agencies staffed by career professionals who rely on specialized knowledge they create or draw on from research institutions and from civil society groups outside government. This is the basis for formulating, implementing, and enforcing public policy touching everything from safe water to consumer protection to interest rates and banking rules. These scientists, statisticians, economists, and ethicists are not elected; they are insulated to a reasonable extent from political controversies and partisan influence. They are “disinterested” as a matter of professional discipline and seek to apply impartial standards in the general interest.

These experts, of course, are the focus of a lot of the ire of the conspiracy-minded. Climate scientists, Dr. Fauci, our intelligence agencies, ivory tower academics
 

It turns out that conspiracist claims are easy to create, and easy for officials to embellish, endorse, or just allow to play out. What lies behind complicity by insinuation, equivocation, or silence? As we detail in chapter 7, representatives are vulnerable to angry constituents who subscribe to conspiracy. When reelection is in jeopardy, or an official is haunted by the specter of a potential primary challenge, silence or coy encouragement seems a safer posture than correcting the record and offending one’s supporters.

Closed to the world of shared understanding, conspiracism distorts what it means to know something. At a deeper level, the new conspiracists claim to own reality, and in doing so, they assault our common sense of reality. We experience a special form of anxiety and disorientation. We have been unwillingly drafted into a contest over who owns reality.

if the community in which we place our trust gets it wrong or is corrupt, then what we take to be knowledge may be unjustified and erroneous. Some put their trust in a community of scientists and public health officials who affirm that vaccines do not cause autism; others put their trust in an internet community of anonymous conspiracists who affirm that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman is running an international child sex-trafficking ring out of a pizzeria. What is the difference? At the level of the individual who gets his or her knowledge from others, there is not much difference.

The difference is found at another level, in the characteristics that define the community whose authority we accept on trust. In one case, these communities are defined by their commitment to publicize the evidence on which their conclusions are based, and thus to subject them to the scrutiny of others. In the other case, the community is defined by access to private knowledge that is unsharable,

When we decide what community is worthy of epistemic trust, we are implicitly also deciding what it means to know something.

agent

Waking Nightmares / Some Assembly Required

 Waking Nightmares is an anthology of Ramsey Campbell short stories. No particular theme to them, although many of them do have an element of dream logic that make them nightmarish. All good stuff. Interesting mix of protagonists. Beside the many good people to whom bad things happen are quite a few bad people to whom bad things happen.

--

Some Assembly Required (DECODING FOUR BILLION YEARS OF LIFE, FROM ANCIENT FOSSILS TO DNA) by Neil Shubin

Another great science work by the discoverer of Tiktaalik. This one is more about some quirks (important ones) of evolution that defy the elementary cartoon picture of gradualism. That sometimes when it looks like a whole bunch of things have to come together for some 'leap' of evolution, that many of the enabling factors were already well in place, but now used for a new purpose.

Like lungs and limbs in the water-to-land transition, the inventions used for flight preceded the origin of flight. Hollow bones, fast growth rates, high metabolisms, winglike arms, wrists with hinges, and, of course, feathers originally arose in dinosaurs that were living on the ground, running fast to capture prey. The major change is not the development of new organs per se but the repurposing of old features for new uses and functions.
...
The transformation of fins to limbs is a world of repurposing at every level: genes that make hands and feet are present in fish, making the terminal end of their fins, and versions of these same genes help build the terminal end of the bodies of flies and other animals. Great revolutions in life do not necessarily involve the wholesale invention of new genes, organs, or ways of life. Using ancient features in new ways opens up a world of possibility for descendants.

Other sections talk about the importance of particular genes being influenced by control mechanisms within particular cell types:

Imagine a house with many rooms, each with its own thermostat. A change to the furnace will affect the temperature in every single room, but changing a single thermostat will affect only the room it controls. The same relationship is true for genes and their control regions. Just as a change in the furnace will affect the entire house, an alteration in a gene, and the protein that is produced, can affect the entire body. A global change would be catastrophic, producing dead ends in evolution. But since the genetic control regions are specific to tissues, like a thermostat in a room, a change in one organ won’t affect any others. Mutants can be viable, and evolution can work.

Or using 'tamed' viral insertions as raw material for evolution. An important gene for the mammalian placenta is derived from an ERV. A defect in the gene is what causes preeclampsia. The gene is used by the virus to sneak things across cell barriers. In the repurposed version its what allows nutrients and other molecules to pass between mother and fetus.

The genome is the stuff of B movies, like a graveyard filled with ghosts. Bits and pieces of ancient viral fragments lie everywhere—by some estimates, 8 percent of our genome is composed of dead viruses, more than a hundred thousand of them at last count. Some of these fossil viruses have kept a function, to make proteins useful in pregnancy, memory, and countless other activities

agent

News Stories Colliding in My Head

Xander Schauffele, citizen of Earth, wins Olympic golf gold

 
The meaning of this turn of Olympic golf ended up being that the gold medal went to that man for all nations, the polyglot delight from San Diego who stood for one national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but could have stood for several. This 27-year-old with the Californian ease and the Taiwanese mother raised in Japan and the French-German father finally won a big-deal tournament after inveterate contention in golf majors, whereupon he gave an Olympian answer to an Olympian question about the values of multi-nationalism and travel upon this planet.

“I think that I can just use myself as an example,” Xander Schauffele said after one-shot win over Rory Sabbatini, the South Africa-born, 45-year-old multinational playing for Slovakia. “I’m the only natural-born citizen in my family [of four], being born in the United States … I think that being very international, it’s taught me a lot about different cultures and it’s made me very understanding of different cultures. I think that if everyone sort of had the ability to travel more and experience other cultures, they would be more willing to get along, potentially.”

He could look over at the bronze medalist and say, as an American, “Yeah, my fellow countryman right next to me. My mom was born in Taiwan, so actually by blood I’m half-Taiwanese.”

--

In Orange County, Anti-Vaccine Activists Attack Top Elected Official For His Vietnamese Heritage


But at this week’s unruly meeting, anti-vax sentiments turned into a torrent of racist and xenophobic tirades against [Republican] Supervisor Andrew Do, the board’s chair, who is of Vietnamese descent. In his role as board chair, he has been directing the county's COVID prevention efforts.

One speaker who identified himself as Tyler Durden, a character from the film Fight Club, blasted Vietnam’s COVID quarantine policies and said to Do: “You come to my country, and you act like one of these communist parasites. I ask you to go the f—k back to Vietnam!”

Do was a refugee whose family fled the communist regime in Vietnam and has lived in the U.S. for 46 years.

Another speaker said: “You have the audacity to come here and try to turn our country, Andrew Do, into a communist country. Shame on you!”

“You talked about escaping communism this morning,” said yet another speaker. “Why are you bringing communism to Orange County? We want our freedoms. We're Americans, we have freedoms.”
 

Do is an outspoken critic of communism and perhaps the best-known Vietnamese American leader in Southern California. Some critics say his measures to combat COVID have not been aggressive enough compared to neighboring Los Angeles County, and they find it ironic that anti-vaccine activists are focused on him.

"I think most people look at Andrew Do and say he's certainly not at the vanguard of some of these efforts to limit COVID," Min said.

agent

The Big Goodbye / Red Pill

The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, by Sam Wasson

I guess I thought this was going to be more generally about 1970s film-making in Hollywood, but the book is very tightly focused on the production of Chinatown from inkling of a story through the whole process, focusing on writer Robert Towne, producer Robert Evans, Polanski and Nicholson. It does a great job of bringing that process to life, and the characters involved, although the book occasionally strays into fleshing out the details with some story-telling flavor. Lots of interesting details. Hard to imagine Jack eating at Norms. Or Jack dating Anjelica Huston at the same time that Jake is romancing John Huston's screen daughter Faye Dunaway. Or Jerry Goldsmith (who studied under Miklos Rozsa at USC) coming in at the last minute to score the film in less than two weeks, after Philip Lambro's score bombed in test screenings and with the studio.

--

Red Pill, by Hari Kunzru

A fictional tale of a somewhat feckless author type, who gets a prestigious fellowship at a German literary center, and as his life comes unglued, he also gets strangely attracted/obsessed with neo-Nazi types. And his life becomes more unglued. Does a good job of hinting at the maddening attractiveness that sucks some seemingly sane people into these bizarre undergrounds, but ultimately kind of pointless and doesn't quite deliver in my view. There's also a strange interlude as our feckless narrator interviews a maid whose story of East Germany is 10 times more interesting than his own life, but it seems very disconnected plotwise, even if it hits common thematic elements of paranoia and secrecy. I did appreciate the real-life references to Heinrich von Kleist woven in to the mix.

agent

Chronic City - White Evangelical Racism

Jonathan Lethem started his career with a kangaroo detective, and I was on board. But after he moved back to New York, he has become a lot more New York, so Chronic City was a bit of a tough go for me, even if it's sort of a shadow Manhattan with hypnotic Macguffins and an escaped tiger (or is it?). It was also strange to read this at the same time as rereading Blaylock's The Last Coin. Both Blaylock and Lethem have some Phil Dickian influences, but I'm much more in tune with the wild parrots of Seal Beach than the Black Mirror version of Seinfeld. But as always, flashes of genius in the writing.

-

White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, by Anthea D. Butler

Occasionally unfair and overly polemic, this still provides some great historical information on American evangelicalism, providing some great 'receipts' in the form of quotes from the mouths of prominent evangelicals. A real eye opener is a speech given by black evangelist Tom Skinner in 1970 at the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s conference. “To a great extent, the evangelical church in America supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the black man to stand on his own two feet.” This was around the time that Falwell and Bob Jones ran segregated schools. Butler would have us believe evangelicalism ignored Skinner's call and hasn't changed one iota since then, and she disregards as tokenism the few nods and appearances of blacks at more recent events. While I agree what a lot of what I've seen of modern evangelicalism from Obama to today has been really ugly, I think there has been at least three iotas of positive change in the past 50 years. Far too little and far too slow, obviously. Some notes I took through the book:

Here are Skinner’s words: Understand that for those of us in the Black community, it was not the evangelical who came and taught us our worth and dignity as Black men. It was not the Bible-believing fundamentalist who stood up and told us that Black was beautiful. It was not the evangelical who preached to us that we should stand on our own two feet and be men, be proud that Black was beautiful, and that God could work his life out through our redeemed Blackness. Rather, it took Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown, and the Brothers to declare to us our dignity.

[Billy Graham] was especially disdainful after the March on Washington in August 1963, when he made the aforementioned remarks about King’s “Dream” speech—that it would take the second coming of Christ before we would see white children walk hand in hand with Black children. This disdain for King and the civil rights movement connected Graham to other prominent evangelicals of the 1950s and 1960s. Billy James Hargis, a fundamentalist who embraced segregation and anticommunism, was especially hard on King and communism, invariably linking the two together. In his book series One Minute before Midnight! (A Christian Americanism Book in Three Parts), Hargis predicted the imminent fall of America to communism if souls were not saved and communism not defeated. ... communism held another threat to conservative Christians of the 1950s: it would upset the “social order,” a reference to racial desegregation. Describing Martin Luther King Jr. as a “Stinking Racial Adjuratory and a communist,” Hargis believed, like Carl McIntire and others who promoted Americanism, that desegregation violated biblical principles. 
 

An unyielding segregationist, Criswell declared in a message delivered to the South Carolina Baptist Evangelism conference in February 1956, that “true Ministers must passionately resist government mandated desegregation because it is a denial of ALL that we believe in.”
 

Jerry Falwell gave his “Ministers and Marches” speech, in which he condemned Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers engaged in protesting and marching for civil rights, on March 21, 1965, the same day on which King and other Black and white ministers were walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Falwell criticized the civil rights movement, declaring that “preachers are not called to be politicians but soul winners.”
 

Pannell, a product of what he called “mulatto” parents, also pointedly addressed intermarriage, a core issue for evangelicals. In a chapter called “Now about Your Daughter,” Pannell wrote poignantly of evangelicals’ fear of sex and “negro” men: “The ghost of negro sex prowess and white female purity still mocks us in the closets of our minds. Neither Protestant theology nor education has dispelled it. Bible Belt Fundamentalism, which served as midwife when it was born, serves even now to nurse it in its old age.”
 

Dr. Bob Jones III spoke of this admission in a conversation with a reporter from the Greenville News in 1971, remarking, “Orientals have been accepted to Bob Jones for quite some time, and … they [have] accepted the university stipulation that they could not date across racial lines. The reason that blacks had not been admitted before … was that the board believed unmarried blacks would refuse to accept the rule (against interracial dating), or agitate to change it if they were admitted.”
 

[Butler being spot on] Evangelical grievances, anger, and disappointment in the wake of 9/11, as well as the election of America’s first Black president, pushed believers into an open, belligerent racism that culminated in their wholesale embrace of the man they would call “King Cyrus”: Donald Trump. The journey to Trump is a story of how whiteness and racism combined to make evangelicals a potent voting bloc awash in racism


[Butler going too far] I know the answer to the question obsessively pondered by the popular press, pundits, and even experts in the study of American religion: Why do people who identify as evangelicals vote over and over again for political figures who in speech and deed do not evince the Christian qualities that evangelicalism espouses? My answer is that evangelicalism is not a simply religious group at all. Rather, it is a nationalistic political movement whose purpose is to support the hegemony of white Christian men over and against the flourishing of others.

 

 

agent

Disco Elysium - Virtual Cities - The Light Ages

I've solved the case in Disco Elysium (Final Cut), though that's probably the least exciting thing about the game. Part choose your own adventure; part Infocom plus some graphics; part psychopolitical meditation -- it's really sui generis and a great experience, if you're up for it. The game was originally "refused classification by the [Australian gam] Board, making it illegal to sell in the country, due to its depiction of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, and violence, as well as showing "revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults""

I could try to say more, but it's like the Matrix -- you have to experience it for yourself. Great voice acting. Bonkers writing. There's enough depth in the decision trees that my replay has uncovered all sorts of novel things already, but I doubt there's so much that you could play it endlessly.

--

Segueing into books, Virtual Cities is a nice midpoint. Subtitled An Atlas & Exploration of Video Game Cities, the book describes 45 game cities from 1983's Ant Attack to very recent games. The author has degrees in urban planning, so some of his commentary is an interesting take on how realistic the cities are as a place where humans could live. I guess I had hoped for more information on design, both the visual design of the cities from an art and graphics standpoint, and from a game design standpoint. While each entry has a short 'Design Insights' section that covers some of this, it's very brief. Most of the text is given up to sort of a in-world guidebook description of the cities. Sometimes this diegetic stance has some wry humor, especially if you know the game. But I can't say I've played a lot of these games, so often they come of as in-jokes you don't get.

Each city also has a pretty well-executed map. But where the book really fails is with the images. Rather than use in-game generated images -- perhaps there were legal and copyright issues -- everything is rendered by the same artist, in a somewhat similar (and not overly accomplished) style. For Gabiel Knight's New Orleans, they work well enough, but for most others they don't provide a good feel of what the game is really like. Which is a shame, because the book itself is well-made. A solid-hardback with full color pages throughout.

Such a great concept, but a miss on execution.

--

The Light Ages poses as something of a rehabilitation of medieval science. The book follows the career and environment of English monk John Westwyk, author of The Equatorie of the Planetis, a work in English describing the astronomical instrument of his invention, a modification of the astrolabe. So there's a lot of timekeeping, sacred calendars, astrology and models of planetary motion. While interesting (I now have a much better idea of how to use an astrolabe, and why it has the shape it does with that off center circle) there's precious little science to get excited about [and why should there be, since there really wasn't such a thing as science yet]. Some of the history is very interesting on its own, such as the fact that Westwyk joined the unsuccessful Despenser's Crusade against the antipope. Here's a few tidbits from my Kindle notes:

Why the days of the week are ordered as they are:

On a Sunday, the first hour was ruled by the Sun. The second hour was then ruled by the next planet in the inward sequence, Venus; the third hour was ruled by Mercury, and the fourth by the Moon, which was considered the innermost planet. The sequence then immediately restarted at the outermost planet – Saturn – followed by Jupiter, then Mars. After those seven, the eighth hour of the day would again be governed by the Sun. So would the fifteenth hour, and the twenty-second. That just left two more hours, assigned to Venus and Mercury in turn, so that the following day began with the Moon – Monday. Each day was thus named for the third planet inwards after the previous day: Mars after the Moon, Mercury after Mars, and so on. This is why the Sun’s day still follows Saturn’s in modern English, and why, in most Romance languages, we see the midweek sequence of Mars (martes in Spanish), Mercury (miércoles), Jupiter (jueves) and Venus (viernes). We cannot be sure quite why the ancients chose a seven-day week, but the imperfect fit of seven days into twenty-four planetary hours explains why the days are in this order.

Bestiaries as moral teachings:

Some of those animal descriptions were accurate, others were utterly fanciful; but all conveyed a moral lesson to the reader. For this reason, bestiaries were also popular among preachers. On the virtue of chastity, for instance, the actions of the beaver were exemplary. This rare animal, according to bestiaries, has fur like an otter and a tail like a fish, and its testicles produce an oil of great medicinal power.

Knowing instinctively that that is why it is hunted, when a beaver finds itself in danger it will bite off its own testicles, throw them to the hunter and make its escape. If pursued a second time, it will rear up on its hind legs and show the hunter that he is wasting his efforts. This ability to self-castrate was, it seemed, the source of its Latin name castor.

In one bestiary, produced for a house of the Dominican preaching friars, readers could marvel at a graphic illustration of the amazing animal in the act of self-mutilation, chased by a hunter dressed in vivid green, blowing his horn and carrying a large club. Beneath the vibrant painting, readers were advised that ‘every man who inclines towards the commandment of God and wants to live chastely must cut himself off from all vices and all indecent acts – and must throw them in the Devil’s face’.

And the date of the Great Flood:

The Alfonsine Tables provided root values of all the main planetary motions, for eras ranging from the Flood (Thursday, 17 February, 3102 BC) to the 1252 coronation of King Alfonso, via Alexander the Great, the Hijra and the Christian epoch.



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.)