The Daily Ed


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Welcome to ‘The Daily Ed’: the source for my regular updates on new books, online stories, and serials. Plus some commentary and random notes!

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On watching Facebook die

“Facebook seemed like a great idea when it was released to the general public in 2006. But that was more than 15 years ago; and perhaps we know better now.” 

Unlike a lot of people out there nowadays, I don’t “hate” Facebook. On the contrary, I like Facebook quite a lot—or at least I used to.

I opened my personal Facebook account at the end of 2010, just as the social media site was reaching its zenith. By this time I was in my early 40s—old enough to have a long list of former classmates, neighbors, work colleagues, and even relatives whom I’d lost contact with. (A note to readers 39 and under. Before the Internet, you lost track of most people you knew from a particular setting when you moved on from that setting. That’s why class reunions became a thing in the first place.)

Within a few months of being on Facebook, I’d found almost everyone. And I do mean everyone. I even found a girl whom I’d had play dates with in the early 1970s. Our mothers had been high school classmates, and between the ages of four and six, we used to play together while our mothers visited each other. You can’t go back much farther than that.  

I learned, in due time, that online interactions aren’t the same as being there—even with people whom you were once close to. (This is one reason why I’ve never been a big fan of extensive online interactions with strangers.) But those Facebook connections led to many phone calls and in-person meetings with people from my past. 

Facebook was free to use, of course, and I knew the old adage on the Internet: If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product. I knew that Facebook used some of my data for commercial purposes. This didn’t bother me overmuch, so long as it was kept within reasonable bounds. I started using the Internet seriously around the time of 9/11 and the Patriot Act of 2001. I have never assumed that anything I did on the Internet was completely private and secure, in the same way that what I say and do in my living room is private and secure. The Internet is, after all, connected to the entire world. And part of that world includes large corporations and governments.

And besides, I became a minor beneficiary of Facebook’s commercial aspect. After I started writing and selling books, I used Facebook ads to promote them. Facebook ads used to work well, and they used to be a bargain for small businesspersons. More on that in a moment. Continue reading “On watching Facebook die”

In Nicaragua, Cold War history repeats itself

In an effort to maintain my working knowledge of the language, I listen to  various Spanish news channels with regularity. These are all video-based, but I mostly just listen on my phone while I’m doing something else. 

YouTube has made foreign-language media a lot more accessible than it used to be. I have access to a dozen Spanish-language channels right there on my phone. At last—something about the Internet that doesn’t annoy me.

Only a handful of these channels are based in the United States. Most are located in Latin America, or at least staffed by Latin Americans. Since few CNN, Fox, or MSNBC anchors speak Spanish, these channels remain blessedly free of Joy Reid, Tucker Carlson, Nicole Wallace, Jake Tapper,  Rachel Maddow, and the other blowhards who presently dominate American TV journalism. That alone makes my investment in the Spanish language worthwhile.

One of the interesting aspects of listening to foreign-language news sources, located in foreign countries, is the observation that foreigners often have different priorities. That goes for foreign journalists, as well. They regularly focus on news stories that journalists in the English-speaking world either downplay or ignore. Likewise, what obsesses CNN, Fox, or MSNBC sometimes gets only a passing mention once you venture outside the Anglosphere.

Neither the English-speaking media nor the American public are much concerned with the Central American country of Nicaragua nowadays. As one old enough to recall the final decade of the Cold War, I find this moderately ironic. During most of the 1980s, after all, Nicaragua was constantly in the news. 

During this period, the Marxist dictatorship of Daniel Ortega was in power in Managua. Ortega’s Sandinista regime looted Nicaragua’s economy, stifled free speech, and generally trampled on the rights of the Nicaraguan people. 

The Marxist Ortega also sought to make Nicaragua a full-fledged client state of the Soviet Union. In the context of the Reagan era and the Cold War, this made Nicaragua a flashpoint of proxy struggle between the West and the USSR.

Daniel Ortega on the cover of Time in 1986

The question of whether or not the West should support the Sandinistas’ armed opponents, the Contras, was one of the most heated debates of the mid-1980s. It was also the root cause of the Iran-Contra affair (1985-1987). Though not quite as serious as Watergate, this scandal marred the otherwise successful second term of President Ronald Reagan.

Nicaragua seemed to be on a better path in 1990, when a rare free election ousted the Sandinistas, and brought Violeta Chamorro to power. But Nicaragua’s period of positive change was not to last. Through a series of electoral maneuvers, Ortega and the Sandinistas returned to power in 2008 with 38% of the vote.

This time, of course, the USSR was gone. But Ortega proceeded to renew his ties with the surviving Marxist dictatorship in Cuba, and the new one in Venezuela. 

Which brings us back to those Spanish-language news sources I frequently listen to. Spanish-language news outlets don’t talk much about Ukraine. Latin American audiences are generally uninterested in that faraway conflict. But they do talk about Nicaragua, and how bad things are there at present. Life under the Sandinistas was generally miserable in the 1980s. It’s no better in the 2020s, apparently. No surprise there.

Daniel Ortega, now in his late 70s, has grown particularly vindictive in his twilight years. Ortega has recently arrogated to himself the right to strip Nicaraguans of their citizenship—for the mere crime of publicly disagreeing with him. 

Ortega’s government has also revived its old practice of persecuting the Catholic Church in a predominantly Catholic country. The Sandinistas murdered countless Catholic clergy in the 1980s. Now they’re mostly roughing them up, jailing them, and sending them into exile. 

Not flinching from the obvious, Pope Francis has labeled Nicaragua’s government a dictadura, comparable in spirit (if not in organization and competence) with that of Nazi Germany or the USSR. In response, Ortega and his Sandinista lackeys have proposed suspending diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

The Biden Administration has taken some steps to sanction Ortega; but Joe Biden is already beyond his capacity with inflation, creeping Chinese aggression, and his administration’s attempts to secure the territorial integrity of Ukraine—which was simply part of the Soviet Union when Ronald Reagan was president. 

Would Trump or another Republican president change the situation on the ground in Nicaragua? Probably not. Changing Nicaragua is something that must—and should—be left to Nicaraguans themselves.

That said, the situation in this nearby country of 6.85 million is lamentable. The people of Nicaragua should have been done with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas a generation ago. The proverbial “scrap heap of history” cannot claim Ortega soon enough.

Embrace that “sir”, claim that “ma’am”

Back when, even young adults didn’t mind being adults

“Remember that adults purposely and proudly emulating adolescents is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon.”

According to the mainstream media, we have yet one more word that is “polarizing” in twenty-first century society, the word “ma’am”. 

In an article entitled “How ‘ma’am’ went from being a respectful word for some – but polarizing for others”, CNN’s Janelle Davis laments that when she was addressed as “ma’am” for the first time, she could feel her “youthful privileges slipping away—like the assumptions that you’re interesting, open-minded and up-to-date on the latest trends.”

Davis points out that the word “ma’am” was a comedic device in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which my grandmother faithfully watched in the 1970s. In an early installment of the series, the show’s eponymous main character, having just turned thirty, is taken severely aback when a young whippersnapper addresses her as “ma’am”.

“Excuse me ma’am.” The Mary Tyler Moore Show , circa 1970

Davis further asserts that many men bristle at the word “sir”. Men who have not yet reached the stage of senescence, according to Davis, much prefer to be addressed as “dude” or (cringe) “bro”.

I will turn fifty-five this year. If a young male whom I don’t know addressed me as “dude” or “bro”, I would probably assume he was being ironic. On the other hand, I hear “sir” around once per week nowadays—from young guys in the gym, from the young cashier where I do my grocery shopping. 

“Sir” is not a form of address that I would ever require of anyone. There are two conceits of age: the first is assuming oneself to be eternally young, the second is to take oneself too seriously as the birthdays rack up. But whom am I kidding? From the perspective of a much younger stranger, “sir” probably seems a more fitting moniker for me than “dude”, or the cringeworthy “bro”. 

In her book The Age of American Unreason, author Susan Jacoby, a Baby Boomer born in 1945, notes how the cultural shift of the 1960s made eternal adolescents of us all. In the early 1960s, Jacoby reminds us, teenage girls were emulating the styles and dress of Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady of the United States. By 1970, though, middle-age women were imitating the fashions and behavior of teenagers. (And needless to say, the same would go for middle-age men.) Oh, what a decade of youth culture worship can do to an otherwise sane civilization. 

Two generations after the 1960s, we are all too infatuated with youth for youth’s sake, and with both real and imagined notions of our former selves. Anyone who believes that an age short of thirty automatically makes one “interesting” and “open-minded” really needs to spend more time talking to teenagers and early twenty-somethings. 

Or, failing that, spend a half-hour on TikTok. Ask yourself if you’re missing out on much by not being “up-to-date” on the “latest trends” that dominate TikTok’s youth-centric platform.

I’m not specifically picking on the current youthful generation here, mind you. I was a teenager forty years ago. Suffice it to say that much of early 1980s teen culture has not aged well. 

But that’s the point. Youth culture has always been shallow and self-obsessed, just like most of us are during our tender years. This largely explains why youth culture is so ephemeral—because it plays to the herd instincts of a particular pack of youngsters at a particular point in time. TikTok strikes me as the nadir of silliness. But then, the 55-year-olds of 1983 weren’t exactly impressed with the MTV videos that I couldn’t spend enough hours watching. 

If you’re over the age of 35, embrace that sir, and claim that ma’am. Remember that adults purposely and proudly emulating adolescents is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon. Accepting your age has many upsides, including being more comfortable with the inevitable passage of time. And best of all, you can feel free to completely ignore TikTok. 


From the website You’re not the only one who can’t get into TikTok

The dark secret of my (former) diet soda addiction

Pepsi has raised the prices of its soft drinks by more than 15% in recent months. A 12-pack of any of the company’s chemical-infused, acidic canned liquids now runs around seven dollars in the Cincinnati area. Coca-Cola products are priced at a similarly extortionate level.

We’ve been trained to crave sodas for at least three generations. My grandfather was a fan of Coca-Cola. He was one of those World War II servicemen to whom Coca-Cola aggressively marketed its products. He was never without his supply.

World War II-era Coca-Cola ads

My grandfather was congenitally opposed to any form of diet cola, though. He drank only the original formula, with real sugar. But then, a Coca-Cola in his day was a rare treat, something to consume after hard hours of labor. In that context, the sugar boost was a feature, not a bug.

Subsequent generations started drinking sodas to fulfill their basic hydration needs, and that led to a demand for diet colas. One of the first of these was Coca-Cola’s Tab. Marketed mostly to women, Tab was the forerunner to Diet Coke. 

1982 Tab ad

My mother drank Tab. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, she always had a carton of Tab on the floor of our kitchen pantry. Tab had a heavy saccharine taste, but it was—in my opinion, at least—vastly superior to Diet Coke, which Coca-Cola debuted in 1982. Continue reading “The dark secret of my (former) diet soda addiction”

#RussiaIsCollapsing: wishful thinking or prescience?

Not much that is pleasant or enlightening ever happens on Twitter. I suppose I should therefore know better than to check the site first thing in the morning. But sometimes we can’t help ourselves.

This morning Twitter gave me the usual list of trending hashtags. One involves a campaign to boycott Hershey Foods over that company’s decision to name a biologically male, female-presenting spokesperson to represent Hershey for International Woman’s Day. We’ll leave that one for another time. Gender identity-related controversies, after all, have been like dandelions on a May lawn in recent years.

Trending hashtags on Twitter this morning

Of more interest at the moment is the hashtag #RussiaIsCollapsing, which has been trending on Twitter for a number of consecutive days now.

For the record: I’m rooting for Ukraine, and I despise Putin as much as anyone. I’m furthermore irked at the Russian people that, a full generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they still can’t manage to elect a reasonable leader and become a “normal” country. 

I also have no doubt that Russia is collapsing, as any Westerner would define “collapse”. I’m sure life in Russia is anything but pleasant now, for the average Russian.

But then, we should not forget that it took the Russian people more than 70 years to overthrow the USSR, one of the modern world’s worst experiments in governance. 

And one can make the case that the Russian people never really dismantled the USSR. The Soviet-enslaved peoples of East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and the Baltics were at the forefront of that dismantling. So was Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who represented a real oddity: a genuinely enlightened Russian head of state.

But the Russian people, rising in righteous fury against tyranny and injustice? Not so much.


Ivan the Terrible, Russian czar

What about the pre-Soviet era, then? Here there is even less reason for optimism. In pre-Soviet times, Russia was a czarist dictatorship. While most Western European countries were moving toward republicanism or constitutional monarchy, Russia remained mired in an uneasy state of absolutism.

Only for a very brief period–during the Provisional Government of 1917–did pre-Soviet Russia experience anything approaching real democracy. But this short period of quasi-normalcy was swept away by the Bolshevik Revolution, which began that same year. 

History suggests that the Russians can collectively endure far worse conditions before they overthrow Putin, if they overthrow him at all. Russia, moreover, being a nuclear-armed state, is capable of taking down the rest of the world with it.

Which brings us back to the Russian people themselves, and the question of what’s wrong with them. A generation after the collapse of the USSR, why have they not done a better job of becoming a normal country? 

A popular uprising against the Soviet system–in East Germany

A visit to historic Madison, Indiana

Today I scratched another town off my Indiana bucket list: Madison, located in the southernmost portion of the Hoosier State, along the Ohio River in Jefferson County. 

Madison is less than two hours from the east side of Cincinnati, so the drive was not arduous. I went with my dad, who is a native Hoosier from southern Indiana. He had many anecdotes about how much the area had changed since the 1960s. Since I was not born until 1968 myself, I will have to take his word for it.

A view from Madison into Kentucky

The charm of Madison, though, is that much of the town’s original 19th century architecture has been preserved. Throughout Madison’s central historic district, you’ll find baroque Victorian mansions and narrow brick row houses that will make you think you’ve just dropped back into the 1800s.  Continue reading “A visit to historic Madison, Indiana”

Bare minimum Monday may come back to bite you

Bare minimum Monday is the latest thing on the Internet—especially TikTok, that wellspring of youthful oversharing. 

Bare minimum Monday means what it sounds like: doing the bare minimum at work (especially office jobs) on Mondays. 

Slacking on the job at certain times of the week is nothing new, of course. And it isn’t limited to Gen Z white-collar workers. During the 1970s and 1980s, the prevailing wisdom was that you didn’t want to purchase a UAW-made automobile that rolled off the assembly line on Monday or Friday.

But Generation Z seems to be putting its own spin on the concept, to the cheerleading of the mainstream media. CNN gushes that younger workers are using “’bare minimum Monday’ as a form of self-care”. 

So goldbricking has now become yet another version of seeking safe spaces and avoiding microaggressions. Just what the younger generation needed: yet another reason for older folks (who still do most of the hiring) to perceive them as effete, fragile, and incompetent.

Of course, there has never been a shortage of 40- and 50-somethings who believe that the younger generation is leading the world straight to perdition. I’m from the original “slacker” generation: Generation X. When I joined the so-called “adult world” as a newly minted college graduate in 1991, I endured the subtle jabs of older colleagues and bosses who quipped that “young people nowadays just don’t know how to put in a full day’s work”. And that was more than 30 years ago.  Continue reading “Bare minimum Monday may come back to bite you”

Bernie Sanders wants you to be mad about capitalism

Bernie Sanders has come out with a new book: It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism. As its unsubtle title makes clear, the book is about the evils of capitalism, and the need for democratic socialism—which basically means top-down government redistribution brought about by vote, rather than by violent revolution. 

I will probably get around to reading Sanders’s book, though I don’t expect to find much within its pages that I haven’t already read or heard from its author. Bernie Sanders, after all, has been a public figure since the 1980s, and a central figure in our national politics for roughly the last decade.

The chapters of It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism include such gems as “This is a Class War—It’s Time to Fight Back” and “Capitalism is the Problem”. 

From the introduction to It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism

Bernie Sanders, at age 81, is an adherent of early twentieth-century leftism. His ideology is based on a time when American leftists looked to the former USSR for inspiration. Sanders traveled to the USSR in 1988, where he extolled its system (which would collapse three years later). Sanders has also praised the repressive Marxist regime in Cuba.

There is no shortage of room for reasonable people to disagree about what capitalism should be, and what it should provision. For example, plenty of people on the right and in the center—including Lou Dobbs and Ross Perot—have raised concerns about the astronomical heights of CEO pay in recent decades. (Ross Perot raised this issue as an independent candidate in the 1992 US presidential election.) 

Most of us can also agree on the need for decent public schools and affordable health care. We can agree that there is a legitimate role for government, and that one of these roles is to address instances of market failure. There are some things the private market can’t do—or won’t do. That’s where we need an activist government.

I’m not here to argue for the abolition of the EPA, in other words; and I’m not here to shove Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman down your throat. 

That said, “Capitalism is the problem” is the kind of foolish non sequitur that no thinking person takes seriously nowadays. Not even the Chinese Communist Party believes that anymore. After all, many of the CCP’s older comrades suffered through real socialism during 1950s and 1960s. Continue reading “Bernie Sanders wants you to be mad about capitalism”

I miss the 1990s, too

The headline read, “American Girl declares the year 1999 ‘historical’ and ’90s kids are losing it: ‘I’m getting old’”. 

Indeed, it is hard for some of us to believe that the 1990s began more than 30 years ago, and ended almost 24 years ago. But it’s true. Do the math. The 1990s are no longer recent. Just ask a current 20-year-old, who wasn’t even born yet.

As for me, I am not a child of the 1990s. I’m a child of the 1980s. I was a young adult of the 1990s. I was 21 years old as the decade began, and I was 31 on December 31, 1999. 

Although I had a pleasant [1980s] childhood, it is the 1990s that evoke the most nostalgia in me. The 1990s was a good decade for me personally, and overall, a better decade in the world at large. The USA was at peace, the economy was booming, and our culture still had a sense of humor. (The 1990s was a time when you could watch F·R·I·E·N·D·S without a lecture from the finger-wagging “woke” crowd, for example.)

Bill Clinton was in the White House. I didn’t vote for him in either 1992 or 1996, and I thought he left much to be desired as POTUS. But I would welcome him back with open arms, compared to what we have now. 

The 1990s represented a brief Goldilocks era for digital technology. In the 1990s, digital technology was making life more convenient, without taking over everything and making it weird.  Continue reading “I miss the 1990s, too”

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps

The period between the two world wars was the golden age of the pulp fiction magazines. This was a time before television, or (of course) the Internet. Entertainment options were limited. (Heck, they barely had radio in those days.) Many people therefore turned to magazines that specialized in quickly written and fast-paced stories of romance, western adventure, crime, science fiction, or horror.

What happened to pulp fiction? The pulp magazines weren’t the victims of television, as is commonly thought. They were the casualties, rather, of the cheaply printed paperback. Modern paperback books were first introduced in 1935, but they really caught on during and shortly after World War II. The paperback completely changed the publishing and bookselling landscape, much as Amazon would about sixty years later. 

Some of the original pulp content is still with us, of course. Horror fans who adore H.P. Lovecraft may not know that favorites like “At the Mountains of Madness”, “Dagon” —and most other Lovecraft stories—were originally published in Weird Tales, a pulp magazine founded in 1922. (Note: Weird Tales technically still exists, though its format has undergone some modifications; the magazine has a site on the Internet.)

A cover of Weird Tales from the H.P. Lovecraft era

I’ve read and reread Lovecraft’s oeuvre  as much as I care to. So when I was recently in a mood to do some reading off the beaten path, I decided to indulge in a bit of vintage pulp crime fiction. 

Or actually, quite a lot of vintage pulp crime fiction. The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps contains forty-seven stories and two complete novels. Writers represented in this collection include well known names like Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) and Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961). There are also plenty of stories by writers who are long forgotten. 

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps

Why read pulp fiction? Well, you probably already watch pulp television. 

I’m a longtime fan of pulp TV, in fact. During the 1980s, I regularly tuned in to action television shows like The A-Team, Knight Rider, Airwolf, and the original MacGyver. These shows were all escapist television, with plots that roared out of the gate like a 1981 DeLorean or a 1987 Toyota Supra. 

My favorite was The A-Team. An episode of The A-Team kept you on the edge of your seat. Each episode ended with a blazing gunfight, in which no one was usually killed or seriously injured. The A-Team made absolutely no attempt to provide any sort of messaging on social, political, or philosophical issues. The other aforementioned 80s-era pulp TV shows were done in a similar vein.

An iconic combat scene from The A-Team

Most of these shows did not age well. For nostalgia’s sake, I recently tuned in to a few old episodes of The A-Team and the original MacGyver. In the MacGyver episode, the eponymous hero found himself in the Soviet Union, where everyone conveniently spoke English. The Russians even spoke English with each other. I managed to sit through about twenty minutes of this. Life is too short.

The same might be said of the stories in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. You can detect the literary and storytelling skills at work; but you can also tell that you’re reading fiction produced in a different era, when expectations were very different. My 1980s pulp TV shows did not have to compete with Netflix. The writers whose work is collected in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps did not have to compete with Michael Connelly or Lee Child. 

The stories in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps are interesting as artifacts of the pulp era, in the same way that a Ford Model T is an interesting artifact of automobile technology in the 1920s. But as entertainment for present-day audiences? Keep in mind that some of these stories are more than eighty years old. You had might as well ask me if I would like to use a Model T for my daily commuting needs. 

I suspect that this massive tome (more than one thousand pages in print) is so massive for a reason. The editors knew that the phrase “your mileage may vary” would be very applicable here.

Dashiell Hammett, 1934

What about their usefulness for writers? Those of us who write fiction are always thinking of a story in market analysis terms, after all.  

I wouldn’t recommend that any twenty-first century writer try to imitate the style of these stories, exactly. At least a quarter of these tales contain plot holes that you could drive a Model T through; and almost all of them contain hackneyed dialogue. (“He’s on the square!” “The place looked swell.”) 

And oh, the eyebrows that will be raised among the finger-wagging social justice crowd. While these stories aren’t intentionally sexist, they are the product of a different time, when ideas about men and women were different. They overflow with gendered terminology that would make any writer the target of an online pitchfork mob today (“honey,” “doll”, “sugar”, “dame”, etc.). 

The female characters in these crime stories are mostly props. But then, so are most of the men. These stories are all about plot, plot, plot.

And that is where this book may be instructive for writers who have found themselves too immersed in navel-gazing literary fiction. The writer who suspects he is spending too much time on flowery descriptions and internal monologue may learn something valuable here: how to get to the point, or to the plot. The pulp-era writers were certainly good at that, despite their other shortcomings. 

The coming AI fiction glut?

Of all the things overhyped on the Internet at present, so-called AI (artificial intelligence) ranks near the top of the list. (Right after whatever Taylor Swift, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex happen to be doing at the moment.)

Perhaps you’re a techno-utopian and you’re already annoyed with me for being a wet blanket. This technology is freaking amazing, you say. Before you send me an email accusing me of Luddism: I’m not against all AI, as a blanket policy. But much of the AI marketed at consumers is onanistic, yet another solution in search of a problem. AI is not a monolith. There are a few gems, but a lot of coal, too. 

For example: the AI in Photoshop that allows me to create a layer mask is clearly worthwhile, and incredibly useful AI. Photoshop is a program of pure genius, that enables the artistically inept—like yours truly—to make composites and image collages with only a journeyman’s grasp of the program. (More complicated artistic tasks, like original illustration, require the hand and eye of a professional, of course.)

On the other hand, my last washing machine had an “AI” sensor that was supposed to detect overloads. The sensor malfunctioned, and basically defined every load as an overload (even a load consisting of three medium-sized bathroom towels).

I had to scrap the entire washing machine. When I purchased my next one, I  specifically selected a machine without any AI capabilities. It functions perfectly. And since I’ve been using washing machines since the early 1980s, I’m fairly certain that I have the common sense not to overload one, sans AI assistance. 

Here’s the point. Sometimes AI is useful, and sometimes it’s like the stuffed birds that briefly appeared on women’s hats in the 19th century, before everyone came to their senses. Washing machines do not need AI. Nor does the phone answering system at your cable company. A menu telling you to press “1” for technical support, “2” for billing, and “3” for sales was always more than adequate. And the number-driven phone menu is early 1990s technology. No one needs an AI voice that sounds sort of like a person, but can’t really do anything extra for you, aside from raising your blood pressure.

In recent months, there has been an endless stream of online hype articles about programs like Sudowrite, ChatGPT, etc. These programs produce walls of text that kinda sorta maybe appear to be stories for a paragraph or two. 

The result has been predictable: a vast tsunami of AI-generated fiction, flooding online magazines and Amazon’s self-publishing platform. Clarkesworld reportedly had to temporarily suspend submissions to deal with the glut. 

The AI fiction glut seems to be most acute at the level of short stories and children’s books, which are usually no more than a few thousand words. If you’re going to try to write a book using AI in the first place, after all, why stretch your attention span any more than is absolutely necessary?

Many of these books and stories seem to arise from bets. A recent Reuters story describes a book written by a man “who bet his wife he could make a book from conception to publication in less than one day.” The result was a 27-page “bedtime story about a pink dolphin that teaches children how to be honest”. Make of that what you will.

This trend is also driven by social media, especially on TikTok and YouTube. Since the advent of Amazon-based indie publishing, there has been no shortage of hustlers and scam artists who are eager to tell the unwary how they can “strike it rich!” with low-content books, and even plagiarized books. Should we be surprised that these same video charlatans have now picked up the baton of AI written books? 

The title of this post is a misnomer, of course. The coming AI fiction glut is not “coming”, it is already here. 

We might have foreseen this. Long before AI, overnight fortunes were made by peddling get-rich-quick schemes and “lose weight without diet or exercise” promises. 

Never mind that such ruses predictably disappoint in the long run. The lure of the quick and the easy has an enduring appeal. 

The Beatles, grief, and a mother’s love

I am at that age when many people have lost their mothers. This is a painful blow at any stage of life. I feel blessed, though, to have had a kind and loving mother. Not everyone is so fortunate.

But still, we miss our moms. So does Paul McCartney, whose mother died of cancer in 1956, when the future Beatle (who turned eighty last year) was only fourteen years old.

McCartney wrote the lyrics to the 1970 song, “Let It Be”. If you listen to the lyrics, they are somewhat ambiguous. 

“When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me 

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be

And in my hour of darkness 

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be”

Having been raised Roman Catholic, I had always assumed that the song’s “Mother Mary” was a reference to the Mary of the New Testament. Mary has a prominent role in Catholic worship and theology, after all. Paul McCartney, as it turns out, was also baptized in the Catholic faith.

“Let It Be”, though, is really a song about Mary McCartney, Paul McCartney’s late mother. He wrote the song after having an intense—and emotionally reassuring dream—about his mother in 1968. In the dream, McCartney felt his mother’s presence.

Was McCartney’s mother really with him, in some sense? Or was that his subconscious at work? Questions like that are above this writer’s pay grade. I’ll leave the answer up to the reader.

Likewise, McCartney has told interviewers that listeners who prefer to interpret “Let It Be” in a religious sense are free to do so.

Joe Pickett and the Everyman/Everywoman hero

For your Sunday, a little writing advice…

Some mystery and thriller series feature heroes with almost superhuman capabilities: Doc Savage, Dirk Pitt, James Bond, Jack Reacher, etc.

Such characters provide escapism, but there is a notable downside here. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt and Ian Fleming’s James Bond may be fun to read about, but they are difficult for most of us to relate to. In fact, it is hard to imagine Dirk Pitt or James Bond even existing, as real people.

This is why competent but fallible heroes like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch are far more common in commercial fiction. We can imagine Harry Bosch actually existing, even if we can’t imagine such mastery in ourselves.

But what about the hero who is all too ordinary? Continue reading “Joe Pickett and the Everyman/Everywoman hero”

The network premiere of ‘Mr. Mom’

That’s what happened 37 years ago today (February 16, 1986), when Mr. Mom was shown on network television for the first time.

The movie was originally released in the cinemas in 1983. This was a time when a.) many Baby Boomer women were becoming working moms, and b.) male employment had been battered by the recession of the early 1980s. Both themes are present in the movie.  Continue reading “The network premiere of ‘Mr. Mom’”

Hellhounds in Ohio

**When walking down lonely roads at night, beware the hellhounds!**

Jason Kelley is a college filmmaker who has accepted a challenge: walk eleven miles down the most haunted road in rural Ohio, the so-called Shaman’s Highway.

If Jason completes his task, he’ll win a $2,000 prize.

But before he reaches his destination, he’ll have to cope with evil spirits, trees that come to life, an undead witch, and packs of roving hellhounds!

A creepy supernatural thriller! Not for the faint of heart!

**View ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT on Amazon**