School official implies Holocaust didn’t happen, loses his job

In email correspondence with a parent, William Latson of the Palm Beach County School Board in Florida wrote,  “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a district employee.”

The mincing of logic and deliberate obtuseness have their place, I suppose. But in an era in which young people’s grasp on any history (including basic American history) is negligible, no school district needs an educator like this fellow.

Latson’s exact political leanings are difficult to discern. Holocaust denialism, after all, is a favorite hobbyhorse of both the asshole right and the asshole left.

Why Kentucky went blue

Or sort of blue, anyway…We don’t yet know what the results of the recanvass will be.

Here is what we can say for sure: The GOP should have had Kentucky in the bag. The Bluegrass State is conservative, culturally at least.

But there were other factors at play here.

(I should mention, before I begin, that I live in Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. I know many people in Kentucky. Northern Kentucky (for those readers in New York or Oregon) is considered part of the Greater Cincinnati area. Kentucky is my home turf.)

Last year Matt Bevin got into a nasty fight with Kentucky teachers over their pension funding. I know several teachers in Northern Kentucky, and I heard their side of it. I’ve also listened to the counterarguments.

Suffice it to say that this is a complex issue that can be cogently argued from more than one side.

Matt Bevin, however, didn’t take a nuanced approach. He alienated a lot of Kentucky residents when he referred to the teachers as “bullies” and “selfish”. Like Trump, Bevin seems to believe that the antidote for political correctness is to simply be as tactless as possible.

Teachers unions can be a bit heavy-handed. And no group of professionals so celebrates themselves like teachers do. One of my personal Facebook friends is a teacher (in Kentucky, as it happens). At least once per week, she posts a meme or an article telling all of us how great teachers are, and how much teachers contribute. My friends who are accountants, factory workers, police officers, and salespeople also contribute to our economy and to society, but they don’t toot their own horns quite so much.

So no, I don’t accept the teacher-as-holy-martyr narrative.

But Bevin was shrill in his messaging, and–like I said–there was a real case to be made that the teachers weren’t being treated fairly.

Medicaid expansion under Obamacare was also an issue. As I said in an earlier post, the GOP is shooting itself in the foot by ignoring the high costs of healthcare for so many Americans. The GOP isn’t going to lose the White House in 2020 over transgender restrooms. But they might lose the White House over healthcare.

Andy Beshear, moreover, isn’t exactly Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Yes, he is more liberal than many Republicans would like, but most “woke” Democrats would turn up their noses at him.

The ideological drama aside, most Americans vote on bread-and-butter issues. Matt Bevin did a poor job of making his case to the people of Kentucky, and this is where it got him.

Why social media sucks for authors

Every now and again I rail against social media in this space. 

I have my reasons: Social media has poisoned our political discourse. What happens on social media has become a source of chronic anxiety for teenagers and twentysomethings. 

Social media sites aren’t about “creating community” or “fostering dialogue”. They’re about capturing the lion’s share of expression on the Internet, so that Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey can monetize your attention. 

Social media is a corporate money-grab. That’s all it is. 

But how is social media especially disadvantageous for authors? Let’s focus in on those points below (in no particular order):

1.) No one goes on social media to buy a book. 

Most people are on Twitter to kvetch about politics. Facebook users are there to find out if that mean girl from Central High School, class of 1996, is still hot, or if she’s gained weight like her mother did at forty.

Instagram is where guys go to look at hot women, and where hot women go to show off.

Oh, and celebrities. Jennifer Aniston recently joined Instagram, and she almost broke the site.

Speaking of Jennifer Aniston, here’s an example of what’s big on Instagram:

Jennifer Aniston Shares a Sexy Photo of Her Open-Back Dress on Instagram: ‘Jen in Black

Now, does that sound like a great venue for selling your historical novel set during World War II?

2.) Organic discovery is declining across all social media platforms. 

This is by design. The reason is simple. If you’re a business of any kind (and an author is a business, for our purposes here), social media sites want you to purchase ads.

Why? Social media sites have virtually no other source of income (other than selling user information to advertisers, as we’ve recently learned). 

If your announcement of your new book organically reaches your 3,500 Facebook followers, Mark Zuckerberg makes no money from that. If you buy a Facebook ad and give Zuckerberg $0.30 for every person who clicks on the post, however..

Well…you do the math. 

3.) It’s easy to get in political trouble on social media.

Social media is filled with snark and political vitriol. 

I don’t shy away from politics and current events. About 25% of the content on Edward Trimnell Books can be classified as political and social commentary. I genuinely enjoy exploring issues in the news. 

When I post on my own site, though, I usually think before I post. When commenting on a particularly sensitive topic, I take the time to clarify my position. I reread. I edit. I say to myself, “Naw…someone is going to twist my words, if I post that.”

I’ve made it a rule never to write a blog post when I’m actively angry about something in the news—that is always a recipe for looking like a jackass (at least, for me it is).

Such caution is far more difficult to maintain on social media, which is by nature reactive and real-time. The formats of social media posts (especially Twitter) are biased toward brief, bumper-slogan statements (280 characters).

If you’re an author, you won’t be on Twitter anonymously, but you’ll be arguing with lots of people who are on Twitter anonymously, and who will therefore say anything. They don’t care about the consequences. 

In frays like this, with that Tweet button right there, it is easy to post something that you will later regret. 

Social media sites like Twitter have recently caught flak for censoring conservatives. Basically, if your political views fall anywhere right of Joe Biden, then most of what you say is probably “hate speech” by Twitter’s yardstick. 

But perhaps you have the “correct” (i.e., fashionably leftwing and progressive) political views. You have a COEXIST bumper sticker on your Prius. You wear a rainbow bracelet everywhere during LGBTQ Pride Month, even though you’re straight. You honestly believe that banning plastic straws in American fast-food restaurants is going to offset all the raw pollution that they’re spewing out by the second in New Delhi. You would describe Greta Thunberg as “wise beyond her years”.

Well, that doesn’t get you completely off the hook. You can get in trouble, too, on social media. 

Chuck Wendig, a far-left science fiction writer, was fired from his Marvel Studios gig (as a story developer for the brand’s Star Wars comics) because of what he said on Twitter in October 2018.

This happened in the aftermath of the contentious Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Wendig went off on Republicans in profane and borderline violent language. Since Twitter is generally a leftwing environment, Wendig assumed this would be okay. But someone from Marvel Studios saw the tweets, and they weren’t okay with what Wendig said. So they canned Wendig. 

Chuck Wendig, because of his politics and his contrived edginess, is a polarizing figure. People either love him or hate him. My guess is that Wendig was egged on by his supporters, and goaded by his detractors. In the heat of the moment, he simply went too far. 

That’s easy to do on social media. Especially Twitter.

4.) Social media is declining, anyway.

The time people spend on Facebook has been declining for several years now. Twitter is losing traffic so rapidly that it has become unattractive to the advertisers it so desperately needs to stay afloat. 

Social media really took off around 2005, with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all launching within a period of just a few years. 

But the Internet thrived long before any of these sites existed. There’s no reason to believe that it can’t thrive without them. Social media isn’t important or necessary. Social media has convinced us that it’s important and necessary.

Perhaps social media is a trend that—like so many trends throughout history—is characterized by a natural rise, peak, and decline. Predicting the future is a fool’s game, but there is evidence to support the notion that social media is on the way out. As anyone who was online before 2005 can tell you, online expression does not require social media. 

So this raises the question for you as an author: Do you want to invest (either time or money) in shrinking platforms?

What should you do, then?

Believe it or not, people actually marketed books online before social media, too. Here’s how you can market your books without Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites:

1.) Your author website/blog

There is a current groupthink in the (indie) author community that “websites don’t sell books”. 

Au contraire. Bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi got his start when an editor saw the serialization of his first published novel, Old Man’s War, on his blog, The Whatever

Trad-pubbed science fiction authors Cory Doctorow, the aforementioned Chuck Wendig, and Charles Stross all maintain regular blogs/websites. 

Look up their Alexa rankings sometime. With all that traffic, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t leveraging at least some of it to sell books. 

Rather than “blogs and websites don’t work”, maybe it’s more accurate to say that indie authors have never learned how to leverage author websites and blogs. 

2.) Mailing list:

I hate mailing lists as a consumer. You aren’t going to get my personal email address unless you can promise me a weekend with the Swedish National Women’s Volleyball Team in return. 

But lots of authors still swear by them. A mailing list, like an author website, is something that you own, that is yours forever. You can’t be deplatformed from your own mailing list.

3.) Ads on the retail sites:

For most authors, this is mostly Amazon, i.e., AMS ads. The bidding market for AMS ads has become overheated in recent years. But at least the traffic on Amazon is there to buy books—not to look at Jennifer Aniston’s black dress.

“Self-partnered”, “doggie moms”, and “doggie dads”

A look at three new linguistic contortions

The 29 year-old Emma Watson is best known for her roles in those Harry Potter films. (I have thus far managed to avoid seeing any of them—along with the Twilight movies.) 

Watson has given us yet another unnecessary neologism—just what we needed.  According to various media outlets, Watson, who is both unmarried and romantically unpaired, prefers to refer to her status as “self-partnered”. 

Watson recently told Vogue:

“If you have not built a home, if you do not have a husband, if you do not have a baby, and you are turning 30, and you’re not in some incredibly secure, stable place in your career, or you’re still figuring things out… There’s just this incredible amount of anxiety….It took me a long time, but I’m very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered.”

This is no mere off-the-cuff whimsey. Watson is serious about this, apparently. According to People, she “rejects” the word “single”.

But the word “single” is a far more accurate description of the unpaired than “self-partnered”. The notion of being partnered with oneself is meaningless, really, because there is no way to de-partner from oneself, save through death. We’re all “self-partnered”… even if we happen to be married and have five kids. 

One of the conceits of the “self-esteem” craze of recent decades is that we must never be told we are lacking. Each of us must be validated in every way. “Inclusion” must be perfect, too, such that everyone is included in all things. We see here the logic of the participation trophy taken to the nth degree.

Last Mother’s Day and Father’s Day two new terms came to my attention: Doggie Mom and Doggie Dad. These neologisms are especially popular with married or cohabiting couples who don’t have children.

Co-opting the language of self-esteemism, a writer at The Bark put the matter as follows:

 “Inclusivity is important. It’s a lesson that many parents put at the top of the list when it comes to teaching their children to be good, kind citizens of the planet. Mother’s Day is a perfect opportunity to put this lesson into practice by celebrating all forms of motherhood.

As dogs are increasingly viewed as members of the family and many people refer to them as ‘fur kids’ or as ‘my babies’, it makes sense for there to be room in this holiday for the mothering of dogs to be celebrated.”

Hallmark has even introduced a line of Mother’s Day cards specifically for “dog moms”. But never fear: A quasi-official Canine Mother’s Day was declared in 2018, though they are still working on promoting it. 

Dog owners certainly make sacrifices to keep their pooches healthy and happy. On frosty mornings here in Cincinnati, I don’t envy all those canine enthusiasts walking around behind their mutts with their plastic poop bags. I also don’t doubt that many pet owners feel genuine affection for their animals.

But maintaining an animal simply can’t compare with the sacrifices, commitment, and social contribution of being a parent. Nor can it compare with the reward of successfully completing the twenty-year task of raising another human being.

For fifty years, the Western world has experienced a decline in what might be called “family culture”. More people are marrying later, or remaining single (or “self-partnered”, if you prefer). This means that many of us are also skipping parenthood. 

There are many factors behind this: careerism, the sexual revolution, and a culture of birth control and abortion. 

Trends like this have results, at multiple levels. At the macro level, the decline of family culture has led to shrinking, aging populations. This is the root cause of the migrant crisis in Europe. For decades now, the Europeans have been forced to import people from the nearby Muslim Middle East. They do this partly for ideological reasons, but also because Italians, Germans, and native-born Britons no longer have the gumption to reproduce themselves.

At the individual level, a personal absence of family culture leads to a sense that one has not completed a key element of human experience. We are the descendants of generations of humans who cared about reproducing and raising children, after all. It is no exaggeration to say that that desire is in our genes.

You could counter with the quite legitimate argument that marrying and raising kids isn’t necessarily the sine qua non of a happy and productive life. And as duly acknowledged above, it requires sacrifice. We’ve all known people who married and had children because that was what they thought they should do—while they were actually more devoted to their careers, or their academic pursuits, or hedonism.

In the context of the “self-partnered” neologism, the issue is less the forgoing of marriage and children, than avoiding the realization that one is making a choice to forgo something of value. (This is the root of my objection to “doggie mom” and “doggie dad”, too.) There are valid reasons for passing on marriage and family. But one should not delude oneself about the nature of that choice. 

As for me: I’m fifty-one years old, single (not “self-partnered”), and childless (not “child-free”). I have no intention of purchasing a dog, a cat, or a hermit crab, and pretending that I’m the creature’s father. I don’t actively envy my friends who are married with children, but I do acknowledge that they have an entire dimension to their lives that mine lacks. 

Of course, my life has its perks, too. It’s all about tradeoffs. It always is. 

Back to Emma Watson. Why the mental gymnastics, the attempts to convince herself that being “single” is really “self-partnered”? Watson is an international star, after all, a twentysomething who has earned $80 million. She isn’t exactly a slacker. 

My guess: She feels that at the age of twenty-nine, she should be getting serious about settling down—if she ever intends to do so. She senses that time is no longer on her side. 

And perhaps that assessment is on-target. Even Hermione Granger is subject to the constraints of a biological clock, and simple time itself. All of us are.

The whistleblower should testify

Donald Trump has demanded that the whistleblower behind the Ukraine allegations be identified and required to testify, if the impeachment proceedings are to move forward.

Trump is not alone. Rand Paul has made the same demands

This is something you should want, regardless of whether you love Trump or hate him.

I’m going to tell you why.

At least half the country believes that the impeachment process is a scam, a nakedly partisan attempt to remove Trump from office by non-electoral means. 

This belief is not entirely unfounded. The progressive project of overturning the results of Election Day 2016 began before Trump even took office.

Remember that Unite For America video, in which a group of leftwing celebrities basically asked the Electoral College to check the stupidity of all the simpletons living in the Red States? Trump hadn’t yet been sworn in, and they were already trying to “impeach” him.

Then the Democrats attempted to sink Trump with the allegations of an aging porn star. That didn’t work. 

Then the long and expensive Russia hearings. The Democrats failed to prove that Donald Trump was the Manchurian candidate of the Kremlin.

Now they’re hoping that this Ukraine thing will stick. Well, we’ll see. 

But given the “kitchen sink approach” that the Democrats and other leftwing elements have taken since the 2016 election, you can forgive us all for being a little skeptical. 

Name the whistleblower. Let the whistleblower testify. Make everyone believe the truth–if that is indeed what this is. 

“But what about…??!!”

But what about the dangers to the whistleblower’s safety?

The government has ways of protecting people. The government protects people who testify against the mafia, for goodness sake. If there is a credible threat against the safety of the whistleblower (and there may indeed be, in the current political environment), then the government can protect him or her until things quiet down.

“But the whistleblower’s life will never be the same again!”

Perhaps. But what about the “normal life” of John Dean, who testified in the Watergate hearings in the mid-1970s?

Or, to pick a more recent impeachment process: What about Monica Lewinksy, Linda Tripp, and Paula Jones? They were all identified in the Clinton impeachment process of 1998.

Monica Lewinsky is one of the most widely recognized people in the world, as a result of her part in the Clinton impeachment process, more than 20 years ago now. Almost anyone who was old enough to remember all that would instantly recognize her in public. 

But notoriety–both good and bad–is often the price of participation in historic events. 

A whistleblower whose life was forever changed…

No secret trials

Clinton deserved his day in court, with full transparency. So did Nixon.

So does President Trump.

America is not (or at least, America should not be) a country of secret trials and hearings. Every American–including the President of the United States–has the right to face his or her accuser.

Let the whistleblower be named. Let the whistleblower testify.

And let the chips fall where they may.

Healthcare and the general election

We are one year out from the 2020 US presidential election. (So now would be a good time to visit Alpha Centauri, in advance of all that.) 

Writing in New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait reveals how the Democratic Party is determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory:  

Almost two-thirds of the people who supported Trump in 2016, and then a Democrat in the 2018 midterms, plan to vote for Trump again in 2020.


Perhaps some of that movement represents a desire by voters to check Trump’s power and restore divided government. But the poll contains substantial evidence that Trump’s party lost the midterms for the hoary yet true reason that Republicans took unpopular positions, especially on health care, and ceded the center. Rather than learn the lesson, Democrats instead appear intent on ceding it right back to them.

Jonathan Chait, NYMag

This is shaping up like 1988 all over again. In 1988 the Democrats ran a leftwing ideologue (Michael Dukakis) and got creamed in the general election.

The Democrats have genuine opportunities to make a centrist appeal in 2020. But the Democratic Party of 2019 isn’t much interested in the sensible center.

Take healthcare, for example…

Many Americans (myself included) fault the GOP for failing to do anything—after three years in power— to make health care more affordable. (The GOP too often takes the position that until a problem affects a substantial number of millionaires, it isn’t really a problem.) 

In my county in Ohio, there are two insurance providers in the private, individual healthcare plan market. There should be a dozen—given that everyone needs health insurance. 

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the two leading candidates of the Democratic Party, have both proposed a government takeover of private health insurance.

This is Soviet-style central planning. The “Medicare for all” proposal amounts to little more than a redux of policies that were tried unsuccessfully throughout the twentieth century, in various places. 

Our healthcare system sucks today. It will really suck if we turn it over to the federal government. 

So what do we need?

What we need is something akin to the federal government’s breakup of the Bell System in the early 1980s. 

Prior to 1982, there was a widespread recognition that a market failure had occurred in the long distance telephone service market. The government responded by restructuring the market to make it more competitive. 

The government didn’t try to take over phone service. Very important!

Our health insurance ills could be fixed by either a Democrat or a Republican with a knowledge of economics. But the Republicans aren’t practicing economics nowadays, and the Democrats don’t seem to grasp the basics of that dismal science.

Is your Halloween costume offensive?

Well, I don’t know: Why don’t you two tell me?

Halloween was last week, and it brought that now familiar online debate about Halloween costumes and cultural appropriation. Exhibit A: The above video from Vice News. 

By all means, watch the video. As is usually the case with these things, the Vice video cites some examples that I agree with: I would never dress in black/brownface. (You have to be Justin Trudeau to get away with that, anyway.). I also agree that stereotypically derogatory depictions of Mexicans are best avoided. 

I’m not sure, however, that simply dressing like a Sioux warrior makes one an unrepentant racist. Likewise, the young African American woman in the video seemed especially militant on the subject of braids, more or less implying that African Americans have an exclusive right to them. I beg to differ.

There is a difference between making fun of another culture and imitating it. Imitation, let us not forget, is the highest form of flattery.

I do agree that white suburban kids who affect the dress and mannerisms typically associated with inner city African American culture look ridiculous. But they are usually doing this because they consider those manners of dress, language, and behavior to be edgy and cool–not because they want to make fun of them. 

A few years ago, there was a big brouhaha when an American high school girl wore a Chinese qipao to her prom. (Note that it was a big deal in identity politics-obsessed America, but the Chinese themselves didn’t care.)

If this degree of touchiness is the new standard, should Asian Americans thereby be shamed for wearing European modes of dress? Wasn’t the Asian American woman in the Vice video also engaging in “cultural appropriation”? She was wearing Western-style clothes, after all. Why wasn’t she wearing a traditional Chinese qipao?

Or what about the many ethnic Chinese in Taiwan and Singapore, who adopt Western first names? (I know a young woman from Taiwan whose birth name is Jenny Chen.)

There are a few problems with this notion of “cultural appropriation”.

First of all, cultures have always “appropriated” from each other: The Romans borrowed from the Greeks, the Germanic Europeans borrowed from the Romans, etc. This is one of the oldest stories in the world.

Every culture is a blend, to one degree or another. The Japanese created their animist Shinto religion; but they imported Buddhism from Korea and China. They also imported Chinese characters (kanji) from China.

By the logic of the hypersensitive commentators in the Vice video, the Japanese are guilty of cultural appropriation on a grand scale. Should the Japanese now give up Buddhism, and those elements of their language that can be traced to China?

Secondly, there is a double standard which says that Western culture belongs to the world–while the cultures of Africa, Asia, and Latin America uniquely and exclusively belong to the people from those regions.

If we’re only allowed to act like our ethnic origins, then lets make it consistent and across the board, is all I’m saying. 

And for those of you who hail from a non-European country who are reading these words in English: Well, you’re engaging in a form of cultural  appropriation, too. The English language belongs only to the people of the British Isles and their descendants.

I can trace my lineage to England and Ireland. If you can’t, then you should only be reading words written in Mandarin, Yoruba, or Quechua. The English language is not yours to appropriate. 

Uh-oh!

Obviously.…This is not my opinion. I’m a multiculturalist, in the best, original sense of that word. My first published book was a book about foreign language learning, after all. I’m in favor of everyone sampling multiple cultures, and learning multiple languages, too.

I merely make this (specious) argument to demonstrate just how silly, navel-gazing, self-contradictory, and dysfunctional the cult of political correctness has become. 

Meghan Markle’s royal whine-fest

Meghan Markle, that former Hollywood actress turned Duchess of Sussex, is in the news again—this time for griping about her new station in life.

Can you imagine what it’s like, she tearfully asked a reporter of late, to be a new mom in the Cottage of Frogmore? The scrutiny of life as a member of the nobility? Tripping over all those servants all the time…

Her dutiful husband, Prince Harry, has also complained, blasting the British press for its scrutiny of his wife.

Dukes and duchesses have their problems, too, it seems.

And you thought that your life was no picnic. You struggle to balance your household budget and go to work in your cubicle each morning. You wonder if your employer’s health insurance will cover the medicine your doctor just prescribed. You hope that your car, with a hundred thousand miles on its odometer, will hold out for another year.

But it could be worse: You could be an emotionally distraught British royal.

Not everyone is cut out for the British royal family

We might have seen this coming. Meghan Markle wasn’t exactly born to her new role.

She grew up in America, as a member of the self esteem-obsessed, navel-gazing Millennial generation. Oh, and she was born and raised in Hollywood, California. The epicenter of American vanities.

As might be expected of someone born and raised in that time and place, Markle grew up with “woke” sensibilities—and an eagerness to be in the spotlight.

She made the news at the age of eleven, in 1993, when she publicly denounced Procter & Gamble for using sexist language to sell Ivory Soap.

Well…sort of. Based on market research indicating that it was mostly women who bought Ivory Soap, P&G employed the marketing tagline “women all over the world” in its commercials in the early 1990s.

The eleven year-old Markle wrote a scolding letter to the CEO of P&G about this great injustice. The sixth grader declared that the slogan should be, “People all over the world”.

Some reporters were informed, and the young Markle promptly made the news. (Nineteen ninety-three was a slow news year.)

Color me skeptical about how this perfectly orchestrated publicity stunt really unfolded. While it’s theoretically possible that the 11 year-old Markle came up with this idea on her own, it is far more likely that influential—and politicized— adults around her were pulling the strings. (That is the way the spectacle of leftwing child activism usually unfolds. A more recent and more widely known child activist, Greta Thunberg, is the daughter of two far-left, politically connected Swedish celebrities.)

The British have their reasons

The British have been ambivalent—to put it kindly—about their American duchess. Markle has responded to the negative attention and press coverage by saying that she is who she is, and she doesn’t care what the British public thinks of her.

That’s a very American attitude, and one that I can’t help but admire a bit. I don’t care what people think about me, either.

But let’s look at this from the British perspective. Knowing the British, they have their reasons for being less than enthusiastic about Prince Harry’s wife.

First of all, Meghan Markle is an American. Two hundred and forty-three years after the Declaration of Independence, there is still a British tendency to see Americans and American culture as gauche, even as there is an insecurity about those upstart colonials and their power and influence in the world.

We may have the GDP, the technology, and the military might. But they’ve got the civilization and breeding, by jove! The British probably wouldn’t be wild about any American joining their royal family. Do the Americans have to take over everything? the British are understandably wondering.

Then there’s the religious issue. The British royal family is Anglican. Meghan Markle, however, is a Roman Catholic—a nominal Roman Catholic, at least.

Albion has been nervous about Catholic plots for centuries, all the way back to the Tudor dynasty, and the subsequent Gunpowder Plot of 1605 under Stewart rule. Every November 5th, the British burn Guy Fawkes—a would-be Catholic terrorist—in effigy. That’s how the British generally feel about their papists.

But that isn’t all. Her Catholicism and her American identity aside, Markle is also a divorcee who is three years older than the prince.

Now, there is nothing wrong with middle-age divorcees. Meghan Markle would be a great catch for me, a 51 year-old guy living in Ohio. But for a young man who is sixth in line for the British throne?….Well, the British public probably would have preferred a much younger English rose, without quite so much life experience.

And then there are the taxes. Meghan Markle, despite being the Duchess of Sussex, is still technically an American citizen. This means that she has to pay taxes to the American IRS on the portion of the income, gifts, and perks that she receives as a member of the British royal family.

Talk about taxation without representation! This may be America’s final revenge for the Stamp Act of 1765. And the Brits thought we were finished with them at the Battle of New Orleans.

Guess again!

The media’s race angle

But the leftwing media, both in America and in the UK, have decided that there can only be one explanation for Meghan Markle’s failure to fit in swimmingly, and her failure to achieve universal acclaim among her new subjects.

Racism.

In the generally leftwing American press, from NPR to Vogue, all British criticisms of Markle have been decried as racist. The far left of the British media has picked up this line as well.

The racial mythologizing of Meghan Markle began early on, when her engagement to Prince Harry was first announced. On Twitter and in the American media, much was made of the fact that Prince Harry’s new mother-in-law would be “a black woman in dreadlocks”. Twitter, meanwhile, gushed at the prospect of a mixed race King of England, however remote that prospect might be under the British royal family’s long line of succession. (Markle’s son, Archie, is seventh in line.)

Meghan Markle is half African American. (Her father is white.) She was educated in private schools. Before becoming a British duchess, she was a mid-tier Hollywood celebrity. Her face graces the covers of fashion magazines on at least two continents.

Markle is, in short, a poor stand-in for African American women in the real world, who have more serious problems than the awkward side of being a duchess. Meghan Markle, unlike so many lower income women, has never known any hardship or privation.

The American media, however, is over-eager to racialize every issue and every debate. Ergo, Meghan Markle’s British misadventures have been cast as a new civil rights struggle. Rosa Parks goes to Windsor Castle.

But Meghan Markle is—and always has been—extremely privileged. She has far more in common with Paris Hilton than with ordinary American women of any race.

Why all the whining?

As I watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle alternately whine on camera about their circumstances, one phrase comes to mind: first-world problems.

I have no doubt that life as a British royal isn’t a constant bed of roses. There are, to be sure, restraints and inconveniences.

I would bet that there is also scrutiny. The British royal family is an institution. If you’re a member of it, you are an institution, too. Your life is not entirely your own.

But it all comes with some significant benefits. Guaranteed (and completely unearned) wealth, and a life free of anything that an ordinary person would recognize as real work.

Yes, as a British royal, some options are closed off to you—but that’s true for all of us. A British royal has far more options than 99% of the planet.

And yet, the two youngest adult members of the British royal family seemingly do nothing but bellyache.

Prince Harry and his American wife are apparently serious about their dissatisfaction: There has been talk of them moving to California, and perhaps even leaving the British royal family—arguably the most exclusive club in the world.

But what, pray tell, would either of them do as ordinary people? There is one real downside to a life of unearned luxury: it leaves you completely unqualified for much of anything else.

The impeachment endgame

Trump’s removal may backfire on the Democrats

 

If we can believe even half of the news surrounding the impeachment proceedings, there is a 50-50 chance that the Democrats will succeed in removing Donald Trump from the White House, long before Election Day 2020.

This has been a long time in coming. The progressive project to defeat Donald Trump by means outside the electoral process began in the weeks after Election Day 2016. 

You might remember that December 2016 video from Unite for America—a pretentious name for a band of leftwing celebrities that included Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit, and others. (The video was notably posted on YouTube with both comments and user ratings disabled.) 

Basically, the celebs tried to convince the members of the Electoral College to use their power to overturn the results of the 2016 Election. 

That didn’t work, of course.

After President Trump took office, the focus switched to building a case for impeachment. The left floated various conspiracy theories. They adopted a kitchen sink approach—relying at one point on the testimony of an aging porn star from the 1990s. 

The most persistent of these boondoggles was the ruse that Donald Trump was a twenty-first century Manchurian candidate, secretly controlled by the Kremlin. The current impeachment scheme also hinges on a country of the former USSR—Ukraine, this time.

But perhaps the Ukraine narrative will succeed where the Russia narrative failed. 

What happens then? Well, what happens then may not necessarily benefit the Democratic Party in 2020.

Opposition to the person of Donald Trump has become an all-consuming obsession on the left. If there is anything that can bring out the Democratic voters on Election Day 2020, it won’t be enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden. But the frothing hatred of Donald Trump has real motive force, for a certain kind of American.

If that goes away, then the Democrats have to run against…Mike Pence, in all likelihood. Running against Mike Pence would be like running against potato salad.

Sure, potato salad is boring; but how are you going to rally the troops around an opposition to potato salad?

On the other hand, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party will be able to choose a candidate that unites any real plurality of their party’s base.

The comparatively moderate Joe Biden represents what the Democratic Party was a generation ago. Also, he’s prone to public gaffes. Biden has already gotten himself in hot water over off-the-cuff remarks about race; and this is even before the 2020 contest begins in earnest. 

For a while Pete Buttigieg, a married gay man who served with the United States Navy in Afghanistan, seemed like the progressives’ wet dream. Then it was discovered that Buttigieg, for all his gayness, is insufficiently woke in regard to race. (As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg fired an African American police chief.) 

What about Elizabeth Warren? Warren has repeatedly tried to talk like a socialist, without actually embracing the term, as Bernie Sanders does. That is sure to inflame the radical left fringe of her party. And that radical fringe is increasingly vocal and influential.

Warren’s cynical, apocryphal claims of Native American heritage are also sure to be contentious. This, combined with her privileged background in Ivy League academia, would cast her as a carpetbagger within the Democratic Party if she were to become the eventual nominee. Think about all the more qualified candidates of color she pushed aside in order to get there, her opponents will say.

These differences can possibly be overlooked by the Democratic base, so long as Donald Trump remains installed in the White House as Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor. But take away Donald Trump, and you’ll remove what is the Democrats’ greatest (and perhaps only) real source of unity.

But Donald Trump is a real source of disunity within the GOP. The “never Trump” faction of the Republican Party never really went away. There are millions of GOP voters who would like to see the slate wiped clean with the removal of Donald Trump in 2020. Then, they figure, they can start fresh in 2024 with a more conventional Republican candidate.

But a premature removal of Donald Trump through an impeachment process will likely bring the GOP together. It will appear to most Republicans that the Democrats removed Donald Trump from office by what amounts to a coup. That won’t be too far from the mark. 

And while Mike Pence may be potato salad, there are virtually no Republicans who will find him  objectionable. With Trump out of the picture and Pence at the helm, Republican voters will then be able to unite against the prospect of an Elizabeth Warren or a Kamala Harris presidency.

Progressives have a way of overlooking the Law of Unintended Consequences. We see this most often in the field of economics, the prime example being rent controls that make housing unaffordable in cities like San Francisco. 

The Law of Unintended Consequences applies in politics, too. By railroading Donald Trump out of office without a fair fight, the Democratic Party may be setting itself up for an Election Day debacle. 

Sometimes it really is possible to win the battle and lose the war. The Democrats may learn this the hard way next November. 

Peter Cook and his very young fiancée

Peter Cook, aged 60, achieved fame when he became the husband—and then the ex-husband—of model Christie Brinkley many years ago.

Cook recently leveraged his romantic life to achieve fame yet again, proof that what is good for the gander is also good for the goose. The sexagenarian Cook is now engaged to one Alba Jancou, a buxom, blonde, 21 year-old college student.

Is this guaranteed to raise some eyebrows? What do you think? Any 60 year-old man who had a lick of sense would go about something like this quietly.

Not Cook. He gushed on social media about his “soulmate”, going so far as to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I love her, and that’s the beginning and the end of everything.”

And the peanut gallery on Instagram reacted as you might expect:

“You should be embarrassed, a man your age (60) marrying a 21 year old. So creepy and disturbing.”

“She now has two granddads!”

“Your proposal toast is ALSO your fiancee’s first legal drink! ADORABLE! In bed, does she call you ‘daddy’ or ‘black card’?”

“This is nuts!” declared another social media pundit.

And so on. All of this was gleefully reported by the various media outlets. As Suzy Byrne of Yahoo! News began, “Peter Cook, 60, is smitten with his 21-year-old fiancée, but social media has opinions about the engagement.”

Because, of course, what social media thinks about your wedding plans is the really important thing. But then, why would you ask social media’s opinion in the first place?

As a general rule, four categories of people get upset about stories like this:

  1. Older women who are indignant that an eligible older man chose a younger woman, and (even more) that she chose him.
  2. Younger women who resent the idea that any older man would have the temerity to consider them a potential partner. “Oooh! Gross!”
  3. Older men who are insanely jealous…and so they virtue-signal unconvincingly.
  4. Younger men who don’t want to compete with older men who (usually) make more money than they do.

That said, I recognize that a marriage between a 60 year-old and a 21 year-old makes about as much sense as well…a marriage between a 60 year-old and a 21 year-old. These are marriage partners who are practically guaranteed to never see their silver wedding anniversary. Or maybe even their tenth.

I’m not quite as old as Peter Cook, but I’m in that range (51). For an older man to desire sex with a nubile twentysomething is completely understandable. To ever imagine that a marriage between himself and a college coed could be anything but a disaster is…a folly of the greatest magnitude.

Just ask Paul McCartney about the benefits of May-December romance. In 2002 McCartney, reeling from the loss of his longtime wife Linda (who was actually a year his senior) married the much younger fashion model, Heather Mills.

Heather Mills is my age (born in 1968). Paul McCartney, born in 1942, is four years older than my parents.

How did it go? That depends on whom you ask. Six years later they divorced, and Heather Mills was awarded a cool $50 million.

When older men insist on marrying much-younger women, it usually isn’t simply a matter of sex. I don’t mean to be crass about this, but you don’t have to be married to have sex. And when you have the net worth of a Paul McCartney (more money than the Queen of England) or even that of Peter Cook (net worth: $20 million), you can find ways to have sex with younger partners, if that’s what you’re into. I’ll leave it at that.

No, marriage to a much-younger woman is an older man’s way of poking his finger in the eye of mortality. “Hey, I may be fifty, or sixty…or even seventy—but I’ve still got it!” 

And then a few years later, the lawyers are cleaning out his bank accounts, and his much younger wife has run off with her tennis instructor.

Better to accept old age gracefully, and enjoy the ride—especially if you have a small fortune at your disposal. As C.S. Lewis noted, pride—i.e. vanity—is a far deadlier sin than lust. (Lust, moreover, diminishes with age; vanity doesn’t.)

As should be clear, I’m skeptical about the enterprise of men marrying women young enough to be their daughters, or—in Peter Cook’s case—his granddaughter. Practically speaking, we can almost always predict that, “this will not end well.”

Nevertheless, I reject the idea that the Cook-Jancou pairing is inherently “creepy and disturbing”. This implies that twentysomething women are in need of protection from older men, as if they don’t know what they’re getting into. (I suspect that Ms. Jancou knows exactly what she’s getting into: $20 million.)

Let’s put this in perspective: A twenty-one year-old can legally join the military, and be shipped off to fight in Afghanistan. And you’re telling me that she needs special protections from an older man’s penis? Nathan Hale was only twenty-one when he mounted the British scaffold and declared that he regretted having but one life to lose for his country.

Twenty-one year-olds are also entitled to vote. This means that they can elect Elizabeth Warren in 2020, if that’s what enough of them want to do.

If twenty-one year-olds require special protections from older men, then the rest of us need protection from their lack of life experience, as it manifests itself at the ballot box. The youngest voters vote disproportionately for the Democratic Party.

I’m all for declaring Peter Cook a predator, in other words, so long as you’re okay with raising the voting age to 35. Make me that deal, and I’ll never again make eyes at a woman who hasn’t seen her fortieth birthday.

Technology and the voluntary loss of privacy

This is bigger than Katie Hill…

A certain politician from California has been in the hot seat of late because of embarrassing revelations of a highly personal nature. 

Katie Hill, a freshman representative from California, has recently seen her private life aired on the Internet, from The Daily Mail to Twitter… 

And what a colorful private life it is, apparently. Say what you will about Representative Hill and her politics, but she isn’t boring and she isn’t a prude. 

This naturally raises a lot of questions: Should a politician’s sex life be an issue, so long as they aren’t breaking any laws or violating anyone’s rights? Can a politician who leads an unconventional sex life govern effectively?

Politics tends to attract horndogs of both sexes, irrespective of ideology: Consider the examples of Bill Clinton, JFK, and Donald Trump.

Further back in history, consider Catherine the Great and King David. 

That isn’t the angle I want to consider, though. 

I grew up in the 1980s. Back then, unless you were a famous person, most of what you said and did simply wasn’t documented.

Photographs existed, obviously. But individual photos had to be developed, usually at a Fotomat. And since they also had to be printed out on paper, there was a cost associated with them. 

“Instant cameras”, with self-developing film, enjoyed a period of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. But the film was expensive, and the photo quality wasn’t very good. 

Because of such negative cost and convenience factors, people tended to take photos only when it was an “event”: a birthday celebration, a school play, a family portrait, etc. I won’t go so far as to say that having your photo taken was a big deal in the 1980s, but yes…it was kind of a big deal. It didn’t happen every day, for the average person. 

As a result, most of what you said and did died in the moment. There wasn’t this minute-by-minute record of your life that we have now. 

Those technologically primitive times had their benefits. Suppose that you said something dumb, or you did something that pushed a few boundaries. Unless it was really over the top, it was quickly forgotten. 

Which is, I would suggest, the way it should be.

Katie Hill certainly didn’t want her private photos published on the Internet. Her reasonable expectations of privacy were violated. Let’s be unequivocal about that. 

But the vast majority of the photos which came to light were clearly posed. This strongly implies that she consented to them being taken. 

This, in itself, represents a major lapse in judgment. Why, pray tell, would anyone consent to a naked photo of oneself, smoking from a bong, with an iron cross tattoo plainly visible near one’s pubic region?

We’ve bought into the notion that every moment of our lives needs to be Instagrammed, Facebooked, and selfied. Perhaps this is mass vanity, or perhaps this has just become a habit. Either way, it’s what we’re all doing. 

And this isn’t just the Millennials and the GenZers. I have friends in their forties and fifties who seemingly can’t go out to dinner without taking a half-dozen photos of themselves and uploading them to Facebook. 

Look at us, and what a happy couple we are, having a fancy meal out on the town!

More of our lives needs to remain private. But our private lives especially need to remain private. 

How do you define “private”? Here’s a rule of thumb: Don’t consent to any photo of yourself that you wouldn’t want posted on the homepage of The Daily Mail. Because as Katie Hill now knows, that may very well happen. 

The fragile youth of Britain

Beware the traumas of clapping…

Their great-grandparents fought the Nazis and survived the Blitz, but the flower of 21st-century British youth has bigger fish to fry…like the dangers of clapping.

By order of the University of Oxford’s student council, British Sign Language (BSL) silent clapping (air clapping, in other words) will now be used in place of the real thing, “since loud noises, including whooping and traditional applause, are argued to present an access issue for some disabled students who have anxiety disorders, sensory sensitivity, and/or those who use hearing impairment aids.”

Funny thing…I was at an event last week that included at least a dozen attendees in their seventies and eighties (maybe even a few ninetysomethings). There were definitely some combat veterans in the room, and more than a few hearing aids.

There was also “whooping and traditional applause”. Not too much for American World War II veterans in a nursing home, but too much for teenage and twentysomething students of the University of Oxford, apparently.

Older people referring to Millennials and Gen Zers as “snowflakes” has become a bit trite. I generally refrain from doing so.

But when college students are worried about the traumatizing effects of “traditional applause”, enough to vote and pass an official ban on it, well, the kids have become just a bit too precious for their own good.

Victoria’s Secret, Men’s Health, and liking what we like

The Victoria’s Secret brand is under fire. In an era of dogmatic gender neutrality, expressions of the overtly feminine or the explicitly masculine now “problematic”. 

The annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which had been held for years, has been cancelled this time around amid various “controversies”, including—most curiously—“allegations of cultural appropriation”. 

So Victoria’s Secret has made a concerted effort to become more “woke” as a brand. To walk in the footsteps of Nike, one supposes. 

Among other changes, the company has recently hired plus-size and transgender models. 

But this may be too little, too late. The mere acknowledgment of gender has become synonymous with hate speech in some quarters. So the acknowledgement of the specifically beautiful or the specifically feminine must be hate speech, too.

Men’s Health and idealized masculinity

But wait a minute…I’m just a guy! Who am I to even be talking about this in the first place?

Okay, fair enough. Let’s not talk about Victoria’s Secret. Let’s talk about….Men’s Health

Men’s Health was launched in 1987. It has the widest circulation of any magazine brand produced for a specifically male readership. 

Men’s Health is a bit like Cosmopolitan for guys. Topics covered in Men’s Health include fitness, nutrition, career advancement, and sexuality. 

You’ve no doubt seen those Men’s Health covers in the supermarket. Those guys with the washboard abs, those rippling “six-packs”.

Why put incredibly fit guys on the cover a fitness magazine aimed at men?

Because Men’s Health is selling aspirations, that’s why. 

I’ll never be a Men’s Health cover model.

It’s true. I’ve been working out for more than 30 years. I’m not obese. I’m actually in pretty good shape. But that’s a relative term. I definitely do not have that much sought-after six-pack. 

I realize, furthermore, that I’ll probably never have a six-pack. 

Would it be impossible for me? Who knows? I suspect, however, that my genes and my endomorphic body type are conspiring against me. No matter how many sit-ups I do, or how meticulously I count my carbs, I have my limits. 

Sylvester Stallone—literally my dad’s age—still has a better body at seventy-three than I do at fifty-one. What’s up with that?

Here’s the hard truth: I’m never going to fulfill the Men’s Health ideal. 

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Old enough to be my dad…still in better shape than me….

So why don’t I protest?

Nevertheless, you won’t find me protesting outside the magazine’s headquarters, badgering Men’s Health to be more “inclusive”. 

I understand (as anyone with common sense would) that men who don’t meet the Men’s Health ideal aren’t banned from reading the magazine. In fact, I would suspect that the majority of Men’s Health readers don’t meet the Men’s Health ideal.

Just look at those guys on the cover. Now ask yourself: Does the average man in the suburbs look like that with his shirt off?

I sure don’t.

The purpose of benchmarks is to inspire.

Ideals—or benchmarks—exist for a reason: They give us something to aspire to. When I’m working out in the gym, I prefer to be surrounded by guys who are more fit than I am. They give me a standard to compete against. 

Men’s Health would experience a dramatic drop in sales if men like me were featured on the cover. This bothers me not at all. I’m not exactly chopped liver, but I’m not some idealized adonis of an alpha male, either. 

So what?

Cosmopolitan and feminine aspiration

If men have their aspirational masculinity, well, women have long pursued a version of aspirational femininity, too.

Let’s revisit Cosmopolitan. The magazine has pretty much always been under female management. When Helen Gurley Brown became chief editor of Cosmopolitan in 1965, it was a boring, indistinguishable copycat of Reader’s Digest. Brown refocused the magazine on single career women and their concerns. 

You probably don’t know any men who read Cosmopolitan. But your husband or your boyfriend almost certainly notices the covers when he’s in the grocery store buying shaving supplies or a pound of sirloin. The women on Cosmopolitan covers are predictably beautiful, and often scantily clad. Most men would like to sleep with a Cosmopolitan cover model.

And ladies, you aren’t exempt from this sort of thing: I would be willing to bet that there are also a few women out there who have favorably noticed the models on Men’s Health, even if they have no interest in articles with titles like, “Perfect steaks, pool sex + energy drinks explained.”

We aspire to the ideal of the opposite sex.

Is it “patriarchal” for Cosmopolitan—a magazine run by women, targeted at women, to promote an image of femininity that men find attractive? 

When Men’s Health promotes an image of the masculine that women find attractive, are they openly discriminating against the “average” guy?

No—and no. Both magazines are giving their readers exactly what they want. 

Here’s a politically incorrect, but unavoidable truth: Most of us seek to meet the ideals of the opposite sex. Very early in life, we identify the attributes that the opposite sex finds attractive, and we say, “I want to be like that! I want attention from the opposite sex! Gimme that!”

Yes, I realize that there are exceptions. Some of us are gay—or transgendered. Nothing wrong with that, if that’s the way you’re wired up.

But most of us aren’t wired up that way. The vast majority of us are heterosexual and cisgendered. 

And so what do we aspire to, for our own self-image? We aspire to what the opposite sex finds attractive. 

This is why Men’s Health, a magazine for straight men, has photos of hunky guys on its covers. This is why Cosmopolitan covers feature women who could have stepped out of the pages of Playboy.

We like what we like. 

Let’s break this down to brass tacks: Most women are more attracted to tall guys with muscles over short guys with beer guts. Most men are more attracted to traditional lingerie models than women who are obese…or women who possess male genitalia. 

That’s just the way it is. 

Why should this be controversial? This is normal human sexuality. Everyone grasps this. It’s common sense. But political correctness specializes in subverting common sense.

The limits of inclusion

Here’s another politically incorrect truth: Not everything in our culture has to celebrate everyone. Not everything is going to be completely “inclusive”. 

Not all of us are model material. As I’ve already admitted, putting a shirtless photo of me on the cover of Men’s Health wouldn’t be a great marketing strategy for the magazine.

Victoria’s Secret isn’t “the patriarchy”.

Victoria’s Secret isn’t an expression of “patriarchy”, any more than Men’s Health is an expression of “feminism”. 

Victoria’s Secret is another female-managed, female-centric brand, much like Cosmopolitan. The Victoria’s Secret brand was founded in 1977 by a husband and wife team. For much of its history, the company has had a female CEO, Sharen Jester Turney.

Victoria’s Secret markets its products to women. The brand’s fashion shows aren’t put on for the benefit of horny dudes. Over 70% of the attendees at the shows are women.

Similarly, walk by any Victoria’s Secret store at your local mall, and you’ll find that the shoppers are 90% female. There is a Victoria’s Secret store at the mall near my house. I have yet to walk by and see the store packed with a crowd of hooting and hollering males, slobbering over the latest Zebra Lace Teddy.

Some brands sell aspirational benchmarks. Nothing wrong with that.

Idealized forms of the masculine and the feminine exist. They always have. So what?

The recent move to include plus size and transgender models in Victoria’s Secret marketing campaigns wasn’t a marketing decision. It was a bow to the diktats of political correctness.

Victoria’s Secret has thrived by selling an idealized image of femininity. Men’s Health has thrived by selling an idealized version of the masculine.

These brands wouldn’t have become so successful if millions of consumers didn’t identify with such aspirations. 

Aspirational benchmarks are inevitable outcomes in any competitive environment. And nothing is more competitive than sexual selection. This goes all the way back to Darwin…and your first junior high dance. 

By definition, aspirational benchmarks are exceptional. Aspirational benchmarks do not and cannot represent the specific realities of every one of us, all the time. Nor should they be shamed for refusing to try. 

Rehire Marlon Anderson

The Madison Board of Education is staffed by idiots…

Marlon Anderson, an African American security guard at Madison West High School in Wisconsin, was recently fired for using the n-word.

But this isn’t what you think.

Last week an assistant principal at Madison West High summoned Anderson for help in escorting an unruly student from the school’s premises.

The student resisted, assaulting both the assistant principal and Anderson. In the course of the tantrum, he called Anderson the n-word multiple times.

Anderson didn’t want to take this, of course. Several times he told the student to stop. Then he finally said something like, “Don’t call me a nigger.”

Now, because Anderson–who is black–said “nigger”, he has been fired from his job.

A spokesperson from the Madison Board of Education explained, in a public statement, that this is due to the school’s “zero-tolerance” policy on racial slurs: “We are working to make our school climates the best they can be for all students and staff. We’ve taken a tough stance on racial slurs, and we believe that language has no place in schools.”

What a load of pointy-headed double-talk. This is a textbook case of bureaucratic stupidity, not to mention a grave injustice.

To be clear: The n-word isn’t acceptable speech, and I’m not in favor of using it casually. I hesitated before quoting it here.

But the word isn’t magic. And this has gotten more than a little silly.

Something is seriously awry when an African American security guard, under assault from a racist student, is fired for quoting the student’s epithet.

Talk about putting form over substance…

The Apple Store business model is broken

Here’s what’s wrong…and how Apple can fix it.

This past week I took my 73 year-old father to the Apple Store in the Cincinnati area with the intent of purchasing at least one (and probably two) items. My dad was in the market for a new iPhone and a new laptop. 

We arrived twenty minutes before the store opened. A young Apple Store associate entered our information in a tablet before the store opened. (Like the government in Logan’s Run, Apple Stores seem to eliminate every member of their band over the age of thirty. I have never been waited on there by anyone much beyond that age.) 

Great! I thought. This is going to be fast! Whiz-bang efficiency!

But I was wrong. It wasn’t fast. 

To make a long story short, we spent 90 minutes waiting around the store. We stood. We paced. We looked at the few items that you can view without the help of a sales associate. (And there aren’t many of those.)

And then, finally, we gave up. We left without buying anything. At the time of our departure, we were told that we would be waited on in…about twenty minutes.

That was probably an optimistic assessment. I think it would have been more like an hour: There were around two dozen other customers waiting around for service, just like us. 

I saw several of them walk out in frustration, too.

Apple: great products, sucky retailing

I am a ten-year member of the Cult of Mac. 

I personally haven’t used anything but Apple products since 2010, when a final malware infection of my Dell PC, loaded with Windows XP, convinced me that enough was enough.  

So I bought an iMac. The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, I’ve owned two iMacs, two MacBooks, four iPods, and three iPhones. 

I’ve become an evangelist for Apple products. I’ve converted not only both my parents, but at least two or three of my friends. 

Apple products really are something special. But boy, those Apple Stores sure do suck.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Widespread complaints

A May 2019 article in the LA Times is entitled, “How the Apple Store has fallen from grace”. Focusing on an Apple Store in Columbus, Ohio, the article could have been written about my recent visit to the Apple Store in Cincinnati: 

Web Smith’s recent experience at his local Apple store in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, has been an exercise in frustration.

There was the time he visited the Easton Town Center location to buy a laptop for his 11-year-old daughter and spent almost 20 minutes getting an employee to accept his credit card. In January, Smith was buying a monitor and kept asking store workers to check him out, but they couldn’t because they were Apple “Geniuses” handling tech support and not sales.

“It took me forever to get someone to sell me the product,” said Smith, who runs 2PM Inc., an e-commerce research and consulting firm. “It’s become harder to buy something, even when the place isn’t busy. Buying a product there used to be a revered thing. Now you don’t want to bother with the inconvenience.”

There are many similar stories in the media of late, as well as customer complaints on social media. 

Cult of Mac members still largely love their iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones, iPods, and Apple Watches. But they increasingly dread the next trip to the Apple Store.

So what went wrong? And what needs to be done? 

An obsolete concept of the pre-iPhone era

The first Apple Stores debuted in May 2001—going on twenty years ago. Back then, they showcased only the computers, which had a minuscule market share at the time, compared to PCs made by Dell and Gateway. 

iPods were added in October 2001, but these, too, were specialty products when they debuted. For geeks only. 

The real tipping point was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, and the subsequent ubiquity of smartphones. 

In 2001, a relatively small percentage of the population owned an iMac or a MacBook. In 2019, 40% of us own iPhones. The iPhone is a mass-market product. But it’s still being retailed as if it were a specialty item.

And when you visit an Apple Store in 2019, you’ll find that 70% of the traffic to these upscale boutiques is iPhone-related. Many are there for routine password resets. 

This is traffic that was never imagined or accounted for in 2001, when the Apple Store concept was launched.

Zen over function

Apple Stores don’t look like ordinary electronics retails stores. Steve Jobs was a devotee of eastern Zen practices, and the Apple Store resembles a Japanese bonsai garden. There is an emphasis on minimalism, and lots of blank space. 

The downside of that is that you can’t do much to serve yourself, as you could in a Best Buy or a Walmart. 

You basically walk into the store, and an employee puts you into an electronic queue. Then you wait around. 

But you have a very clean, zen setting in which to wait. 

Uncomfortable stores

Speaking of those long waits….

Apple Stores do look nice. But they are not comfortable places to spend an hour waiting for a salesperson. Which is almost inevitable. 

There are few stools, and it’s clear that the stools were selected for their  sleekness, not their comfort. 

There aren’t any plush bean bags or sofas to sit on. Heavens no! That would detract from the zen.

Inefficient use of staff

Too many Apple Store employees are exclusively dedicated to crowd control—to herding you into virtual line. 

This is because you can’t serve yourself in an Apple Store. Go into a Best Buy, and there are clearly defined areas for looking at computers, at cell phones, at peripherals. There’s a line for service in every Best Buy. A line for returns. 

Normal retail, in other words. 

There are no clearly defined areas within the Apple Store. Customers are all milling about, most of them doing nothing but waiting to be attended on. 

Many of these customers are frustrated and growing impatient. They want to know how much longer they’ll have to wait. This means that at any given moment, at least a quarter of the Apple Store employees you see on the floor are directing this vast cattle drive. 

They aren’t selling any products, they aren’t helping any customers. They’re just managing the virtual line. 

That amounts to a big waste of the Apple Store’s manpower—and of the customers’ time.

Decline of staff quality

Apple stores were once staffed by highly knowledgeable sales personnel. That was in the days when the stores only carried computers, and hiring was very selective.

Those days are gone. Now that it’s all about selling a gazillion iPhones, Apple Store employees are no longer specialists. Despite the pretentious name “Genius Bar”, geniuses are in short supply on the sales floor nowadays. You’re going to be served by run-of-the-mill retail sales staff. And their expertise, helpfulness, and attitudes vary greatly.

Not enough stores

There are about a dozen AT&T stores within a twenty-minute drive of my house in suburban Cincinnati.

Guess how many Apple Store there are…

One. In the Cincinnati area, we are served by a single Apple Store at the Kenwood Towne Centre.

And for those readers in Los Angeles and New York, who maybe think that Cincinnati is a one-horse cow town: There are 2.1 million people in the Greater Cincinnati area. It’s the 29th largest metropolitan area in the United States. 

And we have one Apple Store.

There are only eight Apple Stores in all of Ohio, and a total population of 11 million. That means one Apple Store for every 1,375,000 Ohioans. 

But it could be worse: There are only three Apple Stores in the entire state of Wisconsin. Kentucky has only one Apple Store.

But there are only twenty-two Apple Stores in the entire State of New York. AT&T has more retail locations than that just in Cincinnati. 

No wonder the stores are packed. I made my aforementioned trip to the Kenwood Towne Center Apple Store with my dad on a Friday. Granted, Friday is typically a busier retail day than Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. But this was during the middle of October—not exactly a peak shopping season. The back-to-school rush is already over. The Christmas shopping blitz won’t begin for another six weeks. 

And at 9:40 in the morning—twenty minutes before opening time—there was already a crowd outside the Apple Store.

The Apple Store needs to be refocused on function rather than branding

As an Apple employee quoted by the LA Times notes, Apple Stores are “mostly an exercise in branding and no longer do a good job serving mission shoppers”.

The “mission shopper” is the shopper who goes into the store with a specific purchase in mind (versus someone who is still torn between a Mac and a PC, or an iPhone and an Android). 

These are customers who could largely serve themselves. If only that were possible. But due to the philosophy of the Apple Store, there is minimal “clutter” at these boutique shops. In other words, these are retail shops with minimal merchandise on display. 

Apple Stores need to become more like Best Buys: There should be clearly defined areas for looking at each category of merchandise, and clearly defined areas to wait for technical support. 

As I mentioned above, most of the traffic in the Apple Store seems to involve iPhone support. The iPhone customers definitely need their own area of the store. 

This probably means abandoning the whole boutique concept. At present, Apple Stores are small but mostly empty spaces in high-rent locations. That is, again, all very zen and cool-looking. But it doesn’t happen  to be a great way to purchase a new MacBook, or to get your iPhone unlocked when you’ve forgotten the passcode.

A broken model in terminal need of repair

 The Apple Store might have been a workable retail model in the pre-iPhone era, when Mac devotees really were an exclusive tribe. The Apple geeks of 2001, with their tattoos and soul patches, may have appreciated the gleaming but empty Apple Stores. 

But the Apple customer base has changed and expanded since 2001. When you factor in iPhones, Apple is now a mass-market brand. (And Apple now owns 13% of the home computer market.)

 Having become a mass-market brand, Apple needs to adopt the more efficient practices of a mass-market brand. 

That means dropping the boutique pretentiousness that makes Apple Stores great places to photograph, but horrible places to buy stuff. The hoi polloi of 2019 are not the rarified Apple geeks of 2001. 

We don’t want or need a zen experience. We just want to get quickly in and out of the Apple Store with minimal delays, like we can at every other retail shop.

The Confucius Institute in the era of Xi Jinping

I’m a tireless advocate of foreign language study. (I listen to the news in at least three languages daily–usually English, Japanese, and Spanish.) 

Mandarin is one of the most important languages for Americans to learn, along with Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and several others–for obvious reasons.

There has long been a dearth of trained Mandarin instructors in the US. American foreign language instruction has traditionally been tilted toward Western European languages (French, Spanish, German). 

The Confucius Institute is an arm of the Chinese government that promotes the study of Mandarin outside China’s borders. 

There is nothing inherently sinister about this. Other countries, including the United States, Japan, and Germany, have similar programs.

But where the Beijing government is concerned–especially in the age of Xi Jinping–Mandarin instruction often comes with a heavy dose of political propaganda, as Andreas Fulda describes in Foreign Policy Magazine

Confucius Institutes have been critiqued for repeatedly straying from their publicly declared key task of providing Mandarin Chinese language training and for venturing into deep ideological territory. There is mounting evidence that the institutes’ learning materials distort contemporary Chinese history and omit party-induced humanitarian catastrophes such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) entirely. At Confucius Institute events, politically sensitive issues like Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen cannot be publicly discussed either. In 2014, a conference in Braga, Portugal, that involved both the Confucius Institute headquarters and the Taiwan-based Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange as co-sponsors was unceremoniously interrupted by Confucius Institute headquarters chief Xu Lin. And under the conditions of the Seven Don’t Speak directive, mainland Chinese education workers are barred from talking about universal values, freedom of speech, civil society, civil rights, the historical errors of the CCP, official bourgeoisie, and judicial independence—even when overseas.

Chinese Propaganda Has No Place on Campus

By all means, study Mandarin. But as I’ve pointed out before: Americans have been waiting for China to become a “normal”, open, democratic country for at least 30 years now. The wait continues. 

Warren’s war on Big Tech

Elizabeth Warren has declared her intention to break up Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

But what exactly does that mean?

Google

You already have plenty of other choices. There’s Bing, Yahoo! and many others.

Here’s a list of at least 14 search engines that you can use instead of Google, right now….no action from Elizabeth Warren or the federal government required.

Amazon

You already have plenty of other choices here, too .

Did you know that you can order stuff from Walmart online? You can!

Nor is Walmart your only non-Amazon choice. Take just about any product that you would ordinarily purchase on Amazon and Google it. Excuse me!– Bing it!–and you’ll find alternative sources.

No action from Elizabeth Warren or the federal government required!

Why do you purchase so much stuff from Amazon? Admit it: It’s because Amazon provides excellent customer service and competitive prices. Shopping on Amazon is a pretty seamless, and overall pleasant, experience.

What’s to stop other retailers from doing the same?

More to the point…What the heck is Elizabeth Warren going to do about any of it? Is she going to make Barnes & Noble more competitive?

Oh, give me a break. I’m in the book business, folks. And I can tell you that Barnes & Noble has screwed the pooch with every opportunity they’ve gotten since the dawn of the e-commerce era. B&N is still stuck in 1995. And they were great in 1995. Today–not so much.

Facebook

My general loathing for social media is documented throughout this site. I don’t only despise Facebook. I also detest Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, and Snapchat.

But here’s the thing: Facebook is a freakin’ website. How is Elizabeth Warren going to break up a website?

No one forces anyone to go to Facebook, or any other social media site. Nor is what social media provides in any way essential to daily life.

But as long as you’ve got millions of people who will go bonkers over the prospect of following a Clinton-era actress on Instagram, social media has a market. Never underestimate the stupidity of the masses.

***

In summary: 

1.) There are already at least 14 alternatives to Google.

2.) People use Amazon because Amazon makes buying stuff online cheap and convenient.

3.) Social media is idiotic, but so are lots of the people who are obsessed with it.

I don’t love Big Tech. The very sight of Mark Zuckerberg makes me cringe. But the government can’t change the consumer preferences that led to the dominance of Google, Amazon, or Facebook.

Our preferences created these monopolies, to the extent that they exist.

Do you want Elizabeth Warren telling you where you can buy lawn furniture?….Or where you get to see photos of Jennifer Aniston?

That’s what the Warren War on Big Tech is all about, at the end of the day: the government (i.e., a future President Warren) picking winners and losers.

Jennifer Aniston, Instagram, celebrity obsessions

The heyday of Friends…in 1995

CNN breathlessly tells us that Jennifer Aniston’s debut on Instagram temporarily “broke” the platform, because so many people were intent on following her.

Are Americans really that celebrity- and social media-obsessed nowadays?

I have nothing against Jennifer Aniston, mind you (not that she would care, I know)… I used to watch Friends all the time…in like, 1998. I also enjoyed Aniston’s performances in Office Space (1999) and Derailed (2005).

Jennifer Aniston is a fine actress, and minimally annoying as Hollywood types go. But her signature venue, Friends, went off the air 15 years ago.

15 years ago. 

Aniston is basically an actress of the 1990s and the 2000s.

Nothing wrong with that! Aniston has a net worth of $240 million. She doesn’t need to prove anything at this point, and heaven knows she doesn’t need the money.

But why do so many people feel a compulsion to follow her on Instagram in 2019? What’s the secret sauce here? What’s the objective? I don’t get it.

If following celebrities whose careers peaked nearly twenty years ago is the big thing on Instagram, then I’ll take this as further proof that I’m not missing out on much by ignoring the  social media platform.

Michael Moore’s deliberate cognitive dissonance

From a man with a net worth of $50 million

Even Elizabeth Warren is not far left enough for Michael Moore these days. 

Warren seems to be advocating some kind of a mixed economy (she’s a little fuzzy on the details) that will involve capitalism and an expanded social safety net.

Most people want some version of this, although we disagree about exactly where the capitalism part should end, and the social safety net should begin, and vice versa. (That’s another discussion for another day.)

But Michael Moore just thinks that capitalism is all bad…All capitalism does is enslave people. 

A few observations:

1.) Michael Moore is a capitalist. Moore has a net worth of $50 million. He got that fortune (what else do you call $50 million?) via sales of his books and films. In other words, capitalism. 

2.) Put your money where your mouth is, Michael: If Moore truly believes that capitalism is nothing but exploitation, then the only moral thing for him to do is to give it all away, save the amount that he needs to keep himself in East German-style accommodations….But he hasn’t done that, has he?

3.) Ergo, Michael Moore is full of shit. He’s another hypocritical Hollywood limousine socialist, just like Cynthia Nixon, who calls herself a socialist, but actually has a net worth $25 million

Never, ever listen to a celebrity musician/actor/athlete when he or she opens his/her pie hole to lecture to you about politics. 

CEO pay and the American way of life

Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders has proposed levying punitive taxes on corporations with CEOs whose compensation is more than 50 times that of the median worker.

Wow? Some CEOs really make that much?

Most CEOs make a lot more, in fact (numbers to follow). You don’t have to be a glassy-eyed socialist like Bernie Sanders to object to the astronomical pay levels at publicly held corporations. Lou Dobbs, a right-leaning Republican commentator, has also raised the issue. Back in 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot complained of “rock star salaries” among America’s CEOs.

Just what do we mean by adjectives like “too high” or “rock star”? In 2018, a CEO at the average S&P 500 company was paid $14.5 million per year. There are plenty of rock stars who would like to be so handsomely compensated.

To put some numbers on Sanders’s proposal: Let’s imagine a company where the median worker earns $50,000 per year. The Sanders surcharge tax would still permit a millionaire salary for the CEO. Fifty times $50K is $2.5 million. Every dollar above that would be taxed at the surcharge. 

No one within the mainstream argues that CEOs—or other members of corporate management—should be compensated at the same level as the guy or gal in the mailroom. If that were the case, no one would ever want to rise beyond the mailroom. But there is a point at which compensation becomes excessively high, at a company that the CEO does not own, and did not found. 

There are also historical precedents to consider: CEO pay has risen 940% since 1978. During the same period, the compensation of the average worker has risen only 12%. 

Something is out of whack there, as my grandmother would have said. 

CEO pay of the immediate postwar years was far more restrained. Average workers did very well during the period from 1947 to 1972. For decades, the general rule of thumb was that the top man (and yes—it was always a man, in those days) ought to make about ten times what the average worker makes.

This is the number I often heard cited as “common sense” during my years in the Japanese automotive industry: 平社員の十倍ぐらい. Japanese CEOs make considerably less than their American counterparts, and they always have.

What brought about the change in the American corporate mindset?

It’s important to remember why there was so much self-restraint among the CEOs of yesteryear in the first place. During the 1950s, there was a widely shared understanding that America was locked in an epic struggle: between free-market, liberal capitalism on one hand, and top-down, command-and-control socialism on the other. 

American CEOs of the 1950s knew that the Red Menace didn’t reside solely in Moscow. They remembered the surge of interest in Marxism in America during the 1930s. Many senior managers were old enough to remember the U.S. presidential election of 1912, when “card-carrying” Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs also carried 6 percent of the popular vote. 

By the mid-1950s, revelations about what life was really like in the workers’ paradise of the USSR had tarnished the image of Soviet-style Marxism. But there were still plenty of Marxists around, even if they preferred to call themselves something else. 

American CEOs of the 1950s understood that in order for free-market capitalism to flourish, a plurality of Americans had to recognize that they had a stake in maintaining the free market. During this period, millions of average workers (including my grandfather, who worked in a Ford Motor Company plant) prospered under American free enterprise. 

Of course, the CEOs and senior managers prospered more—but not 290 times more, which is the current average. 

The end of the Cold War brought about psychological and philosophical changes in the American boardroom. (So, too, did the overarching focus on shareholders, versus stakeholders.) Today’s CEOs might not actually see the publicly held corporations they control as their private bank accounts; but they certainly give off that impression. 

We now face another threat to the American way of life. It is not Soviet-style communism this time, but a generalized leftwing anarchy, as embodied by rock-throwing antifa goons, and far-left politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar (not to mention Bernie Sanders himself). 

The future direction of America will be determined not by Americans in MAGA hats, nor by Americans who obsess about their role in the #RESIST movement. The future direction of America will be determined by that great mass of Americans in the middle. 

And that mass of Americans is likely to choose freedom and the free market—but only so long as they see capitalism as a system of individual effort-and-reward, not as a game rigged for the benefit of a handful of CEOs.

Bernie Sanders longs for a world in which the government decides everything—including CEO pay. We would be better to have a world of free markets and minimal government interference. But this will require CEOs to exercise self-restraint, like the CEOs of the Cold War era.

Chinese censorship and American filmmaking

Movies in the People’s Republic of China are still subject to heavy-handed state control and censorship throughout the production process. This has been the case ever since the beginning of the Chinese filmmaking industry under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. 

In recent years, however, we have a twist: American filmmakers are now allowing CCP biases and hot buttons to change key elements of American movies, too.

In 2012, the remake of the classic 1980s film, Red Dawn, was modified to avoid offending China. The 1984 version of the film depicted a Soviet invasion of America. Since the USSR hasn’t existed since 1991, the 2012 reimagining of the movie was originally based on the premise of a Chinese invasion. 

But after outcry from the Chinese government, the entire movie was altered. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn that we actually saw was a North Korean invasion of the United States–a completely implausible scenario. 

We’ll soon see a remake of another 1980s classic: Top Gun. To avoid offending the Chinese government, the flags of Japan and Taiwan will be removed from Maverick’s leather jacket. (I suppose we should be grateful that Chinese government censors are allowing the inclusion of the American flag.)

Yes, I know: Hollywood has long demonstrated itself to be craven and greedy. (I certainly do my share of railing against know-it-all celebrities in this space. ) But the larger lesson here is that Chinese money always comes with significant strings attached.

In defense of Halloween

This is October, the month of Halloween. I am an unabashed and unrepentant fan of this dark holiday.

Halloween is controversial, among the finger-waggers of both a secular, as well as a religious, bent. 

Ideological secularists believe that SCIENCE can provide the answer to everything. The celebration of Halloween is therefore irrational, as Dr. Spock would say. 

But most secular types simply ignore Halloween. They spend Halloween night reading Richard Dawkins, or something. The real opposition to Halloween comes from evangelical know-it-alls, who believe that if it isn’t in Scripture, then it must be evil. They fear satanic influences on Halloween night.

It’s true that Halloween has some pagan origins—or at least some pagan associations. So too, does the concept of the afterlife (which can be traced back to the pagan Greeks). Also, the celebration of Christmas on December 25th. (Many aspects of our traditional Christmas holiday come from pagan sources, in fact.) 

The uncomfortable truth is that in ancient times, Christianity and paganism existed side-by-side, and were often intermingled. Attempts to purge Christianity of all pagan influences are usually fruitless—and pointless. 

Symbols change their meanings over time. The Christmas wreath has its origins in pagan Rome. But how many of us are thinking of the Roman pantheon when we hang a wreath in December? Common sense, people. You don’t become a pagan on a technicality. 

Halloween is ultimately an expression of humility–a very Christian (and humanistic) virtue. The holiday is an acknowledgement that human beings must live in a world where dark forces exist, where bad things happen to good people, where much of life is uncertain. 

That includes evil, however you define it. And the inevitability of death.

Sometimes, these two forces are tightly intermingled. Consider our anxieties over mass shootings and acts of terrorism. These instances of senseless violence involve both evil and death. 

Here is where the evangelical Christian, the Dawkins-quoting secularist, and the lapsed Roman Catholic can find a point of common ground. As human beings, we are all ultimately vulnerable. Our loved ones are ultimately vulnerable. Death eventually comes for all of us, regardless of what we believe. And none of us knows, with absolute empirical certainty, what does—or doesn’t—come next. 

If that uncertainty doesn’t cause you occasional moments of anxiety, then maybe you’re spending too much time watching cat videos on Facebook.

Halloween is a holiday in which we consciously choose to laugh and celebrate in the full acknowledgment that our world includes evil, death, and uncertainty. This is what the motifs of Halloween—skeletons, gravestones, and black cats—represent. Death. Evil.

The celebration of Halloween can, in this way, be an expression of Christian faith: a willingness to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

No—a willingness to skip through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. For just one night each year.

Social media’s true agenda

Social media platforms began, ostensibly, as venues in which ordinary people could express themselves.

That was social media circa 2005…or 2006.

Today social media is all about commoditizing your attention, as Instapundit’s Glenn Reynold points out in a recent opinion column on USA Today:

many tech companies see their users as a form of prey — or maybe herd animals would be a better metaphor. Our attention is lured in via clickbait and algorithmic jiggery-pokery that’s designed to keep us emotionally stirred and engaged (which mostly means angry) and then monetized to make tech companies rich.

Glenn Reynolds

Reynolds explains later in the column that he quit Twitter: “it was the most addictive yet also most unsatisfying social medium.”

Paraphrasing Reynolds, Twitter is basically an algorithmic manipulation machine, that is designed to keep you clicking. 

A case can be made for maintaining a personal account on Facebook, but Twitter….No.

Harry Potter banned in Tennessee Catholic school

Yes, Harry Potter is probably the most overrated fictional series of the past 30 years. Yes, J.K. Rowling has become an annoying twit on Twitter–along with Stephen King. 

That all said, I can’t accept this story with equanimity: 

A Catholic school in Nashville, Tennessee has banned the “Harry Potter” series because a reverend at the school claims the books include both good and evil magic, as well as spells, which, if read by a human can conjure “evil spirits,” 

The publication obtained an email from Rev. Dan Reehil, a pastor at Saint Edwards Catholic School parish, which was sent to parents. In the email, Reehil explains in the email that he has consulted several exorcists in the U.S. and Rome, and it was recommended that the school remove the books, the Tennessean reports.


“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception,” Rev. Reehil said of the seven-part “Harry Potter” book series. “The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text,” the email continues.

CBS News

I recall the days of my 1980s youth, when sundry busybodies were worried about allegations of  “backmasked” satanic messages in heavy metal music. 

I’ve listened to “Stairway to Heaven” probably a thousand times over the past 35 years. I’ve owned every album that Ozzy Osbourne ever put out. And I’ve never once had a desire to draw a pentagram on my floor, or sacrifice a goat to Baal. 

Let me be clear: I’m not a reductive materialist. Or even an agnostic, for that matter. I believe in God; and therefore I also believe in Evil as a concrete, personal force in this world.

But I also believe that intention is an important factor in such matters. Summoning evil entities (assuming that such things exist), probably doesn’t work like “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”.

In other words, you likely aren’t going to conjure the forces of darkness on a technicality–like say, by listening to “Stairway to Heaven”, or to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”.

Or by reading a ridiculously overrated series of novels about an academy for teenage wizards.

On the other hand, messing around with a ouija board is something that I absolutely would not do, because that is an expression of an intention to open doors that are better left closed. 

I attended two Catholic schools during the 1970s and 1980s. Both institutions were bastions of free inquiry, in every reasonable way. I have nothing bad to say about my experiences with Catholic education.

In practical terms, this move by one Catholic school in Tennessee doesn’t mean much. Kids attending the school can still get Harry Potter on Amazon, or at their local public library. Only the government can truly act as censor.

But when a representative of Christianity (particularly my favorite sect, Roman Catholicism) does something like this, the blatant narrow-mindedness reflects poorly on all of us. 

Ebook resale rights, and the end of ebooks

Writing on The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder reports that a French court has awarded consumers the right to resell downloaded digital games. Hoffelder predicts that this ruling will eventually be extended to ebooks. 

For all we know, Mr. Hoffelder may very well be right. 

What this would mean, then, is that when you visit Amazon, you’d find used copies of ebooks for sale, just like you now find used copies of physical books. 

We can also predict a new business model: the website that exclusively sells used ebooks. 

Physical books vs ebooks

The sale of used physical (paperback and hardback) books is mostly uncontroversial. This is for two reasons:

1.) Limited substitutability:  A used book is seldom a true substitute for a new one. There is wear and tear. The binding may be cracked. The cover might be dog-eared. And what are those funny stains on pages 236 and 237…the ones that look suspiciously like bodily fluids? 

2.) Limited resale potential: There is a one-for-one limit on the physical books you can resell. Buy one copy of Stephen King’s latest novel, you can resell one copy. 

Oh, and someone is going to have to pay for shipping, packaging, etc. This means that used book reselling is inherently a low-margin business. 

Ebook reselling would not be restrained by the above factors. 

Buy one copy of a digital book, and you can copy and resell the thing a gazillion times. There would be no limits, and few transaction costs.  

Amazon would probably attempt to establish a one-for-one resale limit. But there would be no such limit at the third-party sales sites. Ebooks would be copied by the millions, and resold by the millions.

The end game: the end of ebooks

I understand the argument in favor of resale rights. The argument exists. 

But here’s the rub: Once you establish mass, above-board resale rights for ebooks (or any digitally downloaded product), you completely eliminate the incentive for anyone to produce such a product in the first place. 

The excuse they’ve been looking for

Let’s start with the big five traditional publishers: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.

Traditional publishers have resisted ebooks since their inception, because ebooks cannibalize physical book sales. (Ebooks also opened up new avenues of competition from small publishers and indie writers.) 

Traditional publishers are itching for an excuse to simply stop issuing ebooks. A legally recognized secondary ebook market would be the excuse they are looking for. 

What will they do instead? Simple. They’ll go back to what they were doing a decade ago: They’ll only sell physical books. 

Ebooks aren’t inevitable. 

The digital utopians who predicted the demise of the paper book fifteen years ago have been proven wrong many times over. In fact, physical book sales have regained a portion of their market share in recent years, while ebook sales have leveled off. 

The simple fact of the matter is: The publishing industry doesn’t have to make ebooks available at all. Ebooks will exist only so long as they’re profitable to make and sell. 

Yes, scanned and digitized pirate ebooks of the megabestsellers would still find their way on to the Internet. But if the content stops coming through the regular channels, sooner or later the Kindle, the Nook, and all the other e-readers will be abandoned by their manufacturers. That sort of thing can and does happen, as anyone old enough to remember the Betamax or the 8-track can tell you. 

This means going back to the age of reading ebooks as RTF and PDF files in front of a computer screen….but only the ebooks that find their way onto the black market.  

What about indie authors? 

Indie publishers are already losing money from Amazon’s decision to move to a pay-for-play marketplace, in which almost no books are sold without paid advertising anymore. If every ebook sold can suddenly be resold a dozen or a thousand times, look for indie authors to stop publishing ebooks, too. The margins simply won’t be there. 

What would I do, you ask? 

I’m a big fan of free content. (I serialize a lot of my fiction on Edward Trimnell Books.) I’m not a fan, however, of giving online pirate sites new ways to make money off creators. I’d continue to publish free content here on my website, and sell paperbacks

But as for publishing Kindle versions of anything? Every Kindle book I sold would simply be copied many times over and (legally) resold. What would be the point? 

Conclusion: The ebook may be an endangered species.

Contrary to past predictions, many consumers still haven’t adopted the ebook. Publishers are suspicious of them because of intellectual property concerns. 

Far from being inevitable, the ebook is a tenuous thing. 

If a secondary ebook market becomes the law of the land, we may quickly reach the point where there are few new ebooks to resell, because so few are being published anymore.