Back to Flint

A follow up to yesterday’s post. One rabbit-hole I had to stop myself running down was Eric Flint’s 2015 post THE DIVERGENCE BETWEEN POPULARITY AND AWARDS IN FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. Eric Flint, often cast as the token left-winger of Baen’s stable, tread a difficult line during the Debarkle with many of his colleagues or professional collaborators (e.g. Dave Freer) very much advocating the Sad Puppy line. Flint’s overall position could be described as conceding that there was some sort of issue with the Hugo Awards but disagreeing with the tactic and rhetoric of the Sad Puppies and the underlying causes of the problem.

Flint’s diagnosis of the issue is explained in the post I linked to and can be summarised by this proposition:

“the Hugos (and other major F&SF awards) have drifted away over the past thirty years from the tastes and opinions of the mass audience”

This was not a post-hoc reaction to the Debarkle but a view he had held for several years:

Here’s the history: Back in 2007, I wound up (I can’t remember how it got started) engaging in a long email exchange with Greg Benford over the subject of SF awards. Both of us had gotten a little exasperated over the situation, which is closely tied to the issue of how often different authors get reviewed in major F&SF magazines.

[some punctuation characters have been cleaned up -CF]

Flint goes on to describes the issues he had trying to substantiate the feeling. He acknowledges that the basic issue with any simple analysis to corroborate his impression is that sales data is not readily available or tractable. He goes on to attempt to address that deficit of data in other ways. However, regardless of of his method (how much space book stores dedicate to given writers) his approach only address one part of what is actually a two part claim:

  • There is a current disparity between popularity of authors and recognition of authors in the Hugo Award.
  • Thirty years ago this was not the case (or was substantially less).

Now I have even less access to sales data than Flint and publishing has changed even further since even 2015. Nor do I have any way of travelling back to 1985 (or 1977) to compare book stores then with the Hugo Awards. Flint’s claim is far to subject to impressions and confirmation bias to really get a handle on. I could counter Flint’s more anecdotal evidence of current (at the time) big genre sellers unrecognised by the Hugo Awards with examples form 1985. An obvious one would Jean M. Auel’s whose Clan of the Cave Bear series was selling bucket load in the early 80’s and beyond (The Mammoth Hunters would have been cluttering up book stores in 1985). A more high-brow megaseller from 1985 would be Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s Contact, which, again, did not make into the Hugo list of finalists. Yet, these counter-examples lack bite because the Hugo’s missing a couple of books don’t demonstrate that Flint’s impression is wrong even if they help demonstrate that his evidence for the current (as of 2015 or 2007*) is weak.

However, Flint does go on to make a different kind of argument by using the example of Orson Scott Card:

“With the last figure in the group, of course,Orson Scott Card,we find ourselves in the presence of a major award-winner. Card has been nominated for sixteen Hugo awards and won four times, and he was nominated for a Nebula on nine occasions and won twice. And he was nominated for a World Fantasy Award three times and won it once.
But…
He hasn’t been nominated for a WFC in twenty years, he hasn’t been nominated for a Nebula in eighteen years, and hasn’t been nominated for a Hugo in sixteen years. And he hasn’t won any major award (for a piece of fiction) in twenty years.
This is not because his career ended twenty years ago. To the contrary, Card continues to be one of our field’s active and popular authors. What’s really happened is that the ground shifted out from under him – not as far as the public is concerned, but as far as the in-crowds are concerned. So, what you’re really seeing with Orson Scott Card’s very impressive looking track record is mostly part of the archaeology of our field, not its current situation. As we’ll see in a moment, the situation is even more extreme with Anne McCaffrey and almost as bad with George R.R. Martin.

[some punctuation characters have been cleaned up -CF]

Well this is more tractable. We can track authors over time through the Hugo Awards and we can look at what we might call ‘windows’ in which they receive awards. So that’s what I did. I grabbed list of Hugo finalists for the story categories (novel, novella, novelette, short story), put them in a big spreadsheet, cleaned up all sorts of things as per usual and went to have a look.

I’ll save a lot of the data for another post. There are two big issues with looking at the data over time. The first is that there are built in patterns to the data that show changes overtime that arise just out of the data being collected. Back in 1953 a Hugo finalist could only possibly have been nominated that once. Likewise a first time Hugo finalist in 2020 has a hard limit on the span of years between their first and last Hugo nomination.

A different issue is exemplified by this grouping of data where span of years if the difference between the first year an author was a Hugo finalist to the last year.

Span of YearsTotal
0201
1 to 576
6 to 1035
11 to 1527
16 to 2021
21 to 2517
26 to 309
31 to 357
36 to 402
fee-fi-fo-fum I smell the blood of a power-law distributi-um

More than half of the data set are one-hit wonders because everybody’s first go as a finalist is a one-hit wonder until they get their next one. That’s quite a healthy sign IMHO but I digress. 70% of the authors are in 0 to 5 year span but there a small number of authors who have large time spans of nominations. The top two being George RR Martin and Isaac Asimov (38 years and 36 years). This kind of data is not summarised well by arithmetic means.

I’ll save some of the geekier aspects for another time. Is there a shift in some of these spans recently? Maybe but both the structural issues with the data and (ironically) the Debarkle itself make it hard to spot.

What we can do though is look at specific cases and Orson Scott Card is a great example. He’s great because he undeniably fell out of favour with people by being an enormous arse and we can corroborate that externally from this data set. However! EVEN GIVEN THAT the table of groupings I posted shows us something that severely undermines Flint’s point.

Card’s Hugo span (last year as finalist minus first year as a finalist) is 14 years. That puts him in the top 14% of writers by Hugo span. Card has been very far from being short changed compared to other authors. These are his 14 year-span companions:

FinalistMin of YearMax of Year
C. M. Kornbluth19591973
Dan Simmons19902004
James Blish19561970
Joan D. Vinge19781992
Orson Scott Card19781992
Robert J. Sawyer19962010

Note that the group is from multiple decades. The broader 11-15 group includes writers like Frank Herbert, China Miéville, C. M. Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick, and John Scalzi. Now Miéville and Scalzi might still extend their span (as might Card but probably not).

Flint goes on to suggest that awards get more literary over time and maybe they do but looking at the data I think Flint is sort of seeing a phenomenon but misreading what it is.

I would suggest instead that Awards favour a sweet-spot of novelty. A work that is too out-there won’t garner enough support quickly enough to win awards. A work that is too like stuff people have seen before isn’t going to win awards either — almost by definition, if we are saying ‘this book is notable’ it has to stand out from other books. For the Sad Puppies or even the LMBPN Nebula slate, this was apparent in works that struggled to differentiate themselves from other stories in an anthology or another book in a series. Jim Butcher’s Skin Game (to pick a Debarkle example) was just another book in his long running series and not even a particularly good episode.

The same applies to some degree for authors. I am not saying John Scalzi will never win another Hugo Award but I don’t expect him to even though I think he’ll be writing good, entertaining sci-fi for many years. This is not because he’s not sufficiently left-wing for current Hugo voters but because we’ve read lots of John Scalzi now and sort of know what to expect.

A future equivalent of Eric Flint in 2036 may look back to 2006 and say “Back in the day the Hugos used to reward popular authors like John Scalzi. Look at the virtual-cyber shelf on Googlazon and you’ll see rows of Scalzi books up to his latest ‘Collapsing Old Red Shirt 23: Yogurt’s Revenge’ – why don’t the Hugo’s give him rockets any more!”**

The Hugo’s move on, it is true but they have repeatedly picked out not exactly brand new talent but authors when they are at a sweet spot of their careers. Yes some have much longer Hugo spans but they are unusual and many are the sci-fi giants of yore and others are people with long gaps between nominations.

Card actually had a good run but even without his more giant-arsehole like antics, it is very unlikely that he would have got a Hugo nomination any time soon. Note, for example, that Card has not yet been a Dragon Award finalist despite having eligible novels and despite the Dragons (championed by Flint) as supposedly addressing the popularity issue.

*[Or 2020, as I don’t think Flint has said everything is fine now.]

**[I suspect future John Scalzi will be more inventive than just rehashing his former hits but also I think he’d actually be quite brilliant at writing a parody pastiche of his own work.]

Sci-fi, Libertarians, Heinlein and other stuff

I got bored with my previous habit of checking on the clumsy articles at Quillette — the online magazine for people who want to be reassured that reactionary ideas are really quite nice if you stand on your head and squint at them for long enough. However, a recent article crossed into multiple aspects of my interests that I really thought I should write about it. Entitled “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction” (https://quillette.com/2020/06/12/the-libertarian-history-of-science-fiction/) it is not a particularly great examination of the topic but not so blisteringly awful as to be funny. In responding to it I appear to have gone off in many directions and have used many words and long run on sentences. So more after the fold…

There really are free lunches

Review: Space Force (Netflix)

Netflix’s Steve Carrell led comedy leaps on the absurdity of the Trump administration’s announcement of a new branch of America’s armed forces and then sort of loses track of the absurdity. The show falls neatly into the sub-genre of bureaucratic comedies that include The Office (both versions) or The Thick of It and then throws a budget and stars at it. Carrell, Lisa Kudrow and more surprisingly John Malkovich add a lot of comedic weight to the show which then doesn’t quite do anything with it.

There are some funny moments, there are some interesting characters and interesting character arcs but…no particularly funny episodes or particularly insightful episodes or particularly touching episodes. Carrell’s General Naird is too nice and too competent. The jokes about the US military and internal rivalries are too tame. Even the digs at the absurdity of Trump (unnamed) are underplayed. So the show just occasionally plays into its own ridiculousness and then back pedals. Carrell and Malkovich are funnier when they are antagonistic (Malkovich plays the chief scientist for the newly formed Space Force)…so the show keeps giving them arcs where he and the general learn to work together better and be friends. I mean, I can see how that could be a neat subversion of comedic expectations but practically it forces the show into an arc of moderate likeability rather than funny.

There is some excellent writing in places and nice performances from the less famous members of the cast but the show never hits any heights. It’s not terrible. I did watch all the currently available episodes. It’s not exactly propaganda for how great the US military is but then it is not a searing satire of it either and hence (circling back) actually very much is propaganda for the US military (as endearing goof-balls, which…nah, no thanks). It is sadly, a bit bland and quite how it manages to make Jon Malkovich bland is a mystery. At each turn the show insists that no matter what the Space Force organisation sort of has to be the plucky underdog good guys who will come out on top in the end by being basically decent…which might work as an idea for a Disney movie about a kid’s sports team but which sits very badly with a branch of the US military.

Cartographer Catch Up

The serial mega-novella Homunculus Cartographer continues on twice a week over here: https://homunculuscartographer.home.blog

Every two weeks or so I’ll run a catch up post here with a little plot summary and links.

The story so far:

Cartographer Homunculus is an artificial being created by alchemist bears to gather data for a map making business. Carto’s job is to journey across the bowl shaped world called the Unfolded Hades gathering data. Accompanied by the bodyguard Sir Pangolin (a pangolin) the story starts with Carto having just left the Horse Lands and venturing into the human lands known as the Electorates. There they discover that a civil war is brewing.

Travelling onto to the town of Fishport they look for a ship to take them across the Alkaline Sea – the inland sea surrounded by the Electorates. Hundreds of years ago the sea was turned into a solid mass of (slimy) crystals across which ships sail on vast ski-like runners.

Having spotted a suitable ship, Carto and Sir Pangolin find themselves forced to board it after accidentally revealing a military secret…

Vox Day’s ‘Replatforming’ Backfires

Vox Day has managed to have a large number of his supporters legally doxxed in court documents with the help of his even less competent side-kick former comedian Owen Benjamin. A case filed in the Superior Court of California by crowdfunding tech company Patreon, cites seventy-two people whom they are suing due to a ‘lawfare’ campaign instigated by Day and Benjamin. I’m not linking directly to the court documents but the case “PATREON, INC. VS. PAUL MICHAEL AYURE ET AL” (Case Number: CGC20584586) can be found online via the Superior Court of California’s page https://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/

The case connects with Day’s struggles with crowdfunding (see past coverage from me here and here) but specifically connects to Owen Benjamin (see past coverage from me here and here) who was kicked off Patreon last year according to the court documents:

Patreon Terminates the Individual Account of Owen Benjamin Smith

18. On October 9, 2019, Patreon terminated the creator account of an individual named Owen Benjamin Smith, a self-described comedian who had repeatedly engaged in hate speech, in violation of Patreon ‘s Community Guidelines. For example, over the course of approximately 18 months, Smith made offensive public statements in which he blamed black people for AIDS, mocked Hollywood rape survivors, and targeted Jewish people for scorn on the 25 basis of religion. 19. Soon after the account termination, Smith, though his attorney … filed a JAMS demand for arbitration against Patreon, asserting claims for breach of contract and tortious interference with alleged contractual relations between Smith and his former patrons on the Patreon platform. Patreon denies, and is presently litigating, these claims in arbitration….20. Smith has an online fanbase, and he responded to his termination by appealing to that fanbase to file abusive claims against Patreon for the purpose of driving up Patreon’s litigation costs and extracting a settlement unrelated to the merits of his claims.

Court documents Exhibit A in DECLARATION…IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF PATREON, INC.’S EX PARTE APPLICATION FOR ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE RE PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

The idea as outlined by Day elsewhere is that tech companies like Patreon often have an arbitration clause for disputes. Day’s scheme involves individual subscribers/members/sponsors/patrons/etc also demanding arbitration when a notable member of the far right is kicked off a platform. The tech company then faces not just one manageable arbitration process but potentially hundreds e.g. the Castalia House Patreon account has 1,634 patrons – a number that hasn’t changed by much (if at all) since the initial push last year and which averages as $4 per patron.

Unfortunately, according to the court documents Patreon filled in that potential hole in the terms and conditions:

6. The Current Terms of Use provide that individual users “may not bring a claim against [Patreon] for suspending or terminating another person’s account.” Exhibit A at 11-12. 8 Users expressly agree they “will not bring such a claim[,]” and they are “responsible for the damages caused, including attorneys fees and costs,” if they do bring such a claim.

ibid

The court documents claim that the seventy-two Owen Benjamin supporters had agreed to Patreon being able to amend the Terms of Use when they signed up and by not deleting their account and by signing in this year under the revised Terms had effectively agreed to them.

According to Patreon’s court documents, Benjamin’s lawyer used the possibility of Benjamin’s followers making arbitration claims as a lever in the negotiations:

“On November 15, 2019, Mann made a settlement demand: he would proceed with the threatened 83 additional Patron Claims unless Patreon agreed to pay Smith $2.2 million and reinstate Smith’s Patreon account. Mann made clear that the payment to Smith would resolve the claims asserted by the individual patrons, stating “[o]ur intention is to address all claims -Smith’s and the individual patrons’ – in any discussions with you based upon the required relief described above.” Patreon rejected that demand”

ibid

Instead, it seems the individuals may end up liable for Patreon’s court costs. According to Day this is Patreon “playing dirty” (warning: link to his blog http://voxday.blogspot.com/2020/06/patreon-plays-dirty.html )

“Since a lawsuit is a matter of public record whereas an arbitration is not, the Owen-haters on Reddit have just published all the names of the Bears being sued by Patreon. Needless to say, the Legion is on it and we will be legally retaliating very strongly in order to see that Patreon and their lawyers are severely punished for this despicable and unexpected tactic. But the doxxing has already taken place, so if any of you experiences any blowback from this, please be sure to document everything and let us know right away so that the Legion can include everything in their future filings concerning this element of the matter.”

Vox Populi “Patreon plays dirty”

Day is also reassuring the Owen Benjamin fans (aka “Bears”):

“If you’re one of the Bears concerned, please don’t worry about anything. It’s going to be fine. The Legion – and more – are on it, and everyone will have your back, just as you have had Owen’s. This is an absolutely desperate move by Patreon to try to further delay your arbitrations against them because they are losing very badly. And if you’re wondering how this joke of a lawsuit can be a matter of public record when you haven’t even been served, exactly. As you can see here, Patreon’s lawyers are not following any of the rules of either the legal or the arbitration processes, which is one of the reasons they are losing so consistently and comprehensively.”

Vox Populi “Patreon plays dirty”

Day predicts that Patreon’s actions will lead to its destruction (where have we heard that before?)

“So, it is increasingly looking like there either won’t be a Patreon by the end of the year or Owen and the Bears will own it. It’s rather like finding yourself fighting a duel with someone who genuinely believes his most effective attack is to disembowel himself.”

Vox Populi “Patreon plays dirty”

In an earlier post this month, Day made a similar prediction:

“Of course, literally all of the relevant law and case law, both state and Federal, points to this being either a) Patreon attempting to commit suicide by law, or b) Patreon’s lawyers desperately trying to convince Patreon to keep writing them the checks that it shouldn’t have written in the first place. This legal “strategy”, to the extent that one can call it that, is so obviously futile that if you’re financially dependent upon Patreon in any way, I would not count on it being around in 12 months.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2020/06/patreon-ups-ante.html

Quite what will all happen at the end of this, I don’t know. Day has a long history of starting or threatening to start legal disputes. However, I can’t say I have yet to see an actual clear resolution to any of them (the closest in the time I’ve been running this blog has been the Indiegogo dispute whose resolution is unknown). It is worth noting that just because Day has a very flexible concept of what counts as a victory and Owen Benjamin thinks the world is flat and that bleach is medicine, that doesn’t mean they will definitely lose.

The topic is being discussed on various subreddits hostile to Day and Benjamin as well as in Day’s and Benjamin’s own videos.

[ETA the court website also has dates for when the next steps will happen:

2020-11-04 10:30 AMCASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE
2020-07-13 9:30 AMOrder To Show Cause Re Preliminary Injunction [Opposition – 6/29; Reply – 7/06)
2020-06-30 9:30 AMNotice Of Motion And Application For Order To Show Cause Re Preliminary Injunction

Looks like this will drag on for months.]

Susan’s Salon: 2020 June 14/15

Yet another open thread for people to just chat. Posted every Monday (Sydney time). It’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to be happy. Please feel free to post either troubling news or pleasant distractions in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments. Links, videos, cat pictures etc are fine – be nice to one another!] Whatever you like 🙂

Wear a mask while posting a comment.

Can Jeff Bezos ski down a pile of his own money?

Following up from yesterday’s Scrooge McDuck speculation, I thought I’d spend more time on this question and by ‘more time’ I mean ‘too much time’ as indicated that I ended up reading a vice.com essay entitle “Does Jeff Bezos Have Huge Feet” https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgy85/how-big-are-jeff-bezos-feet-an-investigation

The classic Scrooge McDuck picture shows him skiing down what appear to be gold coins and dollar bills. We can rule that out immediately (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/dragons-and-wealth-inequality/ )

I’ll assume he is amassing American coins for this purpose. Are there enough coins actually available for Bezos to get his $150 billion in coins? I don’t know. There’s enough for him to get it in notes (https://www.federalreserve.gov/paymentsystems/coin_data.htm ) but that itself would have a significant impact (the US has nearly 2 trillion in notes so he’d need about one twelfth of all the notes to get his fortune in cash).

We will assume that the Federal Reserve will make new coins so that Bezos can swap notes for coins. The next question is which coins he should get. Wikipedia has the details https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coins_of_the_United_States_dollar

Coind=diameter mmw=width mm
1 cent19.051.52
5 cent21.211.95
10 cent17.911.35
25 cent24.261.75
50 cent30.612.15

From this we can work out the volume. However, as we will be dealing with a big pile, I’ll shift to cubic metres rather than millimetres.

CoinVolume mm^3V m^3
1 cent433.2348946283610.000000433234894628361
5 cent688.978753940970.00000068897875394097
10 cent340.106413432260.00000034010641343226
25 cent808.9273571959580.000000808927357195958
50 cent1582.17675796350.0000015821767579635
(d/2)^2*w*pi

Jeff Bezos has approximately $150 billion dollars. That’s 15,000 billion cents.

From there we can work out how many of each coin he can get with his money and what the total volume of those coins would be.

Coinnumber of coinsV of  coins m^3
1 cent15,000,000,000,0006,498,523
5 cent3,000,000,000,0002,066,936
10 cent1,500,000,000,000510,160
25 cent600,000,000,000485,356
50 cent300,000,000,000474,653

The cube root of the volume will give us the height of the cubes when stacked as a cube but you can’t ski down a cube. Actually I can’t ski down a slope either but then I’m not a billionaire and my skiing ability isn’t relevant here.

What I really need to know is the angle of repose of a pile of coins (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angle_of_repose ) but I can’t find that. For simplicity’s sake, I will just assume a 45 degree triangular prism that is a half-cube instead and work out that height.

Coincube height mprism height
1 cent187235
5 cent127160
10 cent80101
25 cent7999
50 cent7898

Now in all those decimal conversions I may well have added or omitted a zero but assuming I haven’t, those are quite tall piles (and it will be really funny if I have). If the prism was narrower (ie taller than it is wide) then the total height could be higher. Whether mechanically you could ski down a pile of coins I’ve no idea.

I initially left of one dollar coins because I thought they might be too valuable to work but as they are gold colour, they would fit better with the original image. However given the results I thought I should check them out.

Coind=diameter mmw=width w mmV of  coins m^3prism height
1 dollar26.492165,33969

A 70 metre tall pile of gold-coloured coins would be a big shiny slide if you have an obscene amount of money.

However, yes, I do believe Bezos could fill a big money vault with enough legal tender to ski down it and by that standard he has far too much money.

Murderbot: Network Effect

[Spoliers avoided in the post but I will post spoilers in the comments. So avoid the comments if you don’t want spoilers.]

I sort of gave up reviewing Murderbot a few novellas ago. There is a sense that actually the plot really doesn’t matter and the simplest explanation of an instalment is that its a Murderbot story and the reader either knows the formula or doesn’t and if they don’t then see earlier reviews. However, that belies how much I enjoy each and every one of Martha Wells’s brilliant episodes of Murderbot’s continuing adventures.

The essence of the formula is the juxtaposition of this incredibly vulnerable highly competent killing machine. Murderbot has been shot and blasted and zapped but the struggles with their own sense of self and connections with other people pulls you in.

The novel-length Network Effect works in much the same way as the novellas but extended to novel length by splitting the action into a series of dramatic acts in different locations. There’s an underlying mystery but even that is familiar (corporate shenanigans around an abandoned terraforming colony and alien technology). The story is intended to be a stand-alone so the broader plot around GrayCris and Preservation aren’t the main focus (although discussed). The Asshole Research Transport aka ART is back but…well, spoilers.

What we do get and what each of the novellas have provided is this intentionally slow and deliberate character arc for Murderbot. Their gradual experience with building personal relationships and connections with other people or minds is a feature of the stories. Murderbot coming to understand themselves better and dealing with people better is what drives the stories and pushes them beyond a series of exciting set piece action sequences.

So again, I’m not really reviewing Network Effect. Poke at the world-building of the Corporate Rim and it still doesn’t really make sense and that really doesn’t matter (and also, what we get is Murderbot’s account of how he thinks all of this works and while they are never deceitful they aren’t wholly reliable either). The action is exciting, Murderbot commentary on it is both funny & moving, and there are some warm and fuzzy parts.

Priorities

I haven’t posted about Mad Genius Club for a long time but I thought I’d share a link to a recent post. The site has become a lot more focused on its core remit of helping indie authors author independently rather than feuding and political outrage. Of course, their whole eco-system for publishing is very much tied to Amazon and for many of the authors there (including the ones who have been trad-published in the past) Amazon and Amazon Kindle Unlimited are central to their publishing model. So it’s notable when an author gets frustrated with Amazon.

There is an awful lot wrong with Amazon: their near-monopoly power, Bezos’s obscene amount of wealth, shitty working conditions in its warehouses, tax avoidance, collaboration with state surveillance. Amazon has in many ways changed book publishing for the better, enabling easier access to more books for many but not without its own significant issues.

So what’s the issue that is making one author considering abandoning Amazon? https://madgeniusclub.com/2020/06/11/i-was-warned/

“I’m not sure I can do that any more. Since, oh, about the third day of the George Floyd riots, every time I open the Kindle app on my iPad, I get a row of “anti-racist” books shoved into my face.”

The horror of that experience!

“But this display, which I did not ask for and certainly do not welcome, is hardly a good-faith attempt to show me books I might be interested in. Dear Amazon, I am not going to buy Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lousy book. I would not read it even if it were free. I would not read it even if you automatically loaded it into my library, and Dear God, can something like that be far away? Stop pushing these books at me. The display doesn’t make me think, “Oh, how virtuous and public-minded this vendor is.” Rather the reverse.”

Amazon is advertising topical books. Why? It is very, very safe to assume that it’s not because of a quest for left-wing ideological purity from Amazon but from motives that are almost Ayn Randian in their cynical purity: they think people are going to want to read these books and the company will make more money for Jeff Bezos’s Scrooge McDuck giant vault of money* that way.

The offending books included:

Anyway, I’m sure next week Mad Genius Club will be back to scolding everybody about how we just don’t recognise how important diversity of ideas is.

*[I cannot confirm that Jeff Bezos actually has a Scrooge McDuck style vault of money where he skis down huge piles of coins. At a rough calculation I just did would make 150 billion dollars in ten cent coins actually not as big as you would think it is but maybe I missed a zero along the way]

A current snapshot of covid-19

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a graph of the covid-19 cases adjusted for population size. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/i-havent-written-about-covid-19-for-awhile/

Here’s how the comparable graph looks now:

https://ourworldindata.org/covid-cases#world-maps-confirmed-cases-relative-to-the-size-of-the-population

There’s a jump in Sweden’s numbers that I’m pretty sure is a change in methodology or a data revision around June 3 but I can’t find a note saying that. As always, testing rates, data collection methods and definitions make comparisons between countries dubious. However, the trajectories themselves tell a story.

Back in late March the woeful right-wing news outlet PJMedia was railing against headlines saying that the USA had the most number of cases in the world. It was of course true, within the limits of available data but

“According to their report, the United States, following “a series of missteps,” is now “the epicenter of the pandemic.” But, is it really?”

https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/matt-margolis/2020/03/27/what-the-media-isnt-telling-you-about-the-united-states-coronavirus-case-numbers-n382951

Well, yes — it really was (again, within the limits of available data). However, the article claimed it wasn’t because (aha!) the US didn’t look so bad if you went with population adjusted stats. The graph at the time looked like this:

I was going to write about it at the time but there was more overt covid-19 nonsense coming from that outlet. It’s a good example though of why one graph is never enough. A single graph is like a two dimensional picture of a three dimensional object except that it’s actually a five or six dimensional object and it is also moving. I like the ‘per million’ graph partly because news media were generally going with headline figures of numbers of cases but they weren’t wrong to do so — I was picking a different graph precisely because it added extra information not because it somehow negated a false impression. The sheer number of cases in the US at that point in time was, indeed, very bad news for the USA because the volume of cases pointed to it being a situation that the US was unlikely to be able to control.

[I should add that the graph above is out of date in a different sense. If we use the tools available from the same source to look back at March 28 the graph now looks a bit different for a couple of countries.

The difference in the two graphs of the same is due changes in methodology as well as data catching up with itself. Yet that fuzzy aspect of ‘current’ data is one way conspiracy theorist try to discredit information]

The raw numbers and the population adjusted numbers told different stories but they were complimentary stories. The US had by late march more cases than it could hope to contain without severe measures. The population adjusted graph also helped illustrate how much worse it could get.

Here is the current graph but for the same countries as the PJMedia one:

[Note: I don’t think the Iran data is reliable and it could be massively worse than what is shown but it was one of the countries picked]