Penguin Random House Rewards

Right up front: This is only something open to U.S. Residents, so sorry about that, but I just wanted to give a little shout out to the Penguin Random House Rewards program because today I was able to redeem my first reward to get a free copy of a hard cover book that was just released and costs $30.

How cool is that?

(I am not being paid for this, by the way, I just happen to be a reader first and foremost and I figured if anyone following this blog was as well then they should know about this.)

Here’s how it works:

Sign up here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/rewards/?

Then, when you buy PRH trade paperbacks (that would be the larger size ones) or hard covers, report your sales to them. For each qualifying book you get 10 points.

When you reach 120 points you get a code for a free book with a value of up to $30 that they ship you for free.

If you’re not sure if your books qualify, just type in the ISBNs of all of them you buy and it will let you know. I honestly have no idea when I’m buying a book who the publisher is, but it’s easy enough to type in each number and see if it takes it.

(As a side note to the PRH folks, I would personally collect all ISBNs from members and maybe give half a point or 1 point for non-qualifying titles because understanding what books other than yours your customers are purchasing is marketing gold. For every book I entered that was a qualifying PRH book I probably entered three that weren’t either because of format or publisher. But that’s me.)

Since I was going to buy the books I bought this year already it was a no-brainer for me to sign-up because all I had to do was log my purchases and now after six months I have a free book on its way to me. A book that I would not have bought in hard cover so get to read a year earlier than I would’ve otherwise.

(And, yes, if you do the math that means that I’ve bought about 50 books so far this year. What can I say? My coping mechanisms are books, bacon, ice cream, and Coke.)

If I hadn’t been able to order this one (Calling Bullshit by Carl T Bergstrom and Jevin D West), I had my eye on another one (Sword of Fire by Katherine Kerr) that I also probably won’t end up buying in hard cover but will eventually. So well worth the effort for me.

Of course, as I said at the top, this appears to be a U.S.-only program and you need to be purchasing not only print books but the trade paperback or hard cover size. Still. A good deal if you fall under that.

Would I Attend In-Person College This Fall?

If I were of college age right now would I choose to attend college this year?

Short answer: No. I’d take a year off.

Why?

Obviously there are the health risks of placing yourself in an environment with a bunch of young people known to make stupid decisions on a regular basis during the midst of a health crisis of unknown proportions. (If you doubt that young people make stupid decisions on a regular basis let me point you to pretty much any college party that involved alcohol that I’ve ever attended.)

Sure the fatality rate for younger individuals is pretty low, but the long-term health effects of getting this thing are not well known yet and some of them are not looking good at all.

(A recent study showed an incident of pretty high heart impact even for asymptomatic patients. That’s on top of all the respiratory, kidney, brain, blood clotting, general energy-level, etc. issues that have already been talked about elsewhere. And just yesterday I saw a tweet about a woman who’d had this four months ago, been released from the ICU, and then succumbed to the long-term effects months later.)

But it’s not actually the health impacts that would keep me at home. It’s how college is going to be structured this year.

At some point I may actually get around to writing a book on choosing whether to go to college and what type of college, etc. (I’ve been thinking about writing it for about three years now but just never have.) One of the key points I was going to make in that book is that the value of an elite education is only about 50% the actual education you receive.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that I was able to study the Quiche Maya language for a year and I even sort of kind of used it that one time I went to Guatemala and it’s a great party trick to be able to say “I went to market to buy a cow” in a language that has glottal stops. But, honestly, once I graduated I used maybe 10% of my class knowledge in the real world. (Have I ever used any of the calculus they required for my Econ degree? No. No, I have not.)

Completing my degrees showed that I was capable of discipline and intellectual rigor and learning and sticking to a challenging task for an extended period of time. But for my degrees (anthropology, psychology, and economics) the actual knowledge I learned was not needed for my career (securities regulation, consulting, writing).

I learned what I needed to know on the job. All my degrees did was tell my employers I’d be able to do that.

(For other degrees and careers that can work differently. This was just my experience. Even my writing training came from high school not college.)

I would say that another 25% of the value of a college degree from an elite school is in the reflected reputation of that school. People notice when someone says they went to Harvard or Princeton or Yale.

My freshman year I went to Rice University, which is an excellent school. When I told people that’s where I went they made a joke about rice being a food. When I transferred to Stanford and told people where I went to school they said, “Ooh, you must be smart.” (The only time that changed was when Chelsea Clinton was there and then they asked me if I’d ever met her.)

I got my first job out of college even though I was missing a key qualification because I’d graduated from Stanford. When I told my potential employer I’d fill in that missing accounting class they gave me the benefit of the doubt. If I’d gone to Joe Blow Community College they wouldn’t have even interviewed me with that qualification missing.

But for this conversation it’s the other 25% of the value that I think matters.

And that’s the connections you make during college with your fellow students. Those people in your classes and in your dorm and in your extracurricular activities. The ones you have a beer or a coffee with. The ones you observe and who observe you over the course of four years.

Some of it can be informal connections. You now know a person who does X and you can give them a call a few years later when you need access to someone who does X.

That happened with my MBA program. A few years after graduation someone I knew but wasn’t close friends with at school called with a consulting opportunity. They called me solely because of that school connection. Because they went looking for someone who knew X and I was part of their network.

But some of it can be much more profound. I have a number of friends who met their spouse during undergrad or grad school. Most of whom are still married to that person twenty years later.

I personally believe that someone’s choice of spouse is probably the most significant decision they will make in terms of career and wealth trajectory. Stable relationships support career progress. Unstable ones, can really set someone back. I have seen more than one career derailed by a bad divorce. And more than one divorce due to a mismatch between spouses.

I’ve also seen more than one career derailed by inappropriate behavior by someone who was single and looking in the wrong places for relationships.

College is one of the best times in your life for meeting people who are at the same level and headed in the same direction. The admissions board has pre-selected a promising pool of people for you to form both friendships and relationships with.

But given the current situation I think those kinds of informal networks will be crushed. No dropping by someone’s dorm room to hang out. No last-minute everyone pile into a car to go on a late-night adventure. No big parties to attend. (Or at least, there shouldn’t be. Not in the U.S. right now. Not unless you want to roll the dice on a double-lung transplant.)

So if it were me with a kid who was college-age right now, I’d say take the year off. Go back when you can have that full college experience. With the internet the world is full of opportunities even for someone who isn’t at college. Take some fun courses. Read books that have nothing to do with anything. Start a vlog. Start a Twitch channel. Whatever.

Pursue your passions this year, go to campus next year.

And if we’re in this same boat again next year? Well, the world will be a fundamentally different place at that point.

(Heck, I suspect that the world as Americans know it is going to be a fundamentally different place no matter what six months from now. So maybe that changes the whole calculation anyway.)

Amazon Taketh, Amazon Giveth

I logged onto my AMS dashboard today to find that I now have the option to show Kindle Unlimited page reads attributed to an ad, something people have been asking for for ages and ages. You can add it by customizing your columns and going to the very bottom of the list, assuming it’s available to you. I mentioned it on Kboards and someone said they didn’t see it, so it may be rolling out.

I don’t know how well it works or how timely it is because I’m not currently advertising any books that are in KU and it doesn’t look to be retroactive. I had ads running in the past on books that were in KU but activating that option didn’t display results for those old ads.

Nice that they added that since they took away displaying any associated sales that weren’t for the formats specifically listed in an ad. I get that a lot of people complained to them about that, but it would’ve been nice to leave the information available in a separate column somewhere.

(Maybe they’re trying to discourage people from using ad copy? Because the only way to list multiple formats, I believe, is to have an ad with no ad copy, but I could be wrong and am too lazy to go check right now.)

On one hand I’m glad that Amazon keeps trying to improve AMS. On the other hand, this is exactly why I ended up unpublishing my books on AMS ads. Because all of the practical, here’s how it works sections became outdated almost as soon as I wrote them.

One guarantee in this business: it is constantly changing.

Hm

I keep trying to write posts for this blog and then deleting the posts. Because there’s so much going on and I have opinions about so much of it, but I just…Eh.

One of the reasons I write is to explore what I feel or think about the world. That goes for blog posts as well as novels and short stories. So there’s value to me in writing those posts. But I can’t convince myself that there’s value for me in sharing them right now.

I’m about to hit the nine year mark of trying to write with the intent of publishing.

Each year I make progress. This year my profits were more than double the poverty level for my state and I was a semi-finalist for WOTF.

Each year I also think I’m an idiot for continuing to try to do this because the writing life and all its inherent criticisms, conflicts, and uncertainties is a recipe for poor mental health and there are far easier ways to make money in this world.

But at this point I only have one more year until I hit the decade mark, so I might as well keep going. I’ve come so far already. And I like being home with my pup. And not dealing with office politics.

I just need to avoid Twitter…Ugh.

Ah, Amazon…

It took six days but the paperback version of Data Analysis for Self-Publishers is now live on Amazon. Or at least it was when I checked this morning.

This was the first time they ever managed to link the ebook and print versions of one of my M.L. Humphrey titles without my asking them to do so. But it didn’t help much when the book wasn’t available for purchase and no price was listed. I wrote them about it and they told me that was the standard publishing process. No, no it isn’t. But thanks for playing.

I had to wait two more days to politely email again and say, “Hey, this isn’t right” and then it finally got fixed.

While I was at it I noticed that my YA fantasy books which are about 400 printed pages as is were showing as 700+ pages because of the large print edition I did at one point. I’d actually gotten them to fix that six months or so ago and unpublished the large print editions to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, but there it was.

I do find that they generally fix things when I ask them to, so kudos for that, but it’s just one added level of angst on everything else especially when you have a lot of books and can’t possibly sit on top of each one all the time.

Like sometimes I forget that they require you to use HTML coding if you want paragraphs on your print book description. Or that you often have to email to ask them to add a new book to a series page listing. Or that they will often only do so for ebooks and not print books. Or the stupid linking of book formats if you use initials in your pen name. Or, or, or…

But they’re the big player so we’re all stuck with them and their many, varied quirks.

Skydiving and COVID-19

A few friends have pointed out to me the comment going around that stopping the shelter in place orders right now is a lot like saying, “Hey, this parachute worked so well to slow me down, let me cut it away at 2,000 feet.” And I think it’s a good analogy.

But I have a different lesson I pull from my skydiving experience when dealing with this whole COVID-19 issue.

When I started skydiving I was in my early 30s, single, with a good income, no real debts I’d leave behind, no kids, no pets, and no family members that needed me to care for them. In some respects my dying would’ve been more beneficial to my family than my living, at least monetarily.

So the risk of skydiving that I perceived at the time, which was that I would die, wasn’t a big risk to me. I figured it would go fast if it happened and then it would be over. And, sure, living longer would be nice, but if that’s how things were I wasn’t too worried about it.

But as I got more into the sport, I realized that the true risk of skydiving was not dying. It was being severely injured and requiring months of rehab and depending on others to take care of me during that time.

One of my AFF instructors had a bad opening on his parachute and it fractured his pelvis, tore his aorta, and punctured his bowel. He was in the hospital for weeks and in rehab for months. Another girl I knew got caught in the prop wash from a plane that was on the tarmac and broke her leg. There’s even a term in skydiving called “femuring” because it’s common enough to hear that someone broke a femur during a bad landing. That’s the hardest bone in the body and yet skydivers break it often enough that it’s a sports term.

That was when I really had to sit down and reconsider my risk assessment. Because it wasn’t about potentially dying. It was about potentially having long-term pain. Or potentially needing in-home care when I had no one to give that care during rehab.

When I did that I also realized that I was only as safe as the stupidest person in the plane. Or the stupidest person on the jump with me.

Only so much you can do to avoid a canopy collision. And if some idiot launches wrong out of the plane or with a loose handle that leads to an early deployment that takes out the tail of that plane you’re going down with them whether you did everything right or not.

That change in my risk assessment isn’t the full reason I quit jumping. But it definitely had an impact. I was okay with dying. I was not okay with being a living burden on my family. They didn’t deserve to pay for my risky choices.

Which brings me back around to how this ties into COVID-19.

There’s been a lot of focus on the fatality rate. And on who actually dies. In Colorado over 50% of the fatalities are people over 80 years old. The death rate in Colorado for someone in their 20s is about a quarter of one percent. Pretty negligible.

Which makes it tempting for someone in their 20s to say, “The fatality rate on this thing is so small why should I stop living my life over this?”

Now, I’m not going to rant again about how overwhelming the healthcare system impacts everyone not just those with COVID-19 and how helping to spread this illness can mean that someone with an appendicitis or a stroke or a bad accident could end up not getting life-saving care, but that’s something to consider as well.

What I want to focus on instead is what happens if you get COVID-19 and don’t actually die from it.

We don’t know enough right now to know the long-term impacts of this illness. But there are a few things about it that make me think about rheumatic fever, so I want to talk about that for a second.

I am by no means claiming that the two illnesses are related. But I’m familiar with rheumatic fever because both of my parents were impacted by it when they were children.

For my father it damaged his kidneys when he was probably five or six years old. That damage was severe enough that he ultimately lost his kidneys in his early 20s which meant dialysis or transplants to stay alive. That one illness–that did not kill him–is the reason he died at 45 instead of living a long, healthy life. It also impacted everything he did. Every moment of his life from that point forward was colored by his illness.

For my mother rheumatic fever caused heart damage which may have ultimately lead to her needing open heart surgery and a valve replacement in her early 50s.

It took over a decade from that illness for my father’s kidneys to fail. And many decades for my mom to need heart surgery. But the initial damage was done by the rheumatic fever.

So turning back to COVID-19. We do not yet know what the long-term impacts of this illness are, but they could potentially be very significant.

It is clear that this illness impacts the lungs. It is also clear that for some patients they don’t even know their lungs are being affected.

Do you want to struggle with breathing for the rest of your life every time your neighbors decide to use their fireplace? Or when your neighbor engages in probably illegal home repairs that kick dust or chemicals into the air?

That could maybe happen if you get COVID-19. (Maybe not, but we don’t know enough yet to rule it out.)

Also with COVID-19 there are a non-trivial number of patients whose kidneys are affected by the illness. I’ve read more than one report of seriously ill patients who had to be dialysed because of it. Again, maybe it’s temporary. Not every patient in a hospital setting who requires dialysis requires it for life.

But what if the illness causes lasting kidney damage? Patients who receive kidney transplants do not have a full life expectancy. You get more years than dialysis in general, but not a full life. And if that kidney damage is a long-term effect of this illness, there probably won’t be enough kidneys to go around for everyone to get a transplant, which means dialysis. My dad made it 20+ years on dialysis, but the average is closer to five years.

COVID-19 has also been shown to cause clots which if they don’t kill you can cause strokes, heart attacks, and loss of limbs. The long-term effects of having a stroke can be incredibly challenging. Or what about losing a limb due to a clot. Trust me, you don’t want to go through that.

There may also be a potential for liver damage.

Again, we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with yet. And some of these other health implications may not become clear for years. We may only see that they were COVID-19 related when we look at the incidence of X in the population prior to COVID-19 versus after.

For all we know those “asymptomatic” patients people love to talk about could just be people with lung involvement who don’t notice the symptom. We may only know they were impacted when they go in for breathing issues a year or five or ten down the road.

So don’t be binary in how you think about this illness. It is not a choice between dying or being fine. For the younger members of the population the main outcome of this could actually be long-term health impacts to lungs, kidneys, liver, and heart.

If you won’t limit your activities because someone else might die, then limit them because you might be permanently impacted if you get this. My dad had a good life, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve rather had a life without kidney disease if he’d been given the choice.

 

 

You Can’t See What You Don’t Track or Look At

One of the key points I tried to make in Data Principles for Beginners is that if you want to work with data you first need to track the right information. Some data can never be recovered if you don’t track it up front. And some is just impossibly difficult to obtain after the fact.

I want to say that the the example I used in that book, since I’m a writer, was how many hours it takes me to write each title I publish. This is crucial for me because it takes far less time to write a non-fiction book about Excel than it does to write a 120K-word YA fantasy novel. So if I earn the same amount on those two titles it turns out my time is much better spent writing another non-fiction book than another YA fantasy novel because I get the same return with far less time spent to get there.

The reason I bring this up today is because this COVID-19 situation is a perfect example of how important data analysis is to understanding the situation. And many of the concepts I discussed in that book are playing out right now in real life.

For example, it looks like it may be important how those who analyze fatality data bucket age groups. Here, for example, is a chart from New York state:

NY State Fatality Data

Here is similar data from Colorado:

CO fatality data 20200410 morning

Note how Colorado groups anyone over the age of 80 into one bucket whereas New York splits out those over 90 into their own category? And note how in New York that seems to be important. I haven’t run a statistical analysis on those numbers to see if the difference in fatality rate between those two groups is material or not, but it looks like it might be.

Of course, then you need to figure out why that difference exists. Maybe there was a virus that circulated for those 90+ when they were children that has given them partial immunity. Or there’s some commonality among those who live to 90+ that makes them more resilient when dealing with this. Or maybe when you’re 90+ you only bother to go to the hospital for treatment of something like this if you’re generally more healthy, and if we were to account for those who died at home during the same period the difference would go away.

But there’s no way to see that difference if that data isn’t, first, collected and, second, used for analysis. This is why it’s often very important to chart data before you create your categories so you can visually see what you’re dealing with. (I believe in the book the example I used revolved around annual income categories for bank customers. If you’re dealing with high net worth individuals using a top category of $100,000+ isn’t going to work well.)

Now maybe what we’re seeing above is just a quirk in the New York data and if you were to separate out the 90+ age range from the 80-89 age range in Colorado there’d be no difference. But the key is to be able to do so if needed (which means setting the right ranges for your dataset) and then actually attempting to do so.

(There’ve been articles about potential racial difference in outcomes as well. But without information on living situation, health care status, neighborhood pollution levels, income, etc. it’s hard to say whether it’s because of economic disadvantage, systemic racism, or something genetic. Same with the fact that more men than women seem to be dying. Without information on things like smoking history, which was one of the early suggestions that I think has since been disproven, you can’t parse out the actual cause for the differences.)

Another issue I’ve noted is the problem of comparing apples to oranges. I admire Johns Hopkins for what they’ve been doing with their dashboard but it also makes me want a strong drink. Here it is as of this morning:

Johns Hopkins 20200410

What annoys me about it is the Total Confirmed numbers on the left-hand side cannot be readily compared to the Total Deaths numbers on the right-hand side. If you look at the bottom of the total confirmed numbers you’ll see Admin0, Admin1, Admin2. These used to be better labeled. What they do is allow you to toggle between a country-level view and a more granular level of data.

By default for confirmed cases you get country-level case data.

Problem is that the death values on the right-hand side are NOT country-level data. You can now see this clearly when you look at the fifth entry in the image above which is not even for New York state, but is instead for New York city. Scroll down further and you’ll see additional entries for New York state.

There is no easy way to find the total values for the U.S. nor for the most-impacted states. It’s very frustrating. And until CNN published their U.S. tracker and Stat News published theirs (and got it working so it’s current and not weirdly delayed) I was highly annoyed by this situation. Because the data was there but it was being presented in a very ineffective and perhaps even misleading manner. (Most people don’t dig into the data they’re shown, they just take what they see on the surface so it was easy to look at the death values and assume the U.S. wasn’t as high up on the list as it actually was.)

It should be easy enough to put the same Admin0, Admin1, Admin2 category options on the death data as it was to put it on the confirmed cases data. And then the user could easily compare cases to deaths with just a glance.

Of course, as I’ve discussed before, we’re not testing enough for this data to actually be a full picture of what’s happening anyway.

There are people who have died at home who were never tested so are not part of the fatality data. There are people who very clearly have had it who also were never tested. There are people who are going to die from something else because they will either choose to stay home rather than seek care or because they won’t able to get the care they need to save their lives.

At some point in time someone with good data skills is going to have to go back and look at baseline fatality levels for a similar timeframe over say the last five years, adjust for the current year trend for the last six months or so before the virus hit, and then extrapolate the number of direct and indirect deaths caused by COVID-19 to give us a legitimate picture of the actual impact of the virus. (And of course if we’re going to give the virus blame for the indirect deaths due to lack of care we also need to give it credit for lower traffic fatalities, etc.)

Whoever does that will then have to probably back into total infection numbers once we have some idea of infection vs. fatality/hospitalization rates by region. If that’s even possible.

Of course, no good data, no good analysis. The key starting point to be able to do any of that is the data. Data is key. You have to collect the right information and in the right format. And then you have to use it effectively and ask the right questions. (Which is why one of the first chapters in that book was also about how you need subject matter experts who understand the data you’re working with not just smart people who can run a regression analysis.)

Anyway. Data and how you use it matters.

For anyone looking for the sources I referenced above:

New York

Colorado

Johns Hopkins

CNN Tracker

Stat News Tracker

 

 

The State of Things…

I figured I’d pull a Chuck Wendig and do a post that’s a lot of random tidbits and thoughts rather than one coherent single idea. So, here goes:

I’ve been feeling congested the last few days but I’m pretty sure that’s more because my neighbor is home and doing some sort of work on his house that involves throwing lots of small particles of crap into the air than because I have COVID-19. But I could be wrong and I could have it. Too bad I can’t get tested and find out one way or the other…

But that’s America for you. Heaven forbid we get our hands on the scope of the issue so we can move forward in an effective manner. Far better to turn any little comment on this into a politic battle instead.

On a personal level I’m not honestly seeing much impact from this so far. My mom and stepdad were already retired and kept to themselves for the most part. My brother’s job has been considered essential so he’s still employed. I was already an anti-social misanthrope and I still get to walk my dog daily. My closest friends are in jobs that can easily be converted to work-from-home jobs. No one I know has died yet. (That I’m aware of, but most of the people I knew in NYC are people I’m no longer in touch with.) But I am at the friend-of-a-friend stage.

My author-mind is watching events and seeing some ugly worst case scenarios that could play out. I’d like those to not materialize, but so far they’re still possible. In which case America is sort of like someone exposed to lethal levels of radiation who hasn’t yet realized it. I hope I’m wrong about them, but some little part of my mind is doing the “and what then?” thinking.

I have yet to start a new book, but I am being productive re: my writing business. I realized I was making a stupid error with my print book covers and so I’ve been slowly working through fixing that which involves recreating and republishing 100+ covers. (Between Amazon print, IS paperback, and IS hard cover versions.)

In terms of sales I’ve definitely seen an increase in ebook sales and a decrease in paperback sales over the last couple weeks but I think that’s artificially created by Amazon prioritizing essential items and not shipping books. The drop in print may be lightening up in the last couple days. If so and if the ebook increase remains then I may get back to somewhere good soon, but I definitely took a hit over the last couple weeks. Some was going to happen no matter what because of seasonal demand, but I think some was definitely driven by the current situation.

I’m a person with a plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G so the current situation knocked out plans B, C, and D but I still have E, F, and G left. Not ideal, but not panic territory yet. And if I do get into panic territory I suspect about 70% of America will get there before me so I won’t be alone.

I posted on FB about how I was grateful for the fact that if I had to be impacted by a disaster it was one that allowed me to have heat, water, a stable roof over my head, a working fridge, internet, cable television, and adequate food. Really, of all the disasters that could happen (tornado, flood, blizzard, hurricane, war, etc.) this one has to be one of the best. Note I don’t call it a natural disaster because the extent of what we’re dealing with is very much man-made.

I want to rage against the people who look at our current numbers and think that proves that things were overblown and we shouldn’t have reacted so strongly but I’ve decided that some people will never understand exponential growth and delayed onset and what those mean in a situation like this so I save my energy. I just hope the experts can keep things in check as long as we need them to or the fall is going to be very very ugly.

I do also think that if America continues to mismanage this scenario that we’ll be taking significant steps towards making ourselves far less relevant on the world stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rest of the world sort of wall us away and continue on without us because if we’re not well-managed they need to keep us locked out. But no one was willing to say that six weeks ago so they may not be willing to say it three months from now either. But the more we screw over our allies and withdraw from international groups, the more likely it becomes. (Which is maybe the goal with some parties?)

I hate that our current environment makes me feel like I’m a conspiracy theorist now. But then again, is it paranoia if it turns out to be right?

On other news…I read a book the other day that drove me up a wall because the character was forced to do things solely for the plot. And worse the character was forced to sit still long enough for the author to set the scene. Like, would you really stand there by the buffet table while all but the three major characters are slaughtered so you can describe the slaughter in detail? And then somehow manage to be at the side of one of the other major characters long enough to hear their dying words? No. In real life you’d be dead. And I’m pretty sure that after that happened you wouldn’t go and watch an event in an arena to give everyone a good feel for your new home.

I don’t think I’m alone in being more critical of the books I read these days. I had an author in a group I’m in mention that they’re holding books they read these days to a higher standard than before. But that they are also more likely to binge read a series when they do like it. I think I may be in the same place.

I have no interest in writing about nasty people right now. But that makes it tricky to write a story with conflict in it, which is what SFF always seems to demand for me. Unless I were writing a story full of adventure and wonder. But those aren’t my particular writing strengths. And so I continue on with the covers. Working on already completed work doesn’t require those decisions.

And I continue secretly hating my neighbor for whatever he’s doing that fills my house with micro levels of dust that make my chest hurt. (It looks like he may be repainting his house using a sand blaster to remove the old paint? That would do it.)

Hope you’re all well. Take care of yourselves.

Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years ago today my father passed away. I was able to fly home from college to be by his side, but he was so far gone he never recognized me. Except maybe for one brief moment when he was lucid enough to say my name before returning to whatever half-world he was living in by then.

I grew up knowing my father could die. Fearing he’d die more than once. I was too young fortunately to actually remember the three months in the hospital when his second transplant was such a spectacular failure that it not only cost him the kidney he’d just received but a quarter of a lung, too. But I was there for the years of dialysis and the deteriorating bones that meant multiple spinal fusions and long-term pain.

And I was there at the very end when he was gone but his body remained fighting on even though it was over. (I was also there when his body finally gave out but that damned ventilator kept right on going and the nurse didn’t rush in to turn it off because she was trying to give us time to say goodbye…)

I think about that when I think about the coming months and all those people who will die alone because it’s not safe for their family to be there or because the medical staff are going to be so overwhelmed they’ll be rushing from one dying patient to another without a second to spare to call in family.

And I have to say that for me being there when someone you love dies is not an experience I want to repeat. I was also there when my grandfather died and neither my dad nor my grandpa were aware enough at the end to care. Seeing them reduced that way was not the last memory I wanted of them.

It was very hard to move past that last horrible image of my father to all the memories of good meals together and chess games we played and him coming to all my games in high school and us sitting on the couch watching Star Trek after he’d get home from dialysis. For years that image of that damned ventilator still going after he’d flatlined stood between me and all those good memories that had filled my life.

I know that for others it’s different. I took some Jungian psychology class the year after my dad died and one of my fellow students talked about being with his grandma when she died and what a wonderful transcendent experience it was. (I honestly wanted to throttle him…) So maybe for others it would be different.

But if in the coming months you lose someone you love and you’re not able to be there with them in those last moments, don’t let that eclipse all the moments that came before. Don’t be bitter or angry about not being able to say goodbye. Tell them you love them now. Focus on the good moments you shared. Look through the photos or the emails or the texts or the Facebook posts. See them as they were when they were vibrant and alive. Carry that forward with you.

My dad has now been gone from my life for longer than he was in it. (By a number of years.) But he is still the single most important person in my life. I was blessed with a father who knew what it meant to be a good father. Who loved and supported his kids unconditionally. Who treated us with patience and forgiveness even when we were at our worst. Who showed us how to treat others to make the world a better place.

I miss him still. And today I’ll have a good steak dinner in his memory and I’ll think about all the good moments we shared and how fortunate I was to have him in my life for as long as I did. And how fortunate I am to have his memory with me always.

 

So Here’s The Thing…

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long while now when people talk about universal health care and basic income, but that I’ve never really wanted to spell out because I have no solutions to offer and it’s a very bleak view of the world.

But I think it’s maybe time to voice this thought?

I’ve thought for a long time now that we were heading towards a branching point in society. And that the United States was very likely to fall on one side of that branch while most other Western countries were going to fall on the other side of the branch.

What it revolves around is this idea that we all deserve universal health care and a basic living which those who advocate for believe to be a basic human right. But the thing is that there’s a large portion of U.S. society who either implicitly or explicitly don’t actually believe that.

See, if you want to take a very cynical view of the U.S. (and many other countries quite frankly) you would look and you would see that those at the top have built their wealth on the efforts of all of those below them. He who makes the most is he who is best able to leverage the work of others.

Not really a new concept, actually.

For hundreds of years those at the top have needed the physical labor of those at the bottom. They needed bodies. Lots of them. If you’re going to ship thousands of products all over the world, someone has to box up all those products and deliver them, right? If you’re going to have retail stores someone has to stock the place and take customer payments. If you’re going to have a consulting firm someone needs to do the analysis and presentation.

Because of this need for bodies to create the value that those at the top leverage, there has always been at least a minimal motivation to make sure that enough bodies were available to leverage and that those bodies were educated in such a way that they fit into the slots they needed to fit into and that they stayed healthy enough to do what was needed and were paid enough to keep them from going to work for the competition.

But to be clear it was never about caring for those people. It was never about seeing them as human beings and wanting them to be happy and fulfilled. It was always about putting the right widget in the right spot to maximize value where that widget happened to be a person who demanded certain treatment.

Now, here’s where the upcoming branch occurs.

With increasing technology, especially in robotics, automation, and advances in health care, we are reaching a point where we have more bodies than those at the top need to create their wealth. They can replace the bodies they used to need with robots or self-driving cars or smart computers that can duplicate human thought processes. Or they can have one person do the work of ten.

And with extended life expectancy the wink-wink, nudge-nudge promise of retirement suddenly becomes something that people could realistically live long enough to achieve.

But those who leverage others for wealth have no interest in people who are not providing them with value. They don’t really want to pay out for years to someone who is now doing nothing for them. Or to all those workers who they don’t need anymore because a robot does the job just fine now.

Those people used to leveraging others now want those excess people to go away.

Sometimes when I see people talk about universal healthcare I will see someone ask, “Do they really want people to die?” and I want to quietly whisper to them, “Yes, they do, actually.”

Because once they don’t need those workers to create their wealth for them, they really truly have no need for those people to continue to be alive. They don’t believe that we’re all in this together or that we should help one another out. They believe in a transactional world where you only receive in proportion to what you give and if you can’t give, well then f you.

That’s the dark path the U.S. is headed down. It’s not UBI and health care and we’re all in this together. It’s “if you don’t provide me with value, then you can die for all I care.”

And I honestly think that’s part of the tug-of-war we’re now seeing over COVID-19. There really truly is a certain portion of our U.S. population with the attitude that those older people who can no longer be leveraged for value can acceptably die as long as it doesn’t interfere with their day-to-day lives.

(I have no doubt there are some looking at what we spend on Social Security and experiencing a sick little moment of glee thinking how much less we might be spending in a few years depending on how high those fatality numbers go.)

Which is why the messaging that we’re all in this together and that we need to stay home to protect the most vulnerable among us is wasted on those people. They simply don’t care about the most vulnerable among us.

The only way to appeal to that sector of society is to make it personal to them. To make them understand that they could personally die or be impacted. That breaking our healthcare system means that broken leg from their ski accident goes septic instead of being treated by a top surgeon or that cancer goes undetected or that appendix bursts or that heart attack isn’t treated in time to save them.

And the only way we’re going to get things like UBI and universal health care and better income equality in the U.S. is by making it clear to those at the very top that they risk losing everything if they don’t share some, a lesson that’s been learned over and over again throughout history in the most brutal of ways and then is promptly forgotten until it happens yet again.

Oh, and the other branch of course is the one you see in other Western countries where the belief is that we’re all in this together and that we collectively create the wealth our country sees and that therefore that wealth should be distributed at a basic level to all members of society.

Somehow I don’t see the U.S. ever getting there. Which means twenty years from now this will be a really ugly place to live. If not before then.

And on that cheery note…