“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” ― Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

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Review: Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky and Herbert

Manufacturing Consent isManufacturing a classic in the area of media bias. Almost thirty years ago, Chomsky and Herbert identified, and then found ample evidence to support, a clear pattern of biased reporting in the US mainstream media. Step by step, they reveal how the media and the US government carefully limited and/or slanted information released to the public to ensure a specific narrative.

This isn’t news to me (wordplay intended), so I really didn’t feel the need to finish this particular book. However, for those still under the misapprehension they can trust what passes for news in the US these days, it is a must-read. The “did not finish” rating is simply to ensure those reading this review are aware of the above.

We are being lied to. We are being manipulated. It isn’t an accident. That Donald Trump received more than 20 times the amount of news coverage as Bernie Sanders is indicative of just how pathetically the “news media” have become purveyors of “infotainment.” That Sen. Sanders’s opponent in the Democratic race received ten times as much as he did is media manipulation.

At the time this book was written, and even when it was updated, there was no social media. The mainstream media were able to brainwash—and there is no other word for it—with impunity in 1988; in 2016, there are literally millions of people ready to call them out.

That doesn’t mean we can relax. There are as many people online who have an agenda as there are in the media, and there are far too many people who lack the necessary level of professional journalism skills purporting to report the news. The important lesson to take away from this book is that we need to be aware there are powerful interests who want their message to govern what we think and how we act. It’s up to us to develop the necessary critical thinking skills to keep it from working.

Review: Jump Cut by Libby Fischer Hellmann

1Revjumpcut-copy-2I have to apologize to Libby again. I’m in a group she started that gets dibs on her new stuff so we can write and post reviews as soon as the book or novella or whatever comes out.

So, back in January or February I downloaded a copy of Jump Cut, the new Ellie Foreman novel due out around the first of March, and started to read it with the best intentions of meeting my deadline.

Didn’t happen.

So, here, finally, is my review of Jump Cut, and I swear, Libby, I’ll try to do better. Honest.

I find it hard to like Ellie sometimes. I gather I share that with her friends—even though they love her, I get the feeling that sometimes, like me, they want to grab her and shake her and tell her to for heaven’s sake pay attention. Because every time she gets in trouble, it seems, it’s because she dives headlong into a situation before she’s really thought it through.

Case in point: a PR video commissioned by a major tech corporation that manufactures military hardware. Only when Ellie takes her B roll to a board meeting, the company cancels the production flat, without a word of explanation. Which was their mistake, because Ellie has ‘satiable curiosity when she doesn’t know why, and this time her effort to get an answer turns deadly.

This is only the second Ellie Foreman book I’ve read, although I have the boxed set sitting on the electronic TBR shelf. Since I’m very much a character-oriented reader, it both frustrates and delights me that I can so easily get emotionally involved with her, as previously noted. You know how people watching sports on TV are always shouting at the players and the coaches and whatnot? It’s all I can do to restrain myself from doing that with Ellie.

And given the complex mess Ms. Hellmann has concocted for her this time around, there are many, many times when that happens. Indeed, the mystery of why that little PR piece was cancelled evolves into a labyrinthine enigma I can’t even really talk about without spoilers. That, to me, is the quintessential sign of a superb mystery novel. Every time you turn around, something else is gumming up the works and knotting the yarn until you can’t put the book down without getting a case of the twitches wanting to know what happens next.

So, long review short, if you want a terrific story with a mostly unwitting sleuth whom you’ll probably end up, as I do, wanting to invite over for a beverage and a stern chat about the wisdom of occasionally not diving into the dark head first, do pick up a copy of Libby Fischer Hellmann’s new Ellie Foreman novel.

How to analyze the news, Pt. 1

There’s allegedly an old rule among professional journalists about facts. It goes like this: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

In the last half-century, it has become increasingly obvious that fact-checking is no longer considered necessary, even—or perhaps most especially in—the mainstream corporate media. Instead, “news” stories are composed in such a way that vital information is buried at the bottom, or the opinions of non-professionals are offered as “balance” for statements made by people who actually know what they’re talking about.

In one newsroom where I worked, it was standard policy that any reporter who had broad background and/or personal experience on a subject was automatically eliminated from being allowed to cover it. Oh, there were exceptions, which is what made the other examples so flagrant. Even then—and this was more than twenty years ago—a reporter known for doing excellent work was not just permitted but encouraged to write up an interview with an individual who had a personal axe to grind without any balance from the people he was criticizing.

This leads me to my first recommendation if you’re going to rely mostly on the mainstream media (MSM) for your information on what’s happening:

  1. Any news story regarding a subject that requires special knowledge—science, medicine, education, economics—that does not contain at least one contradictory voice from a professional source can be assumed to have that knowledge is slanted.
  2. The corollary to this is that any alleged “fact” on a subject requiring specialized knowledge that doesn’t come from someone possessing that knowledge is an opinion, not a fact, unless it’s supported by verifiable citations for the source of the information.

To put that another way, if I publish an article that says the moon is made of green cheese, that’s not a fact. It’s my opinion, because I’m not an astronomer or a lunologist. If, however, I say the moon is made of green cheese, and include in my article numerous links or references to information provided by astronomers and lunologists, the chance what I’m saying is true is greater.

However, it may also be that all those are not scientific sources. So, step two is to verify that my sources are, in fact, actual astronomers and lunologists. Step three is to then search to see if there is contradictory information, and whether the contradictory information outweighs what I claimed to be factual.

One of the best-known cases where “scientific” evidence has resulted in disastrous results is the anti-vaxxer movement. Most of those who adhere to it still base their belief vaccines are dangerous on a “study” that has not only been shown utterly without merit but resulted in the physican who wrote it having his license revoked. So pervasive has the fiction that childhood vaccines cause autism become it’s now more a religious tenet than anything else.

And then there are the X% of US residents who are firmly convinced Saddam Hussein had chemical and other weapons of mass destruction and was on the way to developing nuclear capability.

Those are just two examples. My goal with this series is to address the many, many ways the MSM is being used to manipulate the people who read the news and/or watch it on TV. While Fox News will likely come into the discussion, their position as a right-wing propaganda organization is so well established as to be a non-issue.

Meantime, when it comes to the news, the best advice is Fox Muldar’s: Trust No One. Not even me. And if your mother says she loves you…

Classics: The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

The Hidden PersuadersThe Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s really nothing I can say about the content of this classic of social manipulation, other than that it holds up remarkably well after 50+ years. Which I find both sad and frightening.

However, I will warn anyone buying the current mass-market paperback version that it is painfully clear the publisher decided to have the original OCRed and neglected to pay anyone to proofread the final result. That’s the only possible explanation for the dreadful level of missing and misspelled words, at least one of which is a classic of a missing letter that turns a general word anatomic.

What makes this book important is that it makes clear just how long the public has been used as a vast experimental laboratory while those in power perfected their skills at manipulating us. There is also a brief section that, if analyzed, explains why there’s a glass ceiling that appears to be unbreakable, at least by my interpretation. Not that it’s anything new, but seeing it presented in black and white as actual corporate policy provides support for what some continue to insist is speculation.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbor

ChessboardIt’s common for people to scoff at the idea there’s a secret cabal within the government that’s actually running things. It’s also become accepted that the Warren Commission Report resolved all the questions surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that all those who say otherwise are just crazy conspiracy nuts.

What if you found out you’re wrong on both counts? And that the former, while operating in a form of plain sight, may have been responsible for the latter?

John Foster Dulles and his younger brother, Allan, were fixtures in Washington DC for decades, and this compelling history of how they launched the Cold War and were barely restrained from bringing about the nuclear apocalypse may give you nightmares.

“In the view of the Dulles brothers, democracy was an enterprise that had to be carefully managed by the right men, not simply left to elected officials as a public trust…” (p. 3)

Now were they overly concerned about the people who had elected those officials.

“…their overriding commitment was always to the circle of accomplished, privileged men whom they saw as the true seat of power in America.” (ibid)

To embrace the idea that those same “accomplished, privileged men”—the 1% of the era—have any intention of forfeiting that seat of power voluntarily is naive, at best.

For certain, you’ll turn the last page of this excellent history of the period with more questions than when you started and, hopefully, a health amount of critical inquiry from this point on about just what’s going on in DC and elsewhere.

Be assured this is NOT a collection of wild speculation and paranoia. Mr. Talbot has done his research—exhaustively, considering the obstacles that still need to be overcome with regard to anything connected to the CIA—and his positions are carefully documented and reasoned out. Nor does he soothe the creeping sense of unease that arises as he reveals one cabal after another by suggesting the machinations he describes aren’t still going on.

A democracy such as ours is only strong when those to whom we give its charge operate in the full light of disclosure. That hasn’t happened in the past, and it’s unlikely it’s happening now, as the revelation of the full extent to which “terrorists” were tortured in the last decade shows. The real lesson Mr. Talbot leaves the reader with is simple: Anyone who believes they’re getting the truth about what’s going on in our government is living in a bubble of unreality.

Review: The Incidental Spy by Libby Fischer Hellmann

First, I must apologize to Ms. Hellmann for the lateness of this review. I can only plead work and conventions. And laundry.

When it comes to the plight of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, the focus tends to be on their escape or attempts to do so. In Ms. Hellmann’s new novella from The Red Herring Press, Lena Bentheim has reached safety in Chicago, but at the cost of the rest of her family and her beloved Josef. Through a combination of luck and determination, she lands a job as a secretary in the U. of Chicago physics department, falls in love and has a son.

The department has taken on a new top-secret project, and Lena’s husband is in the front row of scientists working on it. Then, Karl dies in a traffic accident, and Lena must return to work. The department welcomes her back. Life is a struggle, but she’ll do what she must for her son, Max.

Until the night Max goes missing. Suddenly, Lena is forced to spy on her coworkers, supplying the Nazi regime with information on the experiments in atomic fission that will become known as the Manhattan Project.

It’s impossible not to want to jump in and help Lena. A stranger in a country where her religion and her country of origin are suspect, where she has no one she can trust or turn to, and where the life of her child hangs on choices she must make against her will and her conscience, she is a character one can embrace without a qualm. Ms. Hellmann places her in a seemingly impossible situation where she must either find the courage to battle her blackmailers or accept the treason they demand she perform for them. The suspense in this superb novella is more truly in that internal struggle than in the outer one of spies and traitors.

The Incidental Spy is available in print and, shortly, in ebook on Amazon. I received an advance review copy from Ms. Hellmann for review purposes. I’m delighted I did.

How Not to Get Happily Published

Education Concept. Read Books Sign.Now that what used to be sneered at as vanity publishing has been embraced by the mainstream, one thing that has been lost in all of the discussions that have gone before is that there are other options besides the two that have been the center of attention for all this time. By that, I refer to a fair number of digital presses that operate using the best elements of traditional publishing while adjusting their processes and their relationships with authors so that the end result is to everyone’s benefit.

However, all too often, writers who are interested in doing all the work of publishing themselves but who, for whatever reason, aren’t all that interested in seeking the attention of the Big Five have some misconceptions about how the digital publishing industry does business. Some of this is in the form of myths I will attempt to clear up.

If you think you might be interested in working with one of the small presses, look for the Digital Publishers Association page on Facebook.

1. The publisher is not your enemy. To listen to some people, many of them self-published authors who either gave up after their book was rejected over and over and/or decided they’d make more money doing it themselves, publishers are all crooks who steal the bulk of the sales money and are determined to screw authors any way they can. This is a lie. Not that there aren’t crooked “publishers,” or (more often) people who thought they knew enough to start calling themselves publishers but end up tanking for lack of business skills. However, the publishers I know are in the business because they love books and want to help authors get published.

2. The publisher is not your friend. Since the early days of the independent ebook industry, circa 1996, it was repeated frequently how much more author-friendly they were than the major publishers. This mantra has led to a belief that a small press, whether print or ebook or both, is willing to let an author dictate such things as cover art and editing. Wrong. Publishing is a business, and the publisher is the final authority with regard to how that business operates. If you can’t accept that, then self-publishing is likely a better option.

3. Small presses are desperate for manuscripts, so you can ignore their guidelines. Oh, lordy, I wish. With the exception of ebook-only presses with large monthly publishing schedules, small presses almost always have more queries for submission than they can deal with. They also are nearly always run by a handful of people—sometimes only one person—so they are going to be particularly fussy about having those guidelines followed.

4. Small presses are more willing to accept first-time authors. True. However, that doesn’t mean you can type “the end” and send them your first draft. Or worse, send them the first three chapters of a work in progress. What—do you think they’re going to provide you with a free critique or editing service. Dream on. The standards at small presses are no different from the ones you would apply before approaching an agent or a traditional house. They expect well-written, professionally prepared manuscripts. That means either finding a good critique group or paying someone qualified to edit your work. Your high school English teacher may do a bang-up job correcting your spelling and grammar and punctuation, but unless he or she also teaches creative writing—and maybe not even then—he or she isn’t qualified to edit a manuscript.

5. You don’t need to know grammar and such to be a writer. Right. And you don’t need to go to medical school to be a doctor or take flying lessons to be a pilot. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who think they can be the next best-selling author without ever mastering the tools and rules of the writing trade. Because it is a trade, people. It’s a job that requires very specific skills that must be learned the same way a musician learns to play the piano—practice. This bit of nonsense is usually accompanied by the belief that as long as the writer has a great story idea, the publisher will take care of editing it into shape. If I ever lay hands on the moron responsible for that misinformation, I will squash him/her between volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I may add to this list as life progresses, but based on my discussions with other publishers these are the top five. That is, the ones that will get your query or submission deleted or tossed without hesitation. Ignore them at your peril.