Archive for September, 2018


Lately, I’ve run across more and more writers, singers, and other artists who have set up sites on Patreon to solicit financial support for their writing. There are even some non-profit publications and foundations asking for contributions through Patreon.

At least some of those writers and singers have set up such sites because changes in the publishing and music industries have reduced their sales, and thus their ability to support themselves off their royalties. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, I’ve personally known some authors who used to be able to support themselves by full-time writing who can no longer do so. And many other authors, me included, now offer websites with blogs and/or information, in hopes of generating greater interest in and support for their work.

What many people who haven’t studied the history of writers, singers, and composers may not realize is that over most of history, very few of such artists could actually make a living from their art itself. The great composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and others, relied on the support of patrons, such as the Emperor Joseph, the Esterhazy family, the Catholic Church, or others. The only writers who could support themselves were playwrights, such as Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, who not only wrote the plays but performed them, and used the performance revenues to support themselves and keep writing – and many of them still needed some patronage, often royal.

Writers were in even worse shape. Not until the nineteenth century could any significant number of writers, other than traveling bards, support themselves by their writing.

So, the democratization of patronage, through internet entities such as Patreon, is really just a new iteration of a long-standing practice.

While it’s obvious why writers and other artists would turn to Patreon, either to start a career or to help finance one, Patreon, despite its more “democratic” approach to patronage than the traditional model, contains the same basic flaw as the patronage of Mozart’s time. What’s paramount is success in the ability to raise funds. Yes, a certain amount of talent is required, because over time people won’t support artists who aren’t very good, but it’s the mixture of fund-raising and artistry that determines success under any patronage system, not the excellence of the artistry.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that popularity is also a factor in traditional publishing. Years ago, the Christian Science Monitor used to publish a listing of the best-selling fiction books, and in that listing was a column with either a red arrow that pointed down or a green arrow that pointed up. That arrow represented the consensus of major published reviews. And guess what? Generally, but not always, the best-selling books featured red arrows. I’ve always had problems with reviews that attempt to direct popular tastes, and with reviews that are more agenda-driven than an effort to offer a fair assessment of a book, but the plain fact is that popular books are those that more people relate to… and many technically excellent books aren’t exactly popular.

That said, sales numbers at least reflect what the readers believe about the writer’s work. Patronage funding reflects internet sales effectiveness as much as the work produced.

And, under traditional patronage, the works of excellent composers who were often difficult as individuals, such as Mozart and Beethoven, were far less rewarded than the works of composers no one remembers and whose works are seldom performed. One of the dangers of any patronage system is that it tends to reward talents other than excellence in artistic achievement. And from what I’ve seen so far, Patreon is coming to resemble traditional patronage systems, if not totally, because it has enabled some outstanding writers to break in. And that aspect is good.

But it’s still a patronage system with many of the faults of such.

Another Aspect

There’s another aspect of the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh that the Senate Judiciary Committee isn’t even considering, and that’s the “prep school” culture that produced Kavanaugh, a culture that included in Kavanaugh’s time, and certainly in earlier years, overconsumption of alcohol and an concerted effort on the part of the preppies to get young women drunk in order to take advantage of them. The “antics” portrayed in the movie Animal House weren’t unknown on all too many Ivy League campuses [except for turning Cadillacs into monster cars, which didn’t happen, at least so far as I know].

Young women were regarded largely as prey by a good many preppies, no matter what Kavanaugh and other preppy-produced, but now “upstanding citizens”, may claim, and far too many fruit “punches” were heavily spiked in hopes of taking advantage of unwary young women. And many did end up highly intoxicated and at the mercy of unscrupulous young men, who were disproportionately products of prep schools.

Part of that prep school behavior may well have been also influenced by the belief on the part of graduates of exclusive prep schools that they were “superior” in education and background and that young women were supposed to defer to them.

That sort of behavior was one of the reasons why my alma matter actually abolished fraternities while I was an undergraduate, although that was only one of several rationales cited by the committee that made the recommendation to the College.

But for the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Republican Senate leadership to pretend that Kavanaugh’s behavior either didn’t exist or that it was an isolated instance is a denial of wide-spread male misbehavior at that time, behavior that still persists too widely on the undergraduate and even graduate student level. The Republican denials and avoidance of the issues that the accusations against Kavanaugh have again raised just illustrate how sexist the Republican Party leadership continues to be.

And, of course, it’s now been revealed that Kavanaugh, as a judge, admonished a pregnant teenager that she could not have an abortion and that she had to live with the consequences of her actions. So…why doesn’t Kavanaugh have to live with the consequences of his unwise actions as a teenager?

Or does his superior education and background mean that there are different rules for him and the rest of the male prep school products?

Lying Statistics and Hypocrisy

President Trump claims that his administration has turned things around, that the stock market is booming, unemployment is nearing at an all-time low, and that real estate values have recovered and are soaring in many metropolitan areas.

According to “standard” statistics, most of those claims are true. But, as always, there’s a bit more to the story.

One of the reasons Trump got elected is that the “forgotten” white middle class voted for him overwhelmingly. They did so for a very good reason. Since 2009, while the stock market and the earnings of the richest one percent of Americans have soared, the real incomes of middle class white Americans, adjusted for inflation, have actually declined 16% [at least according to the business section of The New York Times, while the earnings of middle class blacks dropped nearly 40%.

And, frankly, that understates the real loss of income, because modifications to the various measures of inflation, including the various iterations of the Consumer Price Index, understate the rate of inflation. That means that various forms of income linked to the CPI, such as Social Security, Medicaid, some private sector wages, etc., don’t keep up with inflation. Likewise, the measures of unemployment understate those who aren’t working because they don’t include the millions who quit looking.

Now that interest rates are beginning to increase, the costs of anything that’s financed are also climbing, such as housing and student loans. As for those soaring real estate values… in the areas where they’re soaring, they’re putting affordable housing for the middle class more and more out of reach, and in the areas where they’re still stagnant, people can’t sell houses, except at a loss, even if they want to move to where the jobs are.

What I find hypocritical about the situation is that Trump claims that he’s turned things around when the greatest beneficiaries of the “turnaround” aren’t the people who made the difference in the election, but the richest one percent. What’s even more ironic is that the Wall Street financiers who created the Great Recession of 2008 are among those beneficiaries, and interestingly enough, not a single one of them ever was indicted on securities fraud, while over eight million Americans lost their homes.

Now, Americans are free to vote for whomever they please, but it does strike me as odd that that they continue to support a president who’s fobbed them off with, on average for that income group, a few hundred dollars in tax cuts while he’s delivered million dollar tax reductions to billionaires and who have created virtually no new jobs for all of those semi-skilled white workers who voted for Trump. And what about all the farmers, who are losing money because of the retaliatory tariffs China placed on U.S. agricultural products?

But then again, as I’ve noted more than a few times, why would those people allow facts like that to get in the way of what they believe?

Shorter Isn’t Always Better

The other day I was going over some editorial corrections/suggestions sent by my editor, who was concerned that I was using too many long sentences with too many subordinate clauses. As I’ve always said, when an editor has concerns, a writer needs to listen, although sometimes what concerns the editor is only a symptom, not necessarily the cause. But I liked some of those sentences.

Still, I broke them up into smaller sizes… and then I realized something. Longer sentences, properly written, convey more information in fewer words than a series of short and direct sentences.

I recall that one of the ancient Roman writers apologized in a letter for its length because he hadn’t the time to make it shorter. Most people who cite this or similar observations miss the point. Making it shorter doesn’t mean breaking things up into little pieces, but rather making the sentences precise and as concise as possible in order to convey the information or feelings without unnecessary wordage.

Some people have difficulty reading long sentences, for various reasons. That, I understand. But… the danger in writing short sentences is that the paragraphs become jerky, and in a novel that can be even more distracting than long sentences. So, reluctantly, I aim for the middle, despite the fact that I believe longer sentences are not only more efficient, but also more elegant.

Are there times for shorter sentences? Absolutely, particularly if you’re writing a first grade primer, or a manual for employees or others with short attention spans and/or less than exemplary vocabularies. They’re also best for political slogans to stir up prejudices. And they’re often necessary for superiors who refuse to spend more than thirty seconds considering anything. Necessary, but not better, especially since condensation of complex issues often results in short-term actions that lead to longer-term disaster.

And, of course, short sentences are vital for misleading tweets… and demagogues who rely on simplistics to gloss over what they don’t understand or don’t want others to understand.

All of which is why I’m often skeptical of anyone, including editors, who insists that shorter is always better.

Bribing a Senator?

Apparently, some group vehemently opposed to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has raised over a million dollars in campaign contributions to go to a future opponent of Maine Senator Susan Collins if she fails to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. That wasn’t exactly the smartest idea, either legally or politically. [corrected version of earlier post]

First, it’s a form of bribery, and that’s illegal, and since Collins is a straight-arrow from Maine, she said it was just that and reported it to federal authorities, who are now investigating the matter, and it’s very likely that those who came up with the idea will face heavy fines, if not much worse.

Second, doing something like that is more likely to make a senator do the opposite, just to prove he or she can’t be bought.

Third, a million dollars is a handful of chicken feed in terms of political contributions.

That’s not to say that forms of bribery don’t exist. They do, but they’re all so indirect that it’s virtually impossible to prove. The simplest and most legal way to influence a senator is to create an “independent” political action committee that supports your political point of view. You can then contribute far more money than to any senator or representative and so long as your ads and activities champion or oppose ideas or laws, you’re generally in the clear. You can, as I understand it, even ask why a senator supports or opposes a given idea, piece of legislation, or law.

Variations on this theme have been pursued most vigorously by – surprise – conservative Republicans over the past two decades. They’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars into organizations that champion their ideas and oppose those who don’t hold the same ideas, and the Citizens United decision essentially affirmed the legality of the idea.

From what I can surmise, one of the reasons why Democrats haven’t been as successful is that they’ve never been able to agree on a unified agenda that has wide popular and financial support, but until they do, over time, the Republicans are likely to be dictating the agenda, based on their ideas. And even out and out bribery, even if it were legal, wouldn’t help.

A Lying Supreme Court Justice?

In the early 2000s, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was working to get then-President George W. Bush’s judicial nominations through Senate confirmation hearings. At that time Republican Senate aide Manuel Miranda hacked into files of the Democratic staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and obtained confidential memos, letters, and talking points. Those materials were routed to Kavanaugh. While receiving such materials was not an offense, lying about them under oath is an impeachable offense.

As part of his 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings for his position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh was asked under oath whether he’d received such materials. On both occasions, in replies to Senator Orrin Hatch in 2004 and to Senator Ted Kennedy in 2006, Kavanaugh denied receiving the documents or ever having seen them.

Yet this past week, a series of emails revealed that Kavanaugh had in fact received such stolen documents. When Senator Leahy questioned Kavanaugh during the hearings this past week, Kavanaugh’s reply was that it was typical for him to be told what Democrats planned to ask at hearings involving controversial nominees, and that this was in fact the “coin of the realm.”

As a former Republican staffer, I can certainly attest to the fact that hacking into the files of Democrats was not an accepted practice, and if I’d even mentioned anything like that, my boss would have had me on the street in minutes. The staffer who wrote some of those stolen memos and talking points has also publicly said essentially the same thing.

Yet it appears as though the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are not only moving to confirm Kavanaugh, but have no interest at all in disciplining a man who’s lied at least twice under oath. In addition, the fact that he’s lied under oath suggests that anything he’s said during his hearings should be taken with a barrel of salt.

Unhappily, we’ve elected people who’ve consistently lied, but isn’t elevating someone like that to the Supreme Court a bit much… even for the Trump Administration? Or the Republicans in the Senate? But maybe they really like Kavanaugh’s previously stated position that a sitting President can’t be indicted for crimes. I can’t say it surprises me, but couldn’t they at least have found an honest conservative nominee?

Masculine, Macho, or Misogynist?

Late last month, Trump supporters were again chanting “Lock her up!” at a political rally, even though Hillary isn’t on the ballot anywhere. Republican campaign ads target House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In Utah, the lone black woman Republican Congresswoman, as an incumbent, is fighting a tooth and nail battle against her Democratic challenger in a district that usually gives Republicans 65-70% of the vote. Might it just be because she’s black and a woman? Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have nearly identical political stands, but Bernie polls twenty points higher than Elizabeth.

Just what is it about Americans that prejudices them against women, whether in politics, the professions, or business?

Oh… the vast majority of people claim they’re not anti-women, but when it counts, as in salaries, votes, and getting jobs, the numbers say that a significant majority of Americans prefer men in the executive suite, in the professions, and in politics. Even when men and women hold the same job with the same experience levels, the majority of women get paid less.

On average, women still only make about 70% of what men make, and in some states it’s worse. Where I live, in Utah, although the percentage of married women who work is higher than the national average, women have lower average wages than women in any other state, and what’s more, last year their wages dropped an average of $1,000 from the previous year.

Studies have also shown that when companies receive identical resumes, except for the name, the resume with the woman’s name always gets less consideration.

And when women become the majority of individuals in a field, all of a sudden, the pay raises for everyone in that field slow down.

Now, one of the so-called rebuttals to these numbers is the claim that we’re better at not putting women down, that our medical schools don’t actually lower the test scores of women the way all the Japanese med schools were discovered to do, but then several years ago, in a fact since conveniently forgotten, several Ivy league schools were discovered to have been admitting men with lesser qualifications than women who were rejected, in order to have “gender-balanced” classes. I don’t recall anyone doing that for young women years ago when fewer women went to college.

I’ve noticed that there’s also a growing movement to help young men in school because they seem to be having more trouble with their studies. Maybe, if they don’t want to study, they should be the homemakers.

Just face it… too many men don’t like competition from women, and even some women don’t like competition from other women.

But most people still cling to the delusion that they’re not prejudiced against women, no matter what the facts and the votes show.