The Statistics That Count

I’m sick of companies that send me reminders and requests to rate them or the products/services that I’ve purchased. I’m also more than a little tired of polls that guesstimate how the public feels about this or that issue or politician, almost on a day-by-day basis, and particularly the pseudo-polls sent by both parties that misrepresent the issues in order to beg for contributions. Not to mention companies that legally misrepresent prices and interest rates… and, of course, politicians who declare that the election was stolen when recounts, investigations, and audits show that it wasn’t.

I purchased the product or service. Whether I purchase more is what really counts for the company. What I especially hate are those questions asking how the company could improve its products and services. If a manufacturer or service provider doesn’t already know its shortcomings, the odds are that they won’t take my suggestions anyway. And why should I provide free market research that they’ll ignore? The bottom line isn’t what I think, but whether the product/service is good and the company sells enough to remain in business.

While good polls can reveal what those polled feel at the moment, what such polls don’t reveal is, in most cases, more important than what they do. Today, everyone is most concerned about inflation. It takes a poll to verify that? The more important question is why they blame the current administration, when it has only a minor part in creating the inflation. This isn’t an apology for Biden; it’s been a problem for decades, if not longer. The factors that influence the economy have long lead times, and whoever’s in office now gets the credit or blame for the acts of his predecessor. The polls just focus the blame/credit on the wrong person… and most of the public is either too stupid to understand or doesn’t care, because they want someone to blame.

And far too many companies misrepresent prices, like the replacement window company that offers your second window at forty percent off, provided that you buy four, which means that you get the first four windows at ten percent off, but the number that sticks in most people’s mind is forty percent. Or the car dealers or others who advertise no payments for the first year, but don’t mention that the payments after that include interest on the entire amount for that first year.

As for the Republicans who insist the election was stolen, the bottom line is the final authenticated vote count, and, interestingly enough, the bottom line in Kansas on abortion was that sixty percent of the voters voting [which was a record turnout for a primary election] didn’t want abortion banned, no matter what the right-to-lifers claim.


There’s a certain trade magazine “serving” the F&SF fiction field that’s facing considerable financial difficulties caused by limited subscribers, increasing print costs, and declining advertising. Now I’ve subscribed to this magazine for years and years, and over at least the past five years, I’ve donated modest sums to the foundation that publishes the magazine. But one of the biggest revenue problems the publication faces is the significant decline in advertising revenue. And frankly, from what I see, that decline is largely one of the publication’s own creation.

Years ago, the head of one of the larger F&SF publishers pointed out to me that the magazine had never really done any significant interviews, reviews, or stories on a mega-selling series or on its author. In fact, virtually none of that publisher’s best-selling authors received any significant coverage. The magazine tended (and still does) to focus more on “avant” authors or those perceived to be new and/or cutting edge, many if not most of whom do not sell even mid-list quantities of books. While that’s a laudable goal, essentially minimizing coverage of more “mainstream” F&SF authors means that larger publishing houses, in a time of tighter budgets, decided that they didn’t need to advertise as much, or at all, in the magazine. This was compounded by the attrition of older publishing executives who regarded advertising in the magazine as a form of public service.

As far as advertising funds go, small presses don’t have much money to spare, and successful indie authors are going to put spare funds into activities and venues that show a direct result. The authors and presses who benefit the most from the magazine don’t have the funds to support it, and the publishers who do have the funds no longer see much point in doing so.

If, over the years, the magazine had included more articles and interviews that benefitted more mainstream authors, the advertising drop-off might not have occurred or been so drastic, but from what I’ve seen, the magazine’s editorial choices and slant have become more and more focused on works appealing to a smaller and smaller segment of the reading and writing marketplace.

The Author Doesn’t Get It

Over the years, I’ve intermittently received comments along the lines of “you don’t get/understand [fill in subject].”

What this usually means is “you can’t possibly understand.”

Occasionally, the commenter is correct. Very few people living – possibly only those with a near-death experience – can understand death from the first person personal view. Or being incinerated in a by a huge fireball. For everyone else, including authors, trying to portray such circumstances requires research, extrapolation, and imagination… and you still might not be accurate, which is why I don’t stray too far from what I’ve experienced and seen. I haven’t actually crashed an aircraft, but I have lost the only engine I had and survived the autorotation into a field, and I’ve rescued survivors of a crash moments after it happened and seen the bodies of those who didn’t make it.

And most times, though, this author does understand; I just might not “understand” it in the way the commenter feels or sees it. That’s only natural. We’re all different, the difference ranging from attitudes and feelings we share and understand about others to total emotional incomprehension.

I’ve given my best advice, both personally and professionally, and seen people disregard it… and then lose their careers and futures. I’ve also taken my own advice… and failed miserably on more than one occasion.

I doubt that I’ll ever feel the seemingly blind love and joy others take in personal weapons of mass destruction or feel the undoubting self-righteousness of a true believer, possibly because I’ve always had a lot of doubts. But that’s why I only portray such individuals from the outside. And most times, at least for me, that’s the best way, because people usually react to what they see and experience from others’ behavior.

Also… perspective matters – enormously. The man or woman who kills someone shooting up others is likely to feel a lot less guilt than someone who murders their boss over something trivial [but then, maybe not, given some bosses].

And, sometimes, the author doesn’t get it, but with good writers, that doesn’t happen as much as the critics think, if more than the author would like to believe.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, a young teenager operated a lawn-mowing business with his younger brother. This was long before powered string-trimmers. I was that teenager, and I did a lot of hand-trimming [hand-powered clippers] and edging [muscle-powered half-mower], although the main mower was Briggs & Stratton powered. It was hard work, and when I got old enough to drive I left the lawn-mowing business behind and became a lifeguard.

Even though I was one of the better competitive swimmers in the region, I still had to be Red Cross Water Safety Certified and pass a rigorous test against a number of other candidates. Getting a lifeguard job in Denver back then wasn’t all that easy.

Fast-forward to the present.

Because I know what drudgery lawn-mowing is, when I became successful enough, and when my children were long out of college, my first personal luxury was hiring a lawn service, and it definitely wasn’t cheap, but I was tired of mowing the lawn.

For a time, that was fine, but then that lawn service just vanished, literally overnight. I found another lawn service, but over the past several years the quality of mowing and trimming has diminished. My neighbors, with other lawn services, have noted the same problem. Then last Friday, the lawn-mowing team arrived, spent twenty minutes, and vanished, leaving the lawn two-thirds unmowed and totally untrimmed. I haven’t yet had a response to my inquiries.

On a related note, several weeks ago, I ran across a syndicated news story about how quite a number of public swimming pools across the United States were closed or unable to open because of a shortage of lifeguards.

I definitely have to wonder.

Literary Racism?

The other day I came across a comment to the effect that authors who portrayed society where the majority of power wielders and decision-makers were white were in effect supporting racism. That’s a rather broad brush. If you’re writing historical fiction, fantasy or not, that’s the way the culture was. If you’re writing present-day or near-future fiction of any sort, that’s the way most cultures are and will be for at least a generation. Accurate portrayal isn’t racist, although glorifying or rationalizing existing racism certainly is.

In writing Isolate (and it’s forthcoming sequel, Councilor), I changed the “color” palate. Those of the aristocracy and older commercial wealth tend to have darker skins, whereas farm workers and lower-class manual workers have lighter skins. While I believe that would be the outcome in that society, it’s still “racist,” in a reverse way, but every culture in human history has had a way of “discriminating” against some group. Even animals do on occasion.

As I’ve noted before, the Roman Empire was far less race-conscious than American culture is today, but they discriminated, nonetheless, mainly by economic status. Slaves came in every color and so did people of wealth and power, especially outside of Rome, and even a number of emperors were not of Roman birth.

A similar problem exists for a writer with regard to gender. Like it or not (and I don’t), in the U.S., men, as a group, still tend to minimize women and attempt to keep them out of positions of power and to restrict their rights, and in the near future, for a number of reasons, it can’t and won’t change [even if the Supreme Court were to be drastically re-structured overnight and equal rights and pay legislation became law tomorrow].

That should be changed, and, in time, I’m hopeful that it will be, but to declare that fiction that doesn’t represent racial or gender “equality” as racist or gender-biased is unrealistic, because all societies “discriminate” in some fashion. Depicting a racist or gender-discriminating society isn’t by itself racism or discrimination, but endorsing or glorifying such a society is.