Archive for Almost Yogurt

Remember standards?

A fellow named Tyler left this over at Jack Baruth’s place, and it’s eloquent in its terseness:

I had occasion to open up a first generation iPod Touch the other day. Gorgeous interface. Even our design schemes from a decade ago still emphasized texture and depth. Though as ever with dystopian lit parallels, I’d argue Bradbury’s is the most critical. People don’t want the responsibility of reading. Someday Stanford will accept applications only in emoji.

That last sentence is a killer.

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Until a better story comes along

Or why your pet theory isn’t considered proven and probably never will be:

Isaac Newton’s “classical” law of gravity acquired more and more confidence over the three centuries that followed his original formulation. The arrival of unprecedentedly sensitive observational and measurement techniques in the early Twentieth Century called it into dispute. The dispute could not be resolved until a certain young physicist, at that time employed by the German postal service, proposed a new formulation that would:

  • Replicate the predictions of classical gravity with equal precision;
  • Outperform the predictions of classical gravity around objects of very large mass.

General relativity equaled classical gravity in those realms of measurement where classical gravity held firm. However, it produced results classical gravity could not match in the newly explored realms of very large mass where measurement had previously been unable to go. Thus, general relativity superseded classical gravity as the dominant conception of gravitation. At this time it remains dominant, which is to say: scientists’ confidence in it has not been disturbed by contradictory results in any sphere.

However, no scientist regards general relativity as having been proved. There remain realms to which Mankind’s investigative powers are unequal, at least for now. Perhaps some far-future experiment will reveal that at masses beyond what we can currently investigate, general relativity’s predictions don’t hold true. But for the moment that’s only a hazy possibility.

Or, to compress it into a single sentence: “If it’s settled, it isn’t science.”

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This week’s book-club selection

Curated by the Friar himself:

My favorite is Middle-Aged English Professor Inexplicably Attractive to Lithe Young Student. More than a few books that don’t have that sequence as their main narrative still feature it as one of the storyline features. There’s gotta be some reason Robert Langdon keeps partnering up with the young hawties that follow him around while Dan Brown has him uncover history that doesn’t exist and save the world.

This dynamic also informs, oh, half of Woody Allen’s movies since Stardust Memories.

From this same collection, one I’ve read in several translations:

A Dysfunctional Family Bonds Over Tragic Event

Soon to be a minor motion picture. Or several of them.

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Warm in Cleveland

So earlier today I was mentioning Fark ads, and without warning, I found another one I wasn’t quite expecting:

Visit Cleveland

Apparently some airport symbols are intuitive enough to justify their use as a stand-in for the actual city names. Just the same, I’m not expecting Sioux City to run a similar ad, though I could be wrong.

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Heartbeats accelerating

Linda Ronstadt retired in 2011, and those of us who still miss her, which is a hell of a lot of us, will find this film essential:

And since rather a lot of us missed it, here’s “Heartbeats Accelerating,” an Anna McGarrigle composition in which Linda channels her inner Enya, or something; it leads off the mostly-forgotten 1993 LP Winter Light.

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A darker shade of pale

So 007 is a black woman now. I don’t have any particular issues with that, though I have yet to see how James Bond, having apparently lost his license to kill, deals with it.

Then again, crossing up ethnicities isn’t the new phenomenon you might think it is:

“Ethnic” looking actors are cross cast as other ethnicities. Mexican American actor Anthony Quinn is best known for Zorba the Greek. WTF? FilAm Lou Diamond Philips played Jim Chee, a Navajo. And of course, only Asians got upset when the remake of The King and I starred a Chinese actor as a Thai king. Or a Chinese actress as a Geisha. And of course, David Carridine played the Kung Fu character on TV, instead of Bruce Lee … because?

That said, most such crossovers are motivated more by money than by malice. There are, of course, exceptions:

Disney is one of the worst. Have you seen a more anti Mexican film than Beverly Hills Chihuahua? And then there is not one but two Day of the dead cartoons that distort that family oriented holiday (with its Catholic influences) into American occultic beliefs?

My sons, watching Disney Channel, always pointed to the brown or black character and said, usually correctly: he’ll be killed off before the final scene.

As a trope, that goes back half a century or longer.

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A reason to celebrate

A little something for Milton Friedman’s birthday:

Friedman believed that Social Security benefits were the genesis of the welfare state and dependency on government handouts. He advocated the replacement of all welfare programs in America with a negative income tax (effectively a universal basic income) because he did not believe that society would distribute resources evenly enough for all people to earn a living.

Friedman was an idiosyncratic figure who would be hard to pigeonhole in the current political spectrum. He inspired the conservative movement, but was against any discrimination against gay people, in addition to being an agnostic. He was a libertarian who advocated for a progressive income tax system that even went into the negative to ensure that everyone could, at the very least, meet their basic needs.

Perhaps that is what makes him such a hero. Rather than resorting to rote ideological responses to the issues of his life, Friedman instead chose to think about them flexibly and novelly. This is a precedent set during his acceptance of some Great Depression relief programs (but not others), which followed him throughout his life. We should all be so creative in our thoughts.

Few of us ever are.

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Do not full stop

I’m slightly disturbed by this:

The Booker Prize, one of the biggest literary events in English-language fiction, yesterday announced the 13 finalists for its 2019 awards. The long list has some notable nominees, including The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which is expected to be released on Sept. 10, and Quichotte, Salman Rushdie’s forthcoming Don Quixote-inspired novel, set in America.

But perhaps most notable is the only book on the list by a US-born author, Lucy Ellmann. Ducks, Newburyport is the Edinburgh-based writer’s eighth novel and consists of a single sentence that runs over 1,000 pages.

A thousand-page sentence? Now that’s scary.

Ducks, Newburyport is, as The Telegraph describes it, “the interior monologue of an Ohio housewife ruminating on everything from dinner party menus to the dark side of Trump’s America.” In total, it’s a 426,100-word sentence; readers get several brief respites from the protagonist’s inner monologue with a parallel story, told from the perspective of a mountain lioness.

This would appear to break the record set by The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe, which contains a 13,955-word sentence — but it’s not the whole book by any means.

(Via Fark.)

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Quote of the week

Francis W. Porretto on Twitter and Facebook and others of that ilk:

The overall verdict on social media is this: It isn’t terribly social. That’s not the fault of the original concept, but of the political milieu as we currently suffer it and seem destined to suffer it for the foreseeable future. People can be very, very vile. They can also convince themselves that “the ends justify the means,” especially once they’ve framed their opponents as the embodiment of human evil. The evil that’s been rampant in social media to date suggests that Americans would spend their time more constructively on just about anything else.

Might that change? It could … but I shan’t hold my breath while I wait.

If it isn’t terribly social … well, it’s socially terrible.

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Llamacorns!

As you might have guessed, they’re half llama and half unicorn:

(Apparently those unicorns get around; I’ve also seen pandacorns and kitticorns and pugcorns). So I decided to get one. Because they were pink and have sparkly hooves.

Not totally set on the name but am leaning towards either Sparkle or Twinkle.

On an unrelated (but sparkly) note, my psychiatrist, an utterly lovely woman who finds me occasionally incomprehensible, was trying to focus me on retirement, and she asked: “So what are you going to do in your twilight years?”

The regular reader knows what happened next. Over the next twenty minutes, she got the functional equivalent of an audiobook version of The Sparkle Chronicles. She praised my storytelling ability, but I suspect that she thinks I crammed all my romantic notions into a single novella so I wouldn’t have to deal with them in real life.

Which is, of course, true.

Oh, you wanted a Twinkle reference? Will do:

Twinkle’s two biggest hits, “Terry” and “Golden Lights,” did next to no business in the States, but were big in England, despite a BBC ban on “Terry,” a teenage-death song along the lines of “Leader of the Pack.” She died in 2015, felled by liver cancer.

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A long way to go

I have nothing to add to this:

I suppose we should be grateful there are no mountains involved.

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Ross is boss

Nobody you know owns a Bob Ross painting. Not nobody, not nohow.

This is why not:

(Via American Digest.)

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They promised us more

And promptly, or not so promptly, gave us less:

I don’t know where I’m going with this but sometimes it feels like this future that was promised us with all these great connections and ability to, I don’t know, virtually tour the great museums of the world, and instead we wind up with “Ad-blocker make Mongo SAD. Turn off your ad blocker or else no content” and then you do and get sludged up with a ton of malware, or the site has so darn many blinky autoplay videos on it you can’t even pay attention to what you went to see … and the “new friend” you thought you made might be a creeper and … sometimes I feel like this isn’t my beautiful future, this isn’t what I hoped for back in 1985…

It’s just another medium: it’s not rare, and it’s definitely not well done. Were Sir Thomas Gresham still around, he’d have said that he told you so.

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Dark humor, as it were

I can see some potential here:

(Via myspace. Don’t @ me.)

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The factory is closed

Jack Baruth has long championed American industry, but he’ll tell you that we have a long way to go to bring back the glory days of “Made in U.S.A.”:

What’s really required here isn’t a policy change, or a regulatory change. We need a change in attitude, particularly among our MBA class. We need to start valuing manufacturing as much as we value financial manipulation or smartphone-app development. We need “angel investors” who would rather fund a well-run bicycle factory than spend their time digging through Y Combinator’s trash looking for “hundred-bagger” tech fads. Most of all, we need a cultural change. We need to be as excited about making things as we currently are about social media or trash television. It’s not a change that will happen overnight. We might need a few more years of watching Amazon delivery drones and McDonald’s touchscreens as they eliminate the service gigs which were supposed to replace the manufacturing gigs. Maybe we need a small shooting war with China, perhaps over some useless islands or something, to point out how deeply dependent we have become on a country which has its own best interests at heart. I don’t know when the tipping point will come — but it will eventually come. It has to. The alternative is too unpleasant to seriously consider.

I’m not sure I want to get into a shooting war with China, however small: we have plenty of cannon, but they have tons of cannon fodder. Still, we might as well face it: the so-called “information economy” has resulted in a population both less informed and underemployed.

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Fairness doctorin’

I look up a lot of stuff on Wikipedia. Political matters, though, justify finding other sources:

Sometimes zealots become obnoxious enough that they lose privileges or are even blocked — although it’s nearly impossible to block someone who uses a different IP address. But an administrator named William Connolley eventually was removed as an administrator because of abusive edits to climate change pages, and congressional staffers have been blocked for politically-motivated (and libelous) edits to opponent’s pages — not to mention one who is going to prison for doxing members of Congress on Wikipedia.

This is a real, and essential, problem with the Wikipedia model: it can’t both be open to general editing and a reliable source on controversial topics. Wikipedia tries to combat this with various policies, including maintaining a neutral point of view, and a stated policy that it’s “not a newspaper.” But the supply of zealots is unlimited.

So, the conclusion is not to trust Wikipedia on any controversial topic, and trust-but-verify on any topic.

I am a registered editor at Wikipedia. My ISP tosses me a new IP address every few weeks; one of them is actually blocked by Wikipedia, though not for anything I did. (The last edit I did was to this page.)

And you’d be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t, at the topics that have been locked by administrators.

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Colonel Sanders to the red courtesy phone

It must be in the PETA charter somewhere: every now and then, they have to persuade a starlet to take off her clothes, and in between, they have to bother normal folks:

PETA sent out a news release Wednesday morning alerting Idaho media that it has written a letter to Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas to ask for a change to the street name Chicken Dinner Road. However, Caldwell city street maps don’t include Chicken Dinner Road, which is located in rural Canyon County.

“Just like dogs, cats, and human beings, chickens feel pain and fear and value their own lives,” said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in the letter. She wants the mayor to change the name of the road to “one that celebrates chickens as individuals, not as beings to kill, chop up, and label as ‘dinner’.”

Idahoans may be comforted to know that after fifteen years, Slaughterville, Oklahoma retains its name.

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Sometimes it’s just this easy

Arrogant douchenozzle:

Why do so many Quorans look down on Liberal Arts and Humanities degrees? Do they not realize that STEM degrees do nothing to cultivate the mind? Do they not realize that STEM graduates (i.e., automatons) contribute nothing to culture or civilization?

How to deal with an arrogant douchenozzle:

No, I don’t want fries with that, but thank you for asking.

I’ll probably get a nastygram for that. Ask me if I give a flying fish.

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Killer argument

“Why,” asks Severian in a thought experiment, “is murder wrong?”

“Stopping citizens from murdering other citizens” seems like a core task of The State, whatever that turns out to be. But why? Don’t worry about what the answer is supposed to be — this isn’t a midterm; I’m not grading you. Just go with what you feel.

Christians have an answer (“it violates the Fifth Commandment”), and so do legal positivists (“it breaks a clear law promulgated by a legitimate legislator”), but since modern people wouldn”t know the Bible if King James slapped them upside the head with it, and even fewer people know what “legal positivism” means, those answers are no good. I’ve actually asked undergrads about this, and the answers are … interesting, by which I mean horrifying:

Lots of them want to get hypothetical. They want to know just why Person X murdered Person Y. This, they think, will let them off the hook for making a moral judgment (moral judgments are of course always and everywhere wrong on campus). If I say “Because X wanted Y’s new pair of Air Jordans,” for instance, the students come back with “Then it’s wrong because a human life isn’t worth a pair of sneakers.” If I say, “Because X is a psychopath who thinks Y is Hitler,” then they come back with NGRI — it’s wrong because Y isn’t Hitler. But neither of those is a satisfactory answer, I point out. In the case of the sneakers, by saying “they’re not worth a human life,” we’re implying that

  • human life has a value; and
  • we all know exactly what that value is; and
  • there’s some threshold above which “murder” IS worth it.

Which feeds nicely into the second student answer, because killing Hitler is still murder if a private citizen does it. The hangmen who did for the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg weren’t guilty of murder, but someone who walked in off the street and put one in Hans Frank’s head would’ve been. It doesn’t matter if you know what Hitler was going to do, any more than it matters if you know what Hitler did. If you shoot him on April 9, 1932, it’s murder, just as it is if you shoot him on April 29, 1945.

This is where the kids turn away: how can it be wrong to kill Hitler? He is, after all, Hitler. And it’s only a short step from there to “We should kill so-and-so, because he’s just like Hitler.” Which explains why we have maladroits like Antifa, who are basically the Ku Klux Klan with a wardrobe upgrade.

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Everything is a cat toy

And it doesn’t particularly matter what the dog thinks, either:

Later:

(Via Neatorama.)

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Does he feel lucky?

It took me a few seconds to figure this one out:

Yeah, I know. It was either that or the Nutella Tacos video.

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Mass debatings

You already knew this, I surmise, but it won’t hurt to see it in plain ASCII:

Public debate is not a search for truth, but a search for a way to convince a majority of the public. Similarly, the market is not a search for the true value of a good or service. It is the search for the bigger share of a financial transaction. Inevitably such systems reward the people who are good at gaining the trust of their fellow citizens in order to deceive them.

It’s not by design, necessarily; but human nature being what it is, you will almost always end up with something like that.

In the present age, this institutional dishonesty is most obvious in politics, where the parties are now completely dominated by sociopaths. A system that is supposedly built on respect for the public will is now run by people who hold the people in contempt. They take pleasure in lying to their most important voters. It’s not just the Right, the Left does the same thing, only with more skill. Elizabeth Warren will run as an opponent of big business, but in office she will be entirely beholden to global corporate interests.

What compounds this problem in democracy is the people are conditioned to think it is normal and healthy to be ruled by sociopaths. Politics becomes the inverse of what people expect in their daily lives. Among your friends and acquaintances, you expect a high degree of trust and honestly. In politics, you have been trained to demand the most extreme forms of lying. If a politician makes the mistake of uttering the truth, he is hooted off the stage. Democracy makes the people an enemy of themselves.

“A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” So declared commentator Michael Kinsley; such sayings are now almost universally known as “Kinsley gaffes.” Politicians go out of their way to avoid saying such things. Sometimes they even succeed.

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The American space program

It has nothing to do with what goes on beyond the stratosphere:

Even within families, square footage available in the average home exceeds that of families in the rest of the world. Europeans have 1/2 the space of average Americans; Africans live in 1/26 the space available to us.

So Americans get used to having room to stretch out. The cultural expectations of the rest of the world is that adults will have to manage their interactions within their family to maintain harmonious relations.

Outside of that family, Americans have space, Europeans do not — lots are much larger in America, allowing a bigger buffer zone between neighbors. So, what your neighbor thinks you should do has less effect on you. Acting independently, and without a whole lot of concern about what the neighbors think, is a noted marker of American culture.

Which is not to say that everyone on this side of the pond thinks this way: there are people in America who really aspire to live in rabbit warrens. But nobody sells downtown properties on the basis of “You’ll share walls with three neighbors”; the pitch is always either convenience or proximity to Where the Action Is.

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Waving my beige flag high

Once again, I seem to have fallen behind the times:

Then again, I missed the purely musical cues too:

Oh, well.

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Smells unlike teen spirit

They’re not spirited enough, I’d guess, because they don’t think they’re working up a sweat:

A new study reveals that nearly half of the young people in the U.S. are doing away with deodorant.

A new poll from YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, found nearly 41 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are ditching deodorant. That percentage was even higher for people ages 25 to 34 years old.

The study reports that young’uns simply don’t think they need to wear it, despite dermatologists encouraging deodorant use at least once a day, YouGov said.

Millennials and Gen Zers don’t lack hygiene in other areas, according to YouGov. They surpass other age groups when it comes to washing their hair every day, for example.

Why are you telling us this? To sell something, of course:

Pop star Justin Bieber, 25, and the company Schmidt’s Naturals used the poll to announce a new deodorant. Relying on baking soda to absorb sweat, the deodorant is plant-based and contains no chemicals, the company claims.

I always suspected the Biebs was plant-based. And hey, at least it’s not a variation on the Axe Body Spray theme.

(Via Daily Pundit.)

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At least it’s only theoretical

Because this just sounds impossible:

I am not a mechanic, or mechanically minded at all, but for a story I’m writing I need to know if it is possible to swap the automatic transmission from an Aston Martin Lagonda (1980s Series 2) for a manual one, and how easy/hard would it be for a character to do? If it is possible, what would be the best donor transmission for the swap. Thanks in advance.

In the absence of James Bond or Q, someone attempted to give it a try:

It’s possible, theoretically at least.

The automatic versions Had a 5.3 litre V8 mated to a Chrysler Torqueflite 3-speed “slush-box”. There was a 5-speed manual option available, but it was very rarely ordered.

Any transmission specialist shop could supply a suitably-rated 5-speed and the correct mechanical modifications to replace the automatic.

But it would be near-impossible on a practical level without extensive additional modifications to the vehicle interior and the instrumentation. Finding original pattern centre consoles and gearshift lever parts will be almost impossible without buying a complete manual Lagonda. Obtaining the correct electronic dashboard displays will be like trying to buy fresh dodo doodoos. Those parts especially were horrifically unreliable even from new and most surviving Lagondas of that type are now undriveable immobile showroom exhibits because of that.

Lose the digital displays and centre console and you destroy the entire point of the car.

Still, 007 has been known to drive a Citroën 2CV when he had to — see For Your Eyes Only — so I don’t really think this would ruin the story: in fact, a half-assed transmission swap makes for a reasonable plot complication all by itself.

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Jaws a minute here

I suppose it had to be:

“Baby Shark Live” is set to launch a 100-city tour in North America this fall.

It is inspired by the children’s song whose dance video has generated nearly 3 billion views on YouTube. The song was produced in 2015 by the South Korean firm Pinkfong.

Pinkfong and Round Room Live are partnering to present what they call a fully immersive concert experience.

“Fully immersive”? Does this mean the auditorium will be filled with water?

(Via Fark.)

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These circles aren’t lazy

It took a couple of bars for it to sink in that Ado Annie was in a wheelchair, and a couple more to realize that it didn’t make one bit of difference:

Oklahoma! never won a Tony Award, for the simple reason that the Tonys didn’t exist back in 1943. (It won a Tony in 2019, last week in fact, for Best Revival of a Musical.) And I learned the songs before ever living here, by dint of having somehow inherited the 1943 original-cast album — on 78s, of course. (Decca Black Label, as I recall.)

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Keeping our heads to the skies

Jack Baruth on our home-grown emulation mode:

It’s worth noting that every man has a desire to emulate, or imitate, other men whom he admires. All of us start off with heroes both near and far. I do a lot of things because my father did them. I’ve written some original music but when I pick up a guitar on a whim I tend to play the music I admire. I want to sing like Robert Plant — and he wanted to sing like Johnnie Ray. John Mayer riffs on Hendrix who in turn riffed on Ike Turner. Mayer, by the way, is responsible for this great quote: “It’s my failure to sound like my heroes that’s allowed me to sound like myself.” Which makes perfect sense. We start by emulating our heroes and end up becoming ourselves. Very few of us ever completely lose the habit of hero worship, but most fully-formed men reach their mid-thirties with an internal compass to obey rather than a masculine north star to follow.

Being well past my mid-thirties, I’m about as fully-formed as I’m going to get, and my internal compass flutters from pole to pole without giving any proper directions. (Does this make me the World’s Oldest Fangirl? I haven’t a clue.) And I would dearly love to hear Robert Plant cover a Johnnie Ray number.

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Readers gotta read

And the medium, contra McLuhan, is only dimly connected to the message:

Ah, the wails of anguish. The frenzied wringing of hands. The prophesies of imminent doom.

We’ve heard them before.

“Oh, woe, nobody is reading the good stuff chiseled on stone or engraved in clay any more. It’s all that damned papyrus crap!”

“Oh, woe. Nobody is reading scrolls any more. It’s all that book bindery crap!”

“Oh, woe. Nobody is reading books any more. It’s all that digital book crap!”

Now before some of you — and I know some of you will — chime in with your personal preference for imbibing information only from the well-thumbed pages of your beautiful leather-bound book, whilst sipping a bit of brandy or sherry and inhaling the (likely carcinogenic) dusty smell of ancient paper, well, you read books.

I make the damned things. Or at least I make the combinations of words strung together that make of books something more than a deck of blank, useless pages. (Although I’m sure even blank pages are perfectly good for sniffing the lovely aromas.)

And I don’t give an anorexic ratfuck about how you read what I create, as long as you read it.

I was taught, decades ago, that there’s only one phrase an author likes better than “I read your last book.”

And that is “I bought your last book.”

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