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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The End and Beginning: Life in a Post-Obama World

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning — signifying renewal, as well as change.--John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961

JFK's Inauguration Speech. (Photo from
In the current situation, and following Barack Obama's eloquent, elegant, and deeply meaningful Farewell address last night, it seems appropriate today to tweak those words a bit:

We observe today not a celebration of freedom, but a victory of party--symbolizing an end to civility and democracy, as well as a beginning--signifying reversal, as well as demise.--Lynne M. Hinkey, in my paraphrasing of Kennedy's speech.

I've been succumbing to the temptation to follow Timothy Leary's advice and "turn on, tune in, and drop out." In my case, the turning on involved a lot of wine, the tuning in focused on the news (not the fiction fed to gullible folks via Breitbart, Fox, and other propaganda sources but the real news, found through due diligence, investigation, and critical thinking, that takes some effort), and the  dropping out of the echo chamber of Facebook.
Timothy Leary at UC Berkely (Photo from

Last night, hearing Obama's inspiring words recounting his feats (made more remarkable because they were achieved despite an obstructionist GOP Congress doing all they could to bring the country to its knees), and urging us all to stay engaged, I started to rethink my dropping out. Obama reminded us of George Washington's words to "be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen."

Those words resonated with me, with my beliefs, my life, with all I've worked for throughout my life: to continuously improve this great nation. My small piece of that very large picture has been in the realm of marine science and science literacy, whether in community outreach and extension programs, science communication, training coastal resource management professionals, or instructing the next generation, my mission has focused on ensuring the development or use of critical thinking skills, finding and evidence-based information derived from rigorous scientific process rather that opinion pulled out of someone's ass because it;s comfortable, easy, or benefits some person or company's bottom line.

It's not much, but it's what I can do. Now, more than ever, we all have to do our parts, small as they may be. (Given the global implications of our science literacy or our science ignorance with regard to climate change, food security, energy independence and renewables, maintaining academic and scientific integrity and rigor in STEM fields isn't small at all, is it?)

Kennedy's speech is primarily remembered for the line, "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." Despite my revision above, much of Kennedy's Inauguration Speech is as instructive and relevant today as it was fifty-six years ago. It's worth a thorough read, worth a reminder. Worth reiterating this notice:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage — and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world...

Perhaps Russia had in mind these words from Kennedy when they chose to interfere in our elections, promulgating fake news stories and feeding them to the gullible folks at Breitbart to be passed on to their equally gullible readers: United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do — for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

In the words of Abbie Hoffman, "The only way to support a revolution is to create your own." My revolution is a commitment to sound, solid science education, to ensuring critical thinking skills. I will provide my students with a secure foundation for reasoning, demonstrating and demanding not only the questioning of information, but also helping them to develop the research skills that will enable them to find and evaluate factual, relevant information. I refuse to surrender to ignorance, to legitimizing opinion over evidence.

Abbie Hoffman (photo from

Obama reminded me that turning on, tuning in, and dropping out aren't what's needed, especially now. "Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime..."

I am sincerely grateful to this president, our president, Barack Hussein Obama, for reminding me that my responsibility to this country and to democracy is not to recoil in horror and hide when it's threatened by the overwhelming, blatant ignorance as it now is. My responsibility--all of our responsibility and what's demanded of each of us as good citizens of this country, now more than ever is to 
Show up. Dive in. Persevere.

Barack H. Obama II, 44th President of the USA. (Photo from

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Another View--or two--on Self-publishing.

Most of you know my take on self-publishing. I've posted about it HERE. You also probably know that I am a reviewer at Underground Book Reviews--a site dedicated to reviewing "Indy-published books." We take a fairly broad view of "Indy," including small publishers, vanity presses (as long as they aren't imprints of a major publishing house), and self-published. At UBR, we're all very committed to providing honest reviews and feedback to authors, even when it means exposing them to some harsh truths about what they've put out. You can read about my approach to reviewing in this blog post: So, You Want Me to Review Your Book, and also at UBR HERE.

I've also written about the long haul of the writing's a marathon, not a sprint. You can read my thoughts about writing as an endurance sport on author KW McCabe's website (and updated HERE in 2014), and about the patience required during the writing, querying, and publishing process HERE and HERE .

Yes, I've taken a pretty harsh tone for someone who did self-publish the electronic versions of my books (the print versions are published by Casperian Books, a full-service, no cost, fees, or book purchase requirements to the author, or, as the publishing industry truism says, "money flows to the author"). But, if you read those posts, you'll see that I'm not opposed to self-publishing, but I am very much against rushing to publish without "paying one's dues" by putting in the time and effort needed to learn and hone the craft.

Yesterday, an opinion piece appeared on Huff Post: Self-publishing: An Insult to the Written Word.

An insult to the written word.


That's harsh. Even by my standards. And as a read through the comments (time-worthy) shows, many of her points really do lack validity. But, many of them don't.

A better, more evenhanded and accurate take on the impact of self-publishing on the reading and writing world can be found in Kristin Lamb's Blog Generation Author Snowflake & the High Cost of Instant Gratification.




All authors and aspiring authors, all those who "won" NaNoWriMo in November and rushed to Create Space or some other instant-gratification site to "publish,"--you need to read this. Take it to heart. And while the "participation award" mentality may be more pronounced in the millennial generation, don't think any of us are exempt from the excitement and ego-stroking of some instant gratification. That's pretty clear in all the self-published novels from the 40-, 50-, 60-, 70+ year-old authors. While many are well-written, with great story-telling, an equal (or greater) number are premature publications, put out by "good writers" who didn't take the time and make the effort to become better, to strive for "great."

As Lamb predicted, the slush pile has been dumped in the reader’s lap and it has devalue what it means to say, “I am a published author.” It's been overrun with rough drafts from those who have always been told they're "good" writers. Sure, they're good--more than good enough for the writing in their life--the annual Christmas letters, the college-essays, their personal blogs. But is it good enough to be a "professional"--a published novelist?

Probably not.

In academia, good enough is a's average. A "good" athlete doesn't walk on to a pro team without putting in an awful lot of work first. Why assume it's different for writing?

What's the solution to the glut of not-ready-for-prime-time published books out there?

That's the big question for all of us--authors, agents, publishers--isn't it?

We're still in the midst of the mayhem. A new model for publishing is still thrashing around, trying to emerge. It hasn't fully formed and worked out what it is yet.

I do think it's going to become more imperative for reviewers to give honest reviews, not just 5-star hoping for the same in return. I also think it's a disservice if/when reviewers only post a review if they can give >3-stars. That's not really helping anyone, is it? If an author has asked for the review, give it to them--the one they earn. They have every opportunity before asking for a review to find critique partners, edit, revise, rewrite, go through beta readers, rewrite again. Their failure in due diligence shouldn't give them a pass to not receive a bad review when it's merited.  Too many of us are worried about "revenge reviews" coming back at our own work if we're that honest. I'd like to think any petty, revenge-reviews would be obvious, so wouldn't really cause any real damage. Maybe that's naive.

We do need more review sites like Underground Book Reviews, where the reviewers are held to a high standard for our reviews (higher, at least, then I've found at some review sites where it's clear they're just pumping out 5-star reviews based on the back cover blurb and maybe some info they found on the author's website.). We are required to read the book, and we post the review the book earns, not the one the author necessarily wants.

Whatever the new publishing landscape turns into, one thing is clear: Self-publishing is here to stay. How does it become something that lets saying "I am a published author" retain its value?

I wish I knew.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rampant Gullibility: Ah, so that's how it happened

A common reaction from students learning about the Holocaust 40, 50, 60+ years after the fact is, "How could the world have let that happen?" or "How could the German people let that happen?" The latter comes after reading about all the German people who claimed not to have known what was going on in the concentration camps, even while soot, thick with the incompletely incinerated remains of humans burned in the crematoriums, fell on their homes and in their yards. We are repulsed by what that country did to the world---and yes, we blame the entire country. "How could they not know?" "How could they let it happen?" "How could someone who was so clearly demented come to power?"

By promising to make Germany great again.

By promising to fix the economy.

By placing the blame for all the woes of the "Aryan race" on "others"--anyone with dark hair, dark eyes, swarthy complexions...

anyone different: homosexuals, foreigners...

anyone who could recognize and call out the lies: intellectuals, scientists, journalists...

Anyone not gullible enough to believe Josef Goebbels propaganda machine, the fake news spewed out with little regard to even a passing acquaintance with credibility.

Those were the enemies of the state who were to blame for all of German society's ills and against whom Hitler and the Nazi party directed all the animosity, hate, and revenge of the small-minded, ignorant, and gullible. Those like them.

Trump. Bannon. Flynn. Pizzagate.

The ignorant and hateful, led by the ignorant and hateful, spewing lies by and to the ignorant and hateful. The reality is already playing out. When members of Trump's team blatantly post fake news, when his minister of propaganda runs a "media" outlet that's not only known for, but proud of, how well it can get gullible people to believe its fake news, when followers read not only fake, but so ridiculously-over-the-top-that-only-a-complete-moron-could-believe-it news, when an ignorant and gullible Trump-supporter will drive hundreds of miles to shoot up a pizza parlor and "free the children held captive in the basement" because of that news, there can no longer be any doubt about what you--Trump voters--have wrought on this country.

I am repulsed by those who voted for Trump, and even more so by those who continue to support him. If you voted for this deplorable man, you are deplorable. There is no rational reason for it--the economy has steadily been improving, slowly but surely, since the devastation of the Bush administration, so it can't be the economy. It can't be in support of his policies: there were no policies, there were no remedies proposed in his campaign, only blame and lies.

Some initially wanted to be patient, give him and his ilk the benefit of the doubt (because 2 years of campaigning wasn't enough to see the real man? How stupid and slow are you?) But now we're seeing more and more that what he spewed for those two years does show the man he is, and he proclaims it loudly and proudly with every appointment to his transition team, with every Tweet, and with every refusal to disavow the clear and obvious fake news spread by those with whom he surrounds himself. Hell, who he surrounds himself with is more than enough evidence of what a misanthropic, manipulative, mean-spirited man he is.

If you're still waiting to see, to give this deplorable excuse for a human being a "chance," I wonder how you'll respond in 10, 20, 30+ years when people ask, "How could the US have let that happen?" and "How could they not know?" "How could they not have stopped it?"

Future generations will judge us. They will judge you. They will ask how you could be so ignorant and gullible. And like millions of people judging the Germans after World War II, who don't separate out the German people from the Nazi party, or those who didn't vote for Hitler from those who did (yes, he was elected to office), they won't separate out those who committed atrocities from those who claim to have opposed them but did nothing to stop them, or those who will claim ignorance.

We will all be judged, and we will all be blamed for the atrocities that have already started.

How far will we let this go? I'd like to think we'll be smarter, braver, stronger than the Germans who opposed Hitler were, but so far, all evidence is to the contrary. So far, this country is exhibiting the same rampant gullibility the Germans did when Hitler came to power, with no sign in sight that we have the ethical or intellectual will to stop it. No sign we'll stand up for what is right, good, and decent.

We should all be very ashamed of our country. More so with each passing day and each new assault to democracy and truth that the incoming administration heaps on us. Instead, we're taking the easy, lazy way out, saying "this to shall pass." That might be true, but maybe we should ask Germany about what can happen between now and the time the evil passes.