Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Xlibris's Shameful Miami Book Fair Promotion

The Curmudgeon will soon be in Miami (Nov. 13-15) to promote his novel, Landstrike, at the Miami Book Fair International. The Miami fair is one of the largest in the world, so it will be a great opportunity to meet readers, not to mention bookstore owners, publishers and the rest of the industry.

We'll have a half-booth all to ourselves at the fair. The cost for the booth is modest--less than $500--plus we'll invest in a few marketing materials to liven the place up.

Pity, then, the poor self-published authors who are shelling out between $4000 and $10,000 to Xlibris Press (with whom we self-published) for the opportunity to "optimize" their book's "exposure to the multi-ethnic community of Miami." The gory details are HERE.

This has got to be the biggest rip-off in the self-publishing industry, and book fair officials aren't too happy about it either.

Xlibris, which can get an entire booth for $650, is charging an outrageous sum to self-published authors who simply don't know better. Our experience with Xlibris is that it is a lot better at promoting itself than promoting its authors.

For $10,000, an Xlibris author will get the privilege of a 2-hour book signing slot at the Xlibris booth. (The Curmudgeon will get three whole days at his little booth.)

For that $10,000, the Xlibris author will have to give away his/her books. They're not allowed to sign them. Fortunately, 150 paperback books come with the package--but those books would cost the author $1500, and cost Xlibris even less. And the author could sell them--for a profit--if he had his own booth, instead of giving them away at the Xlibris booth.

The rest of the package isn't worth much. There's an email marketing campaign that Xlibris normally charges $599 for--and that's pretty inflated as it is (and largely worthless). Xlibris also promises a few bookmarks and posters, as well as an "author video" and press releases before and after the event. None of that is worth much.

For about $3000, the author could easily get his/her own booth, print up some very nice posters and other handouts, shoot a video and then sell his/her books at a profit to offset those costs. The author would still have plenty of money to fly down to Miami and stay in a very nice hotel.

Of course, for Xlibris, this is the deal of the century. They're making several grand on each author they can dupe into signing up for this boondoggle. Maybe they should change their motto to "Xlibris: YOU Write OUR Own Success!"

Arlington's Stance on I-66 Is Killing Democrats

One issue that's killing Democrats in Virginia is Arlington's steadfast opposition to widening I-66.

Because Arlington is a Democratic stronghold, statewide candidates who want to court Arlington voters are required to adhere to the I-66 orthodoxy here. That, in turn, hurts them in the larger--and Democratic leaning--counties outside the beltway (Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun). Folks in those counties want better roads, and none is more inadequate than I-66.

Our friend Ben at NLS recently posted his reasoning on why widening I-66 would do no good (it's in the context of a rebuttal to the Washington Post's inexplicable endorsement of Arlington delegate Bob Brink's Republican opponent).

We disagree. Ben's reasoning is that putting more people on I-66 will just add to congestion in Tyson's Corner. That ignores the two fundamental bottlenecks on I-66.

Heading westbound, traffic gets jammed where the double lane Glebe Road on-ramp meets double-lane I-66. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that having a two-lane on-ramp merge into two lanes of interstate highway will quickly jam things up. Adding an additional lane from Glebe Rd. to the Dulles Access Rd. (267) would greatly ameliorate the daily traffic tie-up on I-66 in Arlington. The sad thing is that Arlington's elected officials oppose this fix, even though it is mostly people living and working in ARLINGTON (those getting on at Glebe Rd.) who are hurt by the current abysmal design.

On the eastbound side, there is a similar problem, where the Sycamore Street ramp meets I-66. Too much traffic is coming in from this ramp, causing traffic to slow to a crawl. A little over a mile later, much of that traffic gets off at Glebe Rd. (again proving that much of I-66 traffic is people living and working in Arlington, not just pass-through traffic from the outer suburbs). After Glebe Rd. the traffic clears up. An easy solution to this problem is to extend the ramp from Sycamore St. all the way to the Glebe exit ramp.

These fixes won't solve all of I-66's problems, but they would at least resolve most of the particularly aggravating traffic jams that occur outside of rush hours or against rush hour traffic.

Arlington officials are doing no good for the majority of Arlingtonians by opposing these fixes. While we intend to vote for Bob Brink--because we don't think he's really part of that problem--we do think the Post has a point: it may take getting rid of a few Arlington Democrats to save the rest of Northern Virginia's Democrats, and to bring some sanity to the transportation issue.

Grim Time For Deeds and Dems

A final spate of polls is out in advance of next week's election here in the Commonwealth and there's nothing but bad news for Creigh Deeds and Democrats, as Bob McDonnell has a double-digit lead heading down the stretch.

Here's the data:

Survey USA:
McDonnell 58%
Deeds 41%

Public Policy Polling:
McDonnell 55%
Deeds 40%

Washington Post:
McDonnell 55%
Deeds 44%

There was on tidbit in the polls that we thought was quite interesting--and telling. Survey USA broke out voters who had already voted. The percentage was small--8% of the sample said they'd already voted (presumably via absentee ballot).

Of those, a significant number split their votes. McDonnell leads among early voters by 52%-45%, close to his overall poll numbers. But for Democrats Jody Wagner (Lt. Gov.) and Steve Shannon (Attorney General) the numbers were flipped: both lead their opponents among early voters, Wagner by 53%-44% and Shannon by 56%-44%.

Although none of the polls show Wagner or Shannon beating their opponents, we'll hold out some hope that ticket splitting will give one or both of them a chance to eke out a win.

The biggest problem appears to be turnout, however. Democrats simply have no enthusiasm for Deeds, so many say they don't intend to vote.

This is a tragedy for the entire Democratic ticket, including legislative seats. It looks like the Deeds drag is going to wipe out several years of steady Democratic gains in Virginia, with losses likely in the House of Delegates.

All of which is really too bad for Northern Virginians, who will continue to suffer from lack of transportation funds at the hands of skinflint Republicans, and who will see little progress on other fronts as well.

We'll close with this plea: if you're a Democrat, or an independent, and not enthused about Deeds, please, still go out and vote. You can still make a difference in the other statewide and local races, even if you don't vote for Deeds.

Monday, October 19, 2009

No Subsidy For New News Reporting

Today's Washington Post devotes a large story and a central op-ed piece to a proposal to have the federal government, via the FCC, subsidize a "new model for news reporting."

Sorry, bad idea. Really bad idea.

The reason the Post is giving so much press to this is that former Post Executive Editor Len Downie is one of the figures behind the effort.

Downie argues that the type of journalism that "holds accountable those with power and influence" is now "at risk" due to the decline of the profitable daily newspaper. Accordingly, "American society must now take some collective responsibility for supporting news reporting--as society has, at much greater expense, for public education, health care, scientific advancement, and cultural preservation, through varying combinations of philanthropy, subsidy and government policy."

One problem with the argument is that the news industry is already re-inventing itself quite nicely WITHOUT any government subsidy. That's the word from a report authored by Downie and other journalism professors, and featured in the Post's news story today.

Another problem is that the report in any event appears to focus primarily on print media. It is certainly true that traditional print media is in big trouble financially. But the news media in the U.S. is a little bigger than traditional daily newspapers. It includes television and the internet, which have steadily supplanted newspapers and magazines as the primary sources of Americans' "news."

If anything, it appears we are suffering not from too little news, but too much. Just witness how a family in Colorado allegedly manipulated and duped the entire nation's media over the "balloon boy" incident last week. (Even if the story wasn't a hoax, it wasn't really a story in the end.)

We think there's a vital role for newspapers to play, and Downie and company outline a number of steps that would be useful in supporting that role, including encouraging more non-profit news organizations and supporting print media via philanthropies and universities.

What we don't agree with, however, are two proposals. One is to "reform" public radio and television to be more oriented to local news. Why do we need that? In Washington, we have four private local news stations on the air, some of which have several hours per day of "local" "news" (mostly puff pieces). We also have a cable oriented 24-hour per day local news station, along with local cable weather. We're saturated with local "news" already, much of it irrelevant. Why should taxpayers pay for a "public" incarnation of the same?

A better "reform" of public radio and television would be to finish the conversion of them to what they primarily are now: non-profit organizations, relying on viewer/listener contributions to support themselves. There's no need for a continued government subsidy. Indeed, many programs on public radio and television could easily support themselves on advertising, probably using no more air time than they do now for their periodic fund appeals.

The other proposal, which is far worse, is creation of a "national fund for Local News" from "fees the Federal Communications Commission collects from or could impose on telecom users, broadcast licensees or Internet service providers." The resulting fund would issue grants to "local new organizations for innovations in local news reporting and ways to support it."

This, of course, would be a terrific source of funds for journalism professors such as Downie, but other than that it's hard to see any benefit. Local print media can and will re-invent itself--indeed is re-inventing itself now--without such a fund.

More importantly, we're wary of getting the government involved in the news gathering business. Nothing good ever comes of that, even in the most well-intentioned democracy. As Downie points out, one of the major responsibilities of local news organizations is to hold government accountable. Hard to do when the government is holding the purse strings.

We hope that locals news does successfully re-invent itself. We think it will. Just like politics, we think all news is, fundamentally, local, and there will always be a demand for such. Just keep the government out of it. Please.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Raise The Threat Level

The sillier our media get, the more ill at ease we are that something really bad is about to happen.

On that basis, we should raise the threat level.

Yesterday, and today, the media went crazy over a total non-story. For awhile, everyone thought a 5-year-old kid, aptly named Falcon, was up in a crazy helium balloon. Turned out, he was taking a nap in the attic of his home. About as thrilling as "police arrest wrong man, then promptly let him go." No news.

Now, in the old days of once a day 7:00 pm news, this story would've been over before it had time to get reported. We never would've even heard about it--appropriately.

But now, having mistakenly gone crazy over the story yesterday, the media can't let it go.

Meanwhile, we get the distinct impression it was all a publicity stunt by the family, which, it turns out, has a healthy history of self-promotion.

Can we get back to the real news.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jody Wagner for Lt. Gov.

As we just posted, it looks like Bob McDonnell is going to capture the governor's mansion.

We hope independent minded voters will take a hard look at the Lt. Governor's race, however. Virginians are famous for splitting their tickets in statewide races. While the Lt. Gov's race hasn't gotten all that much attention, the dynamics between Democrat Jody Wagner and Republican Bill Bolling are much different than in the governor's race.

Although Bolling has been Lt. Governor for the past four years, many Virginians have no idea who he is. He hasn't made much of a mark. He didn't challenge McDonnell for the GOP nomination as governor, and that tells you a lot. Really, who in their right mind wants to run for RE-ELECTION as Lt. Governor? That tells you a lot about Bolling right there.

Whatever you think of McDonnell's political and social views, he is charismatic. Bolling isn't. And he's just as conservative--maybe more so--than McDonnell.

In contrast, Jody Wagner is a dynamic candidate, with much more personality than Deeds. She has demonstrated her service to the Commonwealth as state treasurer under governor Warner, and Secretary of Finance under governor Kaine. These are low profile, but very important, administrative posts, which Wagner has filled in a non-partisan professional manner.

The interesting thing when you hear Jody speak, or talk with her, is that you don't get a sense that's she particularly ideological. She's most comfortable talking about the nuts and bolts of government. That's good. Although the Lt. Gov. job is largely ceremonial, it should be a stepping stone for nomination to run for governor, and Wagner would be a good one.

We hope she won't be lost in Deeds' shadow, or tarred for his campaign's lapses. Independent voters gave Tim Kaine a lackluster GOP Lt. Gov. If we have to have McDonnell as governor, let's at least pair him with a dynamic Democratic Lt. Gov. in Jody Wagner.

Deeds Making No Headway

For awhile, it looked like Creigh Deeds had some momentum as voters acquainted themselves with the real Bob McDonnell via his thesis.

But that momentum appears to have evaporated. A spate of recent polls show Deeds stalled about 6-9 percentage points behind McDonnell, who's done a good job of ignoring the jabs, and successfully tagged Deeds for "going negative" in the campaign. Virginia independents have shown a clear penchant in recent years to punish the candidate who goes most negative, so it looks like some of Deeds' recent work is backfiring.

An interesting contrast to Virginia is New Jersey, where incumbent Democratic governor Jon Corzine has steadily closed what had been a huge gap against his challenger, Republican Christopher Christie. The charts below, from, tell the story pretty well:

We said all along that Deeds was going to have to do more than just paint McDonnell as the super-conservative that he is. So far, Deeds hasn't managed to convince some Democrats, and many independents, that there are good reasons to vote FOR him.

Barring some major development in the next couple weeks, it looks like the Governor's mansion in Virginia will switch parties.

It's too bad--we thought all along that both Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe were more attractive candidates than Deeds. Unfortunately, they beat the crap out of each other in the Democratic primary, making way for Deeds. We hope something will change in the final days of the campaign, but we're not too optimistic.

Smoke From The Health Care Lobby

Someone should put up a "no smoking" sign in front of the health care lobby.

In a last ditch effort to scare Americans from health insurance reform, they've released a "study" purporting to show that universal healthcare will increase premiums for private insurance by $4000, on average, over what they would have been.

Talk about blowing smoke. We got a notice TODAY--note that health reform is not law, yet--telling us that our nanny's health insurance with Blue Cross is going up $100 a month. That's a 27% increase in ONE YEAR. And nothing's changed about her health over the past year or two.

We got news for you. Health insurance premiums are going up no matter what.

We're fortunate that we can afford this outrageous increase for her. But if our nanny was on her own, there's no way she could fork over an additional $1200 in one year. She'd be just another of the tens of millions of Americans literally forced off the rolls of healthcare insurance and required to fend for herself.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Facebook: To Friend or Not To Friend

The other day, we had dinner with one of our "real" friends, who also happens to be a Facebook friend. We got into a discussion about the do's and don't's of "friending."

It is quite a minefield. For example, what about friending your children? Some children don't want their parents friending them, as it makes them feel like they're being spied on. Others don't mind--but please, please don't try to act like a real friend by making comments, etc. on their FB pages! All that does is expose them to ridicule from their adolescent FB friends.

(The Curmudgeon's children have allowed us "in"--we try to be respectful. We can't understand most of the lingo in the comments on their pages anyway.)

Clear taboo: don't friend friends of your children. They'll think it's creepy, and maybe it is.

Other categories get even dicier. Our friend--the real one--is a senior faculty member at a medical university, and he also treats patients. He's gotten friend requests from both students and patients, both of which make him uncomfortable. We agreed that patients are a pretty clear no-no. Students are a closer question--probably depends on what you feel comfortable with. At a minimun, he shouldn't initiate either form of such contact!

What about co-workers? Co-workers fall into all kinds of different categories, the most awkward of which are those you directly supervise. Can you be "friends"? Again, probably depends on what you're comfortable with. (Since the Curmudgeon no longer has co-workers, it's a purely theoretical issue for us; but, we probably would've been ok with FB friending co-workers in the past.)

Of course, there's old boy and girlfriends. But if you can't friend them on FB, then what's the fun? Just make sure you keep them as FB friends only.

Our general rule is that we'll accept a friend request from anyone we actually know. Sometimes it's someone we've met fairly recently, but that's an opportunity to test out a potential new "real" friendship.

We have gotten friend requests--on the rare occasion--from people we don't know. We generally turn those down, unless we can find some valid connection. Sometimes, it's just a case of mistaken identity. Other times, who knows--FB is a friendly place, but there are always a few bad apples out there, FB stalkers.

You can also--with some time and trouble--work out your FB privacy settings to give some friends more access than others. We kind of wish there was a way to subcategorize (maybe there is, for all we know) your FB friends. Like "true friends," "family," "acquaintances," "co-workers," and other.

With a little effort, we've gotten most of our family to join FB, and it's proven a good way to keep up with each other, share photos and exchange information. Still, there are times when we wonder--what does mom think about all this!

McDonnell Should Apologize

At a recent McDonnell rally, one of his supporters, Sheila Johnson, mocked Creigh Deeds by imitating his mild stutter while addressing the McDonnell faithful.

Courtesy of Not Larry Sabato, the video is now widely available:

So far, the McDonnell campaign has refused to apologize. They should.

And Sheila Johnson especially should apologize. An African-American, Johnson is worth several hundred million dollars as the co-founder of the Black Entertainment Network and other business enterprises. She should know better. Imagine if a prominent Deeds supporter had mocked her heritage!!