Posts Tagged ‘California’

“If you want to see the absolute scum of the earth go to any prison in the US during shift change.”

–Paul Harvey (attributed)

If you doubt the truth of that statement, consider the new piece on the excellent investigative site, The Intercept, “Police and Prison Guard Groups Fight Marijuana Legalization in California,” by Lee Fang, reporting on the funding of the opposition to the initiative repealing marijuana prohibition in California:

Roughly half of the money raised to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, terrified that they might lose the revenue streams to which they have become so deeply addicted.

Drug war money has become a notable source of funding for law enforcement interests. Huge government grants and asset-seizure windfalls benefit police departments, while the constant supply of prisoners keeps the prison business booming.

One thing The Intercept piece didn’t mention is that opposition to legal and medical marijuana initiatives also comes from the private prison industry, which contributed significantly to the opposition to the 2010 medical marijuana initiative in Arizona, which barely passed. (In 2016 one of the largest contributors opposing legalization in the state was Insys Therapeutics Inc., a fentanyl manufacturer, which contributed $500,000 to the anti-legalization drive, which barely lost. Not incidentally, hospital admissions for opioid abuse and dependency have dropped by over 20% in states where medicinal pot is legal; full legalization would likely lead to an even larger drop.)

Another thing  The Intercept piece didn’t mention is the power that pot prohibition gives the police over the public. It’s probably the primary example of government intrusion into the private lives of individuals.  It’s a license for the cops to terrorize people in SWAT raids–breaking down doors, beating people, holding guns to their heads. And it’s a damn good bet that some of them enjoy doing that. Sadists don’t willingly give up their power over their victims.

Think about it. The arguments in favor of prohibition have been thoroughly discredited for decades, and millions of people who have done no harm to others have been thrown in prison because of barbaric prohibition laws.

The pro-prohibition forces are driven by sadism and the desire to lock people in cages for victimless “crimes,” because they profit from it. They want to lock innocent people in cages for money.

The prison guards, private prison industry, police chiefs, fentanyl manufacturers, and other parasites opposing marijuana legalization truly are “the absolute scum of the earth.”



TVA Baby front cover(TVA Baby, by Terry Bisson. Oakland: PM Press, 2011, 170 pp., $14.95)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

While preparing to write this review, I was musing on how many good small press books fall through the cracks, and how many execrable books from major publishers sell well. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to TVA Baby eventually.)

A recent example of that is the dreadful California, which Stephen Colbert enthusiastically pushed on his show, and which was issued by a major publisher, Hachette, not coincidentally also Colbert’s publisher. (He was open about this.) The book sold tens of thousands of copies and in July reached #3 on the New York Times bestseller list.

This is a somewhat special case, due to Colbert’s heavy promotion, but it’s also symptomatic of the inherent advantages held by major publishers.

What creates those advantages? A number of things. First, major publishers have more money for promotion than small presses, often much more. Second, major publishers have on-staff publicists who already have good contacts with the television industry and print media. Third, almost all major publishers are based in New York City, and there’s a very real New York bias in important parts of the media.

(If you’re a small, non-NYC publisher, good luck on ever getting a review in The New York Times or The New York Review of Books; also check out the publishers of the authors who appear on The Daily Show and [while it was still on] Colbert Report. In fairness, the standard book industry review journals–notably Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist–are good about giving small press books a fair break; but this doesn’t cancel the NYC bias in other parts of the media.)

In contrast, small publishers usually have small advertising budgets, few if any contacts in major media, and have to hire outside publicists (if they can afford it–many can’t) who’ll put in nowhere near full-time work.

Recent trends in the bookselling industry have only exacerbated this problem. Half a century ago, before the rise of the national chains and then Amazon, booksellers by and large were independent bookstores. Such stores routinely would order books and leave them on their shelves for a good three to six months, sometimes a year, before returning them. This ensured that books that received few if any reviews would be seen by large numbers of possible book buyers, and so would have a chance of selling well eventually due to word of mouth.

No more. Independent bookstores currently account for only 10% of book sales, and they have to be lean and mean, so no more leaving books on the shelf for six months. The chains? B. Dalton, gone. Waldenbooks, gone. Borders, gone. And Barnes and Noble has been cutting the number of its stores for years, and even more drastically cutting the number of titles its stores carry. And the length of time new books are on the shelves is down to perhaps four to six weeks. So, goodbye to the word-of-mouth ray of hope for small publishers. And goodbye also to the gatekeeping function independent bookstores  used to provide. (The independents tended not to carry poorly written, poorly edited, and poorly produced books.)

Compounding matters, over the last decade or so it’s become very easy and very cheap to publish both print-on-demand (paperback) books and e-books. This has resulted in a huge increase in the number of available titles, many of which are awful. Combine this with the current predominance of online bookselling, with its near-total lack of gatekeeping, and it becomes very, very difficult for even the best small press books to rise above the noise.

Then add in the tanking economy (for most people–Wall Street is doing fine), with its continuing unemployment, low-paying jobs, and declining median income (down an astounding 12% since 2001), and times are tough for small publishers and their books (which many financially stretched potential buyers regard as luxury items).

Which brings us to TVA Baby. It’s one of the deserving small press books that have fallen through the cracks.

It’s a collection of 13 short stories by longtime science fiction (and nonfiction) author Terry Bisson, and it covers a wide variety of topics and genres. Stories in it range from noir (“Charlie’s Angels”), to purely comic (“Billy and the Circus Girl”), to ’30s pulp sci-fi (“Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”), to sappy (“A Special Day”), to hallucinogenic (“TVA Baby”).

In most of the stories, Bisson’s dark humor is at the forefront, particularly in “TVA Baby,” which is grotesque but laugh-out-loud funny. Other standouts include “Pirates of the Somali Coast” and the other stories mentioned above, except “A Special Day.”

As with nearly all short story collections, there are some hits and some misses in TVA Baby; but the ratio of hits to misses is higher here than in the average collection. So . . . . .

If you enjoy concise writing and mordant humor, you’ll enjoy TVA Baby.


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Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.

Free Radicals front cover

California, by Edan Lepucki front cover(California, by Edan Lepucki. Little, Brown and Company, 2014, 352 pp., $26.00)

by Zeke Teflon

Due largely to Stephen Colbert’s enthusiastic endorsement of this book during the Hachette-Amazon e-book-pricing dispute last year, I picked up this novel. I made it through a little over a hundred pages before putting it down, unwilling to endure any more of it. So no, I didn’t read the entire thing; this review covers only the hundred-plus pages I read.

California is an example of what all too often happens when academic authors and mainstream (non-sci-fi) publishers tackle catastrophe novels: a literary disaster.

There’s so much wrong with California that it’s difficult to pick a teeing-off point, so let’s start at the beginning. As is immediately noticeable, the primary point-of-view character, Frida, is as dumb as a box of rocks. And dumb characters are rarely interesting. Frida isn’t.

Then, there’s the absurd premise: Frida and her husband Cal leave a decaying Los Angeles and head off by themselves to live in the wilderness (mountains somewhere) having done almost nothing to prepare–they apparently don’t even know how to make animal snares, fish traps, or even how to fish, and didn’t bring along hunting rifles.

How do they survive? Cal is, conveniently, an expert gardener–which spares Lepucki the task of describing how the couple make it in the wild. Cal’s being a gardener might seem like an adequate explanation of their survival to an editor who’s never set foot west of the Hudson, but it’s utterly implausible to anyone who’s familiar with California and the surrounding states, and to anyone who’s done much gardening or farming anywhere. (I’ve lived almost my entire life in the Desert Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and on the West Coast, and I’ve gardened in the Western U.S. for decades.) In short, given her unprepared idiot characters and the conditions in which Lepucki sets those characters, they’d starve within two months, probably less.

Then there’s  the societal breakdown that provides the backdrop to the novel. Lepucki provides no social, political, or economic reasons for that breakdown. She just offers brief, fragmented scenes of it devoid of socioeconomic explanations, and also devoid of a political subtext. If she has anything to say, it’s not noticeable in the novel’s first hundred-plus pages.

There are other problems with California, notably the awkward, affected writing. Here are examples from three consecutive pages  (pp. 95-97): “He’d shaved his head, and beneath a sharp stubble of hair, his scalp stunned white.” Stunned? “Something jagged snagged Frida’s throat, and she swallowed it down.” Jagged? Snagged? and “Something, someone, was watching her, its breath shaping the molecules between them?” Shaping the molecules? Please.

California is vapid, its premise is ridiculous, its characters moronic, and its writing clumsy and pretentious. Bear in mind, though, that I only read the first third of the book; the rest of it might be a masterpiece. But somehow I doubt it.

Very much not recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover