Bozos in Space

Many thanks to the Root Simple readers who left comments on my post about my ambivalence on selling things through Amazon on this blog. One reader suggested IndieBound’s affiliate program and I just signed up for an account. Another reader noted Amazon’s convenience for folks who live in rural places, something that reminded me of how out of touch I am with life outside of big cities.

The Atlantic has a long profile of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos written by Franklin Foer that’s well worth reading. It has a number of Bezos factoids that caress all the keys of my trigger piano all at once. If you’d like to get me a-ranting just mention your idea that our future is in orbiting space colonies and that you pal around with Holllywood industry critters. Then there’s this:

At the heart of Amazon’s growing relationship with government is a choking irony. Last year, Amazon didn’t pay a cent of federal tax. The company has mastered the art of avoidance, by exploiting foreign tax havens and moonwalking through the seemingly infinite loopholes that accountants dream up. Amazon may not contribute to the national coffers, but public funds pour into its own bank accounts. Amazon has grown enormous, in part, by shirking tax responsibility. The government rewards this failure with massive contracts, which will make the company even bigger.

But, as the article points out, all of us Amazon Prime members pay a sort of tax every year. It turns out that tax may not make sense from a home economics standpoint:

When Amazon first created Prime, in 2005, Bezos insisted that the price be set high enough that the program felt like a genuine commitment. Consumers would then set out to redeem this sizable outlay by faithfully consuming through Amazon. One hundred million Prime subscribers later, this turned out to be a masterstroke of behavioral economics. Prime members in the U.S. spend $1,400 a year on Amazon purchases, compared with $600 by nonmembers, according to a survey by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. It found that 93 percent of Prime customers keep their subscription after the first year; 98 percent keep it after the second. Through Prime, Bezos provided himself a deep pool of cash: When subscriptions auto-renew each year, the company instantly has billions in its pockets. Bezos has turned his site into an almost unthinking habit. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan are essential tools for patterning your existence.

In addition to my problems with all the affiliate links embedded on the 3,345 posts on this blog I’m also left to ponder an alternative to our Ring doorbell that I bought before the company was owned by Amazon. I don’t like that Jeff is watching my front porch and turning over the data to the Man. I miss what the Bezos doorbell gadget replaced.

I’m Fed Up With Amazon

News of Amazon’s atrocious labor practices, creepy surveillance deals, and Jeff Bezos’s idiotic techno-utopian space fantasies means that I can no longer use their affiliate program on this blog. For the time being I’ve stopped adding new links to Amazon products.

For years Amazon provided an ever decreasing affiliate income that, partly, pays the hosting bills for this blog and podcast. I’ve written about my ambivalence about Amazon before back in 2015 and many of you said, at the time, that you didn’t mind. I suspect, in the years since, many of you may have changed your mind about this company. I know I have.

Practically speaking, there is so much dubious, bootlegged content on Amazon’s website that I don’t trust it for purchases anymore. If I need something I will try to buy it directly from a company or a specialty retailer. Most of my books come from the library. When I do buy a book I should probably order it through my local bookstore Skylight (which has always been very generous to Kelly and I as authors–placing our books prominently and hosting a book launch event for us).

Right now I’m left with a problem. I’ve got hundreds of Amazon links embedded on this site and need to ponder what I’m going to do about that. When Amazon dumped California-based affiliates a few years ago rather than pay their taxes I switched to Portland-based Powell’s partner program but nobody used it. I’ve also got a Patreon program and, while thankful for those of you who chip in, I think I’d rather sell a physical object (like a zine) rather than beg for donations.

So I’ve got a lot to think about and I’m interested in your feedback. Do you use Amazon? What do you use it for? Do you mind affiliate links?

A Rogue Mariner on the Upper Thames

Roger Barnes describes himself as an architect, writer and artist. But, while he promises to get around to an architectural video someday, he fills his YouTube channel with advise on sailing and camping in a small dinghy. As one of the commenters sums it up, “The more stuff you have in your boat, the less room there is for fun.” Sounds like good, general life advice.

I Canceled the New York Times

This morning I came to the conclusion that I needed something better to do than spend a significant part of every morning hate-reading the New York Times. As if last week’s condescending coverage of the Sanders campaign’s Climate Crisis Summit wasn’t enough reason to cancel our subscription, the Gray Lady followed up last Friday with an opinion piece disguised as “objective” campaign coverage telling us unrealistic hippies that we should just give up on doing anything about climate change, “moderate” ourselves and keep shopping for Hermès bags.

Let’s take a closer look at the article starting with the headline. Newspapers have to make money on the internet and to do so they often change the paper copy headline to make it sexier online. In the paper copy, the story is headlined, “Sander’s Climate Goals Thrill Young Voters, but Experts Have Doubts.” Online the article is headlined, “Sanders’s Climate Ambitions Thrill Supporters. Experts Aren’t Impressed.” I suspect the changes in the headline were meant, in the online version, to be ever so slightly less off-putting to younger and, presumably, more left-leaning readers. The stodgy headline in the paper version more accurately reflects the, “You kids get off my lawn” tone of the article.

The headline change demonstrates that climate coverage is a tough sell in terms of selling online ads which partly explains why the most important story of our time gets so little coverage in the mainstream media. Climate change is a complex problem that eludes simple technical answers on top of being just plain depressing. If you want ad click-throughs you’re better off covering the daily WWF reality show provided by our Twitterer-in-chief.

Speaking of said Twitterer, the lede begins with a false equivalence between Bernie Sanders and President Trump,

Senator Bernie Sanders’s $16 trillion vision for arresting global warming would put the government in charge of the power sector and promise that, by 2030, the country’s electricity and transportation systems would run entirely on wind, solar, hydropower or geothermal energy, with the fossil fuel industry footing much of the bill much as Mexico was to pay for the border wall.

Keep in mind that this astonishingly biased article was written by one of the Times’s primary climate change reporters, Lisa Friedman. The article continues,

Climate scientists and energy economists say the plan is technically impractical, politically unfeasible, and possibly ineffective.

What climate scientists and energy economists? The ones quoted later on in the article? We never find out.

The first named “expert” we hear from is David Victor, an advisor to Pete Buttigieg, who centristsplains us naive kids,

“The progressive wing wants radical change, and climate change is one of those areas where this has really been the most palpable,” he said. “The Sanders plan claims to deliver radical change, but it can’t work in the real world.”

If Victor were to have advised Martin Luther King, his most famous speech might have gone something like this, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character . . . buuuuuut we just have to be realistic. It’s a nice dream but it can’t work in the real world. Just be thankful for what you’ve got.”

This, in the end, is the gist of the rest of this article and typical of the New York Times, which hides its wealthy center-right biases behind a veneer of alleged objectivity and “facts.” Look at the luxury goods advertised in the Style and Food sections and you’ll see the real constituency of this paper and why the reality of climate change is just too scary to report. If anything, Sanders’s plan doesn’t go far enough. Heaven forbid that we might actually all have to start a conversation about relinquishing the keys of our SUVs and our airline tickets so our children don’t drown in rising tides or burn up in apocalyptic fires.

I find myself longing for 19th century newspapers that were honest about their biases. Remember that Karl Marx used to write a column for the New York Times’s chief competitor the New-York Daily Tribune. That these old papers used to also cover Mars canals and underground lizard people points to a playfulness and a greater respect for readers who knew these stories were made up and who had no illusions about the objectivity of newspaper writing. Of course many things can be known through the tools of science and specialized expertise, but most aspects of what it means to be human, such as political speech, can’t be reduced to fact-checkable nuggets. As a writer I think one can make an attempt at being fair (to “corral the truth” as Mark Twain put it) but true objectivity is impossible and to pretend otherwise is to exclude the possibility of revolutionary change of the sort we’ll have to take in this climate crisis.

We know many objective facts about climate change: that it’s real, that’s it’s caused by human activity and that if we don’t do something radical now we’re looking at an even more dystopian world for future generations. But we’re also going to have to set lofty, seemingly impossible goals and dream of a different future. As King put, speaking of the hard fight for civil rights, we’re going to have, “to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” We’re not going to make any progress on climate change being sensible, practical and “realistic.” Goodbye New York Times. I canceled our subscription and donated the money I would have spent on a campaign contribution to Bernie Sanders.

The Twittering Machine

I’m in the middle of reading Richard Seymour’s dystopian account of the glowing screens we’re all yoked to, The Twittering Machine (Amazon, Library), and I want to find the escape hatch in the Spectacle. Seymour notes that we are in an age in which we are all writing more than we ever did, in the form of posts, texts etc. But he asks are we “more being written than writing?” The book leaves me wanting to disappear into my wood shop to commune with a carefully curated set of had tools for the rest of my days on this earth. I’ve embedded an interview with Seymour on the appropriately named This is Hell podcast.