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31 March, 2011

There Ought To Be A Law Against It

They should make it illegal to talk crap. I can't think of any other way to stop the flood of bullshit that threatens to drown out all sensible discourse. It should be a crime to say or write anything for public consumption that is provably wrong at the time it was said.

The irritating and most visible manifestation of the untrue rubbish people spout is in advertising. I don't just mean ads that say processed food X is "wholesome" or  indistinguishable from real food, I mean the lying nonsense about the beneficial powers of inert food supplements, or magnetic mattresses, or "quantum energised" crystals. All that New Age quackery, all that techno-babble, all that distortion and half-truth designed to mislead!

It gets beyond mere irritation when you hear garbage spoken by politicians. Many of them (particularly on the right wing) talk about medical issues, about welfare reform, about incentives, about wars on drugs, about the criminal justice system, about education and about tax reform, as if we haven't had a century of psychological studies, sociological studies, criminology, medical science, and anthropology. The evidence is all there if they had the wit to grasp it. Yet they go on, year after year telling us the answer is more police on the streets, stiffer sentences, getting back to the three Rs, sacking civil servants, etc., etc., etc.. I know politicians are just ordinary people with monster egos, and most of them don't have the intelligence to read research reports (from actual scientists, I mean, not from "think tanks"!) but if there were criminal penalties for being caught saying untrue things in public, maybe they would actually start to care about what they say.

And, of course, politicians lying to the public (wilfully or out of ignorance) can do real harm. It can blight lives and hobble whole societies. It can kill. But the people with the real power, who can do most harm, are the corporations and their various mouthpieces. We've seen endless examples of how the tobacco companies lied about the harm they cause, how the oil, coal and gas companies have lied about global warming (and pollution in general), and how the big news media corporations lie to ensure the political outcomes they favour. Yet there are no penalties. The Big Tobacco spokesperson may be responsible for thousands of deaths, but they are not tried for mass murder. The Big Oil CEO who sponsors obfuscatory research that may lead to hundreds dying in floods and droughts, doesn't face jail time, nor do the scientists who take his money and publish his papers. And the Big Pharma PR guys who tell the doctors lies about their products, are not being prosecuted wither, and nor are the doctors who sign their names to academic papers written by those same PR guys.

We live in a world where solid scientific evidence is ignored or actively disparaged, just so that people can sell you things, or feather their nest in some other way. It is a world where religious groups are allowed to teach anti-science courses which are nothing but insupportable nonsense - presumably so that young people aren't exposed to ideas or rational thinking or something equally horrible. There seems to be nothing anyone can do about all this lying and misleading and distortion and outright fraud. Or nothing anyone is willing to do. After all, the lawmakers are among the worst offenders.

Yet if there is anything there should be a law against, this is it.

03 March, 2011

Graham Storrs to Sign With The Book Harvest Literary Agency

Remember what  my 2010 end of year report said was the one thing 2011 would be all about? Or when I tried to find a single word to describe my hopes for 2011?

Yes, this was going to be the year that I got myself a literary agent, someone who would represent my work to the big-league publishers, someone who would promote me in circles I simply cannot reach, someone who would talke my writing career to a new professional level. Well, just two months into the year, I have found that agent. We haven't quite signed the contract yet, but I am very, very pleased to let you know that brand new, Sydney-based literary agency The Book Harvest has agreed to represent me, particularly, that Ineke Prochazka, is my go-to guy at the agency.

You might think that signing with an agency that hasn't made a single sale yet is a bit of a risk. You may also remember that I recently turned down an offer from another agent because I didn't think they could do enough for me, even though they did have an actual track record of sales. Well, yes, of course it's a risk, but Book Harvest has two very important things going for it.

The first is that the agency is positioning itself at the top of the food chain, aiming to sell to the big-name publishers. Events may prove that they couldn't make it, but their ambitions and mine line up nicely and the idea of being paired with a new agency has always appealed to me. We're both hungry for this and we're both going to go flat out to make it happen.

The second is Ineke Prochazka herself. She comes highly recommended by someone whose judgement I trust, she's got a background in the retail side of the book business (the side of the business, in my view, that it is absolutely vital to be across these days), and, in my dealings with her so far, she seems like a nice and approachable person, someone I'll be happy to do business with.

Of course, that contract isn't signed yet and there's many a slip, etc., but I am very pleased with how this is going so far and hope to get the paperwork out of the way very soon.

Wish me luck!

02 March, 2011

Scammers and the Gift of Sociopathy

Wifie has just been scammed by a company she got involved with online. It's an American company that ran a print ad in an Australian women's magazine offering a free trial of their product for the price of the postage. She paid the $7 postage with our credit card and the product duly arrived in the post. Then, when the credit card bill arrived, we saw the company had taken over $200 on top of the postage.

Wifie started emailing them demanding her money back. They ignored her. That was a month ago and we'd pretty much decided to let it go and write it down to experience. Then this month's credit card statement arrived and they'd done it again, taken another $200. This time Wifie spoke to the credit card company. (I had to speak to them too because Australian banks don't have the concept of joint and several liability on credit cards like everywhere else on the planet and our "joint" credit card is in my name!) She wanted them to block that particular company from ever drawing money from our account again.

You'd think this would be easy, since all they were ever authorised to draw was $7. But no. We had to cancel our credit card and start a new account. Can you believe that? So we now have no credit card and a wait of 10 business days before the new one is available!

The good news is that the bank hopes to be able to reimburse us the $400 we lost. I'm not sure why they would do that (unless there is an insurance included in our fees that I haven't noticed) but who am I to argue? Possibly it is because they feel guilty that they run a dodgy financial system where people with your credit card number can steal your money, but that would be strangely altruistic of them. As far as I can see, we got scammed and it's largely our own fault for trusting an unknown company with our credit card number. Maybe that's it? I suppose the banks want us to trust potential crooks, because then we will buy more stuff online. Well, it looks like another $400 may now have to be added to everybody's bank fees next year.

Nice smile, Mr. Madoff.
Wouldn't it be nice though, to be so completely heartless and soul-dead that you could just take other people's money if you felt like it? Wouldn't it be nice not to care about how much effort it took your victims to earn that money, how hard it had been for them to save the amout you stole, what they might have to go without because of your greed, or how upset they might feel because of what you did to them? I think sick, heartless bastards must be the happiest people in the world. Their brains, crippled by the lack of a normal conscience, are incapable of feeling all the usual concerns, the empathy and the compassion that bother the rest of us, leaving them able to laugh at and enjoy the unhappiness they cause. They don't even mind being despised, in all likelihood. What a gift sociopathy must be to these lucky people.

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