The Revised Kama Sutra

The Revised Kama Sutra
The Viking Penguin hardcover first edition

Friday, April 29, 2016

Jeff Bezos vs Bernie Sanders: What is Wrong With America

Recently, I discovered that Jeff Bezos's net worth had jumped from $25 billion (the last time I looked, a few months back) to $35 billion. In the same period, my monthly income, and that of many other independent authors in the writers group that I belong to, had declined precipitously, with Amazon having gained control of 80 percent of the e-book market. The entire premise on which I had built my writing career in the last six years, burning many bridges and becoming bankrupt in the process--total independence, fearless writing, being able to reach millions of potential readers worldwide through independent publishing, and by this means to make enough income to survive and continue writing--had collapsed, disastrously.

In this very period (or rather, in the past year, when the slide became precipitous), Bernie Sanders has been inspiring many of us by reminding us of what everyone of any intelligence and integrity knows--that since Ronald Reagan, the top 1 percent of Americans have become immeasurably, obscenely wealthier at the expense of the bottom 99 percent, but especially of the bottom 50 percent of Americans, some of whom, shamefully, live in Third World conditions in the greatest nation on earth. Essentially, tax and economic policies have been an instrument of stealing from the poor to make the rich--the plutocrats--richer still.

Even Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, both wealthier than Bezos (though possibly not for long), but among the more human and compassionate super-wealthy, are aware of this; Warren Buffet famously demanded that his tax rate be increased, because he was not paying his fair share; both Buffet and Gates have pledged half their wealth to charity.

Meanwhile, Amazon seems to be practicing, at its own level, what the Republicans and the Demo-publicans (the Democrats whose policies have become nearly indistinguishable from Republicans, at least in their supporting the program of the plutocracy in becoming even richer at the expense of the poor) have done in the past 35 years at the national level. It has become much more monopolistic, dictatorial, and contemptuous towards its writers—the writers on whose backs it built its empire—whom it now describes as "content providers" (why mince words? what they truly are is wretched literary coolies in a vast factory producing trillions of words for readers who pay just $9.99 a month--much less than that in India--and some of whom just wait for books to become free), and decreased their royalty percentage in many markets unless they published exclusively on Amazon. What's more, the bots would hide the books of those who refused, make them much more difficult to discover on searches. Even many of those who accepted this unfair condition of exclusivity have now realized that their income has dropped sharply as more readers (who don't know that most authors on Kindle Unlimited were conned into a pyramid scheme from which there's no real escape) are addicted to free or cheap books.

What I find preposterous and outrageous about this is that one of the richest men in the world, one who could possibly buy the world's ten poorest countries (in total GDP): he is getting richer by squeezing the last pennies from his poorest authors (the richer authors get special rewards: yes, you get rewards for being "successful"--meaning, rich, but docile and submissive towards Amazon's demands). It is highly absurd to reward bestselling authors with cash rewards just for being bestselling authors, when the system already rewards them: which is why some rich authors pay surrogate companies to get them on the bestseller list (by purchasing a vast number of books on Day 1), which then has a tendency to be self-perpetuating. A truly intelligent, enlightened publisher will reward books for their originality, merit, courageous content, regardless of sales--and would reward authors more when their sales are so low as to equal starvation wages.

But pray, Jeff, if you can find your Inner Bernie, why not just have one royalty rate for everyone, for every book, whether it be 70%, 65%, or 60%, in every market, and do not make it conditional on membership in a special club? Possibly you could reduce it for books under $2.00, but again, for everyone--equality being a basic principle of democracy and human decency? Why should publishing on Amazon require such a huge bag of tricks, that every second week, someone comes out with some elaborate new rule/system which one has to adhere to: why not let each book depend for its sales on its literary and entertainment quality, and nothing else? Would that make you so much poorer?

But it seems that Amazon has learned from India's caste system (which we're still trying to abolish in reality, not just on paper): a privileged upper caste, a middle caste that benefits enough as to keep it with the system; and then the large number of desperate hopefuls, who hang in there hoping to  be promoted to a higher caste. The British divide and conquer system also works very well with writers, who are so weak they will battle each other for a tiny share of the diminishing pie (which can be diminished easily, because Amazon now has so much power, having won against its rivals, destroying many of them.)  But honestly, Jeff, Kindle Unlimited is to the literary world what fracking is to the environment: short-term thinking,

One of the meanest elements (in my opinion--please, Amazon, I have a right to my opinion) in Amazon's policy is that once a title is published on Createspace, even if unpublished a few days later, the Amazon listing will remain online forever, even if the author regrets the title or the book itself as a mistake (and which of us is not human? the more daring and original we are, the more likely we are to make mistakes), and that the book gives a wrong, distorted picture of us. Why should not a self-published title, one just in digital form until a print order comes in, be simply unpublished?

Because, Amazon says, it wants to provide a marketplace, a place where someone can resell your book or a used copy. But what if the author just sold one copy to a friend or family member who will never care about reselling it? Doesn't matter: it is policy! (Wow! I hear echoes of the cops' view of the Eric Garner story: You should have known that it was illegal to sell loose cigarettes. You should have known that as a big black man, we would use overwhelming, possibly life-threatening force simply to arrest you, despite your nonresistance. You were an adult. Sorry, this is our policy! It's the law!). Well, what if just 10 people had bought copies? How much profit might Amazon make from reselling a maximum of 5 of these 10 copies? $30? If so, what is $30 to megabillionaire Bezos when obtained at the cost of an author and creator who has put his life on the line for his art, not one producing a soulless piece of production-line crap? You're going to profit from someone else's pain and misery and depression and forgivable errors?  Do you really need to? Are you that desperate?

Why Bernie Sanders inspires me: he has been fighting for people who were hurting, people who were earning a low minimum wage (my own wages working for Amazon are closer to 20 cents an hour when I count all that the time I have put into my books, their formatting and marketing, and what I have earned), cared for people who were sick and had no health insurance (I don't).

What America needs is more people like Bernie Sanders and fewer people like Jeff Bezos. Will Sundar Pichai of Google and Tim Cook of Apple please wake up and provide a fair and truly competitive alternative to the Amazon near-monopoly--which is a bad thing for books? Absolute power corrupts (and 80% is near absolute), and for healthy competition that benefits writers and literature, no single company ought to have more than a 35 percent share of the market. Google Play, especially: they have irresponsibly abandoned their original promise to authors to provide an efficient, competitive alternative to Amazon. Or will perhaps Bill Gates weigh in with just a fraction of his billions?

And will readers realize how writers are hurting and stop patronizing Kindle Unlimited, which has impoverished hundreds of thousands of writers and devalued words? My books on Google Play (which pays fastest): http://bit.ly/CrastaG  . On Apple: http://bit.ly/CrastaApple  On my website: http://richardcrasta.com/buy-books-direct .

Google Play, I know, can be read on any platform (just download the app); Apple can be read on many, and so can Kindle books; so there's no need to read books just from one company, especially if they are monopolistic, despite the small bribes they may offer you. It may take a bit of effort, but you're preventing a monopolist from crushing an author (and others) who has struggled for free expression all his life--yes, even as a child.

P.S. I am not alone; a more eloquent post: http://in30minutes.com/what-independent-authors-do-kindle-unlimited-predatory-platforms/

( If anyone reading this did indeed buy my books on Amazon in the past month, would you please inform me at rc@richardcrasta.com ?  There's a possibility of missing sales ... that's why. ) 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Man Speaks in the Middle of a Forest ... Still Wrong?

From the Preface to Works in Progress: [This is the slightly changed preface, and it encapsulates the essence of the book and its raison d'etre.]

If a man shouts a sentence in the middle of the forest where no one, man or woman, can hear him, is he still wrong?

No one can say, not having heard the content of his sentence; and the same thing is true, at this moment, of Works in Progress (and a few of my other books at my website and elsewhere, which, unlike when I had well-known publishers publishing and publicizing my work, are lost in the Amazon jungle of millions of titles): They may be shouts in the middle of a forest, but since no one* has read it yet, no one can say whether or why it is right or wrong—or whether “right” and “wrong” have any meaning in the context of such an act of pure self-expression.

And yet, I needed to shout this book to the world. Or at least to myself. (And maybe that's why the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders is justified: he has something to say, and he must say it--and in my humble opinion, he needs to be heard.)

That’s why I published it. But why the title Works in Progress?

Because it proclaims that nothing is final for me, that I am always open to rethinking my conclusions, and that my stories are just one tiny strand in the vast tapestry of human history and thinking.

Though I am a procrastinator, harboring stories for years before I publish them, at some point in September 2015, I just had to get some of this off my chest, for it was a burden, a promise to myself, that had been weighing on me: I would, one day, tell this story. And now, I have (whether or not anyone reads it, that is their problem). A few other pieces (included here) had been published in e-book form (but not everywhere), but not in print (all except one).

Acutely aware that life is a gift that can be withdrawn at any second, I felt that I did not, any longer, have the luxury of waiting for perfection.

So I decided to combine these disparate works under the present title.

To tell the truth—the deep truth, as I see it—has been one of the passions of my writing life. Also, to trust the creative process, to believe that much of what I have written was meant to be published and read, and is what I owe to the world regardless of short-term obstacles: writing being a mission, a calling, rather than a choice—it is what I have always believed, though sometimes with less faith than at other times.

Also, I, and some of my friends and readers, regard print as a more solid, palpable, enduring, and substantial format than a digital file. Literary readers and serious readers read printed books with love and joy. So do I: I love to underline the parts of a paper book that move me, later rereading them with pleasure. Many of my friends absolutely refuse to read an e-book.

Though parts of this book may not be “finished,” in the sense that some artists prefer to sign their names only to works that are near-perfect, others believe that perfection is an illusion, or a subjective judgment. To further delay publication while waiting for perfection may be an excuse concocted by my Inner Coward. And I am tired of excuses, of fooling myself.

I do not believe that I have the right to postpone these and other books. To some extent, you write for yourself; but you also live in, benefit from, and are the product of a society, and this society deserves to hear what you have to say. An artist is, in some sense, an enabler of democracy and discourse, of feeling and self-discovery.

I hope you enjoy this book and most of its varied offerings. 
(*Since I first wrote this, I unpublished the paperback, and the one reader who read Works in Progress has written back to say it is my second most moving work: he has read 8 other books of mine. But, as the inimitable Bob Dylan puts, it "You're not him!"; so the books of mine I'd recommend that readers read first are The Revised Kama Sutra, The killing of an Author, and Impressing the Whites.)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Muhammad Ali, the Greatest and the Wittiest

I had recently forgotten that Muhammad Ali fought for much more than himself, and is a man with the courage of his convictions, and wit besides:

Here are a few inspiring and entertaining quotes from him, many of which resonate with me:

Social Consciousness and Commentary:
"Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up."
"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name, and I insist people using it when speaking to me and of me."
"Nobody has to tell me that this is a serious business. I'm not fighting one man. I'm fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of 'em, here is one man they couldn't defeat, couldn't conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30m black people."


"I am America. I am the part you won't recognise, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me."
"We were brought here 400 years ago for a job. Why don't we get out and build our own nation and quit begging for jobs? We'll never be free until we own our own land. We're 40m people and we don't have two acres that's truly ours."
"I'm gonna fight for the prestige, not for me, but to uplift my little brothers who are sleeping on concrete floors today in America. Black people who are living on welfare, black people who can't eat, black people who don't know no knowledge of themselves, black people who don't have no future."
"I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin' hell, but as long as they ain't free, I ain't free."
"What's really hurting me - the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence. Islam is not a killer religion, Islam means peace. I couldn't just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem." In the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
"Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger."
"I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over."

The Fighter:
"What's my name, fool? What's my name?" To Ernie Terrell during their 1967 fight - Terrell had refused to call him Muhammad Ali.
"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick." Before the 'Rumble in the Jungle'
"That all you got, George?" During the 'Rumble in the Jungle'.
"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."
 

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Mahatma, the Goats, and Young Cats: My New Humor Collection

When I was in my late teens, I used to read Punch magazine, and one of my favorite writers was Alan Coren, who published a humor collection titled Golfing for Cats. It turned out that the book had nothing to do with either golfing or cats; but golfing and cats were the two hottest subjects on the bestseller list at that time, so he married the two and made up the title. (Alan Coren's book ended up doing quite well.)

My story is totally different. Neither cats, goats, nor Mahatma Gandhi are particularly hot at this moment (the Mahatma, if resurrected, would be horrified by Donald Trump and prefer to return to his grave), so the Alan Coren anecdote only partly explains the title of my new book: The Mahatma, the Goats, and Young Cats, all of which do occur in my collection of humor and satire, but are not its main subjects: this being a diverse humor collection ranging from Jesus to Ronald Reagan, from Indian politics to American nukes and deficits, from Adam and Eve to modern puberty, from Gandhi to chicken jokes, and jokes about Indian stereotypes.

Still, I was delighted when a generous and hugely talented Phnom Penh artist, Stephane Delapree, gifted me the paintings of his blue cats for my book cover. This is probably one of my best covers ever, if not the best. Thank you, Stephane!

The book is up at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, and also at: https://www.createspace.com/5725334




Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Quotes from "Impressing the Whites"

These are random quotes from Impressing the Whites, completely out of context ... hopefully, they will provoke your curiosity:

Half-naked and barefoot villagers in remote parts of India had begun to spend anxious nights worrying about, of all things, their bad breath—because capitalist commercials had effectively penetrated their ancient, spiritual, breath-free minds.

A young Frenchman who had recently visited China was greatly upset. Why? Because the modern Chinese were not as spiritual as he had been primed by the Western media to expect. In fact, these bloody Chinamen with their 30 million cell phones were as materialistic as . . . as . . . as he was!

Not only do colored immigrants owe African-Americans for the work they did in resisting slavery and discrimination, but we also have experiences and strategies to share. I remember sharing my chapters on “Impressing the Whites” and “The Fourteen Commandments” with a black man on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to New York’s JFK. This man, tall, strapping, and muscular, who had been somber and even intimidating (it seemed to me) through most of the flight, burst out in belly laughs almost twice a minute for the next fifteen minutes as he read through these two chapters. He then said to me, “I grew up in Portland, destined for jail and poverty. And I had to follow almost all of these Twelve Commandments* to escape this destiny.” It was a moving reminder of how much blacks and Asians had in common despite our differences in history and heritage. (*Since then, the White God added an additional two commandments.)

What is the result of this New World Order, the modern avatar of the Old Colonial Order? Crown us a suitable boy, and we’ll give you a million suitable boys and girls; we brown and yellow people exist only for Your pleasure, as You may have heard from all those heartwarming tourism brochures. And also for the occasional pat on the head You might be so pleased as to give us.
“Do not fire your pen-guns until you hear the Ayes of the whites” is the golden rule of Indian writers writing in English.

The West is a Jupiter-sized cow with a billion bursting teats, and the rest of the world is five billion mouths fighting to suckle a drop from one emaciated cow (with two working teats, the third being on a labor strike, and the fourth awaiting an Ayurvedic massage to unclog its overworked ducts. Therefore, milking the West has become a major Third World industry, art, or con game — one that we must master merely to survive. We are practiced milkers, and we’ll do almost anything, say almost anything, act any degrading role that’s called for — all for a drop of the gleaming, life-giving, white stuff.

The reason why India has no large community of professional anarchists, while having disproportionately large numbers of feminist theorists, Yeats scholars, E. M. Forster thesis-writers, or structuralists? Because, by definition, no anarchist milk may be suckled from the West; anarchists are too disorganized or anti-organization to know where their cows are, let alone to arrange for them to mate with their bulls and ship the calves to their Indian fellow travelers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Failure of Courage and Impressing the Whites

Impressing the Whites is a book with universal resonance, one that has been taught at an American university, and also in South Africa. And yet, it is known to very few outside a tiny circle in India and among a few Indians in North America. Why? 

[You can download the book here if you wish, or buy it from other channels.]

An Indian television host said to me, "We speak of it privately, among ourselves, but we dare not raise the subject in public."

Why? 

Because the wrath of the giants might be visited upon them?

Possibly. Life is too short not to have a good time while it lasts.

And yet, life is also too short to live it as a complete coward, even though prudence, at times, is called for (prudence can also be an excuse for cowardice). 

And so, I dared. And the result: "Impressing the Whites." and a host of other books, including, "When David Davidar Drank My Wine"--which can now be downloaded directly from my site.

But some people, who almost instinctively and effusively praised the book (including a Bangalore journalist and socialite, and a multimillionaire Indian-American) backed off, later. Their courage (and their integrity) ... failed them. 

Pity.