ANOTHER AMAZON AGGRAVATION: KINDLE’S FALSE ADVERTISING

By Dennis King

Many book lovers use Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and Kindle Store (closely integrated into Amazon’s dominant role in the e-commerce of printed books) for their extraordinary convenience and because they provide access to books at much lower prices and sometimes either for free or for nominal payments:

kindle content:  https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200952510

https://archive.org/details/texts?&sort=-week&page=2  (22.3 million texts available)

https://ebookfriendly.com/sites-where-you-can-read-books-online/

Likewise, many book readers are enthralled by Amazon’s Good Reads “social cataloging” website, because it enables you to rate the books you like or dislike, publish your own reviews and interact with other readers on the broadest available scale (as of 2019, Good Reads had accumulated ninety million members around the world).

But with Amazon, the devil can be in the details. In 2018, I posted on Good Reads a five star rating for Susan Fenimore Cooper’s Rural Hours (1850), a book by Susan Fenimore Cooper, the daughter of novelist James Fenimore Cooper. It was based on a diary that Cooper had kept for over a year in the upstate New York village of Cooperstown (named after her grandfather) where she lived with her family, including her father. With due regard for quantitative method, she studied the change of seasons and its effect on birds and other wildlife, on Otsego Lake (which the village was and is nestled against), and also on her human neighbors on nearby farms and in the village. Charmingly written as well as deeply thoughtful, Rural Hours was an influence on Thoreau and a best-seller in its day, but was unfairly forgotten along with her other naturalist writings for most of the 20th century.  To help in the process of “un-forgetting,” I had posted my rating in reference to the 1998 University of Georgia Press edition prepared by Rochelle Johnson and Daniel Patterson; it was the first edition in over a century to contain the full text and the first ever to provide the footnotes and scholarly introduction so essential for fully appreciating a classic.

The other night I was looking over my old Good Reads ratings and reviews, and found the following query regarding Rural Hours:  “I read an amazon [reader] review that this book, as printed, is full of typos and as a result not a good read. Has anyone else had this problem?” I found the customer review in question not on Amazon but at the Barnes & Nobles website page, advertising a paperback edition from Dodo Press that has also been sold via Amazon. Dodo Press publishes a large number of out-of-copyright classics and has been criticized for allegedly leaving out chapters. The complaint, identified as being from “7 years ago,” was from “Anonymous” and simply states “NO! One of those books that are full of typos. Spent the $2 and get the other version.” It is unclear if the statement refers to the Dodo Press version of Rural Hours or to its line of classics in general. The reference to “$2” is apparently the version available from NOOK Books, B&N’s rival to Kindle, which currently goes for $0.99.

I figured that, most likely, the reader had purchased an OCR [optical character recognition] version that had never been properly proofread before being made available electronically or sent to the printer; or it could be a version made from a PDF of an old library copy in which handling by many people or improper storage has produced textual defects. Electronic texts of either type need careful proofreading.  The publishers of what I call quickie classics, whether in ebook or print-on-demand or other versions, often provide an inferior product. I have purchased such books in the past, as have friends of mine. If you are someone who is accustomed to always reading actual, physical books, you will have a problem getting a good version of a relatively obscure classic. This appears to be an Amazon/Kindle/Good Reads-created problem that amounts to false advertising and, indirectly, to text vandalism, while also having  copyright implications for new scholarly editions of old and out-of-copyright books in general.

Many readers may not know that Good Reads was purchased by Amazon in 2013 and now has over 90 millions members, making it an important element in Amazon’s massive influence over the publishing industry, including its ability to steer reader’s purchasing choices. Furthermore, when a reader posts on Good Reads, he or she becomes  entwined with Amazon/Good Reads advertising and sales software that may provide confusing information about editions and quality of books, thus steering buyers to shorter and harder-to-read versions of older, out-of-copyright books. I gave Rural Hours a five-star rating on Good Reads back in 2018. When you click in this rating at “My Books” (all my ratings and reviews) you get an image of the cover page of the 1998 edition, directly to its right, with the title, the 1998 editors’ names, and promotional that you find if directly searching Amazon for the edition.

Beside that image and directly below the title are three choices: “Kindle,” “Hardcover” and “Paperback.” It would be understandable how a viewer would think that these choices are related to the 1998 book, even though directly above them, in small text, is “See all formats and editions”.  The confusion would be compounded by the blurb below that says “This new edition, the only printing of the full original text since 1876, restores passages excised by the author for an 1887 edition.” [Emphasis added.] The Kindle box gives a price of $1.99; the hardcover box, $44.76; and the paperback, $30.95 (new). Going by price alone, a buyer would easily click on the Kindle box, without thinking. I clicked on it and got a new book cover image (well, the same book can sometimes have different cover displays for different formats, the buyer might think). The heading beside the image says “Rural Hours Kindle Edition.” I clicked “Look inside” and found that this version was based on the shortened 1887 edition. The expensive hardcover edition was also based on the 1887 edition and the blurb states: “This scarce antiquarian book is a fascimile reprint of the original.” [Huh? Read that twice.] As is common with fascimile reprints, the blurb includes the warning the “[d]ue to its age [the age of the original, I presume], it may contain imperfections such as marks, notations, marginalia and flawed pages.”

Then we go to the third box, “Paperback,” where we get “Rural Hours Paperback – October 28, 2008.” Here again the 1998 scholarly edition has been used as a come-on. The picture displayed is that of what is probably an OCR based edition with a different cover and supposedly offering both new and used copies from $21.99 up.  I clicked on “Look Inside” and received the cover page image not of this 2008 book from Dodo Press (an imprint of Book Depository, a UK company) but of the 1998 edition. (Probably just as well; a subject guide on the print-on-demand book business made available by American University regarding Dodo products: “materials frequently are missing portions of the original material.”) Amazon was offering, directly underneath the cover image of the 1998 cover book, an inexpensive Kindle that many buyers would assume was a Kindle of the 1998 book. Certainly they would be faced with a choice of the Kindle for $1.99, as opposed to $30.99 for the softcover edition of the 1998 book. The aim apparently is to induce people to adopt Kindle as their primary means of accessing books, even at the cost of dishonestly confusing the editions it offers.

Amazon should stop its practice of edition obfuscation, and until they do so, purchasers should not unthinkingly buy a Kindle edition that, when you click on it, shows a different cover image than the one you saw before your clicked. Such Kindle editions may be based on bowdlerized versions or versions that do not reflect important authorial revisions, as well as being full of typos. This is especially important in the case of books with very complicated publishing histories; for instance, Susan Cooper agreed to excisions from her book, after many years of gradually decreasing sales, to keep it in print; and editions thereafter (until 1998) did not have the full text.

The OCR quickies offered through Kindle will sometimes display, in their purchase come-ons, very attractive cover art. This is not always bad; I have an OCR-based copy of Deephaven, a classic 19th century novel by Sarah Orne Jewett, with a cover art choice that very well expresses the spirit of the novel, and with text clean of typos in spite of including much dialogue in a Maine dialect that requires many apostrophes (maybe someone doing the proofreading really loved the book). Still, I don’t know what edition the OCR text was made from.

If you want a reliable electronically transmitted version of any old, out-of-copyright book, you can usually download a PDF from an academic library for free, either directly or via your own public library. If the book is important to you for research or sentimental reasons, make sure you’ are not getting a bowdlerized edition (or an early edition of a work that the author expanded or otherwise greatly revised later on). If the book has a complicated publishing history, you will need to seek advice from a research librarian on these points. Below is the link to where, on Good Reads, I posted my reply to the question about the Kindle version of the book. You will see the links to Kindle and Amazon which appear to be for the University of Georgia edition. But when you follow the links under GET A COPY, you see that the Kindle offering is for the $1.99 price, with a different cover and none of the special information found in the scholarly edition, while the Amazon GET A COPY link offers the softcover version of the University of Georgia edition for $30.95 but also offers the $1.99 Kindle edition. (Indeed it currently states that the U. of Georgia edition is out of stock but suggests the Kindle ebook is available now without stating that the Kindle ebook is a very different book.) Of course It would be easy for the purchaser to get confused and buy the inferior edition that the reviewer complained about, thinking that he or she was ordering the University of Georgia edition, which, as of Monday, March 22, 2021, 12:33 AM, is here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/597374.Rural_Hours 

Dennis King is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1965). He has lived in New York City for over 50 years. He is the author of Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism (1989) and Get the Facts on Anyone (three editions, last in 1999). A specialist on political cults and the far right, he has written widely for national and local publications and on the web.

THE FIGHT AGAINST ANTI-ASIAN HATE IS OUR FIGHT

By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend

Unfortunately, attacks against Asian-Americans have been on the rise as of late. In fact, there’s been a 19,000% rise in the last year, a total of 2,780 recorded assaults. Asian-American leaders have been vocal in condemning this violence. Social Democrats USA feels that the cause of Asian-American and Pacific Islanders civil rights is our cause. Our organization’s ancestor – the Socialist Party – had a history of advocating for civil rights with leaders like Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas. SD USA was home to civil rights activists like A Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Sidney Hook.

There has been a long history of Asian-American discrimination in our country. The first immigrants from China arrived in 1820, but their number increased following the 1849 California Gold Rush. Asian-Americans were used as a source of cheap labor by industries from the transcontinental railroad to agriculture. Anti-Asian sentiment led to riots in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other parts of the country. It also led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Asian-Americans were often used as strike breakers in those days. Capita – management – often uses those who are despised and marginalized because of race as a source of cheap labor to divide the working class and its power. Who can forget the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II?

Despite this history, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have provided for their families and ensured that their children became good citizens. Asian-Americans contributed to labor organizations in New York and San Francisco. It took until 1965 for Asian-Americans to receive justice when President Lyndon Baines Johnson liberalized our immigration laws with the Immigration and Nationality Act, bringing in more Asian immigrants. After this key law, Asian-Americans played a role in labor organizations in New York City and San Francisco; especially in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  

Social democrats have historically stood for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We understood that those rights extend into the economic realm, as social democrats fight for the right to unionize, social insurance, social welfare programs, regulation of private business, and public ownership where necessary. Human rights and civil rights are also fundamental in the fight for social democracy.

A mass shooting recently left eight dead in two Asian massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia; seven were Asian. Although sex seems to have been a motive, the murderer was clearly raging against Asian women. This was a monstrous hate act! SDUSA strongly condemns violence of any kind or the violation of the civil rights of Asian-American and Pacific Islanders and stands by them in this crisis. We offer our sincere condolences and prayers for the dead and anyone who is hurting from these acts.   

Jason Sibert is Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

E N D O R S E M E N T

From left to right: Carolyn D. Hoffman, Michael Mottern

CAROLYN D. HOFFMAN: THE HEALER WE NEED

By Michael Mottern

It is easy to write off holistic healers as hippies or bleeding hearts, but there is one in Monroe County, New York, in the city of Rochester, who is a particularly compelling.social democratic activist against poverty and police brutality. Her name is Carolyn D Hoffman and she is running for Monroe County Legislator representing the city of Rochester.

I got the opportunity to petition with her in downtown Rochester after being kicked out of a senior center high-rise by a mysterious Grizzly Adams looking person with a white beard threatening to call security if we didn’t leave the building. In Buffalo, my petition experience is a little bit easier to handle considering there are more concerned people, However I learned in Rochester that is not the case. As poor as the city is, it is harder to petition in Rochester because of all the economic disparities and police brutality that is going on and nobody trust the government especially local government considering the police department in Rochester is not staffed by locals nor do the cops care about the neighborhoods they do patrol as a result.

Police brutality has surged in Rochester since the George Floyd uprising. Carolyn is just the person to spearhead real change with a Social Democratic helping hand. A former EMT and a care professional who works with adults and children with disabilities, I’ve seen her tell a homeless man she will be back after petitioning to at least buy him a meal… that’s how much of a caring heart she has!

A holistic healer and a strong activist in the LGBTQ movement, she will be a much-needed queer Social Democratic voice in the Monroe County Government and will provide leadership in getting services provided for marginalized people, including homeless people and individuals with disabilities. That is why Social Democrats USA endorses Carolyn D Hoffman for Monroe County Legislator, Rochester District in the June 22nd Democratic primary.

Michael Mottern is First Vice-Chair of Social Democrats USA

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY’S BALANCING ACT

By Jason Sibert

Believing in social democracy means believing in the concept of balance. Social democrats believe the interests of employers should be checked at times by the government, labor unions, or perhaps some other form of employee organization. Believing in social democracy also means believing that social insurance (unemployment systems, pensions, and health insurance) protects working people against the downs of the market. In addition, being a social democrat means advocating for the regulation of corporations in the public interest and public ownership when it’s feasible. Also, being a social democrat means fighting for the public interest when it’s in conflict with the private interest.

The social democratic agenda can be checked by a huge armaments sector that fights for the public dollar; Republican Dwight Eisenhower talked about the military-industrial complex in his final days in office. A political establishment hell-bent on keeping our military in forward deployments around the world works hand in hand with the military-industrial complex.

Writer Andy Weber’s article “Pandemic Shows Need for Biological Readiness” (Arms Control Today, January/February 2021) hits on the important security threats in our future: biological, climatological, and nuclear; threats that can’t be met with huge military arsenals. Arms control treaties (particularly in the fields of nuclear and biological weapons) and low and no-carbon energy are the weapons of the future. However, these weapons don’t have the sheer economic power that defense contractors seeking money-making contracts from the government do. This presents a major problem.  Security through fewer arms, the goal of arms control, provides fewer dollars for arms manufacturers and few jobs for communities, even though it provides more security for less money. It’s unlikely that arms control will produce much excitement from manufactures and communities dependent on military spending, this basic fact impacts the drive for arms control in the areas addressed in Weber’s piece.

Monetary concerns are also at play in the climatological threat. Fossil fuel companies don’t want there to be an alternative to the forms of energy they produce, as alternatives threaten their profits. Pandemic preparation presents a similar problem. Although public health creates some jobs, it doesn’t have near the economic impact of our current military industrial complex. The lack of a discussion on security and the drive for profits underlies our problems on this front.  Social democratic thinking takes a realistic view of the profit motive and seeks to blunt its influence in areas where it does harm to human flourishing. Abolishing social security taxes might benefit some, but it would harm those dependent on the program. Even lower wages at fast food restaurants might benefit fast food companies and consumers, but it would make the lives of fast-food workers even worse. Massive amounts of arms spending benefit some, but adversely impacts taxpayers, our security, and an economy which need investments in other areas.  

The arms control community needs a voice, or voices, to communicate with large segments of the American public on its agenda. Otherwise, it will be drowned out by the voices of the military-industrial complex and politicians that don’t understand how to manage the balance of power in the world. While arms control advocates and organizations exist, they have no way of reaching a mass audience.

Social democrats must advocate for arms control as a positive form of security. The social democrat must also realize the jobs that will be lost in the move away from manufacturing massive numbers of arms, and that there must be a plan to employ all those who have lost a livelihood. Perhaps a new Civilian Conservation Corps to create more forest cover to blunt the impacts of climate change could employ the workers formerly used in the military-industrial complex. In the absence of a real dialog on this issue, social democrats, and their organizations, must create one.

Jason Sibert is Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

SDUSA ENDORSES THE DYNAMIC DUO FROM UPSTATE NEW YORK – DOMINIQUE CALHOUN & MYLES CARTER

By Michael Mottern

From left to right: Myles Carter, Michael Mottern, Dominique Calhoun

An ultimate check on racism and police brutality in Erie County New York is long overdue. This is the county that once jailed Jack London and just recently pummeled Western New York peace activist Martin Gugino with no mercy and will be remembered for the actions of Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne, who was fired by the department after saving the life of a man being beaten by a fellow police officer.. All this has happened in the 9th most liberal city, the 8th most racially segregated city and the 4th poorest city in the country.

Without a doubt, African Americans have dealt with systemic racism since the Inception of our country. The issues of race and class are such contentious topics that one Civil War was fought over them. America had its own apartheid called the Jim Crow Era, precipitating the civil rights movement of the Sixties. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the nation – black and white, brown and red – arose in protest. In fact, when it comes to race and class, the health problems of the country are so bad that police brutality is a public health crisis for all black and brown people.

Can we remedy this with social democracy and a check on racism and police brutality in the County of Erie in New York State, an arguably liberal state? New York State in particular is very blue in the cities. Buffalo is the 8th most racially segregated city in America with ethnic neighborhoods that are only mixed in a few sections. Redlining didn’t begin in Moscow; it began in Portland, Oregon and in Western New York.

Should we trust the police that live in the deep red areas of New York State and commute to the blue city for a great job in the police department, yet know nothing about these working-class neighborhoods? The police departments all over the country have been infiltrated by the alt right and fringe groups that want another civil war, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Groups like the Proud Boys, the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi skinheads are very active here yet usually stay underground. Kenmore, New York (a suburb of Buffalo where I live) has a reputation for traffic stops of African-Americans drivers who go over 40 miles per hour in white neighborhoods

It’s time for a change, both in the county of Erie and in the police department of the City of Buffalo. That is why Social Democrats USA, who helped pioneer social justice and anti-racism work in the late 1950s and early 60s, is hearkening back to those roots. And we  are not going to stop anytime soon as long as there is police brutality and racism both here and elsewhere in America.

In the Erie County Sheriff’s race, candidate Myles Carter was brought to national attention by his arrest during the George Floyd protests in Buffalo  He is a jail pastor who lives in a working-class area that is predominantly African-American and where the medium income is $30,000 a year. He wants to close the Erie County Holding Center and any Erie County jail that houses minor offenders. His goal is to create a new facility focused on mental health services for poor people who fall between the cracks in our capitalist system, and who are the victims of racial profiling by the questionable people Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the Buffalo Police Department hire as deputies and police officers. In Erie County Legislative District 1, in the County Legislature in Buffalo, running for County Representative as a Democrat and a progressive is Dominique Calhoun. She stresses providing better services for poor people in low-income areas and will work on building a progressive caucus in the County Legislature. Both Calhoun and Carter represent an insurgent voice for County Government.

For too long now, the County Representatives have been very chummy with the local Democratic committee and the big money politics that come with it. It costs $4,000 just to run and get endorsed by the Erie County Democrats. Neither candidate is backed by the Erie County Democratic committee nor even by the supposedly progressive Working Families Party of Western New York. As the ‘teaching hospital’ of the Democratic Left. Social Democrats USA makes these targeted endorsements to educate the local body politic on the benefits of electing a group of committed reformers with fire in their belly! 

Michael Mottern is Vice-Chair of Social Democrats USA.