Reblog: The Problem with Paywalls

First posted this back in 20`18, but hey, why not reblog? Thus, reblog!

Nicholas Conley

Over the past few centuries, it’s been said many times, in many ways, how the cornerstone of democracy is a free press. For the sake of having a more free and just society, we also want an informed society. Newspapers, news websites, news stations, and so on must have the freedom to write about anyone, or anything, at any time, in order to hold the world’s most powerful institutions in check. In the same way that news institutions need to sharply critique the policies of other institutions, though, it’s equally important for citizens to be able to carefully scrutinize the news they read: to ensure that all news sources, from the New York Times to JoeBillysNews.com (not a real site!), use proper citations, follow journalistic standards, correctly present information, don’t misrepresent facts, and so on, in order to make sure that the public isn’t just informed, but accurately informed.

So…

View original post 428 more words

Coffee Thoughts: May 2020

Welcome to Coffee Thoughts, May 2020! That’s right, May has arrived. Consider this a helpful reminder of the date, since (as you’ve probably noticed) all the days tend to run together in quarantine time.

On that note …

No, America isn’t ready to “re-open”

Currently, you’re seeing a number of selfish politicians, corporations, and our current Buffoon-in-Chief making pushes to “re-open” the United States, usually by waving U.S. flags around (metaphorically, if not literally), saying how wearing masks and/or caring about other people is “just not our way,” or making dire predictions about how another month of shutdown will (gasp!) turn us into the U.S.S.R, or similar such nonsense.

Obviously, that’s a bunch of hot air. Any of these big figures who want to reopen things are motivated by greed, and nothing else. That’s it. You’d think that for giant corporations, it would be enough that they stole all the bailout funds intended for small business relief (New York Times), but now, you can quite literally see a bunch of wealthy people saying, basically, “Open things up, and let the poor die, as long as we get our business rolling again.” This is cutthroat capitalism at its worst.

Here’s the reality. While the Trump administration (and the ever-smarmy Jared Kushner) are desperately trying to say that the crisis is over, or that America’s response was a “great success story,” the numbers don’t lie: as of May 6th, COVID-19 has killed 72,293 U.S. people, including thousands of deaths in the past few days alone, and the true number is probably far larger than that.

By listening to the experts, and not reopening too soon, it will be possible to re-open in a smart, reasonable way — but stupidly barreling forward, and ignoring the data, will just cause more people to die.

The Pentagon released UFO footage. Yeah, really.

As if 2020 wasn’t weird enough, the past month saw the Pentagon confirm that a few clips of what looked like a UFO were … well, a UFO. Seriously. If this news had hit at any other time, you’d be seeing it everywhere, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like too much. It’s as if two sci-fi genres got mashed together without enough planning, so now, people are just confused by the whole alien subplot, and not sure how it fits into the main narrative. You know?

Now, a caveat is necessary. First, these videos have been online for a few years. They were just “unauthorized,” and the Pentagon has now, well, “authorized them.” Two, the term UFO does not mean alien, extraterrestrial, or any of that. Here’s a clip, courtesy of the Guardian:

Note, again, that the U in UFO stands for “unidentified,” not “alien.” There are a lot of potential explanations for what these things might be, but the key is that the U.S. government can’t figure it out. As Daniel Oberhaus writes for Wired:

So does the official authorization of these videos mean the Pentagon has finally admitted that aliens exist? Nope. For starters, anything the military labels “unidentified” is not necessarily extraterrestrial. It’s just something in the sky that military officials can’t explain—civil and military pilots see unidentified aircraft all the time. Could they be piloted by little green men? Sure, if you have an active imagination. But usually they turn out to be something much more mundane—an atmospheric illusion, an undisclosed military drill, a satellite, or evidence of a tired pilot’s brain playing tricks on them.

That doesn’t mean that these things aren’t alien, of course. They could be … or, they could be something far less exciting. So while this hardly counts for much, if you’re the sort looking for proof of extraterrestrial life, it’s interesting, nonetheless.

On a lighter note …

If the movie industry ever recovers from this current catastrophe, I have some predictions for the future:

Novel Update

As a full-time writer, I’m extremely lucky in that I already work from home, and my work flow hasn’t slowed down at all. That said, amidst my other writing, I’m always happy to report that my next novel is continuing to move forward! It’s a little early to make a release prediction, given the current pandemic — maybe the end of this year, maybe the beginning of next? — but either way, soon.

Cheers, and hope you all have a great Monday!

Coffee Thoughts: April 2020

Welcome to Coffee Thoughts, April 2020: The Social Distancing Edition. Because hey, you know, that’s what all of us are doing. And if you’re not —and you’re able to — you should be. Because seriously, guys, this COVID-19 pandemic is no joke.

Here in the U.S., the COVID-19 Recession Has Arrived …

… and the overall picture is, perhaps, even more dire than anyone could have anticipated. At the time of this writing, over 50,000 people have been recorded as dying from COVID-19, and those numbers are only going to rise. Unemployment is hitting record levels. People are struggling to get by. Not every nation is able to socially distance to the extent of the more privileged ones, and those populations are going to be hit even harder: that means less wealthy countries are going to face epidemics on a level far more deadlier than here in the U.S., and it’s deeply depressing to watch, particularly in nations with leaders that aren’t taking this seriously enough. This is a global health catastrophe, incomparable to anything most people today have experienced, and things are only going to get worse before they get better.

Here in the U.S., the many flaws in our healthcare system are showing their ugly face. The U.S. doesn’t have universal healthcare, and the problems with that have become horrendously obvious: it’s disgusting, frankly, that a woman who was treated for COVID-19 then received a hospital bill of almost $35,000, according to Time. It’s disgusting that people have to be terrified of getting laid off, not just because of the loss of income, but because this would leave them with no health insurance if they, their spouse, or their children do get sick. It’s disgusting that god-only-knows how many people aren’t getting tested because they’re afraid of the bill.

In a country this wealthy, things shouldn’t be like that. I’ve written (and spoken) many times about how desperately the U.S. needs a universal healthcare system — ala the Medicare for All plans promoted by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and so on — which, politics aside, is an initiative that the majority of the American people support. And seriously, if there was ever a time where the need for universal healthcare was most obvious, it’s now. When you desperately need medical care, you can’t go shopping for the best deal. When people are dying, nobody should be be profiting from it. And the general excuses about “can we afford it?” look particularly inane now, as it becomes clear just how important government spending has become in combating COVID-19. As I wrote on Truthout in 2016:

I’ve watched patients die from preventable conditions because they couldn’t afford treatment. In nursing homes, sick people are warehoused into less-than-adequate conditions, with families forced to pay yearly costs of $90,000 a year to put their loved one in a shared room where they and the 30+ other patients on their unit will be taken care of by only two aides. Because of money issues, people lose limbs that they shouldn’t need to lose. Patients decline when they shouldn’t have to. An increasing number of people don’t go to the doctor, even when they develop terrifying symptoms such as mysterious lumps in their throat, because they just can’t afford it.

Yes, having universal healthcare wouldn’t have prevented COVID-19 from coming to the United States, though the situation certainly could have been a lot better if the current administration had taken the threat seriously from the start, to say nothing of the fact that public health agencies like the CDC have been direly underfunded, year after year. However, the U.S.’s ability to climb out of this hole is deeply impacted by our ruthless, for-profit neoliberal healthcare system, as the Guardian has explained. If there was ever a time to take a long, hard look at our issues and make big changes, it’s now…

… or, well, actually, the time to make changes was yesterday, or last year, or a decade ago, but until time travel comes around? It’s now.

Remember the most vulnerable populations, okay? Healthcare workers, the homeless, the elderly, and more.

Speaking as a former healthcare worker — and as someone who is married to a current healthcare worker, my wife, who is actually working in a hospital emergency department as I write this — it’s so, so, so important for people to understand what’s at stake here, take social distancing seriously, and do everything possible to flatten the curve. COVID-19 cases haven’t even peaked yet, and preventing more infections is the only way to keep the U.S. medical system from getting overrun by cases, impacting not just COVID-19 patients, but anyone else in need of medical care.

Every day that my wife is working, I’m terrified at the thought of her getting this. Would we survive? Probably, because we’re young, healthy, and not particularly at-risk. But that’s not guaranteed. And regardless of our personal safety, it’s terrifying to consider the plight of marginalized communities out there, across the world, who aren’t so lucky: from people in refugee camps, to the homeless population, to working class immigrant populations, to those with prior health conditions, to the newly unemployed, to the residents of nursing homes — the latter of whom are an elderly, immunocompromised population packed into close quarters, facing not just a high risk of COVID-19 infection, but the psychological toll of quarantine.

Again, though, the best thing that everyone can do right now is stay at home, self-quarantine, and buy medical workers the time they need so that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed. This is the time to catch up on Netflix. It’s the time to work on all those old art projects you’ve been putting off. You get the idea.

For U.S. readers, if you’re looking to get a sense of how your state is doing at flattening the curve, I highly recommend you check out the state-by-state projections available on Covid Act Now. For example, here is the current figures from my location, here in New Hampshire, where we currently have a “stay-at-home” order:

Anyhow, best wishes to all of you out there reading this. Hope you’re staying safe, healthy, and well.

Coffee Thoughts: March 2020

Welcome back to Coffee Thoughts, folks. The March edition, to be precise. Arm yourself with a mug, take your first sip, and let’s get rolling.

First off, let’s discuss the one issue that everybody (and I mean everybody) is talking about, everywhere in the world. C’mon, you know what it is. What else could it be, but … what, you thought I meant the U.S. presidential election? Nah, more like …

Coronavirus

Hey, you were warned. Hopefully you washed your hands. And seriously, folks: speaking as a former healthcare worker, please do wash your hands. Thoroughly. Frequently. And yes, yes, count to 20 while you do it. None of this “put-your-hands-under-the-water-and-splash-a-bit-and-take-them-right-back-out” nonsense that some people do.

Now, knowledge is power, and as COVID-19 continues to spread, one of the most important things people can do is learn more about what it is, who is at risk, and how to respond. To that end, as the Guardian explains, it’s important to know that COVID-19 is highly contagious. If it continues to spread, people all over the world will be at risk. At the same time, you should be aware that while the death rate is relatively low — deadlier than the flu, but around 2 percent in, for instance, the Hubei province — there are still thousands of people who have died, so as John Oliver put it, you should strike a balance between being cautious and not, you know, letting hysteria take over to the point where you go swallowing bleach, or something similarly dangerous.

Sadly, the people who will be most impacted by this are the same ones who usually suffer during such times: the elderly, the immunocompromised, and the economically disadvantaged. When it comes to societal inequality, as Bill Gates has said, according to CNBC, the healthcare systems in low-income nations are already struggling, and thus, “A pathogen like the coronavirus can quickly overwhelm them. And poorer countries have little political or economic leverage, given wealthier countries’ natural desire to put their own people first.”

Even here in the U.S., though, it looks like poor people are going to suffer a lot more than rich people will, because it seems the pharmaceutical industry is still up to its usual price-gouging bullshit: a few weeks ago, health secretary (and pharmaceutical lobbyist) Alex Azar refused to promise that if/when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, that it would be affordable to all Americans. What he’s saying, in essence, is that the pharmaceutical industry is hungry to profit off the misery of sick people. Now, for one, fuck that. Two, that’s classism at its finest. And three, it’s bad science, because vaccines work most effectively when everyone gets them, allowing herd immunity to kick in.

So yeah, this is scary. You know what else is scary? Racism. And another thing that is absolutely, 100 percent not acceptable — and, sadly, is also happening right now — is that Coronavirus has sparked a wave of anti-Asian racism, as I wrote for Grunge, with countless individuals and/or businesses of Asian descent being bullied, ostracized, or even beaten, simply because of the fact the COVID-19 started in China. This sort of insane xenophobia and racism needs to stop, immediately.

Now, for something else

Okay, time to shift to something a bit less stressful, huh? Long, deep breaths. Here’s Nova, the ever-noble companion, being a dog, and doing dog things:

The struggles of finding gender neutral baby clothing are all-too-real

As a new father (almost four months!) I wanted to take a moment to mention this great article on Vox, by Chris Chafin, which discusses the real-life struggles of trying to clad your baby in clothing that isn’t hot pink or baby blue, and questions why society even cares so much about a baby’s gender, to begin with.

Until you become a new parent (or go shopping for somebody else’s baby, or what have you), it’s easy to underestimate just how aggressively the clothing industry wants you to clad your infant in the most ridiculously, stereotypically-gendered colors, prints, and styles imaginable. Now, as the father of a baby girl, I don’t have any issue with the color pink … or, say, butterflies. When she gets old enough to make her own fashion decisions, if she likes pink butterfly garments, she can happily choose those for herself. While she’s a baby, though, it’s downright ridiculous that the fashion industry tries to shove gender norms down your throat, to the point where it’s sometimes nigh-on impossible to find clothes that are, say, green, brown, red, orange, or so on.

The industry’s fixation on an infant’s gender is clearly unhealthy. So hopefully, as society evolves on topics of gender, in general, this is another area where we can evolve, as well.

Anyhow, that’s all for now. Have a great Monday, everybody!

Coffee Thoughts: February 2020

Hello out there, and welcome to the second monthly edition of Coffee Thoughts! As stated on the last time around, this space will cover some short form notes, observations, and (if we’re lucky) “insights” about the past few weeks, shared over a cup of coffee.

Happy Tu BiShvat!

To start this off, let me wish a happy Tu BiShvat to any fellow Jewish readers out there!

And for all you non-Jewish readers, a quick little explanation: Tu BiShvat is the Jewish new year for trees, celebrated annually on the 15th of Shevat. Now, here in climates like New Hampshire (rather than Israel), it can seem a bit odd to celebrate trees in the midst of snowstorms. That said, I think it could be argued that there’s no time that trees seem more admirable — and just outright impressive — than in the thick of winter, when these ancient giants are standing their ground in the snow, hunkering down as they await the blooming flowers of spring.

Anyhow, if there was ever a time in history where humans really need to value trees, the planet, and the environment in general, it’s now. In light of those fires in the Amazon and Australia, to say nothing of the fact that Antarctica just hit 65 degrees the other day — the cold continent’s warmest recorded temp in history — environmental action needs to happen sooner, not later, for the sake of every form of life on Earth.

February Thoughts

February is a short month, but it’s an important one, which is used to draw attention to several significant causes. One of these is American Heart Month, honored since 1963. As I wrote for Join Us For Good, one in four U.S. deaths continues to be caused by heart disease, and the situation is even deadlier for women. One of the major factors in this, as often noted by famed cardiologist Dr. Paula Johnson, is that the “textbook” heart attack symptoms tend to be experienced by men, whereas women often display entirely different symptoms: as a result, the scary truth is that one in three American women die of heart disease. Bringing more awareness to this disparity, often dubbed the “heart attack gender gap,” should be an important goal for every February.

February is also, of course, Black History Month. This tradition, first started as a week-long celebration of Black American history, achievements, and pride, by the noted historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1915, has become a hallmark of every February.

In honor of Black History Month, here are some notable quotes from Malcolm X, a man who always stood up for his beliefs, empowered others, and become one of the dominant cultural influencers of the 20th century:

“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”

— Malcolm X

“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.”
— Malcolm X

Blood Donations

Finally, to close this out, I think we all know it’s been a crazy cold and flu season. Having a newborn is especially hard in winter, since the little one picks up every cold that brushes by.

That said, when the American Red Cross asks over and over again for blood donations, they’re doing it for a good reason. I’ve been giving blood since I was 16, and if there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over again, it’s that winter is the time that such donations matter most. It’s also the season where they have the hardest time roping people in.

Carve some space out of a day. You’ll save lives, feel good, and give another family a happy February.

Cheers, folks. Talk to you again soon!

“Good Morning,” says the Dinosaur on the Writing Desk

Here’s to words. Many, many words. Good morning to all of you starting out this Monday at your own desks, and for all you other writers out there — happy writing!

Coffee Thoughts: January 2020

Happy 2020, everybody.

So, I’m going to try something different here.  I love connecting with you guys on here, and browsing through posts and comments as I enjoy a morning cup of coffee. Now, sometimes, I have bite-sized “coffee thoughts.” You know, those thoughts that aren’t quite big enough for a full blog, but longer than oh, say, a tweet? Right. Based on said coffee thoughts, meet the first edition of Coffee Thoughts, where I’ve pulled together little notes from the past month into one blog. Dig the format? Let me know!

Happy New Year

… and happy new decade, on top of it? Talk about a crazy ride. At the beginning of the 2010s, I was a kid traveling across the country by myself, dreaming of someday being a writer. In 2020, I’ve become a full-time writer, published multiple books, grown into a husband and then a father, and changed in more ways than I can count. This has been one hell of a decade, and I want to offer a huge thanks to all of you, particularly the ones who have been along for the ride since 2013 (!), when I first started this blog. You guys are awesome, and thank you for that.

This’ll be a big year, ahead. As I said before, I have a new novel waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to spill the details. Soon.

The world of entertainment keeps on keepin’ on

This is really more a December note, but still. If you haven’t yet seen Watchmen on HBO, stream it. Yes, even if you haven’t read the graphic novel. Yes, even if superheroes aren’t your thing. It takes a few episodes to really get rolling, but once it does, Watchmen proves itself to be the best TV series of 2019, and arguably, one of the most important of the decade.

In other movie and TV news: okay, so The Mandalorian is actually a lot of fun. And yes, yes, Baby Yoda (ahem, “the Child”) is just as adorable as the memes. Haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet, so I can’t comment on it. Also, I’m enjoying those Sinister Six hints in that Morbius trailer, though hoping the movie itself has a more interesting story than the trailer implies.

The Marshall Islands

Ever hear about the Marshall Islands? This is an issue that needs to get more attention.

As I wrote about on Grunge, this chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific had 67 nuclear bombs dropped on them, via the United States, from 1946 to 1958, causing widespread cancer and birth defects. That’s horrifying enough, but now, a nuclear disaster is in the making: the so-called Runit Dome, which is the concrete structure that the U.S. dumped all of their radioactive waste into, is predicted to crack sometime in the next century. The cause? You guessed it: climate change. This whole situation is obviously the fault of the U.S. government, but evidently, the world’s richest country is currently ignoring the pleas of the Marshall Islands, and claiming that the Marshallese have to deal with it themselves.

Horrifying? Yes. Unacceptable? Absolutely. While the L.A. Times did write about this back in November, this whole situation needs more airtime.

The News Cycle is a Dumpster Fire

And thus, the Trump impeachment has begun. About time? For sure, but still, it’s strange to watch it finally play out. I mean, obviously, the Trumpster is corrupt to the point of seeming cartoonish: after all, this is a guy who quite literally had to pay $2 million in damages last month because he was stealing money from his own charity to do things like buy paintings of himself. Is this real life? Unfortunately, yes, and the fact that the above story barely stirred the news cycle shows just how ludicrous this whole thing has gotten. However, the current GOP establishment is still pledging loyalty to their emperor, so a disappointing conclusion to the impeachment seems like a foregone conclusion. That said, Trump is a criminal, so putting him on trial (at the very least) seems necessary, regardless of how this all ends.

Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that Trumpism is just one particularly vile symptom of the U.S.’s bleeding wounds, not the original cause of them. These issues go back decades. Trump just exploited them. And honestly, even if he were removed, you have that bigoted fanatic Mike Pence sitting behind him. You know who Pence is? Oh yeah, that’s right, just the living embodiment of Reverend William Stryker, that nutcase from X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, with all the zealotry and self-righteous hypocrisy to match. Hey, seriously, I’m not the first one to notice this:

Image result for stryker mike pence"

 

Dog Stuff

Okay, enough news. Something happier. Here is Nova, my noble friend, showing off her favorite Nicholas Conley novel. Or maybe she’s just trying to figure out if there’s a doggy treat hidden inside?

Nova-Intraterrestrial

Family, fatherhood, and all that good stuff

On a final note: in my last post, I shared the news about our impending baby. Now that she’s here, though, I could’ve never predicted how much my life would instantly change. That’s a cliche statement, for sure, but it’s a true one. Being a parent is already the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had. Truly. Just watching her experience everything for the first time, to feel the love as I hold her, to look into those little dark eyes that are so full of curiosity and wonder … and on top of that, to have the opportunity to share this experience with my wife, the person who amazes me more than anyone else in the world, has already made 2020 my favorite year to date. And it’s only been a little over three weeks!

Until next time, folks. Enjoy the rest of your morning coffee, and I’ll do the same.

Coffee woodstove fire