In updating its stylebook for reporters Associated Press has banned the terms “homophobia” and “Islamophobia”. Which begs the question, how then is one to refer to homophobic, or Islamophobic behavior or attitude? One irate commentator said under his breath that trying to ban such “offensive” language may demonstrate the very phobic attitudes they seem to want linguistically suppressed.

Democracy, promise of the Arab spring, still hangs on the air of Tahrir Square, but the path seems less clear than ever. Might Egypt devolve into civil war? It happened in this country. Even in the very few countries where democracy has come without war, even where truth and reconciliation commissions have done the heavy lifting (which is more than we can claim for our own history of slavery, relieved only with a terrible bloody civil war), the advent of democracy doesn’t mean a quick or simple fix for what ails a society. It does not mean that those opposing the current regime are united in how they would replace it. It is more a working plan, a set of malleable blueprints for raising a building. It doesn’t build the house, it just lays the tantalizing possibility before us. To paraphrase Mark Twain, democracy is the worst way to run a country, except for all the other terrible ways.

Apple is bringing manufacturing back to the US. Since they are being cagey about what kind and how much, and since they already do some of their work here, it’s not clear how big this news really is.

Americans have a problem with valuation. We say we want American-made goods. We just don’t want to pay what they cost. And we want jobs, not just Wal-mart jobs but solid, salary-and-benefits, raise-a-family jobs. But we seem to have forgotten that those solid middle class jobs were hard won by the sweat and sometimes, the lives of union organizers, of sweatshop workers. We have amnesia for how the middle class was built and we lack a compass for what might sustain a middle class of the future.

As a small business owner, do I choose locally sourced equipment and supplies—or buy from the cheapest source? If I can access environmentally responsible materials but it raises production cost by $2.00 per book, do I choose cheaper materials to keep cost down?

How much do you care what goes into a book—or a bar of soap, or a pair of socks? Are you willing to pay more to have it made locally, responsibly, by people who are fairly paid and treated? Or do you most need it to fit your budget, which perhaps is shrinking (for these very same reasons)? I heard a prediction that lots of kinds of manufacturing will be coming back to the US, because the savings of offshore production are offset by initially unseen costs. But the way this recovery of American manufacturing was to be achieved was not through re-creation of jobs so much as increaded use of robotic manufacturing techniques which are becoming more subtle and sophisticated, and also more affordable.

A couple months back a lovely new wompus author told me You should do e-books, (I’m going to, but that’s another story) after all, there’s no cost to you as a publisher. I’ve mentioned this before.

After I hauled my jaw off the floor, I responded with an off the cuff list of e-book costs. He’s right, they require no printer’s ink, no paper or stitching thread or glue or staples. But these are the least costs of taking a book from manuscript submission to publication.

Will it require two hours, or forty hours of editorial time, for one book? It takes what it takes. Layout, cover design, copy editing, sundry small details. Every one of these things must still be done for an e-book even if it were never to see actual physical print.

Does an e-copy cost less if you’ve already produced the hard copy? Sure, because of how pre-production front-loads the cost. But we have been hypnotized to ignore the considerable specific apparatus of cyber-books. Computer purchase, loading with applications, updating, repair and maintenance—costs which repeat at alarmingly short intervals. Electricity to run them, and the invisible part that we all pay for–the next time you think of e-books as somehow more ecological than hard copy, remember how computer data is actually housed and transmitted. The millions of miles of cable, wiring, millions of modems and wi-fi hubs, and the gigantic, mysterious server farms which are the belly of the beast. Power, Pollution and the Internet was the NY Times’ September article on how our massive computer servers are housed and cooled, with the tag line: Data Centers Waste Vast Amounts of Energy, Belying Industry Image. We can act like adding one more small cyber-product to the load is insignificant, but every bit is part of the apparatus. And the apparatus has its cost.

We may decide it is worth that cost, but we shouldn’t let savvy and subtle marketing fool us with smoke and mirrors. I’m not a luddite. I love the internet. But the internet is not an imaginary place. It runs only by virtue of its physical analog, its actual functioning hardware skeleton and tentacles, software musculature, mathematical nervous system, and the vast hours of human labor that create and sustain it all (just ask our webmaster, Brian, who spent two days last week chasing down a mysterious glitch which we wound up resolving with the cyber-equivalent of kicking the machine).

Here’s an anticodon for all that cyber-talk: how many ways are there to cook kale? I’ve never gotten a decent result stir-frying. For awhile I was slow-roasting it, sometimes naked (the greens, not the chef) and sometimes with balsamic or shoyu, almost to a potato-chippy consistency, delicious and strangely addictive. Then I tried steaming, which produces a delectable jade green result.

My grandmother had one of those hand-cranked wringers that pressed water out of the clothes after she scrubbed them on the washboard. She  cooked everything from scratch, pea soup to Crisco-fried hand cut potatoes to root beer brewed in the bathtub. She started in this country in a sweatshop at age 13, that was just her day job. Eventually she rose to the merchant class, which also meant she could afford some pre-fab foods (cake frosting out of a jar, instant coffee). Where I come from, a family rising from working class into the middle, a vegetable was something that came out of a can or on lucky occasions, a freezer bag, and was cooked like a prison sentence, to uniform consistency (think wet tissue paper), nondenominational color.

I’ve been teaching myself to cook for twenty-five years and I finally got over my fear of kale.


With love,