Monday, April 19, 2021

The Origin of Tapuy and Other Cordillera Tales (Book)

The Origin of Tapuy and Other Cordillera Tales is a book featuring a collection of folk tales originating from the Cordillera region. Published in 1998 as an initiative by the Igorota Foundation, the volume contains 18 stories by various authors. The book was a collaborative effort with three editors (Rosella Camte - Bahni, Teresa R. Dagdag, and Marjorie M. Balay-as) and three illustrators (Anne Claire Delen, Brian Batong, and Edwin Dicksen).

I found myself a copy of the book through the Baguio Book Club group page on Facebook. This is an online book club where bibliophiles based in Baguio and La Trinidad talk about books and yes, sell books. 

Considering that the book was published in 1998, I was surprised when I got my hands on it because it was nearly in mint condition. Completely intact and good as new. 

The book, in a way, champions women as all of the stories have prominent female protagonists. After all, it was published by the Igorota Foundation, a non-profit organization who has made it one of their goals to recognize the roles that women play in community development and in inspiring localized progress.

Rosella Camte Bahni has this to say in her Introduction: "This book is special not only because it is the initial production if Igorota Foundation on the Cordillera culture presented in book form, but also because it highlights Cordillera folktales featuring Cordillera women as lead characters. It explores various non-stereotypic images of women and challenges us to review our taken-for-granted perspectives about them."

As to the stories themselves, I found them very interesting but lacking. Many of the stories feel like summaries. There's great material in the plots but they were not as fleshed out as I expected. The stories felt rushed.

I also feel a bit confused as to the authorship of the individual stories. There's a reference section at the end of the book that details the sources of the stories. However, it's not clear if the stories were taken verbatim from the sources or the editors concocted the stories based on the materials from the sources.

Overall, this is an interesting book for people who are looking for Cordillera folk tales and legends. The collection features stories from all corners of the Cordillera region. As I said, most of the stories are super-short. You can finish the whole thing in one sitting.

Where can you get a copy of the book? I got my copy from an online seller on Facebook. Search for Montanosa Bibliophile and ask if he/she still has copies left. If this doesn't work, you can try university libraries. UP Baguio sells a good collection of literature on the Cordillera. There's a chance they carry copies of this particular title. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Why Is Baguio City Requiring Business Permits From Online Sellers?

Baguio City has decided to require business permits from online businesses and online sellers. This was announced through the Facebook page of the city’s Public Information Office early today. In my opinion, this is a very insensitive decision at a time where people are struggling to find ways on how to cope with the financial effects of the ongoing health crisis. But even under normal circumstances, this is a move that doesn’t make complete sense.

Hey, taxes are generally good. We have roads, schools, museums, parks, and a gazillion other good things because of taxes. Regulation is also good and requiring business permits is a form of regulation. Without regulation, things will descend into chaos. Without regulation, there won’t be taxes. And if there are no taxes, there won’t be roads, schools, etc.

However, the government has to be very careful on how they regulate things and how they collect taxes. They have to be especially careful from whom they collect these taxes. This brings me to Baguio City’s decision to require business permits from online businesses and sellers. It’s a very bad idea, I’ll tell you that.

First of all, there are different types of online businesses and sellers. There are the giants like Lazada and Shopee. And then there are the small ones like stay-at-home moms, students, and even full-time job holders who just want to earn an extra few bucks. Lazada and Shoppe should have business permits and pay taxes. That’s a no-brainer. Should the small online sellers get business permits too?

I also sell online every now and then as a part-time gig so I have an idea of the ins and outs of the business. I’ll tell you right now that most of us online sellers find the idea of getting a business permit and paying taxes ridiculous.

Here, let me give you a list of the types of people who sell online:

  • Moms looking for a few extra money for diapers and milk
  • Students selling stuff to augment their meager allowances
  • People who just want to get rid of things they are not using
  • People who already have jobs but their salaries are not enough so they sell online

The point here is that most online sellers are just making extra cash. And this extra cash doesn’t even come regularly. Weeks can go by without you selling anything.

Of course, there are online sellers who are raking in cash. Some even sell online full-time. But these are rare. These very successful online sellers are very few compared to most online sellers. Most online sellers are just getting by. They are doing it part-time. The amounts they earn are mostly small so requiring them to get business permits is absurd.

The Effects on Dropping Shops
Some online sellers meet up with their customers to hand over their goods. However, most online sellers use the services of a dropping shop. The seller pays the dropping shop a small fee to handle the product. The buyer can pick up the product at the dropping shop any time. It’s a system that benefits everyone.

This system breaks down if you start requiring small online sellers to have permits. The earnings of a dropping shop depends on online sellers and droppers. If small online sellers are required to get permits, many of them wills top selling because it’s no longer worth the hassle. If they stop selling, this would mean less sellers dropping their products at the dropping shops. In short, everyone loses.

Baguio City Needs to Rethink Their Decision
Whatever angle you look at it, requiring online sellers to get permits will do more harm than good. It’s the small sellers and dropping shops who will suffer the most from this decision. This is especially true in these trying times. Many people who have lost their jobs or sources of income are now giving online selling a shot. And you want to take that away from them by making the process too difficult and too expensive?

Final Words
The city has to review their decision. Think through it all over again. Maybe at least consult with the parties that will be greatly affected by the decision. Furthermore, they have to clearly define what they mean by “online businesses”. From their announcement, they described online businesses as almost every entity that sells goods online.

Here’s an idea. Require permits from the online businesses and sellers that are earning a lot online. This means they earn enough that it’s their full-time source of income. As to the majority of online sellers who are only earning extra cash, leave them alone. Especially in these times where every peso counts.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Dr. Faheem Yunus Breaks Down 38 Myths Surrounding COVID-19 And The Ongoing Global Pandemic

There's a ton of misinformation out there about COVID-19 and the ongoing global pandemic. In these serious times, people should be listening to the experts, to the scientists, and to those working at the front lines. It's great to know that a lot of these professionals are active in social media addressing the spread of misinformation. Among them is Dr. Faheem Yunus, the Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.

Those looking for updated information about COVID-19 should follow him on Twitter. His account is popular for his breakdowns of myths and misinformation regarding the virus and the pandemic. We've collected his myth-busting tweets below.

1. Avoid shipped packages, gas pumps, shopping carts, and ATMs, or you’ll die. Wrong. Coronavirus surface survival is one thing; that surface causing an infection is another. Wash your hands, live your life.

2. You can catch COVID-19 from ordering takeout food/Chinese food (or the packaging of food). Wrong. COVID-19 is a droplet related infection (like flu) not a food-borne infection (like salmonella etc.). There is no documented COVID risk with take-out food.

3. Going into a sauna for 20 minutes can kill more than 90% of viruses, including coronavirus. Wrong. There are no scientific trials to suggest the validity of this claim. On the contrary, saunas can cause pneumonias, folliculitis, etc.

4. If you lose your sense of smell, you have COVID. False. It’s common to temporarily lose one’s sense of smell with many viral infections and allergies. It’s a non-specific symptom that may or may not happen with COVID.

5. Taking hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin preemptively is a good idea to prevent COVID. Wrong. These (experimental) drugs for coronavirus should only be used in selected COVID patients. They can sometimes cause fatal heart rhythm problems plus other side effects.

6. I receive messages that using garlic/lemon with hot water/onion in the room will prevent or cure COVID-19. Is it true? No, it’s just made up stuff. None of these substances have been scientifically tested against COVID. Don’t share such posts; they create confusion.

7. Our governor has declared a state of emergency. It must mean that we are all dying. Wrong. The state of emergency is more of a legal than a medical standard. It allows governments to access more resources (like federal funds) and personnel (like the national guards).

8. Always change your clothes/shower after coming home. Or you will bring coronavirus to your family. Wrong. Cleanliness is a virtue; paranoia isn't. Let’s not scare people. Our biggest return on investment is in handwashing, staying 6 feet away, avoiding large crowds, etc.

9. But the messages I receive are from doctors in China/Italy. Why shouldn’t I believe them? False. Real doctors publish their research in scientific journals, not on social media. Lots of good research is already published. Let’s not fuel misinformation.

10. Myth: Since there was no global travel 100 years ago, COVID will be worse than Spanish Flu. Fact: Partly true. But we also didn’t have so much info, antibiotics, antivirals, vaccines and ventilators 100 years ago. Chances of winning are much better this time.

11. Myth: Hydroxychloroquine HQ can prevent COVID and there is no down side. Fact: There is NO scientific evidence that HQ prevents COVID. It can cause serious side effects. Use may deplete HQs supply for millions who use it for approved indications.

12. Myth: You MUST shave facial hair or a mask won’t work. Fact: Shave if you’re using an N95 mask (pictured) as it seals around the facial skin and blocks 95% of airborne particles under 0.5 microns. No need to shave if you’re using cloth mask or regular surgical masks.

13. Claim: Air conditioners are a source of COVID. Truth: The strong air current from an AC/fan can propel COVID droplets farther than they’d normally travel. Risk is higher in tight spaces. ACs, therefore are not the source.

14. Debate: Coronavirus is airborne. My take: CoV is a droplet infection, NOT airborne. (Yes, I’ve read the studies showing CoV remains suspended in air). They’re inconclusive. If airborne infections (TB/measles) fly like an eagle, CoV flies like a chicken. There’s no comparison.

15. Myth: Take vitamin C/ D and/or Zinc tablets will boost my immunity. Truth: Sleep, exercise and intermittent fasting may boost immunity. Vitamins and Zinc are ONLY beneficial if you’re deficient in them. Taking extra has NO proven benefit.

16. Myth: Sun exposure prevents COVID. Sun: “I never claimed that my rays will prevent COVID. Don’t blame me for another man made hokus pokus myth. BTW, I reserve my right to cause more skin cancers if ya’ll don’t stop.”

17. Myth: Must wipe groceries/produce with bleach or you’ll get COVID. Fact: Such bleach/chemical use does more harm than good. No COVID cases have been linked to contaminated packetsDown pointing backhand index. COVID generates enough real problems; let’s not create more for ourselves.

18. Myth: Change your clothes, wash your shoes, take a bath when you come home. Or you’ll give your family COVID. Fact: Just wash your hands and hug your kids. (Yes, I’ve read the studies about virus surviving on surfaces.)

19. Myth: We will never find a vaccine for COVID just like we never found one for HIV. Truth: HIV mutations are very different/severe compared to coronavirus mutations. Plus HIV kills CD4s, the very cells required to build immunity. COVID vaccine will be developed by 2021.

20. Myth: Disinfectants have no down side; use them liberally. Truth: Disinfectants may promote bacterial resistance by a factor of 12. Prefer soap and water for hand washing. Use disinfectants: in moderation, switch brands often, and leave them on surface longer.

21. Myth: Due to outbreaks in meat processing plants, stop eating meat. We can get COVID from it. Fact: No we can’t. Because COVID is not a food borne disease. To get sick, we inhale - not ingest - the virus. And cooking the meat kills viruses anyways.

22. Myth: Cancel your newspaper home delivery. You can catch COVID from contaminated paper. Truth: Just wash your hands and make sure the paper is giving you accurate balanced news. Cancel it if it’s sensationalizing the facts; not because of a perceived COVID risk.

23. Myth: Stressing over COVID will likely help me plan better and improve my prognosis. Truth: A meta-analysis (which analyzes 300 studies) showed that stress weakens the immune system which in turn worsens your chances of cure. Eat well.Get good sleep.

24. Myth: You must disinfect vegetables before cooking them. Truth: COOK them. Cooking is the best disinfectant:). If not cooking, just wash them before eating. Please don’t make your life unnecessarily difficult. It’s your choice in the end.

25. Myth: Ginger in tea, olive oil in nose, nasal irrigation with hypertonic saline... prevents COVID. Truth: None of these interventions have been tested against this virus. We can do what we like. But the virus is likely going to respond to proven facts, not personal feelings.

26. China (or the US) were behind this virus which was created in a bio-weapon lab. Truth: An article in Nature strongly suggested that the virus emerged as natural selection and is NOT a man/lab made virus.

27. Myth: Street washing with foaming detergents is integral to COVID prevention. Truth: Don’t think it’s integral. At the end of an outbreak sometimes cities do such massive cleaning to reduce chances of a second wave and improve public trust. I couldn’t find convincing data.

28. Myth: To protect the family members, it’s better to cremate (instead of burying) the body. Truth: The biggest safety for family members lies in avoiding large funeral services/gatherings. Cremation vs. burial is not a big factor.

29. Myth: Street washing with foaming detergents is integral to COVID prevention. Truth: Don’t think it’s integral. At the end of an outbreak sometimes cities do such massive cleaning to reduce chances of a second wave and improve public trust. I couldn’t find convincing data.

30. Myth: COVID can penetrate through skin. Wear gloves. Wrong: The virus does not get transmitted through skin. Wearing gloves is a bad idea because virus may accumulate on the glove and if you touch your face it’s easily transmitted. Plus gloves can rip. Handwashing is best!

31. Myth: We won’t get COVID because we are (insert your religion here). Wrong: Coronavirus does not ask whether you are Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or Sikh or (many more) or Atheist. The virus only asks: Are you human? Previous outbreaks didn’t spare any faith.

32. Myth: You can bring Coronavirus into your home via shoes. Panic alert!!! From that logic, lightening can also strike you twice in a day. Don’t get panicked by such hypotheticals. I’ve diagnosed/treated viruses for 20 years. Droplet infections don’t spread that way.

33. Myth: No one has died of COVID in Israel as they drink lemon/baking soda. Wrong: This is made up stuff. Israel has nearly 4000 COVID cases and 12 deaths due to it.

34. I’m tired of staying home. Is it risky to go out for a run? Go. Run. Jog. Laugh. Just don’t do it with loads of people. Our air isn’t contaminated with coronavirus.

35. One of the best strategies to prevent COVID-19 is to clean every door knob in your home with disinfectants. Wrong. Hand washing/maintaining 6ft distance is best practice. Unless you’re caring for a COVID patient at home, your home surfaces should not be a big risk.

36. Hand sanitizers are better than soap and water. Wrong. Soap and water actually kills and washes away the virus from skin (it can not penetrate our skin cells) plus it also cleans visible soiling if hands. Don’t worry if Purrell was sold out at your supermarket.

37. Car accidents kill 30,000 people annually. What’s the big deal with COVID-19? Car accident are not contagious, their fatalities don’t double every three days, they don’t cause mass panic or a market crash.

38. Coronavirus will go away in summer months. Wrong. Previous pandemics didn’t follow weather patterns plus as we enter summer, there will be winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Virus is global.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Documentary That Every Aspiring Cartoonist Should Watch

This is a review of the documentary Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists. Directed by Leah Wolchok, "the film goes behind-the-scenes of The New Yorker and introduces the cartooning legends and hopefuls who create the iconic cartoons that have inspired, baffled—and occasionally pissed off—all of us for decades." The documentary featured several of the magazine's most prolific cartoonists - George Booth, Roz Chast, Drew Dernavich, Mort Gerberg, Sam Gross, Ed Steed, Bob Mankoff, and many more. The film won an Emmy in 2016.

Released and aired by HBO in 2015, Very Semi-Serious is a documentary that offers the viewer a picture of The New Yorker’s cartoon culture. Considered as the last bastion of the cartooning industry (of the humor and gags category), The New Yorker doesn’t just publish and print funny cartoons. It publishes and prints funny cartoons that adhere to the magazine’s unique sensibilities and aspirations. Just because you can draw funny cartoons doesn’t necessarily mean you are a good fit for the magazine.

A lot of the footage in the documentary were shot inside the magazine’s offices, as it should be. Cartoonists aspiring to crack the pages of the magazine should take full notes of these scenes as these provide insider tips on how to make it as a cartoonist in the magazine. Several people including the cartoon editor, the art director, and assistants talk in-depth about the kinds of cartoons that get published in the magazine. In one scene, you see them going through a pile of cartoon submissions and dividing them in two paper racks. One rack is marked “Yes” and the other one is marked “No”. Those in the “Yes” rack is one step closer to being published. Those in the “No” rack will be mailed with a rejection letter to the submitter.

Selecting which cartoons get published is a simple yet complicated process. The cartoon editor meets with regular contributors every week. These regular contributors usually submit 8 to 10 ideas each during these weekly meetings. On top of these regular contributors are the thousand or so unsolicited cartoons sent in by mail or hand-delivered. So on average, the magazine’s cartoon department goes through 1000 to 1500 cartoons every week. Only 15 to 20 of these are chosen and bought by the magazine for publication.

Several of the magazine’s regular contributors are in the documentary talking about how they made it as cartoonists. If there’s one glue that keeps their experiences together, that glue is named “patience”. One cartoonist says he submitted more than 2000 cartoons before his first sale. Another doggedly submitted cartoons for 25 years before his first piece got accepted and published.

Needless to say, the documentary isn’t too encouraging for cartoonists aspiring to crack the pages of The New Yorker. Imagine submitting thousands of cartoons before selling one. Imagine sending in your cartoons for more than two decades before making a sale. And these are just those who made it. How about the hundreds of cartoonists who submitted their work but were never published?

The documentary isn’t all gloom and doom for aspiring cartoonists. A source of inspiration in the film is the story of Liana Finck. We see her entering The New Yorker offices and showing her drawings to the cartoon editor. We see her face get disappointed as the cartoon editor critics her work. We see her get inside the office a few more times. She receives encouraging words from the editor but she is yet to make a sale. Near the end of the documentary, the camera follows Finck as she shows a physical copy of the magazine featuring her first published cartoon. It’s an image of slinkies climbing up the stairs.

Liana Finck is now one of the magazine’s regular contributors. She has a growing number of following online. She has nearly half a million followers on Instagram. She even has a few books under her belt. If you want to get into her work, a good start would be Passing for Human: a Graphic Memoir. It's really good.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tips on Getting Your Cartoon Published/Printed by the New Yorker Magazine

So you want to be a cartoonist for the New Yorker. As you should already know by now, the opportunities for cartoonists are getting bleaker by the day. Newspapers and magazines which remain to be the most important markets for cartoons are dropping like flies in a windy day. Some are shutting down. Some are moving online. And those that aren’t shutting down have significantly decreased the number of cartoons they print. Or they stopped accepting cartoons altogether.

Compounding the problem is the fact that as markets for cartoons fade away, competition among cartoonists for the remaining markets naturally gets tougher. Getting a cartoon published by a notable magazine these days is next to impossible. 99% of aspiring cartoonists don’t make it. Of the handful that can be considered successful cartoonists, only a few of them do it full-time. Even regular contributors for prestigious magazines like The New Yorker work other jobs because they can’t always expect to have a cartoon published by the magazine every week.

The New Yorker magazine is the Mt. Everest of cartooning. Getting a cartoon in its pages is a huge accomplishment. You’ve done something that 99% of aspiring cartoonists can only dream of. You can use the bragging rights to get more work from outside the magazine.

But here’s the big question: How hard is it to get a cartoon published and printed by the New Yorker magazine? Unfortunately, it’s mission impossible. The competition is unbelievably tough. How tough? Liza Donnelly started submitting cartoons to the magazine in batches in 1977. She sold her first cartoon two years later in 1979.

Even if you get a cartoon printed, that doesn’t mean you get a golden ticket to have your succeeding cartoons printed. Donnelly said that after her first cartoon was bought by the magazine, the odds of getting her next cartoons printed were still very low. She submits around 240 cartoons a year to the magazine. The magazine buys an average of 8 cartoons a year from her. She adds that these are the odds for most of her fellow New Yorker cartoonists.

Robert Mankoff, the former cartoon editor of the New Yorker, sent more than 2,000 cartoons to the magazine before he sold his first one. Some cartoonists have sent more but not one of their work ever graced the pages of the prestigious magazine. David Sipress who is now a regular cartoonist for the magazine had been submitting his work for 25 years before he got in. That’s insane.

To get an idea of how difficult it is to get a cartoon published in the New Yorker, I highly recommend that you read the book, The Rejection Collection by Matthew Diffee. This is a book about unpublished New Yorker cartoons. According to the book, there are about 50 regular cartoonists who submit 10 cartoons each week to the cartoon editor. That’s 500 cartoons a week. That’s not counting the submissions from cartoonists whose work irregularly appears in the magazine. And then there are the thousand or so unsolicited submissions. According to Diffee, unsolicited submissions stand almost no chance of getting in.

The magazine only publishes 14 to 20 cartoons a week. So there you go. Thousands of new cartoons vying for 14 to 20 slots a week. Climbing to the summit of Mt. Everest is probably more difficult than getting a cartoon published in the New Yorker.

But if becoming a New Yorker cartoonist remains to be a goal for you, here are a few practical tips:

1. You must possess an ungodly amount of patience. I repeat, Robert Mankoff submitted more than 2000 cartoons before the magazine bought one. David Sipress submitted unsolicited cartoons for 25 years before he sold one. I would imagine that it’s the same story for most of the magazine’s regular contributors.

2. Go live in New York. Aspiring cartoonists who hand-deliver their cartoons to the magazine’s offices tend to have better chances in getting the cartoon editor’s attention. Proximity to the magazine’s offices also allows you to possibly join one of the weekly meetings by the cartoon editor with cartoonists.

3. Network with cartoonists whose work regularly appears in the magazine. If you listen to the stories of successful New Yorker cartoonists, a lot of them had their work noticed because of who they knew. A friend introduced them to the cartoon editor. Another cartoonist vouched for their work. Just like in any industry, who you know helps a lot in getting your work noticed and printed.

4. David Sipress who has published a great number of cartoons in the magazine says that the magazine rarely publishes puns. So this is probably a theme that you should stay away from.

5. Do it for fun. Do it because you enjoy making cartoons. Do it because you want people to laugh at and appreciate your humor. Just like the 99% of aspiring cartoonists who don’t crack the pages of the magazine, you have the same odds of failing. But even if you do fail, at least you are enjoying the process.

Good luck.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Monster at Our Door, The Crooked Ladder, Sharks, Etc.

Malcolm Gladwell has written an article called The Crooked Ladder (The New Yorker, 2014) that tackles the use of crime as a means of climbing the economic hierarchy. The subtitle for the piece goes: “The criminal’s guide to upward mobility.” At the center of the article is the concept of the “crooked ladder of social mobility”. Gladwell points out that the term is an invention of James O’Kane, a sociologist.

Gladwell references two books that put the concept into a clearer context. The first one is A Family Business: Kinship and Social Control in Organized Crime by the anthropologist Francis Ianni. Published in 1972, it chronicles the rise of an Italian mafia family. The second book is On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (2014) by Alice Goffman. For six years, Goffman lived among part-time crack dealers chronicling the workings of their world.

The two books paint a picture of America’s long-time relationship with crime and the latter’s role in shaping the nation’s economy. In the words of the sociologist Daniel Bell, “the pioneers of American capitalism were not graduated from Harvard’s School of Business Administration”.


Notes on a Scandal – Middle-aged teacher has an affair with one of her teenaged pupils. This is pretty much the plot of this novel by Zoe Heller. Narrated by the teacher’s co-worker, the book is a meditation on midlife crisis, family drama, unconventional love, and the inherent risks of living in close-knit communities. Notes on a Scandal reminds me a bit of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Here, the situation is reversed. A much older woman falls in love with a young boy. The prose is as sparse as the plot but this is what makes it a breeze to read through. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003.


Screen writing tips from Taylor Sheridan – Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River are amazing movies. Sheridan wrote the screenplay for the first two. He wrote and directed the third. This is a guy who only started writing screenplays when he was nearing 50 years old. When asked by journalist David Marchese if there are any screenwriting principles that he has found helpful, Sheridan offers three helpful screenwriting tips.

1. “Write the movie you’d pay to go see.”
2. “Never let a character tell me something that the camera can show me.”
3. “You always want the audience wondering what’s going to happen next, never what’s happening.”


Truman Capote’s super memory – In an interview conducted by George Plimpton for The Times Book Review in 1966, Truman Capote claimed that he can recall dialogues with such accuracy that he could interview his subjects without a tape recorder or notebook and still remember the exchanges verbatim just a few hours later. How accurately can he remember these interviews? His accuracy rate allegedly exceeds 90%.

I didn’t know this when I first read In Cold Blood, Truman’s most famous work. In Cold Blood is nonfiction but reads like a novel mostly because of the very detailed narrative. It’s a baffling piece of work in the sense that I find it difficult to accept that everything in it is true. I get the sense that a lot of it was made-up. A product of Capote’s beautiful imagination. It’s a great and engrossing book. I’m just questioning its “nonfiction” label.

In Cold Blood was published in 1965. The George Plimpton interview was conducted in 1966. Capote was probably concerned with the doubts harboured by readers because of how specific and detailed the book was. As I questioned the “reality” of the book in the 21st century, there were probably hordes who thought the same when the book was published half a century ago. So maybe Capote’s claim of remembering dialogues verbatim without the aid of a tape recorder or notebook was a defense mechanism against these non-believers.


Writing advice – Three pieces of writing advice that stood out from John McPhee’s article called The Writing Life: Elicitation (The New Yorker, 2014). The piece is about the writer’s experiences interviewing the subjects for some of his most well-known magazine articles.

On preparing for interviews:
Students always ask what I do to prepare for interviews. Candidly, not much. At minimum, though, I think you should do enough preparation to be polite. You wouldn’t want to ask Stephen Harper what he does for a living. Before, during, and after an interview, or a series of interviews, do as much reading as the situation impels you to do. In the course of writing, you really find out what you don’t know, and you read in an attempt to get it right.

When working on heaps of material from interviews (recorded or jotted on a notebook), McPhee says this:
Once captured, words have to be dealt with. You have to trim and straighten them to make them transliterate from the fuzziness of speech to the clarity of print. Speech and print are not the same, and a slavish presentation of recorded speech may not be as representative of a speaker as dialogue that has been trimmed and straightened. Please understand: you trim and straighten but you do not make it up.

And finally:
Is it wrong to assemble dialogue collected in three or four places and ultimately present it as having been spoken in a fifth location? I think so. Do you? I have gone back to people asking them to correct and sometimes amplify what they told me, and I have corrected and amplified the quotes but have never changed the original venue. Would you call that impermissible? I wouldn’t. Is it wrong to alter a fact in order to improve the rhythm of your prose? I know so, and so do you. If you do that, you are by definition not writing nonfiction.


A poem by Garmin – This is the text that accompanied a full-page advertisement on Outside magazine for Garmin’s Fenix 5 Series sport watches. It’s from an ad, yes. Nonetheless, it’s beautiful.

It’s early.
But I’m up not because I have to be.
But because I want to be.
I feel liberation.
Purpose. Fulfillment.
Set my Fenix. It’s time to go. Down this path.
Up this hill. Around this mountain.
I’m in the zone. My target heart zone. Pace. Ground contact.
Vertical oscillation. I know it all.
Push it to the max. I’ll nap later. But not for long.
I can swim. I can bike. I can cross train.
Time to stop.
Take in the view.
How far I’ve come.
How much I’ve achieved.
Text from Jill.
Lunch downtown.
I have to run.
This day is mine.


Shark repellent – Apparently, there’s a small industry out there that revolves around the search for a way to repel shark attacks. I was introduced to the topic via a very interesting article on Outside magazine by Charles Bethea. There are people out there – many of whom are scientists – that dedicate their waking hours to curbing shark attacks. Several techniques and devices have hit the market. There’s an Australian device called the Shark Shield that emits electronic fields. There’s a surf leash called NoShark that sends out electrical signals. Unfortunately, all of them don’t have conclusive effects. They can never protect you from a hungry great white. So what’s the best shark repellent? Don’t get in the sea. Like if you don’t want to be eaten by a grizzly bear, don’t go to grizzly country.


Great white sharks are a fascinating species. They are so ancient they predate trees. They’ve been roaming the seas since the dawn of life on this planet. A quote from the book The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey: “Sharks are the heavyweight champions of evolution; they’ve been fine-tuning their act for ages, hundreds of millions of years before party-crashing humans were even a glimmer in the primordial eye. They’re resistant to infections, circulatory disease, and, to a large extent, cancer. They heal rapidly from severe injuries such as lacerated corneas or deep gouges. Everything about the animal is stacked toward survival. From the moment baby whites are born, four-foot-long replicas of their mother, they are already in pursuit of their first meal; from hundreds of yards away they can detect minute millivolt electrical impulses given off by their prey’s heartbeat.

[Image] - Matt Fussell; The Virtual Instructor

I always thought of myself as a man who loved books too much. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I dug into Allison Hoover Bartlett’s book called The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession). The book didn’t quite live up to my expectations but it was a very entertaining read nonetheless.

For the most part, the book is a breeze to read because of the two very interesting men at the center of the chain of events. There’s John Gilkey, the book thief who has made a career of stealing rare books worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then there’s Ken Sanders, the rare book dealer and seller who is obsessed in catching the notorious thief. The cat-and-mouse dance between the two men is almost too real to be true.

Serving as a background for the events occurring between the two men is an interesting introduction to the world of rare book collecting. Bartlett doesn’t go that deep into the topic, just enough to pique your interest and encourage you to learn more. In fact, I just acquired two books on book collecting to add to my reading list. Rare book collecting strikes me as a very interesting pursuit.


[Wrote this part sometime in early April. So facts and data have changed.] For a day, it’s been rotating in the news that the number of people who have died from the Covid-19 in Italy has surpassed that of China. I find it very difficult to buy the story. I trust the numbers coming from Italy. Not so much about the numbers coming from China. China is notorious for grossly underreporting matters that paint the country under a bad light. In fact, during the height of the country’s infection from the Covid-19, journalists covering the outbreaks within China are known to just disappear without a trace. China has a lot more infection cases than what they are reporting. That I’m sure.

I also happen to have just finished reading a book called The Monster at Our Door by Mike Davis. The book’s subtitle is “The Global Threat of Avian Flu”. It’s a very informative book that delves deep into the history of epidemics and pandemics during the last two centuries. At the center of the book is of course China which was the jump-off point for a lot of the avian flu epidemics and pandemics that the world has experienced. Again, in its efforts to sweep away negative press about their country, the Chinese government has tried to downplay and underreport many of these cases. If I recall correctly, they even harassed scientists (i.e. shutting down laboratories) for the crime of honestly and accurately reporting their findings.

Public Shaming: Does It Accord More Harm Than Good?

This is a quick review of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Published in 2015, the book contains the fruits of Ronson’s investigation and analysis of online public shaming. It’s an engrossing read that will make you think deeply of the morality (and immorality) of public shaming. You may think you have a clear understanding of the issue of mobbish ridicule. But hold that thought until you’ve finished reading this book. The issue of online public shaming is not as black-and-white as you might think.

Ronson is an investigative journalist of the highest calibre. One unique ingredient in his work that allows him to stand out from other serious investigative journalists is his humor. In the eyes of Ronson, no topic is immune from his brand of written comedy. In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, his punch lines were nothing short of masterful. His writing style is crystal clear but gritty. He has the rare ability of keeping your interest level from wavering down. Before you even know it, you are halfway through the tome.

Throughout the book, Ronson provides several high-profile examples of public shaming. By high-profile, I mean that the public shaming garnered immense attention online. That is both mainstream media outlets and small independent bloggers had their say on the “shaming”. To name just a few of Ronson’s case studies: Jonah Lehrer, Justine Sacco, Lindsey Stone, and Adria Richards.

Ronson started writing the book with the utmost curiosity. He was looking for answers and he invites the reader to join him on the journey. He doesn’t tell you what you should or should not think. He encourages you to find your own answers. He offers you his case studies. Who shamed who. What happened after the shaming. The physical and mental damages to both shamer and shamee. Where are they now. In short, Ronson paints the factual picture. You are free to interpret the picture that you see.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this book. A single tweet can ruin your life. A bad joke can cost you your job. Participating in misdirected online mob justice can be very dangerous. A good number of people committed suicide after being shamed online by hundreds if not thousands of people. There’s a lot more that you can learn from the book depending on your background or where you’re coming from.

It’s so easy to join any bandwagon online. Someone tweeted something racist and the world piles on that person. It’s often too difficult to fight the urge to join the mob. We are easily enraged. What’s often lost in the ensuing melee is the harm being done to the person being mobbed. Time and time again, we will soon find out that the person doesn’t deserve such vitriol and hate. Ronson’s book drives that point home. Does a person deserve to lose her job or have her career prospects flushed down the gutter because of a tweet that everyone misunderstood or misconstrued?

Ronson’s greatest accomplishment with this book is his providing a light over the TRUE cost of online public shaming. Ronson is indirectly saying that we are better than this. We can be nicer than this. Why are we so passionate in destroying other people’s lives? Yet we are not even sure if they deserve it or not. At its core, online public shaming is the act of ridiculing people you don’t know. People you haven’t even met. People who could be close friends under different circumstances.

People respond to online shaming in many ways but we can categorize them into two. There are those who take the ridicule well and are able to move on with their lives. Then there are those who completely break down and resort to self-harm.

Justine Sacco, one of Ronson’s case studies, survived the shaming. In her own words: “My life is not ruined. My resilience makes me who I am. The world can try to break a person, but only that person can allow herself to be broken. I took major steps to overcome that debacle. I stayed true to myself and that got me through the darkest time in my life. I don’t want people to think I’m at the bottom of a depression pit. Because I’m truly not.

And then there was Ariel Runis at the other end of the spectrum. When he was shamed by thousands of people on Facebook, he pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger. Before he took his own life, he posted this message on Facebook: “Up until two days ago, my life looked rosy. But each Facebook share is a sharpened arrow driven into my flesh. All my life’s work has at once vanished, with the thrust of a word, disappeared. For years I have worked to make a name for myself, a name now synonymous with the vilest of terms –racism. This will be my fate from now on.

I’ll end this piece with a long quote from the book’s Afterword. I think it perfectly encapsulates the message of the book. There’s a reason why Ronson saved it for last.

Maybe there are two types of people in the world: those who favour humans over ideology, and those who favour ideology over humans. I favour humans over ideology, but right now the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial dramas, where everyone is either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. We can lead good, ethical lives, but some bad phraseology in a tweet can overwhelm it all – even though we know that’s not how we should define our fellow humans. What’s true about our fellow humans is that we are clever and stupid. We are grey areas.

And so, unpleasant as it will surely be for you, when you see an unfair or an ambiguous shaming unfold, speak up on behalf of the shamed person. A babble of opposing voices – that’s democracy.

The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. Let’s not turn into a world where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

Other books by Jon Ronson you might want to dig into:
1. Them: Adventures with Extremists
2. The Men Who Stare at Goats
3. Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries
4. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
5. Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness
6. What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness
7. Frank: The true Story That Inspired the Movie