Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Thursday, September 12, 2002


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Here we are the day after the anniversary of 9/11, and airline security is still erratic, easily fooled and understaffed. So as airline passengers, we get to ask, finally: What do we do now?

It's fine that cockpit doors will soon be made impregnable (well, "frangible," meaning they'll be reinforced but can still be kicked open so the crew  won't be trapped if the plane ditches) and that pilots will be trained with handguns (although gee, those two things together don't exactly inspire confidence).

But if terrorists do board a flight and they do seize control of the plane after take-off - well, heck, I'd want to be prepared to ... to ... "step up" and DO something, as former Marine captain and author Robert Lawrence Holt (no relation) puts it in his new book, "Stop Sky Jackers: 60 Steps That Can Save Your Life."

Do you remember that Denver pilot who wrote a widely circulated memo on the Internet after 9/11/01 advising passengers that they *could* do something if terrorists suddenly announced themselves on a plane? As a first measure, for example, he encouraged people to throw objects at the terrorists, such as "pillows, books, magazines, eyeglasses, shoes" and so forth.

These were good suggestions at the time, but now, says Robert Holt, how about bringing things with you that are a little heavier and more easily thrown? For example, you could take a handful of golf balls in your carry-on and put them in the seat pocket in front of you after boarding, just in case.

When the drink cart comes by, ask for a full can of soda but don't open it - keep this weighty item, perfect for throwing, in the seat pocket, too.  A heavy hairbrush, cosmetic jar, electric razor, metal padlock would also be useful as throwing items, to make the terrorist "flinch and duck," he says.

And when you board, write your flight and airline on your hand, the book suggests. Keep your charged-up cell phone in your pocket (or check to make sure the airplane phone works with your credit card). That way, when you dial 911 and you're so terrified you can't think, you'll have the right information instantly available.

More ideas: Wear a leather jacket (good protection against a knife attack). Sit in an aisle seat so you can get up quickly. Place children in a middle seat where they're less easily reached by terrorists. Wear heavy shoes with metal tips so you can give the terrorist at least one painful kick in the shins before you jump him. Use the airline blanket to entangle the skyjacker's feet, the pillow to protect yourself against a knife.

You have three seconds to react, he says; don't think, don't wait for a nonexistent Air Marshal, don't hope for a miracle. Leap up with your golf balls and can of soda, start throwing and advancing and, best of all, depend on group commitment. Yell as you step forward,


This is part I like the best. It's the equivalent of "Let's roll" without a team strategy session conducted beforehand.

It assumes that if we had all been on that post-9/11 American Airlines plane to Chicago, where a deranged man was screaming and trying to break down the cockpit door, we would have joined the half-dozen passengers who leapt to their feet and stopped the guy in his tracks. A few seconds more, CBS News reported, the madman would have been gotten through.

In fact, says author Robert Holt, even if we do nothing more than *KNOW* that some passengers on our flight are prepared to "step up" against terrorists, we'll feel a new courage that in itself provides a renewed sense of security.

For that reason, he advises those passengers who want to "step up" against terrorists to wear an  American flag pin on their lapel (or some kind of patriotic signage) so others will know that in the three seconds that pass between the time the terrorists make themselves known and an aggressive resistance must commence, somebody on board is going to be ready.

OK, sometimes Holt, a writer of thriller novels ("Good Friday," "Peacemaker," "Mad Eagle"), sounds a little too eager about leaping to the attack, and I don't like his ideas of profiling passengers by nationality and race (you eyeball 'em and follow 'em while pretending to be an Air Marshal with your golf balls at the ever-ready).

But I sure believe in his suggestions for new air travel security.

The FAA, he says, should:

  1. ban all traditional carry-on luggage (with rollers) until three-dimensional x-ray screens and fully staffed and trained personnel are underway at every security checkpoint;
  2. allow passengers to check only the amount of luggage that can be thoroughly screened for weapons and explosives. Right now, says Robert Holt, the airlines don't want to "inconvenience" passengers and so allow them to bring more bags than the system can handle.


You can download "Stop the Sky Jackers" at http://www.stopskyjackers.com where the complete text is available for free. Or you can buy it for $5 (paperback) on the order page.

But if you had been with Robert Holt in the last two weeks, you could have gotten a bound copy for free, too. According to his friend, Robert Goodman, publisher at Silvercat, the author "has been standing in the doorways of local libraries, *giving away* copies of his book to anyone interested."

About 1200 copies have been handed out in this way, each costing the author "about $3 or $4 ," says Goodman.  "But he is so passionate about this cause that he does not make an issue out of the money."

He certainly proves that one mistake after another is still being made by the airlines, and perhaps the biggest mistake is this one: Instead of making passengers feel intimidated by the possibility of terrorists skyjacking a plane and by a security system that seems either too lax or too heightened ("bend over, please!"), why doesn't an airline company or the FAA take the reins and EMPOWER passengers with published guidelines about the very, very remote chance of inflight terrorism today and what all of us can do about it?

Until then: Bravo, Robert Holt! A great namesake if there ever was one.



I've written a lot of horror stories about Attorney General John Ashcroft's program of sending FBI Agents to steal records and impose gag orders on librarians and booksellers (not to mention sending dissidents to internment camps and citizens to surveillance school for Operation TIPS).

But I didn't think there was anything to laugh about until discovering the "Extreme Ashcroft" website, http://www.ExtremeAshcroft.com. Now I click there regularly for such irreverent reactions as bumper-sticker mottos that say, "Honk If You're Spying on Your Neighbors!"

"Hey, we know we're being a little extreme," say these anti-Ashcroft watchdogs, "but we're not alone." Ashcroft, they believe, has the most extreme views of anybody in Washington D.C. and needs to be exposed, reviled and stopped.

This they try to do. Aside from providing updates and links to the most articulate articles from newspapers and magazines about Ashcroft's latest foibles, ExtremeAshcroft.com has fun knocking the guy in every possible way.

Along with proof that Ashcroft is "incompetent," "hellish" (re internment camps), "reckless," slippery (re Enron) and constantly "messing with our civil liberties," the site's founders tell us: "We've heard him sing with those sketchy Singing Senators. Talk about incompetent."

"Oh, and he doesn't dance," they add with disgust. "Even John Lithgow came around in 'Footloose.' "



Dear Holt Uncensored,

The problem at Amazon described by William Gordon of North Ridge Books [about Amazon.com not updating information about the company's third edition of a travel book] is, indeed, a common one that is not limited to travel books. Amazon's policy is to push used books whenever possible, even those with out-of-date information.

We publish the 14th edition of Ernest Morgan's "Dealing Creatively with Death," which has sold over 300,000 copies in various editions. When you type in the title at Amazon, you get the tenth edition, which is listed, correctly, as out of print. It takes great effort to find the current, in-print edition. I have twice complained by e-mail, and the responses have made it clear that Amazon wants people to find the old edition because its chief loyalty is to the used book sellers who have copies of the old editions.

The problem is that this is primarily a directory, and almost none of the information in the old edition is still accurate. Therefore, of course, nobody buys the old used books, which remain available, and which continue to make it impossible to find that there is a new up-to-date edition. And of course, since this rearrangement was made, nobody has bought the current edition from Amazon. It was doing quite well there before that happened, and continues to sell well everywhere else.

Steve Carlson, Publisher
Upper Access Books

Dear Holt Uncensored:

You wrote: "Holt responds: Ordinarily I don't run complaints like this (too specific; could be isolated case), but a number of letters have come in describing similar problems with Amazon.com. It would be great if anyone knows a phone number of a name to call."

As you know, I used to run this department at Amazon.com many moons ago, and I kept in touch over the next few years with former staffers who worked for and with me (a great group). With all the reorg and downsizing there, I think the group was disbanded or redistributed, so I'm not sure there is a point person. If there were a point person, there is no way in heck or paradise that they would accept calls. Can you imagine the thousands of calls they would get? In late 1996-early 1997, we averaged dozens of calls a day handled by a staff of five, which grew to 12 over the next few months after I left.

Let me recommend an interesting alternative: instead of beating your head again Amazon.com's process, try rather to get yourself correctly listed with the major information providers that feed to Amazon.com and other online stores: Muze (which sublicenses from Books In Print, but repackages the data), the Library of Congress (which sells its records on a routine basis to many sources for "cost recovery fees," not just to libraries), Baker and Taylor's Informata division (datafix@btol.com -- you don't have to be distributed by B&T to get them to fix errors or list your titles via their Informata electronic information division), Ingram Book Company's electronic data division, and, yes, Books In Print.

I license data from Informata for my isbn.nu site, and part of the reason I use B&T is that they actually respond to errors: I find small problems all the time as I run massive database operations (the errors sort of bubble out to the top), and send B&T lists of corrections. Lo and behold, typically in the next week's feed, the data is fixed. I refer authors and publishers to them all the time, and have yet to hear anything bad.

If you fix all the feeds that hit Amazon and other stores (offline and online -- remember that indies need correct information to order, and they often use online sources or CD-ROMs to get those details) then you'll eventually be okay everywhere. I hope.

There's a persistent problem in the book industry that I call the "New Bad Information Problem," which is that even when something is corrected, new bad information -- a new listing from another source with incorrect details -- simply overwrites old good corrected info.

Glenn Fleishman

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I had CDs of my book, "Night Sounds," on Amazon about three years ago when I first came onto the web.  They sold some, and evidently had some left, which I had forgotten about because the book went to print a year and a half ago. A few weeks ago I found out that where Night Sounds is listed, unless you know to be very, very careful, you'll wind up with the CD instead of the book because they show it as the first item.   People aren't realizing they're buying a CD until it arrives at their door, and there's not a darn thing I can do about it.

This has happened to a few people, who didn't understand why they got a CD when they thought they were ordering the book.

This is just Amazon's way of getting rid of their old inventory at the expense of both the buyer and the author.  I might make a few bucks because of them selling those CD's, but I had nothing to do with the tactics, that was all Amazon's doing.  The really bad thing is, my fans who told me about it were royally ticked off.  Not a good way to run a business, but the way Amazon has the CD's listed, on top of everything else as though that's the main item on the menu, you really have to watch what you're buying, or else be prepared to return something, which people don't really want to be bothered with.

Amazon may be clearing out their inventory by doing that , but it's OUR customers who are being snookered and disappointed.  I wasn't mad at Bezos before I found out about that, but to my mind, that's very deceptive. Caveat Emptor at Amazon, folks.  The good news for Amazon is, I guess, that at this rate, the CD's (old inventory) will soon be gone.

Beth Anderson

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Regarding North Ridge Books' problem with Amazon.com, I've been told that it might be a bigger problem than just Amazon.com not updating their info. Apparently Ingram and Baker & Taylor's info over-writes Amazon.com's info, so if those 2 companies don't have correct info in their system, then Amazon.com's info is going to be un-corrected.   Conversely if Ingram and Baker & Taylor's info is correct, logic would say that Amazon.com's info would be corrected through those other sources, though I'm not sure if that works in real world results.

Steve Adelson

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Thank you for running my note about Amazon.com not updating information about the third edition of one of our travel books.

Here are two letters from Amazon.com underscoring the problems I am having with them.   I am just astonished that a department can be run so incompetently.  When I ask someone to make changes (and it's always somebody with a first name and a last initial), my e-mail is never answered by the same person.  So there is no continuity and no one identifiable person there who has the authority to make simple changes. 

When I finally found someone who I thought was amenable to helping me and who actually came up with an idea to fix my listing (Sunny), somebody else (Adam L.) got hold of my letter and gave me a complete brush-off. I enclose my response to Sunny. Adam L.'s letter (below) makes no sense and is completely unresponsive.

I do not understand how Amazon.com could be this incompetent.  It's "nuts city" over there.

William A. Gordon
North Ridge Books

Dear Sunny:

You wrote me: "We cannot list the second edition [of "The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book"] as out of print while we still have inventory." Are you telling me that you have discovered additional books in stock? Last week the Amazon.com listing said there was only one book left, and I bought it. I was under the understanding that you no longer have any inventory and that Amazon is already officially out of stock.

Please advise me if you have any books left, and if so, how many. If you have any books left, yes, please proceed with a return and mail them to the returns address listed in my Advantage account.

You have my authorization to return all remaining copies of the second edition (ISBN 0-937813-06-0)...

You also wrote: "Once the inventory for this edition is removed or sold, we can mark the title as out of print." †Please mark the second edition as "out of print."

And please change the listing so the first thing customers see is the edition that is in print: "The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book," 3rd edition, ISBN 0-937813-07-9.

Right now the information about the third edition is so buried and so hard to find that I do not think it occurs to most of your customers that a new edition is available.

In fact, on Sunday I did a radio interview, "Jacqueline Wolfer's Travel Smart," which was syndicated to 66 radio stations nationwide, and I did not get one single order from you. That is unusual, and I'm convinced it is because customers who go to Amazon.com only see a 5-year-old tour guide and they're asking themselves: "Why would I want something so out of date?"

Since I sent the information in for the third edition, and the information was input erroneously (and those words "updated annually" were removed) I've only received 4 orders for "The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book." Last year, for the same two-month period, I received 41 orders. Last year I had orders from you for 269 books, or an average of 22 a month. Please help me get this thing straightened out ASAP so we can get orders back on track...


William A. Gordon
  North Ridge Books

----- Here is the response from Adam L.:

Hello William,

Thanks for writing to us at Amazon.com Advantage.

I have reviewed this title in our catalog and found that it is currently listed as "Seller usually ships in 1-2 business days."  At this time, there are only Amazon Marketplace copies of this title available.

I also found that the most recent shipment that we received for this item came from one of our main distributors.  We are unable to return any copies received from our main distributors to you.

Thanks for choosing Amazon.com Advantage.

Best regards,

Adam L.
Member Services
Amazon.com Advantage

Dear Holt Uncensored,

My concern with Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" is that the triumph of the people has always struck me as being limited to whites. The people who are so unjustly discriminated in the novel are the very ones who have historically fought against the extension of essential rights to the other races in America.

Bob Holley
Professor, Wayne State University

Dear Holt Uncensored:

About "Grapes of Wrath," I agreed with almost all the (contradictory) comments the discussants at Book Passage made. The Biblical allusions are striking--but heavy-handed. Steinbeck is both strongly emotional and over-emotional.  The final scene shows bad writer's judgment; no matter what poetic and social purpose Steinbeck was aiming at, it was one of those over-the-top things that has the opposite effect of what he wanted. I saw it as his attempt to show the indomitable survival determination of the Joads, and the solidarity with all sufferers--but, for all my willingness to accept it, I fear it came over to many people as a sign of the low-down, primitive character of the "Okies," as they were thought of by the poor and working-class Europeans who saw them (I'm old enough to remember) driving in with junky possessions piled high. There was simultaneous pity and sympathy for these people who were poorer than we--but also some fear and aversion. After all, it was the Depression, and everyone was just making it and scared stiff of falling lower.

A few statements showed some misapprehension of the nature of California agriculture. What I learned from my research for my novel, "Confessions of Madame Psyche," was that most of valley agriculture was always plantation agriculture, from the missionaries who worked the Native Americans, to the Spanish land grants, on up to our modern agribusiness. (It was only in the Santa Clara -- now Silicon -- Valley orchards that southern European immigrants like my relatives could acquire their five acres of prunes and by selling their crop, growing almost everything they ate, and working in the canneries all summer and fall, just about get by. All gone now, but you can read about it in "Passing Farms, Enduring Values" by Yvonne Jacobsen, whose family grew cherries in Sunnyvale.)

Steinbeck's main lapse was in presenting a white population in the fields of California. There are photos and books that show Asians, East Indians (men in turbans cutting down wheat), a few Afro-Americans, and, of course, Mexicans, from the start. (The bracero program of the war years was an attempt to bring back the Mexicans after they had been ruthlessly deported during the Depression years. Deportation of Mexicans and internment of Japanese-Americans crippled California agriculture, and was responsible for more wartime food shortages than anything else!) I read somewhere that Steinbeck knew all this diversity very well, but chose to make the middle-American anglo-white Joad family central to his story, and keep the book generally lily-white, because he wanted to create maximum sympathy for the plight of migrant workers, and felt he could not do so with a true picture of the diversity of people in the fields because of racism--a general sense among general American readers of novels (which did not, of course, include the very poor) that the only true Americans were anglos like the Joads (which excluded most of the population of California even back then).

Dorothy Bryant

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I read your piece on Steinbeck the morning after I decided, once and for all, that The Grapes of Wrath is my all-time favorite book. The man could write, all right.

Jules Older
Albany. Vermont

Dear Holt Uncensored

A small thing, but when you list Houghton Mifflin's authors and mention Anchee Min and others without mentioning Robert Stone, Tim O'Brien and the 87-year-old "Best American Short Stories," well, I cringed.

Then I thought it's summertime and vacation anticipation can be a distraction.

So it goes,

Robert Birnbaum

Holt responds: Ack! You're right and thank you for cringing. All three should have been included.

Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

"Holt Uncensored" is an online column by Pat Holt
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