Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Day Full of Problems

I met Kevin last night. Kevin is the carpenter/handyman that helped build this house and he stopped by to introduce himself. He looks like a biker with a long ponytail rubber-banded at intervals down to the top of his belt loops. He wears a do-rag and is partially tattooed. He has a quick wit and a generous and friendly smile and he is a can-do kind of person as I found out this morning when we went over my very long list of unfinished work to be finished on my house, most of which he disposed of with ease.

The living room door to the back deck now closes and the key works without the lock cylinder coming off in my hand. That is a good thing since it has been unlocked and open for 12 days. Good thing there are no rapists or thieves up here. I don't think they've found us yet -- and I hope they never do. I like feeling safe enough, even with the creaks, moans, groans, and sounds of breathing the house makes as it settles.

This morning Kevin went to work on the deck door lock and eventually got it sorted out while his pup, a 7-month-old Newfoundland mixed with Akita pup he brought with him. The pup, which is nearly up to my ribs, is called Forest, and he is a curious fella nosing into everything and yet a friendly and gregarious almost-horse. Big as Forest is, he tried to climb into my lap so it's safe to say he likes me. I like him too. Since Kevin lives across the road, I'm sure Forest and I will get to see a lot of each other, especially if I get my wish and a ramp is installed on the back deck at the back bedroom side of the deck. It just makes sense really. Kevin even agrees that there should be a ramp there so the house is accessible to all of my friends and not just the ones wiling to climb to base camp one of the Himalayas to get into the house.

On the job list are a drain for the washer so I can actually use it without having to figure out a way not to flood the house, blinds for 2 windows, a screen for one of the office windows, a vent cover for the cold air vent that goes to the furnace, replacing bulbs in the ceiling and master bath, and a mirror and medicine cabinets for the bathroom between the Jack and Jill bedrooms.  I still need to get hooks for the bathroom and closet doors, hang the shower curtains and liners, and do a week's worth of laundry when the drain is installed and functional. Big on my to-do list was getting the router set up, and I needed Skybeam's tech support to get that done since they needed to get the wire on top of the house to recognize the router, and that has been accomplished.

Yesterday, Paul from Glazer Propane installed the new 500-gallon tank and lit my hot water heater again. I do need to ask Kevin about the furnace and adjusting the burners on the stove top, but those will be handled one way or another. Things are moving closer to near perfect, or as perfect as things will be when I get everything put away and the pictures and paintings hung. I think Kevin will help me by getting rid of all the boxes and that will be a big help.

One thing I found out is that the land line was hooked up to one of the sheds on the property, which made no sense to me until I asked Kevin. The previous owner of this land had an RV parked on the lot and the land line was installed on the shed so he would have a phone. Makes sense since this house did not exist then. Now that the house is here, the phone company needs to come out and bury the line.

Now some of the assortment of oddities on the property make sense, like the Dish TV satellite dish propped up against a fence that runs between two pine trees and the clothesline that runs between two pine trees next to the shed that has a weather vane on the roof. I'll add photos later. It could also explain why there is a fire extinguisher in a holder nailed to to yet another pair of pine trees near where there are a few piles of firewood and why there are benches next to the two sheds and a picnic table by the fence. Three acres of land and only an RV parked here seems a little sad and abandoned as if flash floods washed away whatever house once stood here but not the garage since it was built to withstand a nuclear explosion, except there was never a house here until my house was built.

I like being able to talk to someone who knows the area and can help me get up to date on the wherefores and whys and whodunits that come with a small community like this.

There are bound to be lots of stories and gossip floating around, not that I would listen to the gossip, but the stories have to be fascinating, like the man who lives next door with two native American or possibly Latino women and a fat black cat that stalks behind in their wake.

That's life in the country for now and I look forward to settling in for a very long and fruitful life. What began as a day full of problems has become a day full of solutions. I like when that happens.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Chasing the Truth

In yet another move to change her image, Hillary has reinvented history, or rather herstory. This time around Hillary wants to be seen as a woman of the people, an ordinary American you would meet at Target or Walmart, completely divorced from politics and remodeling/remaking and the scandals that have dogged her from the beginning. What it amounts to is a whole new batch of lies, misdirection, and lily gilding that she has undertaken since she first came to the public eye. Gone are the references to her involvement with the torture and murder of suspects during Black Panther trials when she was in college. Absent is her mishandling of health care reform during Bill Clinton's first term in the White House. Very present are her tales of woe and being stone broke when she and Bill left the White House while denuding their apartments and access areas of everything that wasn't nailed down. I'm sure she and Bill only meant to pawn what they could and decorate their new hovel in Washington, which is what they would have done if they had not been forced to give it all back. In Hillary's latest memoir, written by yet another ghost writer, Hillary marks her climb from the obscurity of her radical left days to her prominence as Bill's loving wife and Chelsea's mom who was more interested in domestic affairs than in her law career in Arkansas, her spearheading reform of the education system, and her stumping for Bill while he sank his first term as governor by raising car license plate taxes. She glosses over the all night strategy sessions and the way she handled Bill through the years before his re-election to the governor's mansion two years later and his subsequent terms in office. Gone are Bill's philandering and sexual redatory habits, and the demonizing and discrediting of the women he used, abused, andt tossed away and Hillary makes scant mention of Monica Lewinsky and what she knew and when she knew it, all in the name of political expedience. What this version of Hillary is supposed to do is make her look less like a rabid bull dog and more like a homebody who puts her family first and politics last, neither of which will wash as she collects $225,000 for speaking engagements where she gives her fees to charities, the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation charity. Hillary has one aim, to sit in the Oval Office as President, the first woman president of the USA, and she won't let a small thing like the truth get in her way. Expect to see more tales of landing in Bosnia under fire and running hunched over to waiting cars as welcoming ceremonies disappear --- at least in her mind. Her arrival can still be seen on YouTube any time you need to brush up on the facts, complete with welcoming ceremony. The truth in a Hillary presidency will always be the first victim of her agenda and play very little part in policy or reality. Keep that in mind while you contemplate voting for the Hillary the Chimera. In spite of her advocacy for women and children's rights, one thing remains obvious. For Hillary, it's about money, power, and celebrity and she will use whatever means necessary to make it happen as she has in the past and in the latest words out of both sides of her mouth at any given moment.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Blame Game

Political pundits and polarized U.S. citizenry cannot make heads or tails of President Obama's style of administration. I haven't been able to make sense of it either, but takin a step back and considering everything from a different perspective has finally given me the answer.

Since taking the oath of office in which he vowed to protect the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and upholding the Constitution of the United States of America, Obama has failed to keep those vows. He has engaged in an international apology tour asking forgiveness for all the wrongs committed to by the U.S. government in every country not an ally while snubbing our allies. He pointed to George W. Bush as the author of all the world's problems and blamed Bush for everything that has occurred since Obama took office.

That is where I began to see the light and uncover the strategy that has kept Obama's supporters loudly supporting him and pointing fingers at conservative Republicans and racists for not accepting Obama's explanations. It is the Blame Game. "S/he did it first" has become the first or second words out of Obama's and his apologist's mouths. It is the panacea for every wrong and every crime, every treason and every addition to the growing list of scandals and misuses of power. "Bush did it first."

I always thought, and, yes, it was naive of me, a person ran for office to show that s/he is a better person for the job than the person currently holding it. Obama promised he was going do to better than Bush, but at what I ask myself daily as we are 5 years down the path and I am often embattled by Obama's supporters. At this point, Obama's supporter will then browbeat me with, "Because the Republicans won't let him." That is the second part of the Blame Game, focusing attention on radical elements and claiming the Republicans are the authors of all the problems with their pesky demands for proof, followed quickly by, "What about Bush's excesses and crimes? How do you defend them?"

Obfuscation, conflation, and pointing the accusatory finger at everyone else is what 5-year-old children do when they are caught with their hand in the cookie jar or with a baseball bat standing in front of a broken window. The conversation goes something like this:

"Who broke the window/took all the cookies?"

"Not me."

"You have the bat/cookes still in your hands."

"I picked them up. Someone else left them here."

"Then why does the ball have your name on it/are there cookie crumbs all over your face?"

"Someone stole the ball/hit me with a cookie before s/he ran out."

"How can you play baseball if someone stole your ball/why are there no cookie crumbs on the floor just on your shirt and all over your face?"

"I saw someone running away and picked up the bat/cookies."

And so it goes as the 5-year-old digs a deeper grave.

Obama and his supporters then begin the chant of, "you're a racist," which is supposed to throw the opposition into defense mode so Obama can scramble for a new line of defense.

It would take too long to go through the myriad excuses Obama uses, but he seems to rely on these above all:

Bush did it first; the Republicans keep getting in the way; the President doesn't create the economy; Bush left this mess and I'm just trying to clean it up. 

None of this passes the initial smell test and yet no one has yet done more than complain and threaten impeachment. That is when the evidence can be tracked down before it is lost, recycled, and/or destroyed, none of which sticks since Obama hasn't a clue what is going on when he finds out about it on the news or in a newspaper. I don't think we've had a president this clueless since Hoover? But maybe I'm being ungenerous. That happens when I see nothing but lies, obfuscation, and arrogance.

Actions that forced President Nixon to resign rather than being impeached are ignored in the news, except for Fox News, and the Republicans grumble and threaten, but that is no more effective than screaming at a child s/he's going to get a whipping when the whipping never comes.

The hallmark of an adult is his/her willingness to accept responsibility for wrongdoings and punishment for his/her wrongdoing. Don't hold your breath. Obama has proven one thing without question. He will not accept responsibility.

a man purportedly as smart as Obama, his excuses have become rote, lame, and laughable. Maybe that is why he has not been impeached, jailed, tried, and thrown in jail before now. He has provided this country and the world with a laugh track worthy of Benny Hill. It's what I call, God's Idiot Factor, and the reason he doesn't obliterate the perpetrator with lightning bolts or fire and brimstone. Even an omnipotent being needs a good belly laugh at times.

Too bad this laugh is on the American people. Even with the bay window in the living room busted and glass all over the floor or a whole jar of cookies gone, the excuses would make you laugh if you weren't so angry. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Art of Credit

My world has turned into a search for credit, good credit, excellent credit, credit that will buy my house. I have lived off the grid on a generous budget for about 20 years, living within my means, and still living well (with a hiccup here and there when money was tight for a few days and food scarce), but that is not good in this credit obsessed world. I must have excellent credit and credit is a trap. At least as far as I see it.

I've been where my bank account emptied because of my ex-husband's inability/unwillingness to pay his debts. No matter what the divorce decree said about who paid for what, all the creditors cared about was money, specifically, my money. An attorney emptied out my checking and savings account without notifying me, which they can do once, and I didn't find out about it until the check for my rent bounced. Then checks for utilities, phone, groceries, and a loan to a family member also bounced. That's when I found out I had NO money and when I decided to go off the grid. That was about 20 years ago.

Now I'm being forced to deal with credit again and it's confusing and complicated and like looking down the basement to Hell and knowing the only way to get where I want to go through is down into the darkness and through Hell.

The first step of my credit plan worked fine. And then things started happening. A bank credit card I had applied for sent me a letter asking why I had not sent the paperwork necessary to prove my identity. I already had, but they obviously had not received it yet. The next day as I was getting ready to call the bank and ask if they had the information yet, I received an email that congratulated me on my brand new credit card, listed the last 4 numbers of the card, and said the card would arrive in 7 business days. That will be the middle of next week. I have no idea what the limit is, but anything over $300 will be beneficial at this stage of the move. That cushion will put me over the hump so that even my most generous estimations will be secure. Better yet, I will soon be the accredited user of a bank credit card, not a debit card, and credit will be established and accruing points.

I already have a plan in place for that too. I will use that credit card instead of my debit card to pay for all purchases, like groceries, and set that amount aside on my debit card until the end of the month, at which time I will then pay off all but $10 or $15 of the balance. The mortgage broker, Ingrid, said I should keep a $10 to $15 balance on the card every month. I've always thought that paying off the whole balance every month was better, but evidently it is not. I prefer the pay the whole balance plan and thus save myself paying interest, but maybe the point is paying the interest. I don't know, but I have an alternate solution. I'll pay the balance off every other month and leave a $10 to $15 balance on the other months.

Now I find out that a bank credit card isn't enough. I should also have a store card, like J. C. Penney (they already turned me down because I don't have a credit rating) or Macy's or Sears (hard to get) or Neiman Marcus (high end, but would look good on the report). I'll just have to decide what store will look best on my credit report and buy myself something small every month or two. Probably every other month if I go with Neiman Marcus. Pay it off like the bank credit card and not leave a balance if it's Neiman Marcus, which will require me to save the money well in advance. I am moving into a brand new house and will need a lot of new things, like furniture, drapes, curtains, curtain rods, patio furniture, throw rugs for those awful commercial patterned rugs, etc. Talk about debt.

I don't want to get ahead of myself, especially not with credit. I'll plan what I need and buy it as I can afford it once the major expenses, like utilities, phone, WiFi, mortgage, and gas for the car, are paid off first. I can still live within my means by using credit as long as I keep my head. Too bad no one taught me that when I was a child.

That's the thing. Parents thrust their children out into the world without explaining how credit works and why it is important and how to write and live within a budget, etc. Children are unprepared for life as an adult, though kids yearn toward the time when they are no longer under their parents' thumbs and able to stay up late if they choose. When a child's dreams are set on drinking alcohol, deciding their own curfews, and choosing who they will and won't allow into their lives, something is definitely wrong. Parents should train their children how to be an adult the same way they taught their kids to ride a bike and swim and do the dishes.

I remember asking to take ballet lessons and to get a membership to the local swimming pool, which was $15 a summer, and being told no because my parents couldn't afford it. That baffled me for a long time. How could they not afford $15 when Mom wore tailor made clothes and formal dresses for Eastern Star every year that made my $15 membership to the pool look like  a tip? A closet full of shoes and blouses and suits, most of which still had the tags on, boxes of makeup, several jewelry boxes full of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and diamonds, but a $15 pool membership was too much to ask. That doesn't even take into the account the first edition books that filled several bookcases, the brand new furniture and carpets every 4 or 5 years with drapes to match, the brand new televisions, and the expensive vacations, but $15 for the pool was too much.

I got a job and paid for my own pool membership, but I still didn't have a clue about credit or how it works or how to manage a budget. That knowledge came after years of debt and marriages to two men who didn't have a clue about the true meaning of joint account and balancing the checkbook.

When it all comes down to it, I still would not have bought a house until now, but I probably would have had a lot more money in the bank for a down payment and excellent credit by now if I had only been taught and had known how important it all is.  I have learned, but the fire walk has been painful and long and it could have been avoided if my parents had taught me how it all worked.

I have learned patience and that I don't have to have something immediately. I have time to buy bedroom and office furniture for my house, time to choose and save for area and throw rugs for the living room and bedrooms, time to buy matching plates and good silverware, time to do it all and time to save for it even with credit. I can wait. I have time.

And now I have credit, but I'm still going to live within the budget that has kept me safe and not in debt to anyone. It will be the best of both worlds and a lesson well learned. Credit is a necessity, but good credit, even excellent credit, is an art.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fox Books and The Shop Around the Corner

The debate between independent and traditional publishing authors is heating up and now bookstores have been added to the discussion. If Hachette does not get its way with Amazon, then bookstores will suffer. Bookstores will become extinct and books will no longer be available through the friendly neighborhood bookstore. It's like the underlying theme of You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

The 3rd generation owner of Fox Books, Joe Fox, sells books, lots of books, at low, low prices, much like Amazon. The Shop Around the Corner, owned by Kathleen Kelly, the daughter of the original bookstore owner, sells children's books at a much higher price, buying them from publishers at about 50% wholesale, which means she must sell the books at a much higher price than Fox Books. It's all about volume sales.

Kathleen Kelly also hosts authors for signings and reads books to children. It is part of the service she provides as the bookstore owner. She decorates her windows with books and photos of children's book authors and sells rare and expensive hand tipped books, packing everything in canvas book bags for customers. The Shop Around the Corner is a boutique business in the old world tradition.

Joe Fox sells millions, perhaps billions of books, and sells all the books at deeply discounted prices. He can afford to sell books cheaper than Kathleen Kelly because he has the space to buy more books and get a better deal on price than The Shop Around the Corner. "It's business. It's not personal," as Joe tells Kathleen as they battle for supremacy.

The audience groans when Fox Books puts another bookstore out of business, a mystery bookstore, and they cheer when Kathleen appears on TV to fight the good fight to protect her little children's book shop. Meanwhile, Joe Fox touts his deep and comfortable chairs, food, and lattes and the way readers can come and sit for hours and just read and relax.

In the real world, Barnes & Noble is Fox Books and boutique neighborhood bookstores were put out of business by Barnes & Noble because B&N could afford to sell books cheaper and they offered scones and lattes and comfortable chairs where book buyers could sit and relax and read and write or do whatever. B&N also hosted authors for readings and signings and even sold records, cassettes, and games, as well as iPods and tape players. B&N was the future of bookstores while neighborhood book stores unable to get deeply discounted prices for published books fought for space and sales.

The thing is that no one seems to remember that the death of the neighborhood and privately owned bookstore was touted when Barnes & Noble and Borders and Books-a-Million and Half Price Books and other discount bookstores came onto the scene and drove independent bookstores out of business.

Then along comes Amazon and a brand new technology - eBooks and Kindle. B&N and Borders were no longer the flavor of the month. They had been replaced by a virtual store that sold books at deeper discounts than B&N offered and Amazon quickly took the book buying world by storm. B&N and Borders liked that they could keep a book for years and send it back to the publisher worn, torn, and shelf scarred and get a full refund. That was a deal born of the Great Depression when publishers were motivated to keep bookstores in business, a model that has not changed and one that nearly cost publishers -- and eventually authors who had to give back royalties -- a bundle in October 2008. It was a bad time and an even worse one for authors who were hard hit by returning their royalties and not getting royalty checks when bookstores, like B&N and Borders, returned all those books, books that went directly to the landfills.

Life is about change -- and so is business. Either move with the times and innovate or be buried in the dust. That is what bookstores and authors and publishers and readers need to keep uppermost in mind.

As much as we all rail about this changing world and so many of us comfortable with the past want it to stay unchanged, that is not the way the world works, especially not when it comes to retail. In order for business to be viable it must make money. That is the bottom line.

It is also a bottom line that Barnes & Noble, Borders, and numerous privately owned bookstores do not seem to grasp. Amazon is not the enemy any more than Joe Fox was. It's business. It's not personal.

Except that it is personal to Hachette. Hachette still allows bookstores to buy books and return them for full refund even though the books have been on the shelves unbought and pawed over by untold numbers of potential book buyers. Hachette doesn't mind when books are dumped by the millions into landfills. It's a tax write-off they are more than happy to take at the end of the year, and they don't have to pay authors anything because the books were never sold. The perk there for Hachette and the Big-5 publishers is that even though the books were never sold, the numbers remain so their big name authors remain on the best sellers lists. It's all about numbers, just not numbers that include Amazon being able to dictate terms to PUBLISHERS.

Amazon just will not accept its place in the scheme of things. Hachette has been doing business in publishing for decades and upstart Amazon refuses to grasp that they are supposed to be grateful for being allowed to put Hachette authors on their virtual bookshelves. The nerve!

If bookstores want to stay in business, it is time to change the way they do business the way they did in the 1800s or even the 1980s and get move with the times. Sell books. Sell expensive books to make your profit, but diversify and seize the moment to look at business -- and life -- in a different context.

Kathleen Kelly closed her bookstore because she couldn't compete with Fox Books, but she found other options. Publishers asked her to write her own children's books. Some offered her a great salary to work for them as an editor. Opportunities opened up that were never possible as long as she clung to the past and memories of working in the bookstore with her mother when she was a child, memories that included growing up and becoming the new owner of The Shop Around the Corner. It was difficult saying goodbye to the past, but Kathleen Kelly embraced her new future.

Privately owned bookstores and chain bookstores still stuck with their original innovations now dusty and dated refuse to embrace the future, to look at the world from a different perspective.

We all hold fond memories of the businesses and, for me, the bookstores that were a bright part of our lives, but it is nearly impossible to give up $60 for a couple of books, no matter how beautifully hand tipped and First Edition rare, when that same $60 will buy me 6 or 10 or even 20 books just waiting to be opened, read, and explored -- and loved. In the end, it is all about numbers. More is better, especially when it comes to books, be they print or eBooks, thousands of which I can archive or put on the Kindle I take with me wherever I go. I love the convenience and format all my books in eBook form first, and I never have to worry about them being returned and buried in a landfill.

I still go to bookstores that provide a calm and quiet place to relax and read (sometimes on my Kindle), write in my journal, sip lemonade or tea, and eat a cranberry orange muffin on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It's the best of both worlds and I look forward to the next innovation in publishing, which I hope will put the Big-5 publishers in their places and open up a world of possibilities.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Waht Hachette is Up to.

I'll keep this short and simple.

In a blog post by Hugh Howey, the data is clear. Hachette is ripping off authors and is fighting Amazon to continue to do so. Read it and weep.

So, Hachette authors in the midlist, how do you feel about that?

Michael J. Sullivan breaks it down so everyone gets the point. 


Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Little Help, Please?

I'm confused about Iraq. We got out of Iraq, finally, after Obama took office, though it took more than 18 months. The people wanted us gone. Americans wanted us gone. We got gone.

Now al Qaeda insurgents are taking back the country and the troops the U.S. trained and provided with weapons simply took off their uniforms to reveal their civilian clothes underneath, and fled. The ran away from a smaller, less well armed force, and claimed that the U.S. did not provide sufficient training for them to withstand 1000 armed insurgents against 10,000 armed, trained, and well equipped Iraqi soldiers. I smell a rat.

You don't stand your post with your civilian clothes underneath your uniform unless you know that you will need the civilian clothes quickly and you don't turn tail and run from weak opposition. I guess the al Qaeda insurgents were packing a whole lot of mean that swept government forces away like so much chaff before the Ark of the Covenant carried by the Hebrews when they went to war. The result is the fleeing Shia government forces under Maliki left behind U.S. equipment, vehicles, and materiel for the Sunni forces to pick up and continue hot on their heels

After complaining about the lack of U.S. support in their struggle with al Qaeda forces, I wonder why they want U.S. soldiers back to fight the insurgents. Didn't we go through this already? This is where I get confused.

The United States armed, trained, and supported the sitting Iraqi government and left the country as ordered and now they want U.S. soldiers back. This is what happens when a power vacuum is created as the Iraqi situation demonstrates with the absence of Hussein and no tyrant/despot/powerful leader to take his place. Should we really go back in and take control of the situation again? Isn't this a civil war? Hasn't the U.S. been down this road before with disastrous implications? I'm confused.

Barry Eisler has likened the situation in Iraq to Vietnam and there are similarities, but we left Vietnam to its own devices and accepted the Vietnamese boat people as immigrants, taking them in and providing them with a home and a country. Do we do the same for Iraqi Sunnis fleeing the Sunni Muslim forces of al Qaeda? At what point does this whole circus end?

If I say we leave the Iraqis to fight it out among themselves, I'm being obtuse and elitist. If I say we go back to Iraq and restore order and throw al Qaeda out when the government forces ran from them then I'm an elitist neo-colonialist who supports war mongering. What is the right answer here?

Is there a right answer?

David Ignatius provides his take on the situation and offers a short video at the beginning of his column about the difference between Sunni and Shia. This is not Roman Catholic against Lutheran against Protestant conflict, which often flared into reprisals and armed conflicts, but something much more brutal. The result may well be Syria allied with the Sunni forces in an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) against Maliki, who has holed up in the south, and the intervening territory left to whoever is left in Iraq. Both Sunni and Shia forces are brutal in their actions and hatred for their polar opposite faction and it looks like Maliki will not be able to hold the government together. Maliki and his adherents are Shia and not considered to be true Muslims, not for the 1400 years since Mohammed's death when the ideologically opposite Sunni and Shia split over who would control the future of Islam.

What it boils down to is that I do not have the faintest clue about their religion or their politics, except that neither will rest until the other has been exterminated. When religion and politics are so tightly bound together, how can anyone from outside Islam truly understand what is going on and whose side the U.S. should back. This is no longer about democracy, as Maliki's bloody reprisals about Sunni Muslims has shown, nor is it about freedom for the Iraqi people involved in a death struggle for supremacy. The war between Sunni and Shia isn't even about taxes. It's about supremacy and destruction and a death grip on the lives and beliefs of entire nations.

It is clear that control of the oil fields will be at risk, but why should that be a factor since the United States has more oil than Iraq and Syria combined? The Saudis have complained that their way of life will collapse if the U.S. doesn't stop producing and exporting its own oil fields and reserves.

But, no, the struggle in Iraq is not about oil. That's just a bargaining chit to get the Western world involved, and I'm back to being confused. Should the U.S. stay out of this struggle or should we ride to the rescue?

I do not know. Do you?

One thing I do know is that we cannot play cop on the block on the international stage and that has won us no friends and gained us quite a lot of enemies, but we cannot play the isolationist card as we did at the beginning of World War I and World War II because eventually we will be forced to rethink that position as we did when Truman was voted in, Roosevelt and his isolationist tactics out, and the Japanese allied with Germany bombed Pearl Harbor. Damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Obama has supposed Maliki's government and Maliki has done nothing to build a bridge between Shiites and Sunnis. Instead the reprisals against Iraqi Sunnis have gone a long way to creating the current situation, over and above what 1400 years of strife have done. Maliki, a Shiite, has been as brutal as Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, and nothing was done by the U.S. or the U.N. or any of the western nations. Obama has sent more weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and materiel into this hot zone and the picture is no better.

And I'm back to being confused. What do we do now?

I don't know. Supporting either side may come down to the flip of a coin because both sides are brutal and blood-thirsty and the man in the street will always be a casualty.

I'm open to suggestions to learn more about the players and the game. How about a little help?


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Navajo Mesa

Navajo Mesa is the community where I'm moving. It's rural. At the sign for Navajo Mesa the paved road becomes dirt, washboard dirt road. Those will be fun on the old suspension. I'm not too worried. I managed 2 years above Tabernash and there were more dirt roads and they were worse than the ones in Florissant. I know they periodically add dirt and grade them, so not a big problem, and certainly nothing to keep me from moving up there.

That is the side between the 2 decks and the doors that go down under the house into the crawl space, except you don't need to crawl. It's built like a bomb shelter and enough head room to stand up. No, that is not a real deer. It is plastic. Someone has a sense of humor. That is the place where I'll plant my herb garden though. It will be easy to get to and will look nice laid out there in a circular pattern.

One of the pluses of living up there is seclusion. Then there is peace and quiet and a small community of people my age, which means I will have to mingle from time to time. Another small price to pay. Neighbors can be helpful and even nice as long as they don't consider my doors (and there are 4) always open to them. I'll be the exotic for a while, but not too long a while.

I have plans, like planters full of growing food on the decks until I get the greenhouse built, up, and running. I did notice that one of the outbuildings is a lot larger than I thought. That has possibilities too. David suggested a chicken coop, but I don't plan on raising chickens. I'll figure out something.

There are the 2 outbuildings, and the one on the left is the larger of the two. It's a nice size for an office or gaol for miscreants or maybe a place to hide from irritating neighbors. It used to be the pump house. Or maybe that is the other shed on the right. I'll check it out again when I go up there.

That's a nicer close-up, but you can't see the picnic table on the other side. More pictures will be required. 

Right now, it's all organizing and planning and forcing myself to pack, knowing I will eventually have to unpack. I hate both jobs, but I will do them and I will get them done before the movers descend on the 3rd.

The hardest problem I've run into is setting up a change of address with the post office. Not only do they mess up my mail, but they charge for changing my address on line -- twice -- and claim that I'm doing it wrong and my debit card doesn't work, in spite of charging me twice for the service. Not only do the snails get stuck in their slime trails, but they evidently look upon me as one of the millions of people willing to give up their money to fund their business, which has been failing for years. After the experience of dealing with the mail carrier at this address for more than 5 years, I understand why.

No matter what happens here, the bills keep coming and I still have to pay for them. Luckily, I planned that into my budget and I should be all right. Better than all right since the mover will charge me less than I expected and I'm keeping my money unspent. I'll save a lot over the next 12 months while building my nonexistent crediting rating into an actual credit rating. No more living off the grid if I expect to buy this house.

And so it goes.

On my down from the house on Saturday last, I took a few pictures.  These pictures are of the cabin and outbuilding that are going back to the earth. They look much older than what has popped up over recent years and may even date back to the 19th century. I'll have to do some research and find out.

The outbuilding but not a great view. I'll have to get out of the car next time.

The cabin. I'm torn between wanting to salvage the wood and rebuilding it. Since I don't own the land, that isn't possible. I'll check into it. It's far enough away from my house to be a great guest house and could be a great vacation property if it can be restored.

Don't forget to click on the photos to see them better. 

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Good Men

Three weeks ago when I was told by the bank that I would have to leave my home of 6 years, I was thrown back into a place where I did not want and had not expected to be - back to apartment hunting. I found a place I liked and contacted the owner who was enthusiastic (at first) to rent her house to me. Three bedrooms and 2 baths and a kitchen to die for. I wanted the house the moment I saw the photos. That was not to be. After that initial burst of communications and promises, and asking her to send the application, I heard nothing more.

Did I offend her? Did I not praise the place too much? Did I not move quickly enough? What had I done wrong? These are all default positions for me.

I found her Yahoo! email and forwarded my messages to her there and waited, but did not sit idle. I kept looking and found a 1-bedroom house 2 blocks away. It was spacious and had a bay window with a tiled window seat. I had visions of sitting in the window seat reading or just watching the seasons change and people go by. Against my better judgment, I paid the $30 fee and put in my application. I also had to forward copies of 3 pay stubs and provide a phone number for the previous landlord, the one who lost $2 million in properties, my house and the one next door included, to foreclosure. That was Tuesday. That day everything changed.

I called about another apartment in Divide, Colorado west of Colorado Springs and up Hwy 24. As I spoke with the landlord I found he and I had similar feelings about application fees. His father owned a property in Florissant he was getting ready to sell. Would I like to speak with his father about buying the house and 3 acres? Of course, especially since his father owned the house free and clear and would be willing to hold the mortgage note and take my payments directly. Then everything hit the fast track.

The next day after running the numbers and my meager resources, I decided I had to tell David I couldn't afford to accept his offer. It was outside my budget.  He said, "We'll make it work. I want you to have the house. Whatever it takes we will do. I don't need the money; I have more than I can spend now."

We agreed on a monthly rate I could afford and then I called the realtor about the house 2 blocks away. I listened as she told me they had not received a call back from my previous landlord. No surprise there. I explained she probably wouldn't any time soon. Then she told me my employer had not called back so they couldn't verify my income.

Uh, excuse me, but they had 3 pay stubs and my 2013 tax return and a bank statement proving my deposits. The pay stubs had the name of the company on them and waiting for a call from my employer was no longer necessary, but I didn't tell her that. Instead, I told her to cancel my application. I was buying a house in Florissant. She sounded a bit deflated, but I felt powerful and good. I was no longer at her mercy, or the mercy of any realtor any more. I was buying my own home.

Things have progressed since last week and I have been up to the house. I hate the pattern on the commercial carpets, but they are durable and thick and I know how to use area and throw rugs to best effect. Not a problem. A few minor things still need to be done, e.g.; rods for the closets, shower rods for the 2 bathrooms, phone jacks throughout the house, and a few other little details, like tightening up the hand rails all the stairs and both decks. David agreed to all of it quickly, and he agreed to remove the trash from the build before I move in next month.

But there must be a fly in this ointment. A sick feeling came over me that somehow, some way I was about to be screwed. Talking to David again last night and this morning have removed that doubt. His son Mike, the man I originally called about the apartment in Divide, will move all my things from this poky little cottage to the most beautiful home I have ever lived in -- and the first I've ever owned. He will also hook up my washer and dryer and help set up everything. This is real. I am moving. But there is more.

I found out through the realtor that David had been held in a concentration camp, specifically Auschwitz. He was taken there with his family in 1940 when he was 13 years old and was liberated by the Americans under General Patton in 1945 when he was 18 years old. That is one hell of an 18th birthday present. David was liberated without his family, all of whom died in Auschwitz. I knew he had come from Poland to the United States, but I did not know he had been imprisoned for 5 years.

Susan, the realtor, suggested I offer to write David's memoirs. I am a writer after all. I spoke with David and he agreed, so what was initially a casual acquaintance willing to sell me his house and hold the mortgage for me has become much more. He put me in touch with Susan, the realtor, to handle the paperwork, and Susan put me in touch with Ingrid who is a mortgage broker and will help me establish credit.

This man who knows nothing about me other than that I was looking for a house, has become a part of my life, and not just because of the house but because of his generosity and his indomitable spirit.

David and my father were both born in 1927. Their lives were so very different. Dad began his military career in about 1949 and David began his life as a free man, a citizen of the United States in 1949. The link they share is me. My father was a good man and that is the highest compliment any man can get. David is also a good man, not just because of what he has done for me, but because he is a good man. I have been privileged to know them both.

Just when I thought I had no options, I found options and the realization of a long held dream to own a cabin in the mountains here in Colorado. I don't have to wait 2 or 3 years; it is happening now and I am grateful.

If you like to read a little more about David, follow the link. The only thing that surprises me is that his own daughter, a newspaper reporter, never wrote about her father. Then again, maybe not so surprising, I never wrote about my father either, at least not in a memoir. Maybe now that will change as well. Two such good men should be celebrated and cherished.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Return of the Prodigal Son?

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release this week has posed more questions than answers, answers that will have to wait until Bergdahl speaks up about the 5 years he spent in Afghanistan as a prisoner. The debate over Bergdahl's actions and President Obama releasing 5 top Taliban captains, 3 in Intelligence and 2 high ranking military officers, have become tangled as anything where Obama is involved gets tangled, polarizing the nation and clouding Bergdahl's return to the United States.

Though the two incidents are connected, keeping the issues separate is important.  No sense tarring Bergdahl and Obama with the same brush.

Bergdahl walked off his post 5 years ago and was reportedly asking questions of people in the nearby town how to find the Taliban. He found them, but he may not have found what he went looking for. His sympathy for the people and his feelings about US military forces being in Afghanistan seem to be tangled together. What he felt when he walked off his post, what he was trying to do, and what he actually found are serious questions at the heart of the matter.

People all over the country have mixed feelings about Bergdahl returning home and he has been characterized as a traitor to his country. Traitors seldom get welcome home parades and people lining up to shaek their hands and pat them on the back. How could they when Bergdahl's actions have put him under a very dark and dangerous cloud? I sympathize, but at some point people need to be willing to sit back and wait for answers, listen to Bergdahl's story, and reserve judgment until he has faced a military tribunal.

I welcome Bergdahl home and I hope his health improves. He may not have found the welcome he expected when he walked off his post. He made a mistake.

There is also the possibility that Bergdahl has gone over to the other side and is now working for the Taliban as a sort of Manchurian Candidate. It is a possibility that cannot be excluded.

Trust is a hard thing, especially when someone tramples your trust under foot, as it seems Bergdahl did when he walked off his post to find the Taliban. Used to a different diet, he may simply have lost weight because food is scarcer or was less palatable to Bergdahl. The reports that show him cradling one of his arms could be a fake or it could be evidence of an injury. How many times have people allowed themselves to be injured or hurt or even shot and stabbed in order to give credence to the story that they were tortured or harmed? Maybe Bergdahl did try to escape because he became disillusioned by what he found when he encountered the Taliban or maybe that is another fake piece of the story so Bergdahl can come back to the United States and feed information back to his Afghan friends. All of this must also be considered.

Knowing all that, how can people not be reserved with Bergdahl? How can they trust him when he betrayed their trust -- or at least seemed to have betrayed the trust of his comrades in arms, his country, and his government? The Taliban is not beyond using such methods to gain the advantage. The Taliban created the fiction that an Afghan who was helping the US military in brokering a peace with the Taliban was actually a spy and had him arrested by the CIA. No Afghan peacemaker, no peace, and the CIA did all the dirty work. Is Bergdahl just another pawn in the Taliban's game? How will we know?

I read an article this morning that did its best to emotionally manipulate people by calling shame on Americans for not welcoming back Bergdahl with open arms and sweet forgiveness and blamed people for their cold reception of Bergdahl because of their hatred for Obama. That's going a bit far with the tar brush and feathers. Nothing like emotional manipulation to get your point across.

Obama's actions, though connected to Bergdahl, have nothing to do with Bergdahl and everything to do with releasing 5 Taliban captains to Qatar where Noorullah Noori has already said he will return to Afghanistan to continue fighting U.S. soldiers to force them out of his country. That was not a surprise and Obama, yesterday in Poland, already said he figured the released GITMO detainees would not stay in Qatar. Obama knew he was returning dangerous men back to the Taliban in Afghanistan by so doing. That constitutes actions that may finally end with Obama in prison for 10 years to life, as Judge Napolitano believes.

Obama ignored the law when he failed to notify Congress that he was spending U.S. tax dollars to send the 5 Taliban terrorists to Qatar and let them know he was trading the Taliban captains for Bergdahl. Once again, the focus is on Obama's actions and not Bergdahl. Obama ordered the release of the 5 Taliban terrorists and paid their way to Qatar with U.S. tax dollars without informing Congress of his plans. Using Taliban threats to kill Bergdahl if news was leaked is another red herring, especially since this deal has been in the works since December 2013. Good thing Obama didn't release the 15 Taliban prisoners at GITMO instead of just 5 or the American people would have stormed the White House and lynched Obama at Hell's Corner in front of the White House. 

No, we don't leave Americans behind on the battlefield, but that is not the point here with Bergdahl. He chose to leave his post to find the Taliban; he wasn't captured at his post. He did not fall in battle nor did he die attempting to save one of his comrades on the field of battle and ended as a hostage. He CHOSE to leave his post. He CHOSE to join the Taliban. He CHOSE to turn his back on his friends, his family, and his country. Bergdahl's father knew of his son's beliefs and feelings and told him to go with his heart. Bergdahl's heart was obviously not with the country that people would have us all believe he is returning to with relief and joy. That is part of the problem and why people are backing away from the Bergdahls, and not just because Bowe's father called down an Islamic blessing when addressing the country from the White House standing next to Obama. A person's religious beliefs are his own even when they make people wonder whose side the Bergdahls are on. Mr. Bergdahl certainly did not do Bowe any favors there and may be a good part of the reason why people are angry and turning their backs on the Bergdahls and on Bowe, the suspiciousness of Sgt. Bergdahl's actions aside.

No, people's anger at Obama and Bergdahl stem from separate actions. Do not mistake that. Forget all the emotional manipulation and look at the situations dispassionately, examine the facts. Most people were angry at Obama long before he traded 5 Taliban captains for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those people, and the growing number of people who bought the whole hope and change mantra, have been angry for a while and every one of Obama's actions serve to deepen the anger and the rage that Congress has not impeached him or put him on trial for treason and malfeasance in office.

Bergdahl's actions as they come to light create a different kind of anger in people who believe in this country and loathe deserters. Bergdahl has not been committed of desertion, but if he is, it is a good thing war was never declared in Afghanistan or he would be put to death, cutting short the celebration of the returning prodigal son, and that may be what Bergdahl is, the proverbial prodigal son. Or he may be a traitor and an agent for the Taliban. The facts are not all in.

Until they are, welcome home, prodigal son, but be ready to answer for YOUR actions as Obama will have to answer for HIS actions. Though you and Obama are connected by circumstance, the future awaits the truth -- and the verdict. Trust must be earned, Sgt. Bergdahl.

As for Obama, he never had my trust and earning the trust of the people who have been lied to, cheated, and disillusioned may never return.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Moving House

My Uncle Bob suggested I get a 20-gauge shotgun since I nixed his first two suggestions: a dog and a man. It isn't that I don't like dogs or men, but that I'd rather not take on the responsibility for either.

They need so much time and attention and I"d rather spend my attention elsewhere. Besides, they have to be fed, watered, and walked on occasion and I'd rather not be held to that kind of schedule. They get so cranky and fractious when they don't get their twice daily walks. They are such creatures of habit and prefer to stick to a schedule.

The only schedule I will deal with is the schedule I have to follow when working for my employer, and, if things go well, I won't have to do that much longer. Once I get my cottage (or cabin) industry up and running, I will quit and work only for myself.

I'll need a rifle for hunting and I called Beanie to have her ask her husband, Dan, what he things would be a good all around hunting gun. I think I can safely rule out an elephant gun since there are no elephants at the altitude.

Yes, I have hunted, but not in many years (dare I say, decades?), but I remember how. I might even take up bow hunting or just archery for the exercise and to hone my abilities. You never know when I might need to fend off an attack of zombies, which reminds me I need to find a way to keep the deck clear of zombie incursions.

I'll have to hire someone to rig some kind of barrier on the stairs leading up to the deck. If they can't get through, they can't get to me and I can sit on the deck and pick them off at will. These things must be figured into future plans.

Now there is when a generator would come in very handy, especially if I put it in the crawl space where it's surrounding by cement walls. Maybe a ladder or stairs down into the crawl space. It's unusual in that you can actually stand up down there and would provide protection and a great panic room. Supplies could be stored down there.

So much to do, so many plans yet to be made, and a wide open future filled with possibilities. Yes, Jeff, I am still giddy.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Wind From One Door Closing...

Since the negotiations between Amazon and Hachette have made the news with authors chiming in on both sides, the old Chinese curse has become a reality. We do indeed live in interesting times.

We also live in times that are lagging far behind the 21st century and the technological age. The Big-5 publishers, Hachette, included are working with the old publishing model, even though these media conglomerates have gobbled up every major publisher, and have become mega-corporations with tens of billions of dollars in business and profit every year. Though they claim to be preserving the future of publishing so there will always be books, it's rather like a member of the 1% claiming to understand what it is like for the middle and lower classes of people getting by from paycheck to paycheck and wanting enough disposable income to buy the books they want. In short, that dog won't hunt.

In easier to understand words, the 1% does not have a clue.

Make no mistake, Hachette and the other members of the Big-5 belong to the 1%, as Barry Eisler writes in The Guardian. As Eisler states, "[The Big-5] have done all they can to try to keep the prices of books artificially high, which hurts consumers and costs authors money. They have a record of zero innovation. And they've run the industry for decades in a way that has benefited the few while stifling new opportunities for the many."

James Patterson, multi-million dollar author and employer of a cadre of writers to help churn out 13 books a year, has bought some pretty expensive ads to brand Amazon the bad guy. Did I mention Patterson is a Hachette author? No smoking gun there.

Patterson decries the loss of Mom and Pop bookstores when he should, as Eisler put it, "...reconsider their anti-Amazon ideology, which at root is an attempt to stop the evolution of publishing itself. Because indie authors are the mom-and-pop shops of publishing. And the 1 percent's war on Amazon risks turning us into collateral damage."

Despite this war on Amazon and Hachette claiming to the victim of Amazon's bullying (at least as seen by author, John Greene ), a great opportunity is being lost. This is the 21st century and we live in an age of technological marvels with the life span of a mayfly. In order to compete and stay in business, bookstores need to move with the times, do what Amazon has done, and remodel their businesses. It's time to stop relying on returning thousands of books for full refunds, as they have since the Great Depression when publishers needed to keep bookstores open to sell books, and find a new path through the wilderness. One thing bookstores can be certain of is that books are not going away any time soon.

Amazon puts the customer first and that is what has taken Jeff Bezos's business from his parents' garage into a billion dollars international business. Bezos saw the future and he used technology to create a new business model, one that Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 want to dismantle.

Small bookstores should ask what customers need and want and make that happen. One bookstore turned an old mansion into a haven for customers with niches and nooks and comfortable spots to kick back, relax, and read. They made their store a comfortable place to enjoy a book for an hour or three. It's a step in the right direction, but doesn't go far enough.

How about charging stations for cell phones, tablets, eReaders, and laptops? Charge a small fee for the convenience.

Download stations for eBooks would be a good idea. No charge, just a secure line to do business from whatever store the customer chooses. The customer will repay the owners by spending more time in the store and end up buying books. Owners could also get a license to offer eBooks on every platform available for reading eBooks and offer accessories, skins, and trade-ins (or trade-ups) for all devices. Give customers a sample of whatever book they're considering or bundle print and eBook at a good price. The technology is available, so why not move with the times?

There are machines that print books in minutes, so why not buy a few and offer to print a customer's book in the store? The Espresso Book Machine would be perfect for that, and there are machines from other companies so you can shop price and availability.

Why not have a repair shop for laptops, tablets, and eReaders? Carry the parts and make repairs while the customers waits -- and reads. Another option would be to offer a loaner while their machine is being repaired. Think outside the box.

Host author evenings and round tables. Be THE place to go to discuss books and genres with published authors, beginning with local authors. Be a favored spot on a book tour. Offer classes in writing and editing for hopefuls and provide a comfortable setting for meetings. Start a book club or host other book clubs at the store. The possibilities are endless.

Instead of hanging signs predicting the Death of Books or the End of Books, strike out into the future with a new plan and forge a future in the ever changing print and digital world. The end is not near unless you have no vision and want to, like Hachette, blame Amazon for all your troubles. Closing one door doesn't mean being stuck in limbo or dying a slow and painful death. Another door will open, but one has to have the vision and guts to make a new door.

Let the world choose sides while Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 pretend to be victims of Amazon's innovation and forward thinking, but make a future that is all yours. It sounds like such a great idea, I may find some like-minded people and buy a bookstore going out of business to start my own. The future is here now. Be a part of it, change with the times, but don't complain if you get run over standing goggle-eyed while the train hits you. You've no one to blame but yourself.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Defining Bully

As negotiations between Hachette and Amazon heat up, writers have taken up the gauntlet on both sides and battle it out on in cyberspace and in print. Notable Hatchette authors (James Patterson, Scott Turow, and Nina Laden. Many Hachette authors and other interested parties from the Big-5 have labeled Amazon a bully. For writers and people with a good command of the English language, it seems they don't understand the definition of bully.

Merriam Webster defines a bully as a blustering browbeating person; especially :  one habitually cruel to others who are weaker; a hired ruffian.

Amazon does not fit the definition. Hachette is one fact of a 200-year-old mega-corporation. That would be the stronger of the two parties. One could say that Amazon has clout when it comes to book distribution, but there are other distributors, like Barnes & Noble.

Independent bookstores are also suitable venues for books, especially of the ink and paper type, and Hachette could continue doing business with those smaller distributors as they have since the Great Depression with the same contract that allows bookstores to return books months, even years after they were shipped. Doing business in the same old manner (fixing prices, 90% returns, and draconian contracts with authors) is what Hachette is doing its best to protect as it take the vanguard in the war between the Big-5 and Amazon.

Amazon does have clout, but Jeff Bezos continues to do business the way successful retailers always do business - by putting the customer first. Some books have been showing up at Amazon stores that formerly had their pre-order buttons removed, but that move was store policy when delivery of an item cannot be guaranteed. Once again, Hachette comes out the bully in that scenario since delaying shipments to force Amazon to knuckle under isn't working quite as well as they had hoped.

The Department of Justice has ordered Amazon and Hachette not to discuss negotiations until an accord has been reached. Amazon has kept mum and, on the surface, so has Hachette, except that no one muzzled the PR department at Hachette which is busily demonizing Amazon in the press and in letters to their authors to force Amazon to heel. Once again, Hachette looks the bully. Remember the definition: blustering, browbeating, habitually cruel to others who are weaker, hired ruffian. There is no doubt the employees in the PR department at Hachette and the Big-5 are earning their salaries with glee and laughing all the way to the bank. Demonizing the opponent is always such fun.

I tell people that when a discussion or debate descends to the point where one of the participants criticizes the opponents, slings mud, and begins calling names, that person is on the ropes and losing. Since I have yet to see anything from Amazon or Jeff Bezos while Hachette supporters and the PR department churns out claims of Amazon bullying the Big-5, I'd say that once again Hachette is doing the bullying.

What people seem to forget (one of the many instances) is that the money to fight and demonize Amazon comes from people buying books written by authors under contract to the Big-5. Authors get a very small piece of the pie unless they are proven international best sellers who have also sold movie rights and whose books are shipped in the millions for readers to buy and download, it would seem far smarter for Hachette and the other members of the Big-5 to pay more money to authors and less to PR departments engaged in mud-slinging. But what do I know? I haven't had a Big-5 publisher pick up any of my novels.

Instead of spouting the party line, it might be in authors' best interests to consider self-publishing or negotiating better contracts with the Big-5 or simply signing up with Amazon to get 70% of the publishing pie and monthly royalty payments where they can track their actual sales instead of being paid twice a year and getting publishing statistics that have been adulterated. After all, isn't 70% of the pie better than 25% for digital and 15% to 20% for print and being paid every month instead of twice a year?

Well, publishers take on more of the risk and can print more books? Publishers have editors and cover artists and all kinds of services that the average author doesn't want to have to deal with? You know what? Those services can be hired out for less than the Hachette and the other Big-5 charge for just being themselves.

PR departments do more than sling mud at Amazon. They also handle marketing and advertising. The funny thing is that the mid-list authors, the publishers' bread and butter writers, get very little of those services. Well, you might say, they don't sell as many books. That's true, but think how many more books those same midlist authors would sell if they got the kind of service that the big names get? And how little a slice of the royalty pie they would continue to get. Marketing and advertising can also be hired out - for less than Hachette and the Big-5 charge as the cost of doing business. Looks like the bully here is pretty obvious. The bully isn't taking lunch money, just the lion's share of the pie and leaving the crumbs to the authors without whom publishers would cease to exist.

Writers have been looking at this publishing thing from the wrong perspective and perspective is everything. It's the difference between seeing your spouse go down on someone else or just picking up the pieces of a broken glass.

All of the services that Hachette or the rest of the Big-5 can be bought for far less than what those same publishers charge and the author retains all the rights. Hachette and the Big-5 have convinced the world (that old PR department working over time again) that they are necessary because they have all the cards, rather like a card sharp stacking the deck when playing a bunch of rubes and marks, and just as lucrative -- for the publishers.

The world is changing, but entrenched publishers aren't changing with it. They spread the word that the end of the book is here and the sky is falling because they're not pulling all the strings while they downsize and use MBAs as editors and continue to suck the marrow out of publishing. What difference does it make if a book sold is digital or print? Digital takes up less space and requires one file sold repeatedly while print books are buried in landfills because bookstores haven't sold them and send them back for a full refund. Where is their ecological conscience? Where is their loving care of the environment as they chop down forests to make books that fall apart in 5 years or less on the shelves or end up in a landfill in New Jersey?

Publishers care about their bottom line, the same bottom line that gives them all the power and the rights while they pay slave wages to authors, negotiating the best deal for themselves and not for the writer. Publishers have no interest in being fair, but they will bully the rest of the world into believing they are the victims here.

They are not victims.

Publishers are parasites that have gotten sleek and fat off the hard work and dreams of others while skimming more of the cream off the top.

Authors need to start caring about the future, not only the future of their bottom line, but the future of books and the world in general. They could revolutionize the business by taking the strings into their own hands and doing business for themselves. Hire out the cover art, editing, marketing, PR and still keep more of the royalties than you're getting with Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 mega-corporation publishers. Sell your books in digital formats and use Print-on-Demand for hard cover and paperback books. Fewer books will be published at the outset, but you won't be stuck with bookstores sending books back for a full refund to be pulped and put into landfills. You can hire a manager or a boutique agency to do the heavy lifting while you write and still get more of the royalties than you are getting now.

Books won't die unless we kill them. Unless we, the writers, stop writing them. Unless we allow Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 bully us into giving up and giving in. The bully wearing the $5000 Italian suit and $6500 Italian shoes with the custom made silk shirts and designer ties and accessories is not on your side while he shares his 3-martini lunches with his confederates. The bully is never on your side.

Can you see who the real bully is now? Bully for you.

Bully when used as an adjective means excellent.

Home at Last

The proverb goes, The wind from a door closing opens another door.

If I ever doubt those words all I need do is remember what happened this week.

I called about an apartment in Divide, CO. While speaking with the landlord, Mike, we discussed application fees (a way to make money on properties without ever having to rent it out) and my plans 2-3 years down the line, which was to save enough money to buy my own home where I can paint walls or change the carpet or do whatever needs done without having to get permission or be constrained by a lease. I can't burn down the house, but then I never intended to. I need a place to live.

Mike said I should talk to his father, David, who had a property in Florissant he wanted to sell. David would carry the mortgage and I could rent to own. Could he give his dad my information and have him call me? Yes, yes, he could -- and he did.

David wanted to know if I minded being out away from town. Did I mind being secluded?. Could I handle living all alone? Would I be happy in a situation like that?

It was quickly clear this was what I wanted. As soon as I got off the phone, I searched and found the property and lots of pictures, one of which is above. The house has 3 bedrooms, 2-1/2 bathrooms, a barn turned into a garage that could withstand a nuclear attack, and a shed and it all sits on 3 acres of land. Wooded high desert land. Land with trees and space and it is heaven.

As I checked out costs and amenities (restaurant, bank, grocery store, etc.), I figured out I couldn't afford to pay the monthly amount he suggested and I would have to tell him no when he called the next morning, which I did. That's when he told me he would put the rate at a price I could afford. "I have enough money; I don't need to sell this to make money. I will work with you to make sure you can afford it."

I was flabbergasted. He would work with me . . . and he did, first by hooking me up with his realtor, who lives in the area, so I could get a better grasp of the costs of living up there. The costs are half what I'm paying here in Colorado Springs. I could go to town every 1-2 weeks and do all my running and chores at that time, just like when I lived up at the cabin in Tabernash. I can live with that. The realtor hooked me up with a mortgage broker who would help me establish credit and get the best deal for buying the house. There is no rush since David will let me pay him until that happens. Susan Vineyard, the realtor, will also help me get a USDA government loan to buy the house. Since the barn is now a garage, that will happen now.

Out of a call for an apartment I now will own a house, my own cabin in the mountains, which readers of this blog know has been my dream for many years, a dream that is now a reality.

I have plans for the property, like building a guest house that can be rented out to vacationers and where friends and family can come and stay when they visit. Yes, I have 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, but there are some people I can only take in small doses. A guest house is ideal. I want to install solar power and connect to the grid so I can sell my power back to the electric company and make a little money and help cut my own electric costs. I might even eventually install electric heating, which would be feasible with solar power. There's a lot of sun available in the mountains all year round at about 10,000 feet where I'll be living.

The first purchase on my list is a generator. I'll have to save for that, but I will have it before the end of the year. The deck furniture for the wrap-around deck can wait, and so can furniture for the other 2 bedrooms, living room, and dining room. Those can wait.

There are grants to check out. Hoity-toity told me about a government grant to grow trees on the land. I have plenty of land and trees already grow there, so that is an option. There are a whole lot of options for me now that I didn't have 2 weeks ago, or even 6 months ago, when this house went into foreclosure. I still have to move, but not to an apartment or some house that isn't even remotely close to what I need or want. I'm moving up into the mountains to my own cabin and eventually I'll be able to fill all of those cabinets in the kitchen. So much more is possible now than was possible 2 weeks ago or even 6 months ago. Of course I will have to deal with fixing the roof or buying a new furnace or hot water heater, but not for a long time since this house was built 6 months ago. I think, considering the garage will withstand a nuclear attack, that this house and its appliances and roof will last at least another 10 or 20 years. This house has a crawl space under the house you can stand up in. Yes, I am certain this house will last and I will be a homeowner with a mortgage and a credit rating at last -- still living on a budget. I might even be able to get back to writing and publishing more books.

Anything is possible because I will be home at last.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Kris Kringle Formula

One of my favorite holiday movies is Miracle on 34th Street and one of my favorite scenes is where Kris Kringle in his lovely Santa Claus suit tells a mother that she can buy what her son wants to find under the tree Christmas morning by going to another store. The mother, played by Thelma Ritter (one of my favorite character actresses), is dumbfounded and says that from now on Macy's will get her business though she has avoided them in the past. Kris's actions are in the true spirit of Christmas and if Macy's will send people to other stores, like Gimbels, then Macy's just won a new customer.

That is a long way of getting into the point of this post, which is about Amazon. Amazon has built their business on giving customers what they want, even when it means offering third party sellers and telling them to go to Barnes & Noble or wherever customers can find what they want and need. The Big-5 publishers don't have the smarts of the Macy's owner who adopts Kris's policy and puts out a big book to show where products Macy's doesn't carry can be found elsewhere. The Big-5 publishers want to keep the lock on sales and distribution and pricing and keep authors from breaking out and going it on their own.

With the rise of boutique and small publishers, the Big-5 publishers began to lose their grip, but when Amazon came out with the Kindle and sales of eBooks went through the roof, the Big-5 claimed that would be the end of paper book sales in hardback and paperback. Except none of that happened. Yes, sales are down from previous years when all the books available were in paper form, but books are still getting out and books are still being read. Business has never been better for small publishers and readers alike. What's not to like about people buying and reading more books even if it is in digital form?

What's not to like is that paper and ink and paperback books with about a 5-year shelf life is not to like when Big-5 publishers have had the monopoly for so many decades -- and centuries. Authors going independent is nothing new nor are vanity publishers, but the likelihood of such authors getting any real fame and fortune out of the process, outside of Mark Twain or Jane Austen and the like, is like playing Roulette. The house always wins, and the Big-5 in their various earlier guises as smaller publishers before being gobbled up by conglomerates and media factories, held house odds. They were the House.

David Gaughran of Let's Get Visible had a lot to say about the Big-5 publishers' PR machine and what isn't being told by the media (owned by Big-5 publishing media services) about Amazon. Hatchette certainly is not going to pat Amazon on the back, offer a cigar to Jeff Bezos, and sign the current contract on the table. That would be their death knell. People would be able to buy Hatchette's books from Amazon at discounts that would cut into unlimited expense accounts and 3-martini lunches. You would think that the point is to get people buying books and reading more, which is what is happening, and not about the profitability of a $10 billion media conglomerate like Hatchette sending out PR bulletins that demonize Amazon.

David Gaughran writes, "The funny thing is readers don’t seem to have any problem finding books they love. Any readers I talk to have a time problem – reading lists a mile long and never enough hours in the day to read all the great books they are discovering.

The real discoverability problem in publishing is that readers are discovering (and enjoying) books that don’t come from the large publishers. What these publishers have is a competition problem not a discoverability problem." (The bolding is mine.) 

More writers are making the leap into self-publishing, but not at the diamond-studded rates of vanity publishers. Like the song says, "Sisters [and writers] are doing it for themselves," and they are doing it in increasing numbers.

Yes, there are some bad independently published books, but there are also some real dogs put out by the Big-5 too. I thought Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror was just such a bomb -- and so did the critics in spite of a media blitz worthy of Stephen King or David Baldacci and a PR budget that beggars the imagination of even the most well-heeled independent author. The Big-5 can afford it; they've been living off the backs of their solid and hard-working midlist writers for decades and exploiting those same authors' back-list shamelessly while giving very little to the authors, pleading poverty and low numbers. Well, if the Big-5 would put as much effort in midlist writers with a wide fan base even on the lukewarm advertising and promotion offered, they would make even more money, but those CEOs and fat cat Big-5 publishers with their golden parachutes and 7-figure incomes with bottomless expense accounts don't have the sense of R. H. Macy faced with Kris Kringle's manner of doing business so that kids get what they want under the tree Christmas morning. Those CEOs and fat cats are all about the bottom line and the black ink on their side of the balance sheet and to hell with authors, without whom they would cease to exist.

The thing is that the big publishers have sold the idea that it is their know-how, lakes of ink, forests of pulp paper, distribution, and marketing know-how that sells books and authors would be lost without them -- except authors are proving they don't need the Big-5 to make it big in publishing. Not everyone makes the kinds of money that J. A. Konrath or Amanda Hocking have made, but the field is opening up more and more as Amazon helps 99-cent book authors to rise above the pack and make their books worth reading and buying. It's the same idea that has always been true, it is more profitable to sell your product to 1000 buyers at $1 a pop than to sell 1 product for $1000 a pop, especially in this economy as we stand on the brink of a worldwide economic reset where countries are going bankrupt.

There are still reporters like Jeremy Greenfield who buy into the demonization of Amazon and dire predictions for the future of books, but the truth will out. The proof, as my Gram used to say, is in the pudding. And I know she wasn't the first or the last to repeat that phrase. Jeff Bezos and Amazon continue to prove that if you give the customers what they want, they will buy, and they will come back to buy more. Amazon offers everything under the sun from their own warehouses and from third party sellers right on their website and they don't play favorites with marketing algorithms so that their products get a bigger share of the space, no matter what you've been told or what the PR machine of Hatchette and the other Big-5 publishers and their media conglomerate owners pays millions to say. Judge for yourself and buy where you will. Amazon isn't the only game in town, but at least they play fairly with their customers. They also do not hold authors hostage. Can you say that of Hatchette or the other members of the Big-5?

Maybe it's time to follow Kris Kringle's formula and make sure the customers (the readers)-- and the authors -- get a fair shake.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What is the BLM really doing?

In the furor and fight over Cliven Bundy's cattle and the pointless finger pointing at his obvious racist comments, once again the water has been muddied and the real issue obscured.

Yes, Bundy did evade taxes for is cattle grazing on public land, but no one points out, except one representative from Texas who called Obama on it. He pointed out that calling in the national guard and SWAT teams and using government force was against the law and against what the Constitution laid out for intervention in these issues. Obama was heavy handed, and so was Harry Reid, who has the most to gain from the BLM destroying Bundy's cattle, which was a punitive action. Why wasn't the IRS called in to round up the cattle and sell them off to pay for Bundy's back taxes? That would have been the proper legal action. And why is the BLM controlling so much land in the west and southwest? Why has the BLM exempted Harry Reid and his son, both of whom stand to gain from a very big deal with China for that same BLM land and the resources under the ground? Follow the money.

Once again Obama uses an Executive Order in a land grab to circumvent the U.S. Constitution, but I don't see a lot about that on the news. The news may be waking up to the excesses and misuses of power that Obama has demonstrated from the beginning in violation and dismissal of the U.S. Constitution and none of the news services, outside of Fox News, have ever reported on it in a fair and impartial way. Fox News may not be impartial, but they do keep their eyes on the ball and go where the news takes them, no matter how they have been maligned and turned into a joke. But isn't that the refuge of wrong-doer, to demonize the ones that see their perfidy and put the news out there for everyone to see? I know it's how every person I've ever gone up against operates.

The whole point is to keep people off balance by pointing out the targeted person's flaws, like racist comments or bigoted actions, none of which have anything to do with the issue at hand. In this case, it is Obama's actions and treasons against the people of America and the U.S. Constitution. Bill Clinton was impeached for less and he only lied about a sexual relationship with one of his employees. The many instances of sexual harassment before, during, and after his presidency other issues for another post, and at least Clinton didn't commit treason as Obama has done. Yes, another topic for another post.

Everything that Obama has done in the Cliven Bundy issue and with illegal immigration works to destabilize this country. I saw a whole lot of men in tactical gear with guns pointed at Cliven Bundy and the people who arrived to stand by him. I saw American soldiers ready to fire on American citizens, but I have not seen that kind of might and fire power manning the border between the United States and Mexico when Obama was running Fast & Furious or when hordes of illegal immigrants were running across the border. Where is the BLM when those immigrants are damaging the land they are supposed to protect? They were probably out killing Bundy's cattle and gearing up for a fire fight against natural born American citizens instead of policing the border.

I might be more sympathetic if Obama was using all the might to protect the borders he has left wide open and keeping lands protected by the Bureau of Land Management from being trashed by drug lords, gun runners, and illegal immigrants rushing to get a piece of the Welfare pie. This is not over, but it should have never been an issue.

Isn't it about time more people like those who stood by Cliven Bundy come to the rescue of the beleaguered United States of America? Whatever the BLM is doing, it is not doing its job.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

While planning to go to New Orleans from Ft. Lauderdale, I was told two things: Do not eat the Lucky Dogs and read A Confederacy of Dunces so I would know why. John Kennedy Toole's novel was supposed to tell me everything I needed to know about New Orleans. I love books, especially new books I haven't read, so I picked up the book and read it. That was 1984.

Writing about the French Quarter and New Orleans again in my followup novel to Among Women, I decided to pick up A Confederacy of Dunces (for my Kindle) and read it again. It was like reading the book for the first time: a little baffling, but addictive, much like Lucky Dogs, which I used to sell in the French Quarter. Ignatius J. Reilly, the central character and troublemaker in the novel, works for Lucky Dogs under the name of Paradise Foods, Inc. Toole changed the name of the company, but not the name of the owner, and Clyde was still sending out vendors when I walked through their door in 1984, but that's another story for another time.

Ignatius Jacque Reilly is a behemoth of a man-child with a mammoth vocabulary and a fixation on ancient literature. He has a Masters Degree in literature but has never worked a day in his life. While waiting for his mother outside D. H. Holmes on Canal Street, he is accosted by Officer Mancuso, a New Orleans police officer, starting a near riot from which Mrs. Reilly extracts Ignatius and flees down the street to her car in the rain, backing into a house that will cost her more than $1000 and force her hermit son into the work force. It is Ignatius's trials and tribulations -- and chaos -- in the work force that is the central focus of A Confederacy of Dunces around which the other characters revolve. Ignatius is the black hole which devours everything -- or at least attempts to devour -- all in his path.

With his green hunting cap (ear flaps usually dangling) on his head and his voluminous parka and dangling scarf that looks more like a blanket, Ignatius trolls the waters of commerce wreaking havoc and sowing the seeds of chaos wherever he goes spouting his Medieval views on the world spouting Boethius and chastity. The one fixed point in Ignatius's life is the Minx, Myrna Minkoff, with whom he trades wit and social monkey wrenches in order to create a more perfect world in their disparate views and completely antithetical to each other. Myrna is free with her female charms and Ignatius keeps a death grip on his virginity, both struggling to bend the other to their view of the world.

John Kennedy Toole's vision of the world of New Orleans as seen through Ignatius J. Reilly's eyes and pyloric valve dysfunctions, was published in 1980, 11 years after his suicide. Toole's mother stormed the bastions at Tulane University to make her son's dreams of publication real, earning Toole a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. Toole took his title from one of Johnathan Swift's essays: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." Dunces abound in Toole's 1960s New Orleanian world from 30-year-old Ignatius right down the line through his alcohol baking and imbibing mother and her friends, among which Officer Mancuso numbers, right on to the denizens of the Night of Joy where Burma Jones, a colored porter working for slave wages to avoid a vagrancy charge, the owner, wife, and employees of Levy Pants, and right on to the Sergeant at the precinct who is determined to make Mancuso's life as miserable as possible. Peppered by letters and telegrams between Myrna Minkoff and Ignatius, A Confederacy of Dunces is a bloody train wreck that readers can't avoid watching until the last moment. 

Toole's vision of New Orleans was not too far from what I found in 1984, although with fewer dunces and and dark humor. Reading the novel again was as fresh as reading it for the first time and I was unable to put the book down until I had read the last word. Ignatius is equal parts humorous and shocking and the machinations of Santa Battaglia, Irene Reilly's bowling partner, matchmaker, and stirrer of pots, a sad and infuriating meddler. The exchanges between Gus Levy and his bored wife as she badgers Gus and begins yet another  new projects while going up and down on her exercise board ("Leave the board out of this.") provide more train wrecks to goggle at.

In short, join Ignatius on his downward spiral from his hermit's existence in his mother's home into the working world of New Orleans as his pyloric valve determines his actions while he reforms the world in his own image. A Confederacy of Dunces is 5/5 in my estimation.