Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I think I finished Founder. I have never attempted anything quite like it. It may be good. It may be horrid. I am not sure. Usually I have a better idea about things.

What makes Founder hard for me to comprehend is the style. I won't tip you off as to what makes my head buzz and spin when I read it--maybe it is painfully obvious or maybe I have gone barking mad. But when I would try to write another scene, I would have to refer to the previous scene and the writing style would make my eyes cross and I would have to stop.

I am ready to get back to something more conventional for me. My long-term project is Bryton Wyld. No fancy stuff, just plot, character, setting, motion, motion, motion. So that is probably what's next. I have 10,000 Bryton words. Another 5-10 and before I know it I'll have another novel. This time I'll have one with a hook! (Except that who knows if anyone will bite at it).

I have talked about Ben Franklin before, but I have found that he is probably overused in speculative fiction. I would love to do more steampunk, but I'll need to work up an idea first.

So, back to the drawing (writing) board.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The New Paradigm

I am not in love with my phone--that thing in the home that sounds an alarm when someone wishes to speak from theirs to mine. My distain for the phone is rooted in my ideas regarding self-interest. Will people tend to call me when it is in my interest or theirs?

Obviously, people will tend to call me when it is in their interest. Sometimes their interest overlaps with mine, but not enough to make me glad to hear phone ring. Occasionally I am pleasantly surprised.

Why would I want to carry this thing with me everywhere? Yes, I am so old that I do not routinely carry a cell phone.

But the young folk, who have not figured out this self-interest thing carry the phones. Well, that is not entirely true. Young folk carry the phones, but they almost never answer phone calls. They look at the display, see who is calling, but do not answer. However they answer text messages. Why?

My theory is that text messages allow the receiver to better control the communication channel. The self-interest thing applies. That is, a young whipper-snapper can glance at the message and say, "Oh, Sparky wants to meet for lunch. I hate Sparky. Forget it." Then she does not return the message. Or she might say, "Athena says her boyfriend yelled at her? Wow, I gotta' know more!" And then she can return the message.

Talking is much more efficient than typing from the standpoint of being able to communicate large amounts of information. But maybe the young folks do not want large amounts of information.

As I read everywhere I turn, the new technologies may be training the young to have zero attention spans. Two "friends" walk down the sidewalk, each texting someone else, not very aware of each other. Or maybe they are actually talking on the phone--each to someone else (how did they get anyone to answer?).

Which brings me to what triggered me to write this. The hallway outside my office was empty. A student passed by me. He said, "Where is Dr. T.'s office?"

It turns out that I could not just say, "Third on the right." There is a corner, a side door, and another side door to navigate. I stopped to give him directions. I said, "It's on this floor, but it's not easy to find." But he did not stop. He kept strolling, not looking back. I paused, waiting for him to stop and pay attention. He kept walking.

I said, "Good luck finding her."

I wonder if he remembered that he had asked me the question. Maybe he was busy texting?

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Number 3, the eleven year old, said, "I want some fruit loops."

Number 2, the sixteen year old, said to Julia, "He already had seventeen chicken nuggets."

I said, "Yeah, I saw him with a plate full of nuggets, there may have been seventeen there."

Julia said, "You have eaten plenty."

Number 3 said, "Number 2 ate one of them!"

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Baby, I need you. I need you like I need another shoe. -- Tom Tom Club

I walk back and forth to work. It takes about thirty minutes. On the way there, I am walking down the mountain, so it is easier than coming back. Lately my feet have been hurting as if severely bruised on the soles.

I think this is a problem with my shoes. They both have lots of holes. I could probably poke three fingers through one side and out the other (though I have not tried). Really it is a problem with the soles of the shoes and the holes merely indicate that I have mostly worn them out, soles, holes, and all.

Today I bought new shoes. The store had one of those buy one pair get one pair at half price things going on--they always have it going on--so I bought two pair. They were soft and came in a wide size. It is quite a change for me to wear shoes that are not too tight.

Now you can sleep soundly tonight.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Are They Doing?!

I just realized that I have talked a lot about the current problems in the financial system but have not talked about the proposed solution.

Remember the problem is that firms have all those mortgage backed securities that no one knows the value of. Paulson, the U. S. Secretary of the Treasury, recommends that taxpayer money be used to buy up those devalued mortgage backed securities. That way the questionable securities will be taken out of the market, removing the uncertainty that has shaken the market.

No, taxpayers would not have to hand over $700 billion today. The U. S. debt would increase by that amount.

What will the government do with those securities? As long as the government holds the securities, it will earn money from them, offsetting their cost somewhat. Eventually the government would sell them, possibly for more than they bought them, so that in the long run taxpayers might not end up any worse off. However, taxpayers could end up worse off if the securities sell for less than the government buys them for.

On balance, I am not opposed to the Paulson plan. I view the securities as a poison that the U. S. government brewed up with the Community Reinvestment Act in the laboratories of Fannie and Freddie and poured into the financial system. I am OK with the government removing that poison, especially since the cost may be substantially lower than the $700 Billion.

But, then, I am in favor of sellling Fannie and Freddie to the private sector and scrapping the Community Reinvestment Act. We should aim for long-run health.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Ann Crispin (famous sci/fi author) said in a workshop that when she cannot figure out what to write, she scrubs her bathroom floors. Sometimes it takes two bathrooms, and sometimes she gets all the way to the kitchen.

I get ideas while walking. Things start to fit together when I have the pulse raised, but do not have anything to concentrate on. The shower is another place where I am stuck for a while without anything else to think about. Sometimes ideas strike me there.

Now and then I have to work out big plot things, like who knows what and when do they know it, and why would they do the thing to get them from A to B. Sometimes I just envision the next part of the story.

Today, for instance, while walking I was thinking about the next part of a scene. The husband is driving home. He sees this spooky guy who has taken an unhealthy interest in the husband's wife. The spooky guy is walking on a lawn in his neighborhood, the opposite way of the husband's house, as if he is coming from that way--and there is no reason for the guy to be in this neighborhood, except to visit the wife, who is home alone. The spooky guy, oblivious, walks behind a house. The husband pulls up in the driveway and runs around the house, but does not see the guy. He looks for places the guy could have gone. Did he duck into the sun room of the house?

As I was out walking I decided that the husband should whip out his cell phone and call home. But there is no answer. The guy is somewhere close by. But there is no answer at home, so he's got to speed home at once.

Maybe that sounds like a little thing. I think it adds to the atmosphere and builds suspense. I will make some headway on the story tonight, then walk to work tomorrow.

I will be done with the story by the end of the month if my shoes hold out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shouldn't I Know More?

I recently listed some protagonists and antagonists from my writing. You may have noticed that the protagonists have the longer character descriptions. However, I think that writers' antagonists should be as richly developed as their protagonists.

How do I reconcile the last two sentences in the previous paragraph. I withheld more about the antoganists, so as not to kill the suspense. In fact, I withheld some information about the protagonists to preserve some suspense.

Though we usually think of the protagonist as "the good guy," sometimes the protagonist is not so good. The protagonist is the character who is the most changed by the events of the story.

Taken as a whole, who is the protagonist of the first Star Wars trilogy? The person who undergoes the most change over the three films is the guy who is usually credited as the chief bad guy--Darth Vader. Star Wars is Vader's quest, and Luke serves as his guide for the quest.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Timur Mohammed Akbar Mirza Mughal: The grandson of the last Mughal Emperor of India

Sergeant Zerstorend Engel: A zealous, xenophobic Austrian policeman

Stephan Geist: A collector of artifacts in Ramas

Lord Rall: A son of Rovish, the God of Luck

Verletz: A priest of Telor, the God of All Things Known

Jemmin Weller: The greatest thief in the most corrupt city in Ramas

Sir Ragal Tak: The most stupid and violent of Baron Navee's Baron's Men in the most corrupt city in Ramas

Veluin: The High Priest of Silas

Sarge: The tyrannical majoritarian leader of a troop of Union cavalry attempting to round up the perpetrators of the Colfax Massacre, the largest outbreak of violence following the Civil War

Furnace Angel: A hare lipped redneck that crashes the filming of a program designed to expose child predators

Saddam Hussain: You know him, you love him

Lucien Boucher: A Haitian who promises to introduce people to their departed relatives

Monday, September 22, 2008


Vincent Renaud: A French-born monk in an Austrian monestary (circa 1857), afflicted by a severe panic disorder

Jane Geist: A gypsy girl who is her clan's greatest hunter, taught the thieves' trade by her uncle, and taught to mingle with society by her educated father

Bryton Wyld: Does not know his father is Rovish, the God of Luck, lives with his mother, an avaricious merchant, in the most corrupt city in Ramas, the main continent in the Arch of Time universe

Riva Tanner: Died in a fall at age 10, retrieved from the Spirit World by her father, a Priest of Jair, upsetting the balance of the universe, entered in Jair's order to endure the grueling training of a battle priestess

Julian Granger: The arrogant son of the benevolent ruler of the most insignificant barony in Ramas

Jake Fox: A backwoods boy living in Reconstruction Era Louisiana, orphaned when his father died at the Battle of Mannsfield and his mother died of pneumonia, raised by his brother

Dan Held: Cameraman on a reality "police" show, grandson of the leader of the Cajun revivalist movement, a failed attempt for those with Cajun descent to get back to nature

Jenna Dean: A kindergarten teacher with a love of genealogy

Staff Sergeant U. P. Smith: The driver for a retired Lt. Colonel, now working for a defense contractor in Iraq

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Who Is Lying?

My son is playing some game that has lots of logic puzzles. Here was my favorite.

The cops know that one or more of five suspects were in on committing a crime. They know some are lying, but some may be telling the truth. If the cops can figure out who is lying from the following statements, they will release any who are telling the truth and concentrate on the liars. If any are lying in the following statement they are also lying about their innocence.

Suspect 1 says that one person is lying about being involved in the crime.

Suspect 2 says that two people are lying.

Suspect 3 says that three people are lying.

Suspect 4 says that four people are lying.

Suspect 5 says that five people are lying.

How many (and which) suspects are lying and how many are telling the truth?

I loved that this puzzle had such a precise answer.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


A bicycle’s tires thrummed on the footbridge as Eve and I sat dangling our feet off the edge, leaning our chests against the cold lower rail. A bulb mounted high on an iron pole behind us created our island of light. Ahead in the darkness we heard ducks bickering at the water’s edge.

I told Eve, “Danny said that they give the ducks cancer, then see if they can cure them.”

“Why do you still talk to Danny after what he said about me?” If I had asked her that question I would have tried not to sound hurt, but women are just fine with telling you that you hurt them.

I thought about it. The lights of the cars on the main bridge reflected off the black water, but the reflections were far away and the car sounds were beyond our hearing. Before us, the bayou looked like space beyond the stars. “I didn’t think what Danny said was a big deal. He said you are out to marry me and take me away from the game—or the gang. You are, aren’t you?”

“You know they hate me,” she said flatly, softly.

I shrugged a shoulder.

Eve took a fig from our paper sack. She and I had picked them on the bank of the bayou before the sun went down. She pulled off the stem and tossed it into the water; something sinuous surfaced momentarily beside it. She turned the purple globe inside out, revealing its succulent center. She ate.

Something bumped under our feet, accompanied by a soft sploosh, as if a huge fish had rolled on the surface of the water. I whispered, “What was that?”

A few hollow bumps later, the canoe appeared below us as two girls paddled from under the bridge, probably heading back to the bank beyond the main bridge where the canoes were usually stowed for the night. The girls were like twins, long blonde hair dimly visible over ninja black. In a few seconds the girls had paddled beyond the island of light that illuminated Eve and me.

She sighed. “What would Danny know about the ducks?”

“He’s a pharmacy major. The professors over in health science play evil genius with the ducks.”

She looked down at the ripples where the canoe had been. “Danny samples every drug they make, you know. Half the time, he’s either speeding or he’s dopey.”

I grinned. “Yeah. I didn’t know you knew they sampled. He says that when somebody prescribes drugs they need to have experienced the effects—so they know what’s normal.”

“He says what he needs to say. And you believe it.”

I looked up into the heavens and said directly, “That’s insulting.”

She murmured, “Sorry.”

I glanced toward the sound of heavy rhythmic steps. I waited for a couple of huge, black frat guys, Omegas, to pass by. They wore white shirts with dark blue letters. I idly wondered if you had to be huge to join. Eve had leaned her forehead down onto the lower rail. I could feel the heat radiating from her body. I thought she was crying and almost consoled her.

She took out another fig, de-stemmed it and turned it inside out.

I said, “You don’t need to give anybody up for me. It’s not like you have a lot of friends.” As soon as I had said it, I regretted it—whining and insulting at the same time.

She turned her head to face me. She held the juicy fig out to me. The faint light overhead was enough to show the thin scar on her cheek. The ducks had gone to sleep.

As I leaned forward and bit into the sweet, wet fruit, the only sound was her voice. “Just one friend. That’s all I want.”

I sucked the juice from her fingers. I could feel her warmth against me and could smell her vanilla perfume. And then I knew that was all I wanted too.

Friday, September 19, 2008


In 1977 the U. S. government tried to make things fairer. They outlawed "redlining" in the Community Reinvestment Act. That is, in the poor parts of town, few people can get loans and risks are greater, so lenders "drew a red line" around bad neighborhoods. The CRA made it more difficult for lenders to refuse to make loans to borrowers who were not credit worthy, creating sub-prime mortgages.

In 1995 the CRA was amended to allow sub-prime mortgages to be bundled into big packages and sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (big, government created firms that buy bundles of mortgages and sell securities that allow investors to get a big piece of the mortgage action). This greatly increased the number of sub-prime loans.

Enter, low interest rates (easy money) by Greenspan and Bernanke in this new millenium and we have the explosion of real estate investment I described here.

I have come to understand another piece of the puzzle. After the S&L crisis of the late 1980's, we realized that some financial institutions hold loans or debt that they know are bad, but because accounting standards valued them at their original value (the book value*), the institutions could get into big trouble by pretending that the accounting numbers were correct. The archetypical example from the time is this. A S&L in Texas has made a loan to an oil producer who is struggling and cannot be counted on to pay. The loan is valued at its original value until the borrower defaults. So the S&L can hide its weakness for a while.

The new accounting rules are called "mark to market." These rules value a promise to pay (a debt or a security) at that promise's current market value. Mortgage backed securities are hard to value at the moment. Many of them will pay well because plenty of the mortgages that back them are fine. But the increased uncertainty means that not many buyers and sellers can agree on a sales price. Markets with few transactions are called "thin."

Suppose 10,000 of a certain security are held by Lehman Brothers and have been used as collateral for a loan that Lehman has taken out. Then a bank sells a few of that kind of security very cheaply. "Mark to market" rules say that Lehman now owns something that is not very valuable--and the creditor that made the loan tells Lehman, "You don't have sufficient collateral anymore." So Lehman goes looking for another loan--backed by what?

In the end, Lehman has to default and declare defeat. The rough thing is that Lehman's securities may truly have enough value to back its obligations, but in a thin market, "mark to market" rules force instant devaluations that may be huge. The market value of those securities may be much higher in a week or a month.

This post makes plain how the Community Reinvestment Act (and the 1995 addendum) and "mark to market" rules helped precipitate the current crisis. Being an advocate of freedom, I am opposed to forcing companies to make risky loans if they do not want to. Further, being skeptical of government efficiency, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have always scared me. And, yes, the Fed cannot seem to stay focused on its true mission--to maintain a strong and stable currency.

I am an athiest on "mark to market" rules. They seem more realistic than using "book value," as was previously done, but also seem to have big problems in thin markets.

My overall theme remains the same, though. Fannie/Freddie, the Fed, and the CRA are government impediments to freedom and have thoroughly trashed the financial markets.

Oh! One more thing. Politicians have found an innocent scapegoat--"deregulation." In particular they blame the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (G-L-B) of 1999 (passed the senate 90-8), which allowed banks, insurance companies, financial service companies, etc., to co-mingle ownership. In 1933 the Glass-Steagall act had made it illegal for banks to mingle with other financial companies, so G-L-B repealed Glass-Steagall.

Glass-Steagall was wrong-headed at the time. Diversification helps companies maintain themselves in crisis. In fact, the "rescues" and buyouts of financial companies this year would not have been possible without allowing banks and other financial companies to co-mingle. G-L-B is mitigating damage, not causing damage.

To me, the scapegoaters reveal their dishonesty by blaming G-L-B, but without being able to say in what way G-L-B actually hurt anything.


*Book value is just a little more complicated than this--not much.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Beginning stories is usually easy for me. Ending stories is usually easy for me. The middles are not bad either. But after all the sharpening is done before anyone but me sees it--what I call the "first draft," the part that I find that I usually need to revise the most is the beginning.

It seems to me that the beginning should be the part that needs the most revision. Even though I generally have a plan for writing, I have the least information about the eventual shape of the story at the beginning. By the end, I know how just about everything works. I wrote about one of these processes before.

The Bryton Wyld story has had the most beginnings so far, surely because I had the Bryton character before I had any idea about the story. By the end of the story, I knew what the meaning was, but then I needed to close the loop--back at the beginning before I knew what the story meant.

Here is the first beginning. I still like it. It has conflict, it gets you into the corrupt city where people are stealing and getting shaken down and violence is always lurking.

But the story ends up being about Bryton finding that he will live in the city, but not fully be of the city. He finds a limit as to how much of his soul he will sell--whether he would cheapen his love for someone who rejected him in order to sell herself to the highest bidder. I discussed that here--sort of.

After knowing the ending, I needed a new beginning that showed Bryton actually wanting the things that he ends up valuing above all in the end.

Here was what I came up with.


As Bryton negotiated Godsway’s big curve, his eyes were dazzled; in the morning sun, the white and gold statue of Eleir looked as if she had come to life, standing over the doorway to her house of worship. She had the muscles of a blacksmith, but she was all woman. How did they do that?

Traffic had parted ahead, so Bryton pulled ma’s handcart faster, barely avoiding a gigantic pile of horse manure. “There’s no horses on Godsway,” he grumbled. As he righted himself, his forehead bumped into something metallic and reeking. The handcart’s momentum shoved him into it.

Cue the first beginning with Tak and swords and blood.


Today, upon reflection, I thought that the statue should not be the woman, but a more realized symbol of what Bryton wanted. And I decided to contrast more sharply, with a scene and not just two images, the purity of Bryton's ideals (statue) and the corruption of his environment (manure on the road). Here it is.


“Porp, there’s no percentage in cutting purses,” Bryton told him under the chattering, calling, and chanting on the cobbled street between the gods’ houses. “Don’t take cheap risks--we’re not kids anymore.” Bryton pulled Ma’s handcart along Godsway and Porp tagged along, scanning the crowd.

“Ha! Jemmin cuts purses. You saying she’s a kid?”

“She’s perfect, so there’s no risk. Look, get away from me. If you get caught near me, I can’t run. Ma’s tapestry is worth way too much for me to abandon.”

As Bryton negotiated Godsway’s curve, the white and gold statues of Telor and Scyntella appeared as if they had come to life, standing over the doorways of their twin houses of worship. Porp smacked Bryton on the back of the head, knocking his floppy black hat over his eyes. Porp said, “You stopped in the street.”

Behind the cart, someone screamed, “Move!” And a messenger kid shoved Bryton and groused, “This is a street, not a pig farm!”

“Really original!” Bryton called after him.

The sight of the gleaming husband and wife had absorbed Bryton. Embarrassing. He tugged the cart into motion and said, “Go cut your purses somewhere else, Lord Porp.”

“Daydream somewhere else!” Porp laughed and sifted into the crowd.

Bryton pulled ma’s handcart faster, barely avoiding a gigantic pile of horse manure. “There’s no horses on Godsway,” he grumbled. As he righted himself, his forehead bumped into something metallic and reeking. The handcart’s momentum shoved him into it.

Cue the first beginning with Tak and swords and blood.


The imagery--statue/manure is separated so much that it is less meaningful. But we do have conflict and the corruption revealed and Bryton not happy with some aspect of that corruption. I think this is a step forward. I am not sure it is the final step.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Don't Know What To Say

My oldest . . . I don't know what to say.

Last night Julia and I went to pick him up at work. When we got in the van there was $17 in bills in the change holder. "Oh, he must have left it there by mistake."

When we picked him up I handed it to him. He said, "Thanks."

When we got home, I noticed that he left the money on the back seat. As he was exiting the car, I said, "Your money is on the seat."

He still had the door open. His money was within arm's reach. He said, "Yeah, I know. I'll get it later."

He will get it later, after someone slides across the seat and knocks it on the ground? When it slips into the seat? When someone sees it there and steals it? When . . . when . . . when?

I guess all eighteen year olds have issues. I always thought I would have some vague understanding of the issues. This is beyond me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

They Miss It Every Time

Yesterday the Dow fell by 500 points. Large financial firms are having problems, some are in crisis. The root of the problem is a 2.5% foreclosure rate on housing--sounds small.

Both major presidential candidates are screaming "regulate!" I'm sure that government regulators know more about risk than those whose jobs depend on managing risk well.

Why did all those firms make so many risky loans? The Federal Reserve lowered interest rates in 2001 and kept them low for a long time. At one time a key interest rate for banks was 0%. With incredibly low interest rates, taking on lots of high-risk mortgages was profitable. When the market was glutted a year ago the Federal Reserve started cutting interest rates again--which is what started the problem.

In particular, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac are in crisis. These are two government-created entities that have been shielded from oversight by politicians--Barney Frank and Charles Schumer being Fan/Fred's greatest champions. Because everyone knew Fan/Fred's debt holders would be paid by the government if the "companies" defaulted, they were able to pay lower rates and expand their debt to approximately the size of the U. S. publically held debt.

The Wall Street Journal began blowing the whistle on Fan/Fred in 2001. The Journal kept up the drumbeat and politicans kept pushing back until Fan/Fred could no longer claim that they were solid.

So we have a financial problem/crisis that was caused by government--Fed/Fan/Fred. And both candidates are recommending more government bureaucracy in order to fix things. They will never learn.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Ultra-Maroon

Chuck Todd of MSNBC just commented that McCain and Palin are finding success campaigning together. He does not understand why Obama is not taking Biden along.

Chuck Todd should find a new line of work.

Should Obama schedule Biden to put the crowd to sleep before or after Obama speaks to the crowd? Oh, but maybe Biden could wake the crowd up with a patented Biden gaffe--"Hillary would have been a better choice than me . . . stand up, guy in the wheelchair . . . Obama is so clean and speaks so well!"

Chuck Todd, "Piff piff!"


Adam: Can I trade you for a steak for a few pounds of potatoes?
Karl: (brandishing a gun) No, I need those potatoes, and that steak. Good luck with dinner.


Karl: (brandishing a gun) How many steaks can you give me today?
Adam: I didn't bother making any. What's the point?
Karl: This is the point. (cocking the gun) Get cracking!

When we divorce production from rewards, we do not get any production. Make way for the guys with guns.

Joseph Stalin perfected the extreme version of socialized fairness. Maybe you think that Stalin was a horrible socialist, but, in the end, he was the only kind of socialist leader that could get people to work. If I can contribute according to my professed abilities and consume according to my professed needs, then I'll claim that I am able to work for thirty minutes a day if you can feed me enough rib eye steaks.

Today's politicians want "fairness lite." "I'll just take a few more percentage points of your income to help some deserving person, wasting half of it with my horribly inefficient program."

This is not a polemic focused on being fair to Bill Gates or Donald Trump. My focus is on enabling the little Gateses and Trumpses to innovate, so that they hire my kids--or maybe my kids will become little Gateses and Trumpses.

Karl Marx married the daughter of a Prussian baron. He sponged off his father-in-law, wasting a fortune while he wrote stuff that nobody wanted to buy and lived beyond his means until "Papa" cut off the money. Then Marx continued to write his unsuccessful books while his family suffered from malnutrition and inadequate medical care.

It is no wonder that Marx's idea (that profoundly affected the early 20th century) involved society paying Marx a lot of money to write unwanted books. And it is no wonder that Marx's brilliant scheme did not work for the countries that adoped it.

Animal Farm, anyone?

Sunday, September 14, 2008


The first meeting of The Gernsback Continuum went well. I had initially worried that the group was stillborn. My mail to group members asking if they were going to participate garnered a couple of grouchy replies. Apparently my diplomatic skills are lacking.

It went down to the wire. A few minutes before the meeting, I did not know if we would be able to do a private chat with Yahoo Messenger, the tool that another group had recommended. Yahoo's help files say, "We do not have private chat," and when one chooses Chat/Create A Room, the "Create A Room" option is greyed out and inoperative.

I guess Yahoo is worried that someone will say, "A strange man took me to a private chat room and invited me to his house and took pictures of me." So Yahoo does not have private chat rooms--but they do have Conference Rooms, which is pretty much the same thing. Yahoo's help files do not say, "We do not have private chat rooms, but you can open conference rooms," though. So I tried the last option on the menu that I was unsure of, and it worked.

We critiqued two members' stories--including Suffrage. The most important thing that I got from the critiques was that the story's big turning point should be better prepared for, which is what B. J. previously told me--but I uploaded Suffrage for critique before I met with B. J. Alas.

The other author under the microscope got some good advice (I think). She has a solidly conceived world that is well researched and fleshed out. I have not attempted to create such an extensive literary environment as she has created.

We have two more on the block for our meeting in two weeks--more if time allows.

The group members are good readers. I am looking forward to the next meeting.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Big News

I imbibe a bit of news--print or television--every day. I hate BIG NEWS.

At the moment, hurricane Ike is grinding up through Houston and the news grinds on. Winds are 90 miles-per-hour, as opposed to the 95 miles per hour they were three hours ago. Look! Property damage from a hurricane! Imagine! In another hour they will replay all that and show another car with a tree on it or, if we are lucky, a tree with a car in it. Another news person will stand out in the tempest and marvel that so many Houston residents did not have the sense to leave the city. Ah, irony.

Am I heartless? Maybe I am, according to current social norms. But so are you.

Here is what I mean. Imagine one of your relatives who tried to get out of Houston, but the car would not start. Then a tree fell on the house, injuring a family member and destroying the house. Imagine the calls from other relatives. Trying to get information on hospitalization and health status. Your anguish and sadness would be substantial.

Now multiply that anguish and sadness by 1,000. Is it possible?

Shouldn't you feel mega-anguish for the people of Houston? How can you eat or sleep? How can you think about going to the grocery store? We grieve for months when a member of the family dies. Shouldn't you grieve in this way for each person who died due to hurricane Ike?

Shouldn't you grieve every day for all the children around the world who died due to dehydration caused by impure drinking water? Shouldn't this grief build and build until it destroys you?

Adam Smith said,

If [a person] was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.*

We do not have the capacity to feel adequate sorrow for all of the world's tragedies. If you tried to do so, you would die from the stress of extreme grief within one unproductive year of life.

So I feel my inadequate sorrow for Houston's tragedy. I'll ask dad if he has heard from my cousins living in Houston. And I'll sigh and resign myself to a creepingly slow, uninteresting day or two of "news."

*Note: Smith's full argument is more textured and extensive than this. And his points extend not only to the dimensions of humanity's indifference, but also to humanity's altruism.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Jim was coolest guy I met when I arrived at the university. He was funny in an affected way, as if he were performing, complete with facial expressions of surprise, suspicion, and amusement that he might have practiced in front of his dorm room mirror--his room was next door to mine.

Jim claimed to have lots of American Indian blood, and he looked as if he did. He was nice, but there was a distance between him and the rest of the world--a subtle thing where now and then you realized that in every moment he was still acting, at least a little.

I broke with Jim a couple of years later over something stupid. It usually takes a long time for me to get enough of someone, but I had reached my limit and switched him off in my brain. Julia continued to be his friend--he continually proved to be a bad friend. Forgiveness is in her nature.

Jim finished his degree and four years of ROTC. He was commissioned and spent the minimum four years in the army, stationed in Germany. Apparently he hated it. I never got the story. We saw him once after he got out. He was distant, not really interested in seeing us. I don't blame him.

Julia said that he was never happy when we were in college because he did not measure up to his older brothers--special forces and secret service. That was what real men were.

After I began work as a professor, my cousin--ten years younger than me--began her first real job one hundred miles from the university. Her boss was Jim's wife, a professional psychologist. My cousin got to know them. They had a little girl.

Jim was dissatisfied with life. His degree was not marketable. He worked as an orderly in a mental hospital.

Jim had a stroke a few years ago. He had heart problems, lung problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes. He kept on smoking and drinking. His wife had to be hospitalized two months ago for stress suffered due to the fact that he was killing himself. She kicked him out.

A week ago Jim's wife was over at his apartment for something or other. She checked his pills and found that instead of taking two-a-days for two weeks he had taken four pills, total.

Two days ago he was found in his easy chair.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Kid's Got Nerve

Julia and I came in from our weekly grocery shopping when the phone rang. My eleven year-old handed it to my wife, who thought the person on the other end was a friend of ours. He said he was from Nickelodeon (the television channel) and wanted to schedule an audition with my kid.

It took a while for the guy on the phone to convince Julia that he was on the level. But he was. So we are going to Atlanta this Saturday so that the kid can audition for a commercial. The little runt has initiative and moxie--he called the number that he saw on one of the network's shows. He is cute and smart, but I am sure there will be plenty of "professionally cute and smart" children there--veterans of pagents and auditions who have voice and diction coaches.

So, here goes nothing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September Gang

Yesterday we got back from visiting with Roberto's family. We got home at about 3:00 in the afternoon. I had a Gang of Three meeting that evening, so I read the one short piece that another member submitted, took care of the family, then showered and left.

One of my fellow gangsters, B. J., made it, but Barb thought we were supposed to meet on Thursday night. B. J., "got" Suffrage. She got the black humor and the tenderness and the ironic twist ending. She also pointed out one of my usual problems--I often have to work on forshadowing the weird stuff.

She even liked this: I saw Sarge’s shredded face, grey as spoiled pork, with pine straw and leaves matted, missing one eye, part of the other eye staring into Monihan’s face, a silvergreen beetle crawling.

B. J. usually challenges me on description. A frequent comment is "How does that look?" asking for concrete, specific, showing description. The "Sarge" sentence did not need any more vivid description. But that is just a testimony of how her past comments have bored into my brain.

Associating with good readers and good writers has helped me improve. Perhaps I will eventually be "good enough," if that matters.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Hugo Gernsback published Amazing Stories and a bunch of other science/science fiction pulp magazines. He is acknowledged as a father of the genre; the Hugo Awards are named for him. My online writing group is also named for him.

At present, I wonder if it will launch. My doubts are based on the plummeting level of activity already--after just over a week. Members seemed to want to start quickly, so I got things going. Then over the short period of time, only three people, including me, continued to interact. Many of the twenty-someodd workshop participants signed up but have not participated beyond that.

Tonight I mailed everyone at the address they listed at the workshop, asking if they intended to participate. The group is a Yahoo! group. Plenty of participants created Yahoo! accounts just for that group, so perhaps monitoring the group is out of their "internet" way.

I think the group has potential, but I do not intend to push on a rope for long.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Death on My iPod II

Tom Waits -- Shine, shine, a Roosevelt dime. All the way to Baltimore and running out of time. Salvation army seemed to wind up in the hole. They all went to heaven in a little row boat.

Bruce Springsteen -- Baby this town rips the bones from your back it's a death trap, it's a suicide rap.

Steely Dan -- In the morning you go gunning for the man who stole your water, and you fight 'till he is done in, but they catch you at the border, and the mourners are all singing as they drag you by your feet, but the hangman isn't hanging, so they put you on the street.

The Clash -- This is radio Clash underneath a mushroom cloud. This is radio Clash, you don't need that funeral shroud.

Live -- Lightning crashes, an old mother dies. Her intentions fall to the floor. The angel closes her eyes.

Tom Waits -- Someone's crying in the woods, someone's burying all his clothes. Now Slam the Crank from Wheezer slept outside last night and froze.

Everclear -- They found her out in the fields about a mile from home. Her face was warm from the sun, but her body was cold. I heard the policeman say, "Just another overdose."

Tori Amos -- Heard the eternal footman bought himself a bike to race.

David Byrne -- Maybe you just lost somebody, maybe your whole world has changed. The sun don't really care about that; it shines on anyway.

Bush -- I'd die in your arms if you were dead too.

John Prine -- Woke up this morning, put on my slippers, walked in the kitchen and died.

Garbage -- You burned me out but I'm back at your door, like Joan of Arc coming back for more. I nearly died.

Talking Heads -- Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.

The Offspring -- By the time you hear the siren it's already too late. One goes to the morgue and the other to jail. One guy's wasted and the other's a waste.

Fuel -- Memories are just where you laid them. Dragging the waters 'til the depths give up their dead.

Peter Gabriel -- Lord, here comes the flood. We'll say goodbye to flesh and blood.

Tom Waits -- Now don't be a cry baby when there's wood in the shed. There's a bird in the chimney and a stone in my bed. When the road's washed out, we pass the bottle around, and wait in the arms of the cold cold ground.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Death on my iPod

Gravedigger, when you dig my grave, make is shallow, so that I can feel the rain. -- Dave Matthews.

Crawl with me into tomorrow or I'll drag you to your grave. I'm deep inside your children, they'll betray you in my name. -- Rage Against the Machine

All the young people down the ages, they gladly marched off to die. Proud city fathers used to watch them, tears in their eyes. -- The Clash

Its just a rumour that was spread around town, a telegram or a picture postcard, within weeks theyll be re-opening the shipyards, and notifying the next of kin, once again -- Elvis Costello

By the blackened wall he does it all, he thinks he's died and gone to heaven. -- Steely Dan

A heart that's full up like a landfill, a job that slowly kills you, bruises that wont heal. -- Radiohead

It's watching the miles flying by. You not my typewriter. You can be my demon movie foe, if we play indoors. You have to lose. You have to learn how to die, if you wanna wanna be alive. -- Wilco

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Late Night Call

No one is ever out of communication with the outside world anymore. But there was no cell phone service at the resort. My eighteen year old stayed home. He knew where we were, but no one else did. He went to a local concert, so he was not available.

We got a call at 11:00 at night from Julia's cousin. The cousin knew we were at a place called Pine Mountain. She called hotels until she found the right one.

Roberto, Julia's brother-in-law, had a massive heart attack during the day. He died on the spot without time to say a word. His son was with him, in the department store. His son was, at that moment, an orphan.

The son called his grandmother--Roberto's mother-in-law (my mother-in-law, too, since Roberto and I each married one of her daughters), who is advanced in years. She picked him up. They went to the hospital. After an hour the doctor told them the news that Roberto had, indeed, died on the spot. It is called sudden death.

Later that night my son called. He arrived home and his wrist was sore from an awkward collision in the mosh pit. We advised that he call church friends and go to the hospital. He carries his insurance card--my insurance from work.

Before he left for the hospital he called his grandmother since her number was in the phone's memory. She had been sleeping, so she was not thinking. She told him Roberto had died. My son and Roberto were close. He was inconsolable, there, three hours away from us.

His former young mens' organization leader at church took him to the emergency room where they said he had a cracked wrist, wrapped it and put latched a brace onto it. It is hard for an eighteen year old to undergo such physical and emotional trauma on his own.

Roberto had insurance. They will have social security survivor's benefits. Their family may also get a legal settlement since Roberto had heart symptoms the previous day, when to the emergency room, and was sent home with Pepcid. Roberto's father died at about Roberto's age (47) with a sudden-death heart attack, as had Roberto's patriarchal uncles.
For now the plan is that Roberto's son and my mother-in-law will finish two years of high school in their home, then move north and live with us, where the son will go to school. Who knows?

Roberto was a rare man. His deceased wife (Julia's sister) had severe diabetes for years. She had multiple amputations. She was all but bedridden for years.

He cared for her.

He loved her.

He stayed.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Order and Chaos

The restaurant's dining room is sub-par. We drove into town and found a run down looking seafood restaurant. The sign on the door said, "Due to the hurricane, we do not have many kinds of seafood."

At the door the waitress said, "The only seafood we have is shrimp and catfish." I did not point out that the catfish is probably not seafood because I understand the communication problems inherent in her job. They had stuff other than seafood, like chicken and burgers and salads.

We sat down and reviewed the policy. My eleven year old decided he would have fried oysters. We said, "The only seafood they have is shrimp and catfish." (Yes, we repeated the waitress's logic error for the sake of brevity of communication.) We discussed the available options--there were plenty.

When the waitress came to the table to take our order the eleven year old piped up, "I'll have the crab platter."

We said, "The only seafood they have is shrimp and catfish!"

He said, "Oh!" He ordered the grilled shrimp. The waitress asked him which two side side orders he wanted. He asked what they were, I pointed them out on the menu and went through them: french fries (almost certainly), onion rings, salad (not a chance), etc. He said, "I'll have a T-Bone steak and prime rib."

I gave up.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quantum Universe

I am at a retreat for directors of centers of economic education at a resort. My family is on the second floor of the inn. My sixteen year old noted that a sign on the second floor said, "Take the elevator to the second floor for access to the spa." He said, "There is no reason for that sign to be on the second floor."

I said, "I think the spa is in another quantum universe that you can only get to by taking the elevator."

He said, "Yes, but we are on the second floor."

I said, "We get on the elevator, press two, then when the elevator doors open, we are on the second floor in the quantum universe with the spa. It saves the hotel a lot of money in this universe."

He did not believe me.

Then, later, we got on the elevator on the second floor. A nice couple with a kid got on and asked, "Are you going down?" We said we were. They pressed for the ground floor. We made conversation.

The elevator went down. It took a long time. I think they set the elevator to run slowly because a lot of old folks visit this resort. The door opened. The couple and the kid got off. My son and I stepped off, but saw we were on the second floor. So we got back in the elevator and tried to call the couple back, but they were going too fast.

I said, "That was the quantum universe with the spa."

My son said, "Dad, I am never going to doubt anything you say again."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hurling and Groping

I chatted with a new friend, a businessman who is interested in writing, for a long time today. We discussed the traditional market and new/experimental markets for fiction.

Agents receive hundreds of queries per week, in which authors ask for representation for their novel. Those agents ask for more information from a handful--perhaps 3%. Then, of those few, they want to see a complete manuscript from a fraction. Then, of those few, they offer representation to a fraction. A fitting analogy for the new author is that masses of writers try to fling themselves over a high wall and few come close to the top.

In the new markets, with sales of e-books, sales of audio files, and self publishing, authors grope in the dark, calling out, "Is anybody there?" and mostly hear echoes. Yes, Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, was self-published and highly successful. This exception proves the rule.

My planned route is through short fiction. My guess is that out of the few hundred queries on an agent's desk, a handful are from authors that have made fiction sales.

At each step, the writer is in the dark. Agents do not have time to tell the writer why the novel does not sound promising. And most editors of magazines do not have time to give feedback to those who submit. One exception is Jim Baen's Universe. Another is Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews. Mr. Andrews gives valuable feedback, for which any author should be grateful. I even agree with some of it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Something I HAYTE!

I hate obnoxious software--the stuff that wants to reset your home page, put icons all over the place, auto-start itself, and plop piggyback software all over the place.

Yahoo! Messenger is all of the above.

And some of this junk, such as iTunes and AIM, updates every two weeks, resetting all the preferences to obnoxious jerk. I fully expect YM to do that too, since they have not missed any other obnoxious notes.

I am an economist, so I understand there is no such thing as a free lunch. Why!? Why!? Why does life have to be so fair!?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Another Writer's Group

I have told you all about my writing group. Now I have another.

The participants in the workshop that I recently attended have formed a group. We are still organizing, but things are going smoothly. Whereas the Gang of Three meets face-to-face, the new group meets online.

From the critiques I got at the workshop, I think the group members read quite well. They "get it." So I am looking forward to entering this brave new world.

That was seriously overdramatic. Internet writing groups are an "old world." In fact, two weeks ago I found critiques I did for a Hatrack writing group ten years ago. I was good!

I am so arrogant. I am the perfect writing partner.