Sunday, December 23, 2012

Vacation and the "New York Times"

We are in Chicago for the first part of a Christmas-New Year's road trip. We drove here Friday to see our son and his partner. So far we haven't done a whole lot. We went to the zoo last night and saw the Christmas lights they put there. I think we will go to a movie tonight or tomorrow, maybe The Life of Pi or The Hobbit. Otherwise we are watching season 4 of The West Wing, which Lynda and I haven't seen.

This morning my son a copy of the Sunday New York Time in front of me. I haven't read the Times since I quit traveling for business. I used to scoop them up in airport after people boarded a plan and left their newspapers in the waiting area.

But today I was the first to look at it. It has a lot of interesting articles for a writer. On the front page, below the fold, is the headline "Giving Mom's Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull Your Review" (by David Streitfeld). The article talks about the problem with fake reviews that Amazon is trying to figure out how to correct, as well as reviews by those related to the author, or even by other authors in a review trade. The article gave no conclusion, but did mention that in the process of trying to cull the related reviews an the review-for-fee reviews, Amazon has also deleted legitimate reviews by true and ultra-loyal fans of the author.

Then, of course, there's the Sunday book review section itself. The page 1 story there is "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?", an article by Paul Elie. The gist is that once upon a time Christianity was infused in fiction. He says it's been a half century since Christianity provided the background for the bulk of American fiction. He writers:
Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. Half a century after Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price and John Updike presented themselves as novelists with what O'Connor called "Christian convictions," there would-be successors are thin on the ground.
I suspect he's right. But if that's the case, I want to stand up and shout, "I'm here! My novels are underpinned by a Christian worldview, by the importance of faith in a person's life. I gladly pick up the mantel dropped by American authors decades ago.

It appears, however, that Elie is either unaware of the vast body of overtly Christian works available, or he counts them as nothing in the world of literature. I know that much Christian fiction has been panned as being, shall we say, less than good. But I have also read how it has come a long way over the last twenty years. And, really, is the vast majority of general market fiction really that much better? Not based on my limited reading of it.

Also in the book review section is an interesting interview of Lee Child. I've not read any of his works, but I have been following news about him for a while, so the headline pulled me in. Another article reviewed two books by Eva LaPlante on Abigail May Alcott, the mother of Louisa May Alcott. An educated woman, and as accomplished as was possible for her as a married woman and mother in that era, her husband and celebrated daughter took the scissors to her journal and letters. Enough remains, however, that LaPlante was able to pull these two books together. I'll keep my eye out for these once they go on the remainders table. $26 and $15 are a little steep for me to spend on them.

I haven't yet reached the editorial section of the paper, nor the business section. I can tell that this is going to give me more hours of pleasure. Ah, to be on vacation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Good Time of Year

I used to come close to hating the Christmas season. The stress really got to me. Now, not so much. There's a number of things that have changed that.

Four of the last five years we have gone somewhere for Christmas. For two years we went to Meade Kansas and celebrated with Lynda's relatives there. Then we had a year at home. Last year we went to Chicago to be with Charles and Bis, and will do the same this year. So the "clean up the house" aspect of Christmas is off the schedule. Also, there's no pressure to decorate for Christmas. We can put up decorations or not to suit our energy level. Again this year, we decided not to. Except for the old Christmas tree in the basement, which actually hasn't come down since we put it up for the last Christmas at our house in 2010.

Gift buying isn't a factor any more. We just give the kids money to use as they see fit. Same for the grand kids, as really their parents know better if they need another toy or a bedroom furnishing or clothing. Since we won't be with the grand kids again this year, there's no pressure to have gifts that say "from Grandpa and Grandma Todd".

Parties aren't much of a factor. We had our church Life Group party on Dec 8 so that's out of the way. Since the company isn't profitable we aren't having a Christmas party this year, and there's no need to get gussied up for that. Tomorrow we'll have a pot luck for lunch, which is enough celebration for me. I'm not a member of any organizations or on any boards that have a party, so there's another item that has fallen away from the Christmas season doing.

Christmas cards are not much hassle. We used to send about 125 cards around 15 years ago. Too many places lived, lots of friends acquired, one time of year to keep in touch. That number has dwindled to where last year we sent just a little over 60, and received less than 30. So this year we decided to go mostly paperless. We are preparing our Christmas letter, same as always, but will send very few cards. We will mostly send our letter by e-mail to those on our mailing list. Those for whom we don't have e-mail and who sent us a card last year will get a card. Those who haven't been sending us a card and don't have e-mail won't get a card from us. Sorry about that.

But there's lots good happening this time of year. Just three days before winter solstice, I drive to work in the dark. People's Christmas displays are still lit, brightening the night. I drive home in the dark, or near dark. Again, the Christmas lights are on at businesses and homes. Some of these displays are gaudy and really over the top, but most are tasteful displays. I realize these aren't religious symbols, but I don't worry about that. They are reminders for me as to why we have a Christmas season in the first place.

We are reading in a Christmas devotional, part of an all-church study tying together sermons, life group lessons, and at home reading. I enjoy going of the story of Christmas again, as well as linking it to various Old Testament passages in a way not usually considered. Lynda and I are a few days behind, so we are doing two days each day to catch up. Hopefully we'll make time to complete this when we're in Chicago.

So there's much less stress this year compared to previous years. We have a lot to do these next three days, but not enough to put a lot of stress on us. It should be a good Christmas again this year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

If One More Thing Breaks...

...I may lose it.

First, sometime earlier this year, the DVD player in the basement broke. So we bought a new one at a great sale price. We installed that on the TV upstairs, however, rather than on the one in the family room downstairs.

Then the console TV upstairs went out. It's an old analog one which needs to be replaced with a digital, but I didn't feel like we had the money to do so. So we grabbed an old TV that wasn't hooked up, set it on top of the console and kept going. I hooked the DVD player to the console and it plays fine, so it appears the receiver for that console is what's bad. When our daughter was back for Thanksgiving and saw the old TV on top of the big TV, both analog, she said something about it being a redneck type set-up.

Then the water line started leaking between the meter and the house. That cost $350 + $295 to isolate and fix, and probably $250 in extra water charges.

Then the fridge went out, which I chronicled in another post.

Before that the oven went out, or rather partially out. The broiler element works but not the lower one. Since it's a built in oven replacing it is complicated and expensive. I'm thinking about having it fixed.

Before that the microwave started to act up. It's not heating on full power, though we're limping along with it.

Now the counter-top TV in the kitchen has decided to not give us any video. The audio comes through fine, but it gives no video.

Before that our 25 year old mattress told us to replace it, which we did two weeks ago.

So I wonder, what's next?

I started writing this two days ago, had to put it aside, and just now came back to it. I'm happy to say that in the last 48 hours no appliance, major or minor, has ceased to function in my house. That's good. I guess I won't lose it. Of course, I got to the office today to find no Internet service or e-mail, which happens two or three times a year, but I can live with that. And the arm on my work reading glasses broke off an hour ago. Never mind; I have an old pair I keep here for just such emergencies. And a new pair is only $6 at Dollar General.

Maybe my string of appliance breakdowns is coming to an end.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Respond to the Election Results – Part 2

My last post began my exploration of how I should respond to the election results. Although my predictions were mostly correct, the election results were not what I wanted. My first thought is to withdraw from most political activities.

As stated in my last post, my main concern is not really for the United States of America, but for the kingdom of God. My first goal is to see that kingdom expanded and strengthened by helping to make more and better Christians. My first goal isn't to make the USA stronger by making better citizens.

Yet I have strong stands on issues, both social and financial issues. The debt Congress is piling up, with the Administration's encouragement and blessing, is simply unsustainable, and will eventually bring the generations of my children and grandchildren to their knees, or force them to repudiate the debt and sink to the status of a second-class republic. This to me is the key issue of the present time, not social issues. If I were going to spend time on politics, this would be the right place to spend it.

That's not to say that I don't have strong opinions on social issues. I hate abortion, the killing of innocent babies while still in their mother's womb. I will always vote against abortion. But abortion is legal, and has been legal long enough now that judges consider it "settled law." It isn't going away. We lost that battle over the last forty years. Lynda and I are beyond the child bearing years. But when we were still in them, having abortion legal made no difference in our choices. And it would make no difference today. Abortion would not have been an option. In this regard, how beautiful is the choice that Todd and Sarah Palin made not to abort their Down syndrome fetus, even though they legally could and even though some 90 percent of such fetuses are aborted. Their ethical, moral act shines like a beacon on a hill.

I am not in favor of the homosexual agenda, including such things as same-sex marriage. I will always vote against such measures. But, should it be legalized, how does it affect me? I will continue with the same moral stand I've always had. When questioned about my beliefs, I will give them without apology, and will always vote against such measures. But I won't be advocating concerning them.

This election we voted in Arkansas on whether to legalize medical marijuana. I voted against it, joining the 55 percent of the state who voted it down. But had it passed, how would that affect me? I suppose some potheads will fake illnesses and get it for non-medical purposes. They might even smoke and drive. The roads may become more dangerous. My chances of being killed or hurt in an auto accident may go up from one in a million to one in 990,000 (or whatever the right statistic is). But I'm not going to smoke an hallucinogenic substance, any more than I would drink liquor, just because it's legal. And I would think that not taking part in these legal activities because of an ethical stand would work in favor of influencing people for the kingdom of God.

What I'm trying to say is that to legislate a number of these social issues so that they align with the dominant evangelical Christian position is to make my commitments someone else's obligations. It is to force Christian behavior on someone. That doesn't strengthen the kingdom of God, in my opinion. It actually dilutes it. How much better it is to have Christians behaving in these moral and ethical ways, and to let those good deeds shine as lights in a dark world. The more evil the world, the more brightly will shine those deeds of righteousness and moral stands.

So my response to this election will be to return to having the kingdom of God as my main concern. I won't shed any political opinions, but if the USA wants to move into a post-Christian or anti-Christian era, knock themselves out. The church and the kingdom will be strengthened. I will not be diminished or moved.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to Respond to the Election Results

It's hard to believe the election is already a month behind us. Harder still to believe I'm just now getting around to this post, the last in my post-election series.

To recap what I've already written: Based on the analysis I did in The Candy Store Generation, I made election outcome predictions for the House, Senate, and Presidency that were mostly spot on. I based these predictions on 1) the Baby Boomers were not going to vote for those who would close the candy store on them, and 2) the Had Enough Generation, whoever they are and whether they were going to show or not, were not strong enough to overcome the Boomers. I was wrong in the Senate, where personalities seemed to reign more than ideology, and idiotic statements by two candidates pulled others down. At least that's my view from flyover country.

One other conclusion I draw, which I posted about, is that the true divide in this country is not by party or ideology, but by urban vs. non-urban. Or maybe that should be location drives ideology.

Now, how do I respond to this? My predictions were not in my self-interest, nor did they reflect who I wanted to win. I called it as I saw it, based on my generational theory and the data I pulled in from various news sources. By the day after the election I was so sick of politics I didn't want to hear it any more, and felt like withdrawing, and hoping the Had Enoughs show up in my lifetime, in time to turn the country around.

But is withdrawal the right response? Is it the Christian response. Part of the debate that's going on, not so much in the mainstream media but among individuals I know, is how does the devout Christian respond to this? How does the devout Christian engage in politics?

My first thought is that I'm not a salesman for any political party, nor for any ideology. As an evangelical Christian I am a salesman for Jesus Christ. My main job is to see the greatest possible number of people get to heaven, and to get there marching triumphantly, not limping along. Anything I would do that would lessen my ability to do that is counter-productive, and something that I shouldn't do.

But meanwhile I'm in the world, working a full time job, a member of a community, resident of a state, citizen of a country. I live in a land where any individual citizen has a voice through the ballot box and through the First Amendment. I should always avail myself of those opportunities to have my voice heard, rejoicing in what country I live in, and using my voice in a way that glorifies my Savior.

But that doesn't mean I should be an outspoken advocate for a specific cause or policy. For example, in Arkansas we voted on legalizing medical marijuana. Believing this action doesn't glorify Christ, I voted against it. But I did not advocate against it. The reason: my life is not affected, so far as I can tell, if some patients smoke it and some potheads pretend to be sick so they can smoke it. I will continue to refrain from using such drugs, and will work to convince others, as individual opportunities arrive, that they shouldn't use them either.

In fact, most of the policies that seem to unite evangelical Christians against other groups are the sort of things that, in my opinion, will be harmful to society but won't really affect me. Why should I be outspoken about them, when to do so will only alienate someone who I might be able to influence positively for the kingdom of God?

This post is too long and I'm only half done. Look for more in another post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We Interrupt This Series

I have one more post-election post to make. I had intended to make it many days ago, but life got in the way.

First there was babysitting grandsons. Ephraim and Ezra were with us for a few days while their parents got away. I took the vacation days from work and helped Lynda out with them. It was a great time. A couple of those days I rose early and wrote before the boys were up. I worked on my novel, however, not on a blog post.

Then, Wednesday before Thanksgiving our refrigerator went out. It was on borrowed time, having shown distress in September but then working fine. We decided to get by while we could. Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m., with Thanksgiving meal looming and desserts requiring refrigeration being prepared is perhaps the most inopportune time for the thing to finally say "Twenty-five years is enough. Goodbye." This fridge was original to the house, we think; it was there when we bought it. At that time there was no going out and getting another one. Nor on Thursday. Friday might have been a possibility, but we were tied up with company until about 7 p.m., and Saturday I couldn't get the other half of the team moving very early.

We finally got in to Sears around 3:00 in the afternoon. We found some things we wanted, but weren't clear that it was the right way to go. I should add that we have a second fridge in the garage, an older one. When the inside fridge went out, we crammed that as full as we could, then bought ice and tried to keep the dead fridge somewhat cool. Every day I bought ice and changed out containers. It was tiring. We didn't buy at Sears, even though the sale on the model we liked would be up the next day.

Sunday we decided to go a couple of other places before going back to Sears. The local appliance store (not a chain) that everyone speak highly of was closed on Sunday. We went to a couple of the chain stores, and found what we really wanted at Lowe's. The problem was it wasn't quite right. Our wall oven is also on it's last legs, the lower heating element being out. Our built-in microwave and our dishwasher are also showing signs of distress. They had a sale on a package of all of those, but they wouldn't fit. The Lowe's department manager, after we waited an hour for him to break free from another customer, said he couldn't do any swap outs of one model for another. We either bought the package or the individual units we wanted at the price listed, either the regular or sale price.

So we bought nothing, and I hauled some more ice. The sale at Lowe's on the fridge model we wanted went through Monday. They also had a sale on a wall oven up the same day. It would require a little modification to our cabinetry to make it work, but it would work. I went in the middle of the afternoon and learned 1) they had sold the last of that fridge in the store and to order it would take a week or more for delivery (I immediately had ice visions), and 2) they really couldn't sell me the wall oven without first sending out a man to measure for it, and they couldn't get a man out for a couple of days. Or, I could buy the oven at my own risk. Since I had to go to another Lowe's store to get the fridge, I told them what they could do with their wall oven (okay, not really) and left.

I'm sure this story isn't all that interesting, so I'll make it short. At the other Lowe's I bought the fridge. They put it on emergency delivery for Tuesday evening. It arrived at the house at 5:30 p.m. We had to cut back some carpet to remove the old and install the new, but it was in place by 6:30 and for sure cooling within an hour. How good it was to hear the first ice cubes tumble down from the maker.

I'll find an oven repair man over the next couple of days, and get that taken care of. Then there's the master bedroom mattress to replace, the microwave, the dishwasher, the furnace services, and a couple of other things. But just having the fridge in place has allowed me to relax for the first time in a week. Maybe tonight I can write a little.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Just How Post-Christian Are We?

I never meant to take so long to come back to this series. My how the time swirls by when you're busy.

One thing that seems obvious to me, from watching not only the run-up to the election but also the election itself, is that we are for sure in a post-Christian world. Pundits argue about whether we were ever a Christian nation. I say we never were, because we never were a theocracy. We have always had a secular government. And our Constitution expressly forbids applying a religious test to Federal positions.

However, we were once a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. That's much different than being a Christian nation, but it's an important part of our history. Public records from our founding era are full of references to Judeo-Christian principles. The records from today, not so much.

My observations are that we (the collective we meaning the nation as a whole) are no longer comfortable with public officials speaking about Christianity, or even about God. An example is the Republican candidate for senate from Indiana, who said something about a pregnancy resulting from a rape was a child that was willed by God, or something like that. The quote attributed to him by the press didn't make a whole lot of sense, but what I took from it was if a woman was raped and a pregnancy was the result that child was the will of God.

I believe this one comment ended any chance he had to win that election. People just don't want to hear about God any more. References to God were removed from the Democratic Party's platform, and attempts to put those references back in were actually voted down. Only through the bad decision of the chairman were they restored. I predict they won't be in the future.

In small pieces of evidence across my TV screen I see that references to God, or any concern for His agenda, are disappearing. As they are from American life. I think we are close to a tipping point along a path that began in the post-war world (World War 2, I mean), that was resisted in the 1950s by a drive to increase/enhance Christianity, then began rolling in the 1960s and really hasn't stopped. In politics, in culture, in arts, in just about everything the number of Americans who want to hear about God, as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, are dwindling. That was painfully evident in this election.

In my next post, which will be the last in the post-election series, I'm going to discuss a possible alternative way for devout Christians to engage in the political process. I say it will be the last post, but it's possible it will be so long that I'll have to split it into two posts.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Senate Moves by Personalities

In my last post I sort of patted myself on the back for having made accurate predictions of how this election would go. My predictions were in my book The Candy Store Generation, published in July 2012. They were based on my belief that the Baby Boomers, the generation now in control of almost everything in America, was addicted to candy from the candy store and would vote for whoever promised them the most goodies from the government.

I predicted Barack Obama would narrowly win re-election, which he did. I predicted the House would remain in Republican control, though with a lower margin, which it did. The Republicans lost a net of six seats, retaining what could be called a comfortable majority.

It was in the Senate where I missed. My prediction was that the Republicans would gain ground, and possibly, though not probably, take it over, or that it would be evenly divided. Before the election the Democratic-Independent coalition had a 53-47 seat edge over the Republicans. I expected that to become either 50-50 or 51-49 one way of the other. Instead, the Democrats increased their majority to 55-45.

So where did I miss it? First of all, maybe I shouldn't be terribly concerned about missing one out of three when I was so exact on the other two. Still, I missed it. The Republican losses in Missouri and Indiana are, it seems to me, the key to what happened in the Senate races.

The Republican candidates in those two states were ahead in their races in the spring and early summer. McKaskill (D) in Missouri seemed particularly vulnerable and the most likely incumbent Democratic senator to be defeated. But then the idiot Republican made his statement about "legitimate rape", and the party was over. From that moment on he was a goner.

In Indiana, the race turned from the Republican's to lose to a sure Democratic victory when the idiot Republican candidate made his statement that a pregnancy resulting from a rape was God's will. From that point on, he was a goner too.

Then, I think these two statements dragged down Republican candidates elsewhere. The media reported them so widely, with disdain to the max, that voters in Montana and North Dakota thought, perhaps subconsciously, that the Republicans were the party of legitimate rape and rape-caused pregnancies, and turned away from them in sufficient numbers that the Democrats won those seats.

Let's be clear about one thing: There's no such thing as a rape that is legitimate. Trying to figure out what Aiken meant, all I can assume is that he meant "actual rape" rather than sex that was acquiesced to but really wasn't wanted, but which later the woman said was rape. I don't know if that's what he meant or not. But if that's what he meant, it's still a stupid comment. Rape is a serious matter, as is men forcing themselves on women. Our over-sexualized culture and media is doing its best to get women to give in to sexual urges rather than retain their natural reticence. Given all that, male candidates just need to shut up about those issues. Rape is rape.

Part of Aiken's comments was about the stress of a rape causing a woman's body to do something—maybe secrete a hormone?—that would prevent a pregnancy from happening. I had actually seen something written on that long before Bozo Aiken made his remark, but have never researched it. I don't know where it was I read that, if it was a medical piece backed up by research or a fluff piece, if it was speculation or science. But it doesn't matter. It was a stupid remark to make in any context, it didn't need to be made, and it sunk Aiken and helped to sink at least two other of his party's candidates.

Concerning rape-caused pregnancies being God's will, or, that wasn't the exact remark. It was more that the fetus conceived and growing as a result of a rape was a life created and thus was God's will. Actually, I need to research the exact quote. Plus, that is a different issue that I want to spend the next post on. Plus, this post is long enough already.

I'll just conclude that it seems to me that senatorial races turn more on personalities than on issues. House races, for the most part, are settled on issues. Senate races are settled with personalities making much more of an impact. That's something for me to consider in future election predictions—if I ever make any more.

P.S. This morning The Candy Store Generation is #99 in its genre list at the Kindle store. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Being Right and Wishing You Were Wrong

When I published The Candy Store Generation in July, 2012, I included in Chapter 13 this prediction for the USA general election just concluded.

In the Senate, the Republicans will pick up some seats, and may take control. I anticipate the Senate will be close to equally divided, closer than it is now. The number of seats being defended by the Democrats almost guarantees Republican gains. However, Boomer push back against the drastic action needed to right our economic ship will mitigate this, as I explain in the next paragraph.


In the House, where the Republicans currently have a 49 seat edge, I expect the Democrats to pick up seats. This is where we see the main push back against drastic actions needed for fiscal responsibility. Boomers will vote in force, trying to reclaim the candy store that started to slip away in 2010. They see the drastic action required and will recoil. Cut entitlements? No way. Repeal Obama Care? No way. Use the debt ceiling as a weapon against over-spending? No way. The Boomers will vote, and will vote for the old ways. Districts that were traditionally Democratic, but which went Republican in 2010, will flip back in 2012. Not all of them, but enough to reduce the Republican majority.

For the presidency, it's a close call. However, I believe that, in the absence of some kind of major news—a domestic or international disaster—President Obama will be returned for a second term. Again, the Boomers see him as being the one who will keep the candy store open, and enough of them will vote for him to give him victory. It will be considerably closer than his win in 2008, perhaps even similar to 2000, but it will be Obama's year.

Obviously I was wrong in the Senate. It looks like the Democrats successfully held onto the gains of six years ago and added to them. The races weren't really that close. Some of this may be due to personalities (which I'll get to in a future post), but for whatever reason the Democrats held on here, and proved me wrong.

On the House, it looks like I was dead on. The Republicans retain control, with a slightly diminished majority. That's exactly what I saw happening and predicted, based on my analytical methodology.

In the presidential race, again I was dead on, the fourth straight presidential election I called. I'll quit patting myself on the back now. How I wish I had been wrong! Some have told me it's not the Boomers, it's their offspring. For sure, the youth vote was for Obama. But so many Boomers want the candy store to stay open, that this tipped the scale. The Obama edge in the youth vote is meaningless without major Boomer leading.

Also in The Candy Store Generation is an update concerning the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election, which had just concluded. Here's what I had in that update, which I got in just before publication.
Based on the Wisconsin results, the Candy Store Generation now knows how hard they have to campaign to protect their candy store. Will they fight that hard? The election is only months away.
They did fight that hard, and they won.

I wish I had been wrong in the presidential race. I was no fan of Romney, but I believe he would have been orders of magnitude better than Obama.

And that's the view tonight from flyover country.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Basis for Voting

It's election day in the United States of America. Here in Arkansas we have the presidential election, a congressional election, a number of local offices (though some in my district are uncontested), and four ballot initiatives. These initiatives range from state and local tax issues to making medical marijuana legal to validating a zoning ordinance of our City Council. It's a big election.

I have come to embrace the James Otis Test as a means of evaluating candidates for office. I described that test in my book Documenting America. Here it is again.
The only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a gentleman are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These...sentiments in private life make the good citizen; in public life the patriot and the hero.

That's easier said than followed. How can we tell if a candidate for any office—president, representative, city council—is willing to sacrifice estate, ease, health, applause, and life to the sacred calls of his country? That's not an easy determination. However, I think I can tell which candidate considers serving in the office to be a sacred call. If that's all I can fathom, that will have to suffice as a basis for decision making.

The other principal that guides me is to put aside the politics of personal gain. I don't want to consider what's best for me, but what's best for my city, county, state, and nation. Maybe I'd be better off with the cost of my health care shared among three hundred million people, and have someone from the government watch after every aspect of my life. But I cannot believe that's better for America.

So I will be voting for initiatives that will lead us toward a more sober view of the world around us, that will keep us on the march toward economic freedom, which is what most set America apart from all other nations. I will vote for those who I believe will rein in uncontrolled spending, who will steer our people away from a sense of entitlement rather than toward it and thus toward a sense of personal responsibility, who will make reversing our plunge into unpayable debt a priority, and who will take a hundred year vision to their office, not just to the next election, and won't ask that future generations pay so that no one in this generation will be in want.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Review: "The Nature Of The Book"

The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the MakingThe Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making by Adrian Johns
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this book up four or five years ago while on vacation, but just got around to reading it in the last month. I want to like this and recommend it, I really do. But alas, I cannot. It's 650 pages of small font text, very difficult to read. I love books about books and printing (my dad was a printer), but this is so difficult I can't read it. I struggled through to page 46 before quitting. On page 45, in close proximity, were the words interlocutors, prolix, and otiose. I'm not stupid, but I only knew one of those words without looking it up. And other pages are pretty much the same.

The introduction runs through page 58. I'm stopping at page 46. I read the words, try hard to concentrate, but the writing is so involved and the concepts so difficult to grasp, that I'm not comprehending.

I shall put this on the shelf, and revisit it in my retirement, when, hopefully, my mind will be able to concentrate and, with The Nature of the Book and a good dictionary in the other, and with my mind less cluttered than it is now, I'll be able to make more sense of this. On to something else.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When You Have Nothing to Say...

...say nothing.

That's how I've been the last few days. I spent Thursday through Sunday in Oklahoma City, helping Lynda babysit our grandsons while their dad and mom were at ministers and mates retreat. Lynda had been there for two weeks already, and I joined the party. The babysitting went very well. I hadn't seen the boys since May. Ephraim is four, and he remembered me with no problem. Ezra is just 1 1/2, and I'm not sure he remembered me. But he and I had a great time. I wound up putting him to bed all three nights and for a couple of naps. Obviously during this time I wasn't concerned with writing or developing ideas, for this blog of for anything. What limited reading I did was in some Civil War documents.

I drove home Sunday afternoon/evening, arriving at 7:00 p.m., my mind fully immersed in radio football coverage. I had a scheduled blog post for Sunday, so I knew I didn't need to write anything here until Tuesday. I mainly read and rested in the quiet house Sunday evening.

Back at work Monday, I wasn't as productive as I could be. My concentration was off. I wasn't sure why. At home Monday evening I suddenly and quickly developed a cold. Normally these things come on me slowly, over a period of about three days. This one happened in three hours. It wasn't allergies. So being sub par, I did less that evening than I hoped for. I worked on my current novel, China Tour, writing about 1,000 words in the next chapter, but didn't even think of this or my other blog.

Then yesterday I came to work. I felt amazingly good compared to Monday. The cold, it seemed, might be a very mild one that I got over quickly. I functioned reasonably well at work on Tuesday. On the noon hour I picked up more or less where I was with the novel and added 900 words. Of course, that meant I had it in two files on two different computers, with a merge in the future. But at least I felt good during the day and into the evening. I worked some more on the book in the evening, adding another 500+ words to the scene I wrote at work, thus making for three discontinuous blocks of text waiting to be merged. But, I felt no motivation to blog.

So here it is Wednesday morning. I'm at work, in my own quiet time before I start the work day. I'm feeling a little worse today, so maybe the cold isn't as mild as I first thought. We'll see if some daytime cold pills do the trick. I'll probably leave the office a bit early, go home and make a big pot of chicken soup, for me and for Lynda's return tonight.

But I still have nothing to say on this blog. No ideas have come, except to do this play-by-play of the last seven days. China Tour is almost at 5,000 words, and seems to be coming together well, though I'm moving along in scenes with less words than I anticipated. I'll give more details of that on my other blog. Meanwhile, I still can't think of anything to write for this blog. My last post, on politics, resulted in some interest, so maybe I'll see if I can develop a pre-election post or two. Otherwise, I need to develop some blog ideas.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: "The Eye of the Story"

In a previous post I mentioned how I was having trouble with Eudora Welty's book The Eye of the Story. I must report that the book seemed to improve as I got further into it. The first part, Welty's analysis of of the body of work of several writers, was incomprehensible. The second part, seven essays on writing, was not quite as bad as the first part but almost. She talked about several aspects of a story, and how to use them in fiction. Unfortunately I didn't learn much.

The third part of the book was criticism of specific works by a number of writers, including Washington Irving, Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and E.B. White. I found this part quite well done, and very understandable. Of course, I found it to have limited enjoyment, as I do most literary criticism.

The fourth part is called "Personal and Occasional Pieces". This is a series of essays about things of interest to Welty. At least, I think that's what it is. I only read the first two. They dealt with travel to Mississippi, Welty's home state. They were good, but I'm afraid right now I'm not interested in reading travel pieces from the 1950s, 60, and 70s.

So all in all, I count this book a bust, and declare the 50 cents I spent on it to have been wasted.

Although, on the chance that the problem might be my comprehension and not her writing, I'm going to stick this on my writing bookshelf. I may pull it out in a few years and read it again. For those interested in Welty's works, you might check back here in about twenty years and see if I read more and wrote more about this.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Politics of Personal Gain

I first noticed this during the 1972 presidential election, my first election to vote in. The McGovern campaign had a somewhat undefined policy they were promoting that all families in the USA should be guaranteed a certain income per year, I think it was $10,000. Teddy White described the finalization of this policy in his book The Making of the President, 1972, and did so with some criticism.

I was at the University of Rhode Island at the time, and I remember my fellow students talking about it. I was working at the Burger King in Wakefield RI, and I remember my fellow burger flippers and fry dippers taking about it. In general, everyone was in favor of it. A guaranteed income, less pressure to work hard to get ahead. College student, working high school grads, and young parents working the second job all seemed to think it was a good idea.

Fast forward to 2008/2009. Soon after Barack Obama's election, people were saying than goodness, now I won't have to pay my mortgage any more. Their vote had been for the candidate that they saw as being most likely to give them stuff, which one was most likely to make their life "better" as they defined better. This is more or less what I wrote about in The Candy Store Generation.

Over and over I have seen people making voting decisions based on "What's best for me", and I cringe at the thought. What would be best for me? That the government would give me a grant for $100,000 and I could take a couple of years off to whip out four or five novels, and have time and money to promote them? That they would forgive my son's college debt, making him more financially secure, which would help me in a certain way? That they would cover more costs for lower income families, which would help my daughter's family and indirectly help me?

Those would all make my financial life more enjoyable, but what would it do to the long-term health of my country?

We get this at work, too, on a more local level. We are an engineering company that depends on people getting ready to build things for our existence. So whenever a vote on taxes is on a ballot, we get bombarded first by our organizations then by upper management, "Vote for the tax increase; it will mean more work for us." That's the politics of personal gain, voting for something because it's "best" for us, not because it's best for our nation/state/community.

The politics of personal gain is a short-term approach at the expense long-term benefits, something else covered in The Candy Store Generation. It's better for me to have $1000 in my pocket tomorrow rather than to look to the future and have $20,000 in my pocket in three or four years. So we make short-term decisions to get beer money at the expense of our retirements. This attitude has, to some extent, been the downfall of many manufacturing unions, including the one my dad belonged to.

A long-term approach says put off that gratification in favor of something bigger than yourself. So I want to vote in national elections for what I perceive to be best for America, and in State elections for what I perceive to be best for Arkansas, and in local elections for what I perceive to be best for the City of Bella Vista and for Benton County. Because, when you think about it, the long-term view says that what's best for America is what's best for me. More long-term financial stability means a brighter future. More liberty means a happier future. At all levels of government.

In Arkansas this election we are voting on a statewide, 1/2 percent sales tax to allow the state to issue highway bonds for road and highway improvements. The bombardment from organizations and management has been going on. But I plan to vote against this tax increase. What's better for me? I suppose that not have to pay another 50 cents on a $100 purchase would be marginally better for me. Certainly better roads—and more of them—will be better for me. But I perceive that it will be better for the State of Arkansas not to increase their debt. Ultimately, what's best for the State is what's best for me. In a long-term sort of way.

The politics of personal gain. I reject that, except for how a more stable nation/state/community means a brighter future for everyone, including me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Carlyle on Carlyle

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about my studies into the works of Thomas Carlyle. That’s because it’s been ages since I even looked at them, or at least looked at them enough to find something to draw from them.

Last Friday, at a moment when I just didn’t feel like working, I went to the Carlyle Letters Online site and browsed. I looked at the year 1826, which was before he gained notoriety. I probably should have gone back to 1823, since that’s when he was probably working on his first major work. I forgot the chronology when I began looking.

But TC didn’t disappoint me in 1826. In a letter dated 31 July 1826 to William Tait, Carlyle talked about his then-current work, a translation of some German novels, but with lots of biographical information and commentary added. He was talking about this in letters in January that year, and every month down through July. On January 7 that year he said this about it to his fiancĂ©e:
Tait the [book]seller is writing to Germany for more matter: I expect to be very busy for the next three months. I pray Heaven the thing were off my hands; for it is a sorry piece of work at the best, and written nearly altogether for the “lucre of gain.”
Having read a hundred or so of Carlyle’s letters, trying to pick the times when he would have been busy writing a major work, I can say that for every book he seemed to have this hate affair with it. He said the book marred his health. He said the book was not going well. He said he might not finish the book. He said the book probably wouldn’t sell even if he did finish it. He said, as he neared completion, that he was glad to be about rid of it. I want to scream out, “Hey Tom, if you hate writing so much, why do you do it?”

But, I suppose it wasn’t writing he disliked; it was the process of turning research into a finished product that someone would print and others would buy and read. I’m not sure I can relate to that, but I can sort of see where he’s coming from. It’s not my experience, but could well have been his.

So in the July letter to Tait, Carlyle wrote this.
I this morning send off the last eight leaves of Ms. for our German Book; and as the Printers have only about ten sheets remaining to compose, I calculate that the whole matter will be off my hands in a few days.
I am happy to tell you that this work, which has given me some unexpected trouble, also gives me some unexpected pleasure, and that at the present moment I am far better satisfied with the general structure of it than when you first proposed the business I could even hope to be. What its fate with the reading world may be you are better able to predict than I; but at all events, I think we may offer our Book to the Public as a thing fulfilling what it promises; giving real German Novellists, the highest to be found in that country; and on the whole offering a considerably truer and more comprehensive glimpse into German Literature than any other yet offered in England.
So it seems, by the time this work was down to checking the galley proofs, that Carlyle found something to be pleased about. I’m glad of that. I would hope that most writers, when they come to the end of a work, will be able to say they can look back and feel it was a worthwhile project and something they can be proud of.

Me? I'm at the beginning of a project. The last seven days I started three novels, not really knowing which one I'm going to write next. I also thought I might start one non-fiction book and put that beside the novels, pick one project, and run with it. But whichever one I do next, I don't believe I'll ever regret writing it, or even express to another an exaggerated claim of wanting to be done with it. All things I have written so far have come closer to thrilling me, rather than wearing me down. May it always be so.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Charitable Discourse: Human Sexuality

Some would say that a frank discussion of human sexuality doesn't belong in church. But as our pastor, Mark Snodgrass, proved yesterday, the topic can be handled with grace, dignity, a bit of humor, and a call to action for the church.

Preaching from 1st Thessalonians 4:1-6, he showed what God's plan is for sex: monogamous relations between a man and a woman. He brought out many good points from Dan Boone's book, A Charitable Discourse. He showed the consequences of not sticking to God's plan: how casual sex is really creating and breaking bonds, with each breaking having an impact on a person's life. It might be possible to suppress those impacts for a time, but not forever.

Mark talked about a friend he was close with who for a time remained a virgin, saving himself for his future wife. But then he had sex with a girlfriend, and it wasn't long before he was hopping from girl to girl, from bed to bed, never fulfilled, each time with a diminished life. Mark told about counseling he and his wife have done with those who succumbed in this area. And he said, "No one has ever said to me 'We're sorry we waited until we were married to have sex,' and I never will. That's the final word on the subject as far as I'm concerned.

I don't watch a lot of network television. I tend to watch news programs, some sports between September and January, some educational programs on the History Channel or A&E, crime show re-runs on Ion Television or Headline News, and once in a while some movie that I've seen before or somehow missed when it was out. Recently, however, I watched a couple of network shows, and was astounded by the commercials for their comedies and other dramas. From these trailers it would appear that the only reasons those shows are on is to present sexual situations. Why would I want to fill my mind with that.

I appreciate Mark's sermon, and his undertaking this series. We also had a great discussion on the sermon in Life Group immediately after. I'll miss next week's, on homosexuality, which I would really like to hear. Maybe, for the first time in my life, I'll download a podcast and hear it that way.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Common Struggles of Doyle and Faulkner

A Conan Doyle, before he gained popularity with the skills of Sherlock Holmes, struggled with both finances and obscurity. As I wrote in a previous post, Doyle wrote about his struggles with money. He was primarily a physician during this time, in 1882-83. He had left his native Scotland and set up a practice in Southsea, on the south shore of England.

His main correspondent at the time is his mother. Or at least most of the letters included in the book I'm reading are to his mother. I suppose he could have written many others that the editor didn't include. He constantly tells his mother "Don't worry about us [his younger brother was with him]; we have everything we need." In the next sentence he will then say he doesn't know how he will make the rent, or the life insurance payment, or the grocer or butcher bill, etc. Then he goes on to say how he bought some new piece of furniture or painting for the room where he sees patients.

His income during this time was about equal between his medical practice and his writing. Both started growing during 1883. More patients began coming to the new doctor. More editors began accepting his work, including at magazines that paid pretty well. He wrote short stories, not novels, because short stories could be placed relatively quickly and payment was quick too. He spent time working on novels, but the length of time to write, plus the time lag in publishing and payments, meant he would earn no income from them, at least not in a timely manner. So to short stories he went.

That's all a fascinating read. It seems that American author William Faulkner went through similar struggles. Now I need to confess that I've read little of Faulkner. I remember reading a couple of his short stories, one in school and one in adulthood. I suppose I may have read a couple more. But I really know little about his writing other than he has the reputation of using long and complex sentences.

Eudora Welty writes about Faulkner in two reviews in her book The Eye of the Story. One of those books she reviewed was actually a volume of his collected letters. In her review, she made extensive quotes from those letters.

It's interesting to see the parallels between Doyle and Faulkner. The letters quoted by Welty show a Faulkner whose income came only from writing, and who struggled with money. He wrote short stories because they were quick and could be placed quickly and payment came quickly. Yet, in his letters, he complained about late payment from editors. He complained about having to write short stories at all, when he would prefer to be writing novels.

Unlike Doyle's genteel language to his mother, Faulkner used strong language with his correspondents, with frequent use of mild four-letter words. I realize I'm only reading excepts selected by Welty, and that she may have cherry-picked those with the most curse words. I shall have to read all the letters to see what the totality of his correspondence looked like.

So Doyle struggled with money, and Faulkner struggled with money. I'm fortunate to have a good day job that keeps housing, food, utilities, transportation, etc. well supplied. So I'm able to write what I want, at the pace I want, without constant money pressure. Of course, just like sea pressure and a grain of sand with an oyster, pearls are made under stress. Who knows but that the stress of money worries is what drove both those men to greatness, while the lack of that pressure is a missing ingredient toward moving me on to the next level?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Baseball Slumps and Rained-out Games

Those few people who have read my baseball novel, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, know that the almost super-human feats of Ronny Thompson, ace pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, depends in part on rain delays. By the time the playoffs come around, Thompson seems to be the only Cubs' pitcher who can win a game. His normal rotation is to pitch every fourth day, but his manager bumps that up to every third day in the playoffs.

That begins in the NLDS. He pitches game 2 in Atlanta, then due to a rain delay he gets to pitch game 4 in Chicago to even the series at 2-2. After a day of travel, someone else is going to pitch game 5 in Atlanta. But, instead of a rain delay, it turns out major vandalism (terrorism?) had rendered the lights inoperable, along with the back-up system. Thompson then pitches the rescheduled game 5, and wins, propelling the Cubs into the NLCS against St. Louis.

Part of what Thompson and the Cubs are facing is a slump by their two best hitters, and a series of poor performances by their best relief pitcher, the man who usually comes on in the 9th and closes out the game. What has caused these slumps? Are they the natural result of the ebb and flow of any athlete's abilities? Some days you're hot, some days you're not? Or is it a case of bribery? The New York mobster who has bet against the Cubs is becoming more desperate, and he has associates more than willing to do his bidding. Bribing a few players is like old-time gangsterism. The Cubs' manager has a decision to make: Does he bench the slumping players?

The New York Yankees are experiencing this now. The slump by four of their starting hitters is deep, deeper in fact than the slump that the Cubs' stars sink into in the novel. And yesterday they experienced a rain delay. Now the manager has an extra option on the table as far as his starting pitcher tonight in the rescheduled game. Does he have an ace available tonight who wouldn't have been available last night?

Baseball is a good game for these kind of strategies. It's interesting to see the situation I wrote in the novel coming true in real life this playoff season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Sunday Book

No, I'm not talking about the Bible. That's my everyday book. I don't read great quantities in it, but I read some every day.

No, I'm talking about the book I read a few pages in on a Sunday afternoon, after church. It might be while I'm eating lunch, or possibly after lunch. I have, for several years, kept a book or two in our sun room. This is an unheated, un-coolled room off the back of the house, elevated with a deck beneath it. It gets quite hot in summer and cold in winter. It actually has some heater elements installed, but I'm sure they are way too expensive to run.

But when I'm ready on Sunday afternoon, I fix a mug of coffee (maybe not in the heat of summer), and pick up one of these books. They are generally writing type books, either writing helps. My current read is Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters. As I've written here before, I love letters. And I love letters by writers. I have to confess that I have read very little of Doyle's work, though I've been accumulating them and they are definitely on the to-be-read list. But I knew something of his life, from reading it somewhere, and so his letters interested me. I picked the book up off the remainders table at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago, and have been reading it on selected Sunday afternoons.

I've been reading in the chapter "Struggling Doctor", covering the time when Doyle had completed medical studies, and either worked for other doctors or set up his own practice. He finally set up shop at Southsea, in the south of England. While he looked for an office/residence, tried to get customers, struggled with money, tried to join some social circles, etc. All the while he was working on his writing. In letters to his mother during this time (1883-1884) he talked as much about writing as about being a doctor. He spoke about his struggles with money, how he extended credit to patients and had to pay his bills with credit as well.

In 1883, he earned about as much from writing as he did practicing medicine. He wrote mainly short stories at that time, on a variety of subjects, submitted them to a number or literary magazines, and then waited for an answer. Since he had no money to hire a scrivener to make copies, he sent off the original and hoped it didn't get lost, and hoped the magazine returned it to him if they rejected it.

I find this period in his life fascinating. Doyle was in his twenties, unmarried (having once been informally engaged but the woman broke it off). Sherlock Holmes and the fame that would bring him are a few years away. His delving into spiritualism are a couple of decades away. Right now he's sort at the point of his writing career where I am in my writing career. A big difference, of course, is I have a job that I'm well-established in, and don't lack for money to pay for necessaries and even some unnecssaries.

I normally read about 10 pages on a Sunday afternoon. I started the day at page 210. I looked ahead and was reminded that it's a 700 page book, and that if I didn't still want to be reading it in late 2013 I'd better pick up the pace. So I read to page 233, which was the end of the chapter. The next chapter is titled "Cracking the Oyster", which I assume will be where the axis of his life shifts much more strongly to literature. I'm looking forward to next Sunday.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Discussing the Difficult Topics

Today our pastor began a new sermon series at church, titled "A Charitable Discourse". Based on a book by that name published by our denominational publishing house, it tackles some difficult topics.

When I first head the title of the series, I thought it would be about doctrinal issues. But this morning, preparing to teach the Life Group lesson based on the first sermon in the series (we hear the sermon at the 9:30 a.m. service then discuss it in Life Group at 10:45 a.m.) I learned it would be about social issues. For the next four weeks we will have sermons covering:

- human sexuality
- homosexuality
- politics and religion
- alcohol

The book has a few other topics, I believe, but our pastor likes short series and frequent turnover, so we are only covering the four. I'm thinking of buying the book and seeing the full version, rather than the clipped version they are giving the Life Group teachers. There's also a video series that goes with it.

So why is pastor Mark doing this? He said because he loved us too much to allow all of our conversations about this to be in the context of the office water cooler.

This week the sermon was actually not from the book. Pastor Mark set the stage for the next four weeks by making sure we understood what a charitable discourse was. Using Ephesians 4:1-6 and "speaking the truth in love" as a basis, we need to learn how to tackle these issues in love. The three guiding principles pastor gave us were:

- in the essentials, unity
- in the non-essentials, charity
- in all things, love.

Today we talked about how to do this in love. We talked about what are essentials, what are non-essentials.

It's going to be interesting these next four weeks. I teach two of the four classes.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Vacation

I had hoped to post the last couple of days, but haven't. We are on vacation, suffering through three straight days of rain. Today we went to church, then back to the hotel and just relaxing. We might go to a movie this evening, as we did yesterday evening. Or maybe we'll just watch TV in the room. Heck of a vacation.

Well, the sun just broke out, though it has a couple of times earlier today.

I'll be back in a few days.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Long Live the Critique Group

It appears that BNC Writers is dead. So far this year we have had about eighteen meetings. Twice we had three people attend. Three or four times we had only one attend—me as the leader. The rest of the time we had only two. Bessie and I used those times to good advantage. We worked on her missions book, intended to be one of the six annual books for our denomination. Last week we put the finishing touches on her proposal and three sample chapters. The rest of her book is done, subject to minor tweaking and formatting. Also during these times I read chapters from several things I was working on.

But a group of two isn't much of a critique group. Three is immensely better than two. Even Bessie, a very new writer, noticed that it was always better when we had three or more people in attendance.

I started the group back in early 2011. I had lunch with our then-new pastor, Mark, and asked him if he had any objection to me trying to start a writing ministry at church. I thought we would have a core group, as I had already talked with four people about it, and they all showed some degree of interest.

Alas, one can only continue to pump time into a losing effort. With Bessie's book essentially done, and with her not having anything else to share at the moment, it doesn't make sense to tie up two Monday evenings a month for a critique group that barely exists. Bessie and I can continue to share stories and chapters as we have them complete, without needed to formally meet.

We had fifteen people on our mailing list, including four people who didn't attend our church. Seven of those attended at least one meeting in the eighteen months we met. Those four I talked to before approaching the pastor with the idea never attended a meeting. They never promised to, though they all expressed interest in advancing their writing.

After our last meeting on September 17, I sent an e-mail out to the mailing list, suggesting that maybe we didn't need to maintain BNC Writers anymore. Only Bessie responded. To state the cliche, the silence told more than responses would have.

So I guess I'll lay low for a while, keep writing, keep self-publishing, and looking toward the future. Whether a different critique group is in my future remains to be seen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Finding Meaning in the Ordinary

Once again, our pastor gave a powerful message on finding meaning in ordinary occupations. He used the biblical examples of the calling of the fishermen in Luke chapter 5, and the two callings of Matthew (Levi) and Zaccheus for illustrations of the principles.

The fishermen had a mundane career, with some danger involved. Their business was taking something that was alive, catching and killing it and making it available for consumption. After Jesus called them, their job was just the opposite: rescuing things from death and helping them to have a relationship with the Giver of Life.

In the case of Zaccheus, his job was to collaborate with the hated Romans, collecting taxes from them and profiting from the corruption of the system. Zaccheus was essentially an extortionist to his fellow Jews. He met Jesus, and his life was changed. Who did Zaccheus need to help him on his new journey? Someone like Matthew, who had made the same journey a couple of years before. He had the same profession as Zaccheus, found Jesus, and had walked with him a while when that man came under the influence of the Master.

Pastor Mark's message was how do you know but that the calling you have, in a non-ministerial position, will have a huge influence over people's spiritual lives? He gave the example of a man in his former church who was sure he had a later-in-life call to preach. It turned out, after wise counsel, that he had vocational and avocational opportunities for ministry that he wasn't taking advantage of.

Good thoughts from our pastor.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Marking Time

I was planning on blogging here Sunday, but didn't. I would have told what a great service we had Sunday with guest speaker Don Soderquist, former COO of Wal-Mart.

I didn't blog anywhere yesterday. Had writers group and, well, got home afterwards realizing the group is essentially dead. That didn't exactly raise my spirits, and I didn't do much last night.

Haven't done much tonight, except watch the Criminal Minds team catch the bad guys for three straight hours--or was it four?

Waiting on a corrected cover before I can publish my short story. Waiting on a different cover before I really want to push my latest novel. Waiting on a sense of direction before I begin my next writing work. I'd write an article for Decoded Science, but the editor really prefers news articles. I don't do journalism, so I'm not sure I have much of a future there. I should send her an e-mail.

Waiting on a book sale; any book sale. Waiting on Amazon to straighten out my sales tally, which appears to have been stuck since Sept 8 (according to a notice on my Author Central page). Waiting on Goodreads to tell me how to add a book to my list of publications.

Today I wrote an e-mail to my nephews, a story about the days of our growing up in Cranston. The boys (heck, they're men now) asked me to tell them some of the stories. Their dad (my brother, now deceased) never told many stories. My own children have led lives far away from Cranston, and at this time appear to have no interest. So every week or so, as the spirit moves me, I write them an e-mail with a story. And I heard back from one of them already.

Guess I'll head to bed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

One Blog or Two?

I set this blog up in December 2007, with the help of my son-in-law. I didn't have any real goal in mind other than to have a web presence. I knew that a wannabe author should have that, but I wasn't sure I was ready to have an author web site. So An Arrow Through the Air became my web presence.

In June 2011, with the help of my son, I set up an author's web site. He recommended I have a blog with it, which made sense. A blog is nothing more than an interactive web page, he explained, while other pages are static. So he set up the blog page, ported over all the posts and comments from this blog, and I had two blogs. Easy-peasy.

I set about trying to differentiate the two blogs, even though they contained the same history of posts. The blog at would be my writer's blog, discussing what I was writing, how my "career" was going, maybe discussing writing techniques I was using. This blog would become more general, discussing life, liberty, and the pursuit of all things I pursue in life.

This conformed with the prevailing wisdom that a blog should be focused. Don't go discussing sports on a political blog. Don't discuss writing on a foodies blog. Makes sense. So my two blogs proceeded, a couple to a few posts a week each, like two paths diverging in a yellow wood, yet never losing sight of each other. I've never felt that I have truly achieved two very different blogs. Maybe that's because I'm too close to them. Possibly readers would find them more different than I do.

But then author and social media maven Kristen Lamb goes and writes a post like this, When Do Writers Need Multiple Blogs? She gave her answer in the first paragraph: "Um...never." Have one blog and blog about all your interests on it. Her reasoning for this advice: time. Since most writers have day jobs and families and homes to operate and maintain, two blogs is too much work. Put all your posts on one blog, she says. Trust your readers to read the posts they're interested in a skip over the rest.

No, I'm not thinking of closing down this blog, nor my other one. I find it interesting how expert advice from multiple experts can be so opposite. One says, "Establish a thematic blog that documents and promotes your brand. If you have other interests not related to your brand, start another blog for that." A second expert says, "Your brand is everything you do. Keep it all on one blog. Blog about one thing one day, another thing another day. Trust your readers to sort it all out."

I must admit that at present the first expert makes a little more sense, though I'm not dismissing the second expert. I probably need to try harder to differentiate my two blogs. I don't know if anyone has noticed, but I've been on a somewhat more regular schedule for blog posts, using alternate days: Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday for AATTA; and Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for DAT. I don't know how long I'll keep that up, but I'm trying to be disciplined enough to maintain that schedule.

I'll keep Kristen Lamb's advice at hand, but keep the two blogs for now. We'll see what the future holds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Authors Gaming the System

In recent days the publishing industry has learned how three authors have "gamed" the system, as I call it. They are:
  • John Locke is one of the darlings of the self-publishing crowd. He wrote a number of books, published them in rapid succession, priced them at $0.99 for an e-book, and sold a million e-books in a few months. He then published "How I Sold a Million e-Books in Five Months", which sold a ton of books. What he conveniently left out of that memoir/instruction book was that he spent thousands of dollars to buy reviews on Amazon. You can read about it here. [link may expire]
  • Stephen Leather is an author I don't know. He's admitted to using sock puppets (see his comments in this thread) to post reviews on Amazon. For those who don't know, a sock puppet is Internet-speak for someone who posts to a site/forum/list under multiple identities, thus disguising who he is. It's different than simply remaining anonymous, since multiple identities are involved. Sock puppets are typically use to promote yourself while appearing to be a different person. They can also be used to denigrate your opposition or competition, or to get around being banned from a site.
  • Roger Ellory (writes as R.J. Ellory) is also guilty of practicing sock puppetry, praising his own books and denigrating others. Here's a compilation of tweets about it (language warning). This story has had a lot of legs, and finding more comprehensive, paragraph-organized posts about it should be easy with a search engine.
What does all this mean? That self-published authors have figured out how to game the Amazon system to sell more books? Looks that way. The self-publishing part of the Internet is abuzz with this, as is some of the trade publishing I-zone. After all, Ellory is a trade-published author, yet he stoops to sock puppetry. Shameful!

This paints self-publishing in a bad light, but it also taints trade publishing. It seems authors in both camps may behave badly. Locke's ethical downfall is probably the greater, though some may disagree.

This comes down to ethics vs. law. As I've said before in different venues, the law defines the lowest level of behavior deemed acceptable to society. Ethics describes a standard higher than the law, to which a person ascribes in order to be a better member of society. These three authors have followed the law (though there is a question of whether or not the sock puppetteering violates Amazon terms of service, which is an ethical behavior/sort-of-law to which they agreed).

To make a long story short, only once have I solicited a review. That was to a man I know who said he'd read one of my books and liked it, and I asked him if he would post a review at Amazon. He said he would, though he hasn't yet. I don't ever plan on soliciting reviews. My books will rise or sink based on the judgment of the marketplace, without interference from me other than typical marketing and sales activities.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Finding Meaning in the Ordinary

When you've sat through a few decades of sermons, it's easy to tune them out, to be sitting in the sanctuary and have your mind elsewhere. I've been lucky that I've had pastors who are excellent preachers, who brought the word of God with power and in interesting ways.

Today was no exception. Pastor Mark Snodgrass began by discussing what it meant to be ordinary. He gave the results of his Googling his own name, and displaying pictures of other people named Mark Snodgrass. One man was residing in a facility of the California Dept. of Corrections. [An aside: I've done the same thing and found a David A. Todd incarcerated in Pennsylvania] Then he told a number of ordinary things about his life.

Then, based on Colossians 3, he showed us how to find glory in the ordinary things we do every day. He even did it with some unintended humor. One of his illustrations was about a job he had in college, being monitor of the computer lab. He said he really had only three duties: help people log on, help people heck their e-mail, and keep the printer stocked with paper. He made the point of how ordinary this was. But twice, when he meant to say paper in the printer, he said, "printer in the paper." The congregation snickered, though I don't think he understood we weren't laughing at his illustration but at his misspeaking.

So this week I will be looking for meaning and glory in the ordinary. As I look ahead to the workweek, it looks pretty ordinary to me. No special meetings. No travel. Be in the office and manage the company's training. I have a few special items to handle, but not just a few, and they shouldn't be time consuming.

In my writing, I hope to be publishing a short story, "Whiskey, Zebra, Tango", this week. At some point publishing will become ordinary, but not yet. But I don't anticipate doing a lot of writing on new works; well, maybe on a couple of articles. But overall you could say this will be an ordinary week for writing as well.

So, I hope next Sunday to come back and report on whether there was meaning and glory in the ordinary. I think there will be.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Kind of Book Reader Am I

I can't remember where I picked up this article. From a link on a writing blog, I know, but which one. Give me a minute to do some searching...

...Okay, found it. Not at the blog I expected. I did a Google search for "What Kind of Book Reader Are You?", and found this article at the Atlantic Wire. This isn't about the type of books people like to read, the genre or subject matter. Rather it's about how someone relates to books. The article lists these types of readers.

The Hate Reader

The Chronological Reader

The Book Buster

Delayed Onset Reader #1

Delayed Onset Reader #2

The Bookophile

The Anti-Reader

The Cross-Under

The Multi-Tasker

The Sleepy Bedtime Reader

These are not all self-explanatory. The hate reader claims to hate reading, but deep down loves it. The chronological reader reads books in the order purchased. Neither of these are me. I love to read, and admit it. And I don't worry about the order I read in. I try to mix fiction with non-fiction, and break down my non-fiction reading among self-help, writing books, Christian books, and a few others. But except for that, I read whatever piques my interest at the moment. If I buy a new book it is likely to go to the top of the reading pile, even if that pile has twenty books in it.

The book buster is close to me: "home strewn with books scattered about, this way and that," except I don't do the unintentional book destruction part described in the article. The D-O #1 is also close to me: buying more books than I can possibly read in my busy life, and reading fewer than actually come in the house. That's definitely me. The D-O #2 is NOT me. That is a book displayer, not really a reader. Yes, I display my books, but I read them too.

The bookophile loves books and reads them, but actually loves the book more than the reading. No, that is definitely not me. I love to read, and I don't care if it's a magazine, a flyer, a comic book, a short story, or what it is. Give me something to read, to while away the hours, or even the otherwise idle fifteen minutes, when I'm not working, writing, sleeping, maintaining what I must maintain. Er, I guess that's not a lot of reading time.

The anti-reader is close kin to the hate reader. Not me. The cross-under reads books not really intended for their age group. Not me, though I will, at some point, take in the Harry Potter series. And I'm definitely not the sleepy bedtime reader. Reading in bed just doesn't work for me.

That leaves the multi-tasker, which the article defines this way: are a promiscuous reader, but it's not that you don't finish reads. Instead, you just have a sort of hippie reading way about you, free love or some such. You might start the day out with a few pages from one novelist, then read something entirely different on the subway, and when you come home from work, another work as well.

That is definitely me, though I shudder to be associated with the hippies. I'm glad my promiscuity is directed toward books, and not the other.

How about you? What kind of reader are you?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No Hope

I don't usually cover political topics on this blog. When I get the urge to write about politics, I either post on my friend's political blog or I write a book, such as The Candy Store Generation. However, a thought has been running through my mind lately, and I want to write about it. This blog seems to me to be the correct venue. And maybe the topic is more sociological than it is political.

I'm thinking about the rash of shootings of late in the United States. This past week it was the workplace shooting in (maybe) New Jersey. Before that it was the shooting near the Empire State Building in New York City. Before that it was six killed at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Before that it was the theatre shooting in Colorado. The news has been full of people being killed and maimed by gunfire.

But hasn't it always been that way? How many people are shot and killed every day in our country, murders we hear nothing about? I'm sure there are many. Yet these happen in the non-usual places to victims who seem, if not random, at least undeserving of the fate they received. A gang shooting in NYC? Ho hum, nothing unusual, we won't cover it. Another murder in Chicago? Not newsworthy, unless it's a bunch of them clustered on a weekend.

Are these recent high-profile shootings indicative of anything? I have a theory about it. To set up the theory, I first need to go back to 1994. I wrote about this somewhere before, probably on The Senescent Man blog, but I'll do it here. I'm doing this from memory, not research or statistics, but my memory of this is clear. As 1994 unfolded, the murder rate throughout the nation was up. NYC and Chicago were heading towards record years. Little Rock was, by the time November 1 rolled around, within just a couple of the record and were clearly going to break it. In major city after major city, the story was the same.

Then suddenly, the murders stopped. I don't know the exact situation in all cities, but in Little Rock there were almost no murders for the rest of the year. I'm pretty sure they didn't break the record. In most cities in the USA the story was the same. A very high rate from January through October, then a sudden and significant drop in November and December. What had happened to cause this?

Remember the mid-term elections of 1994? The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives (for the first time since 1952) and of the Senate (for the first election since 1986). This was the first time since the 1920s that they were the majority party in both houses of Congress. The president was the Democrat Bill Clinton.

As the murder rate dropped to near zero during this lame duck period, when the Democrats were licking their wounds and the Republicans were gearing up to lead Congress, I heard the news reports about the drop in the murder rate and wondered why. And I heard no commentary about it on the news, which was mostly network news at the time. Could the two event—the drop in the murder rate and the new party taking control of Congress—be related?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that someone who planned on killing his ex-girlfriend's new lover came to his senses and said, "Oh, the Republicans took control of Congress. I guess I won't waste the dude after all." No, that's not what I'm saying. But it seems to me that the two may be related. If so, what could it be?

I decided that perhaps the election of new majorities in Congress gave people reason to hope that things would get better. A change is as good as a holiday. Maybe a change brings hope. No one could be sure what the new Congress would do. They would be on the opposite side of the fence from the president. Gridlock might result. But maybe gridlock would actually be a good thing. I don't know what people were thinking. But the Republicans were elected, the Congress would be made up as it hadn't been for about 70 years, and the murder rate dropped. I think they were somehow related, and the cause was renewed hope. While perhaps no one verbalized this, or even internalized this, I believe people felt a new sense of hope for a better future. When you have hope for the future, you are less likely to put a gun to someones head and pull the trigger.

Today, it seems that hope is waning in America. It might be the economy, which is now in the fourth or fifth year of a downturn/recession/depression/panic/anemic recovery/however you wish to categorize it. The news is filled with the acrimony between parties, the invectives Alexander Hamilton wrote about so long ago. I see lots of room for hope to tank, to be replaced by despair and loathing.

I don't know, maybe this is all foolish speculation on my part, but that's how I see it. America has lost hope. Any comments?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Two Eternal Types in Fiction – Part 2

About a week ago I wrote a blog post about the two eternal types in fiction; that is, the two types of heroes. Rather than repeat what I mean by that, I'll just link to that post. I meant to come back to that, but a week of busyness prevented me. I'm here now, ready to discuss Mr. Mabie's article.

Quoting from the article:
When primitive man looked into their hearts and their experience they found their deepest hopes, longings, and possibilities bound up and worked out in two careers: the career of the hero and the career of the wanderer. These two figures became the commanding types of all the nobler mythologies because they symbolized what was best, deepest, and most real in human nature and life. They represent the possible reach and the occasional achievement of the human soul; they stand for that which is potential as well as for that which is actual in human experience. Few men achieve or experience on a great scale, but these few are typical and are, therefore, transcendent in interest.
Now, I realize that just because this found it's way into a magazine article on literary criticism in 1895 doesn't make it true. I first read this to say there are only two types of protagonists in fiction: the hero and the wanderer. I kind of bristled at that at first, thinking to to be an over-simplification. However, I realize now that Mabie is not saying these are the only two types of heroes, but that these became the dominant ones.

I don't suppose he's saying the wanderer can't be a hero. He's saying a hero either stays at home, or he wanders, doing his hero activities in either case. That sounds reasonable to me, and makes me wonder how my heroes/heroines should be classified. Ronny Thompson from In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People probably classifies as a non-wandering hero. Although he leaves his native Haskell County, Kansas, to play major league baseball in Chicago, which takes him to many cities, he is a stay at home kind of guy. His thoughts are always on home, and he struggles with the thought that his dad is there working the farm alone. For him to say he's not going home during the off-season is a major step.

Augustus in Doctor Luke's Assistant is also a stay-at-home hero. He loses his job in Jerusalem and finds another one right there. Despite trips to Galilee and Judean villages, his thoughts are always on home. On the other hand, Luke is clearly a wanderer. He had been with Paul on travels throughout the eastern Mediterranean area, and with little more than knowing a need that a book must be written, picks up and embarks for Israel to see the project through.

What will my future books hold? The sequel to FTSP will involve the same heroes and villains. The sequel to DLA (which I haven't talked about yet and which at this point exists only as a mental outline) will introduce Augustus' sons, one of whom is a hero and the other a wanderer. In China Tour (which I haven't said much about, and which at this point exists only as a mental outline), the male protagonist is a wanderer, but I think his character arc will take him to the point of being a stay-at-home hero.

The years will be interesting, as I ponder Mabrie's theory and see how it applies to my own writing. I don't know if I will wind up agreeing or disagreeing as time goes on.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Pleasant Sunday

What has gone right today?
  • We got to church on time.
  • I remembered to write and bring a tithe check for some writing and other miscellaneous earnings.
  • Our pastor preached a wonderful sermon on the power of prayer, from James 5, tying in passages from Revelation, and pointing out things I hadn't thought of before. Despite attendance being down due to the holiday weekend, I was encouraged by the service.
  • We had a good Life Group session. Again, attendance was down, so we talked a long time of just talking before getting into the lesson. That was short, but good.
  • Lynda and I ate out with her mom; Famous Dave's bar-b-que, quite delicious.
  • While the ladies went shopping for shoes, I walked over to Barnes & Noble and had a nice time of browsing, reading in a newish book about Robert Frost, and drinking a venti house blend.
  • And now I'm in The Dungeon, writing blog posts, and preparing to work on an e-zine article.
  • I also spent a little time on my household budget, on which I'm desperately far behind.
  • And I have the day off tomorrow.
What has gone wrong today?

Actually, I can't think of anything. It's a bit too hot to walk, at least comfortably, so I suppose that's a negative. I've wasted a little time playing mindless computer games, but it has been restful recreation. I probably read a little too much on Facebook, also restful recreation.

I don't think I'll finish the e-zine article today, but I'll make a start on it. There's no deadline. I promised the editor I'd write a few articles for her, and it's time to fulfill my promise, since I'm between other writing projects. Other than that, if I spend any time writing today, it will actually be on promotion of the works I have already published.

To close out the good day, a couple—no, actually three—book await me to read a few more pages in them. What a great way to close out a wonderful Lord's Day.