Thursday, July 31, 2014

America. What Would the World Be Like Without Her?

That is the question asked in D'Nesh D'Souza's latest film of that title. Lynda and I saw that in the theater a couple of weeks ago. He chose five items that are often criticisms for how the USA developed and carried itself in the world, and sought to answer those criticisms. The were such things as stealing the land from the native peoples, allowing slavery, having a capitalist system that steals wealth from people.

Recently, on Mike Huckabee's weekend program on the Fox News Channel, D'Souza was on opposite Richard Dreyfus to argue the merits of the film. It was an interesting segment. Dreyfus, who was on through a remote feed, had his arms crossed, showing body language that said he didn't want to be there. His two main points against the film were: 1) Americans aren't taught history and civics any more, and so there's no way to properly evaluation the merits of the film; and 2) D'Souza never answered the question about what the world would be like without America.

D'Souza, who was in-studio with Huckabee, had a generally more upbeat and open body language than Dreyfus. At first he ignored Dreyfus' charge that the movie didn't answer his own question. The second time Dreyfus said that, D'Souza said, "I'll answer it right now." He said that before the USA came into existence, nations advanced through what he calls the conquest epoch. They took territory by war, subjugated peoples, stole their land, enslaved them, and stole their wealth. America, however, established wealth building as the means for nations to advance. Slowly the nations of the world are coming around to this.

While enjoying the film, and being in general sympathy with it, I must agree with Dreyfus that the film didn't answer that quest, at least not directly and with a firm statement. It talked about the conquest epoch, and how the USA was the first nation to truly move away from it. The film did not, however, go on to state that this example was being copied by the world, or that if America had never formed the world would still be dominated by the conquest epoch.

I sort of sensed that was where D'Souza was going as I watched the movie. His concept of the conquest epoch had been on my mind lately. I thought of all the wars that were fought—are still being fought—in the world, for the gain of some nation at the loss of others. I thought back to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the devastating consequences that has perpetrated on the world. I look at the break up of the Soviet Union, beginning about the same time, and how fighting continues in places such as the Ukraine and Chechnya. Now you have the fighting going on between Gaza and Israel, right next to where they Syrians are in a civil war, right next to Lebanon, which was war-torn for decades. It's the conquest epoch. People want to be free of something or someone, someone else doesn't want that to happen, and war results. I'm tired of war.

Given how much war there is in the world right now, at a supposedly civilized time, I wonder how well the USA is doing in being an example for the world.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Apologies Once Again

Sorry, loyal readers, about not having a post yesterday. I was sick over the weekend, with nausea and vomiting (probably an on-going but suddenly more severe reaction to my medications). Also we have preparations for receiving grandchildren. All three of them, ages 6, 3, and 1, will be staying with us all week. They should be there when I get home from work.

I'll be taking vacation beginning tomorrow afternoon, to help out and spend time with them. It will be a stay-cation. Hopefully I'll find time to blog and write as well as do my grandfatherly duty.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's Thursday, I'm Here

That's about all I can say about the start of the day. As I said in my last post, I was nauseous on Monday. I was able to keep my food down, but it was always there, ready to come back up. Tuesday and Wednesday, during the workday, had a little nausea, but not much. I actually felt pretty good.

Then I got home Wednesday night, and it all came back. Had a bowl of homemade soup for supper, and the nauseous feeling was immediately there. I finally decided I'd better walk and see if I could keep my supper down. Lynda walked with me. We returned some things to the neighbors. She stayed to visit while I walked on. I delivered some mis-delivered mail to the next neighbors, and kept going.

About 1/4 mile up the road it was no use. I stepped into a wide grassy area and lost everything, heaving for a long time. I turned around and walked back, and had another episode. Of course, after that I felt much better, though I was wiped out for the evening, and sat around doing nothing but light reading.

This nausea seems to be a reaction to a combination of medicines. I take methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis and Byetta for type 2 diabetes. It wasn't till the Byetta was added that I started having the nausea. One thing Byetta does is mess with normal digestive system function. It delays the emptying of the stomach, which causes you to eat less and lowers blood sugar spikes. At lest, that's what the papers that come with the medicine, or what on-line sources, tell me.

The worst day seems to be Wednesday. Tuesday is when I take my methotrexate. I'm wondering if that is sitting on my stomach, and having that too long in the stomach, together with the stomach being full, is the problem. I used to take methotrexate on Monday and felt the nausea on Tuesday. As an experiment I changed the day, and the nausea changed. But the methotrexate isn't the problem, as I took it for over a year with no problems. It was only after the Byetta was added that the problem began.

I went a month or two this year with little nausea, May and June. It's come back in July. Coincidentally I've been eating a little more in July. My stomach is probably staying fuller, and the nausea persists.

Today I feel weak in body and mind. It's 8:26 a.m. right now. I need to be about my employer's business, so will end this and see what I can accomplish.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Post Delayed

Yesterday, Sunday, was a busy day. I know, it's supposed to be a day of worship and rest. It was in part that. But trying to complete the edits on my novel-in-progress, and a Life Group teachers meeting in the evening, meant I didn't take time to write and publish a post here.

Today, I came to the office nauseous, and it took a long time to dissipate. I was working on only about 3 of 8 cylinders. Consequently, I couldn't wrap my mind around the subject I'd intended for today.

So, this is all you get: a non-post post. I should be back and rearing to go on Thursday.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Where is BigPub Going?

I’m still reading a lot of blogs and news stories about the Amazon/Hachette negotiations, and what this suggests about the future of how books reach consumers in America. One insider in what can be called Big Publishing is Michael Shatzkin. He’s now a consultant to publishers, and runs a popular blog. In a post he made on July 15, 2014, he said this concerning how publishers can stop Amazon’s roll to dominance:
Can they [the government] be awakened by publishers to this concern before dramatic cases affecting public awareness and policy are documented?

This echoes what others have said, most notably James Patterson. They want the government to step in and save the publishing industry as we know it. What exactly it is that they want the government to do is never stated. Make some kind of anti-Amazon law—yes, but what form that would take or what it would do is uncertain. Limit e-book sales to some percent of print book sales? Break up Amazon as they did a century ago with Rockefeller’s Standard Oil? Or something else like that.

I’ve covered this in other posts, and will do so briefly here. It is not the government’s roll to prop up failing businesses, or to guarantee the continuation of a business climate that is favorable to a certain business or industry. Freedom of the press is not a guarantee of an audience, or of customers. Others have suggested that this drift towards requesting/expecting government involvement is a sure sign that BigPub is in trouble, perhaps in the throws of death. Only the government can save them is what's being implied.
BigPub is a middle man. The best I can say of them is that they are a value-added reseller. They buy a product, a book, that is not yet in a form that a consumer can use. They put it in that form by adding value.  They edit, format, package with a cover, warehouse, and finally ship to retailers a product that the consumer can use, enjoy, and benefit from. In their choosing which products to buy and add value to, they offer consumers a higher quality product than the average of the raw materials they considered at first.

The problem that Big Publishing has is that technology has progressed to the point that other means of adding that value can be found. Let’s say that forty years ago a writer submitted a manuscript to BigPub and it was rejected with a note, “You are almost there; keep writing.” If that writer decided to try himself to put that book before the public, it would be a difficult and costly proposition. He had to find an editor. How do you do that? Look at ads in writing magazines, answer an ad by snail mail, and try to find an experienced editor who knew the genre and could respond timely—all by snail mail. He had to have a cover made. Go through the same process with an artist and possibly a graphic designer. Had to format the book. Go through the same process with a typesetter, followed by a proofreader, revise the typesetting. Find a printer/binder. Figure out how to get it in bookstores. Or, in place of all that, pay several thousand dollars to a service who would do all that for you, though most likely to a quality standard you wouldn't be pleased with.
But now technology has changes that. E-mail shortens the process. Internet-based platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, and Draft-2-Digital have reduced the need for so many outside service providers. Even covers can be quickly and easily made. Artistic touches, when needed, can be hired out, with the process of finding the artist/designer made that much easier by communications moving like wildfire over the Internet. The rejected writer, or even the non-rejected writer who just decides to forego dealing with BigPub, can quickly, easily, and inexpensively publish a book and put it before readers in modern sales channels. Perhaps not all the sales channels available to BigPub, but it’s still out there.

So I see only two things that will cause BigPub to fall from their present lofty heights.
  1. Fail to embrace and use new technologies; and
  2. Writers, including big name writers, abandoning them in droves.
I don’t see the latter happening. Yes, more and more writers are eschewing BigPub in favor of self-pub, but these are mostly mid-list writers (though including some high up the mid-list). Even if this trend continues and grows, plenty of other writers, including many just as good as those currently in BigPub’s stable, are at the door, manuscript in hand, waiting to be let through by the gatekeepers. However, I do see BigPub refusing to embrace new technologies. They are fighting with Amazon, their biggest and most efficient sales outlet. They are fighting the whole migration to e-books, keeping prices for them high and delaying their release so as to prop up print books. They are not learning what customers want.

How long BigPub’s run will be before some kind of bubble bursts and they implode is anyone’s guess. I have no clairvoyance on that. Some people say two years, some say five to ten years. I suspect ten years is the low end. In 2020 I think things will be more or less the same as they are now, with all current trends continuing. E-books will be a higher percentage of total books sold, both units and dollars. Print will be moving toward being a niche, or a number of niches, though will still be pretty big. Publisher profits will have started dropping. Some mega-bestseller will have bolted, but not all. New writers who were previously shut out will continue to be published and will be tickled pink to have contracts, even draconian contracts, from BigPub. Amazon will still be king of the retail hill. And self-publishing will have continued to take market share away from BigPub. The business will look different, but the end of BigPub will not yet have occurred and may not yet be in sight.
So that’s my take on the current mess in the publishing world. It’s not that much different, if at all, from what I wrote before. Let’s see what 2020 brings us.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Layman Says "Send Me"

Isaiah said it, and we have it recorded in Chapter 6, verse 8 of the book that bears his name:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send !"
With that calling, Isaiah changed his life direction. Before that he had been a simple historian. In 2nd Chronicles we read "The other events of Uzziah's reign...are recorded by the prophet Isaiah  son of Amoz." We also read in that chapter about Uzziah's death, how after a long and successful reign he lost sight of the goal, sinned, and was afflicted with a skin disease that prevented him from ever entering again into the temple.

This appears to be on Isaiah's mind, as he marked his calling has having taken place "in the year that King Uzziah died." I suspect Uzziah's fate weighed heavy on Isaiah's mind. He wrote the history of it; he knew it well. We don't know for sure whether the call came before or after Uzziah's death, but clearly it was in close time proximity to it. It was important enough that that's what Isaiah remembered when he wrote about his call.

Today in our adult Life Group, instead of a typical lesson we listened to a sermon. Penny McCawlay, one of our members, is aiming to become a chaplain. Her educational program includes a class on preaching. That class required her to preach a sermon, video record it, and have the class complete evaluation forms. That took place today in Life Group.

Penny did a great job. She focused on the call of the layman, using examples from her own life: from work and church. She had a good mix of scripture, illustration, and commentary. Her preparation was clearly effective and her delivery was fine.

Well done, Penny. I hope you get a good grade.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Staying Busy - Helped by the To Do List

If you've read this blog for very long, or my other blog about my writing life, you know I stay busy, really busy. Most of it is of my own doing, as I choose how to live my life. Some of it is "have to do stuff," such as maintaining house and vehicles. I'm pretty good at preparing and following to-do lists at work, not so good at home. But I do make them for outside work, and sometimes they help me. Last night was a perfect example.

I left the office around 5:30 p.m., stopping by the bank and grocery store on the way home, needing only a few items. Earlier I had prepared a to-do list for the evening, and knew, without referring to the list, all the things I needed to do. Among those things only one was something I could do that day and only that day: pick blackberries.

Okay, so that's an exaggeration. I can pick blackberries any day. But only today will I find certain blackberries at a perfect stage of ripeness. A day later and they'll be over-ripe; a day early and they'll not be as sweet as they could be. Yes, picking blackberries in the roadside bushes around the neighborhood was on the to-do list, even though I picked a pint at work on my noon hour.

But as I looked at the items on the list, I realized picking blackberries was perhaps the least important of all I had to do. So instead I did the following.
  • Continue clean-up of the debris from our recent tree topping. I finished moving one pile to the street side, where on Saturday I'll load it in the pick-up and take it to the stump dump, and I drug another pile off into the woods. Some of the piles are so far down the hill that bringing them up to the street is much too much work. Easier to take them into the woods. Then I cut some of the larger limbs into moveable lengths/weights, and continued to pile them for later cutting into firewood length. I still have much to do on this, but it's looking better, much better.
  • Continue to enter our expenses into my budgeting spreadsheet. I allowed myself to get way behind on this, as well as on filing. Night before last I picked up this long neglected task and made some progress. Last night I did the same, with additional progress. At the rate I'm going I'll be caught up on the spreadsheet early next week. Then I'll see about filing.
  • Work on Documenting America, Civil War Edition. I completed chapter 1 in this, and worked on proper entries in the writing diary for it. This is early in the process, but I'm pleased with how it is at this time.
  • When I finished my work for the night on DA-CWE, it was 9:30 p.m. Lots of time left in the evening to do something else. But what? The written to-do list wasn't in front of me, but I had it in mind. I remembered that I have two books I want to format for print editions. I decided to do this work on In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. It's not hard at all, though it can be tedious. I chose paper size, changed the "Normal" style for font, input headers and footers, and added the front matter. This brought me to around 10:30 p.m. I quickly went through the book to look for oddities, and found and changed some. Then, I noticed that I had mixed up the left hand and right hand page headers. So I switched those around, chapter by chapter. That took me to around 11:15, which was later than I had intended to work on it. But it was done, or mostly done. Tonight I'll look at it and see if anything needs changing. But for sure it's very close.
That was far from everything on the list. And the blackberries didn't get picked. I decided a few can just get over-ripe, and the birds and bugs can have them. I'll try to pick a few tonight.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Family Time

This has been a different holiday weekend, sort of. July 6 is the birthday of my mother-in-law, Esther Moler Cheney Barnes. So we are normally close to home on this weekend, spending time with her. It's no. 89 this year, so next year will be a big one.

This year our weekend included work. Friday Lynda and I worked in the yard. I'm still working on clearing away from the tree trimming, while Lynda is planting flowers and vegetables in pots. She has some nice flower arrangements, as well as two pepper and four tomato plans, all in pots. Next year, possibly, I'll have prepared some ground down in the back yard for a real garden, but this year it's just pots.

I drug a bunch of leafy branches far down into the woods. Cleared off the outer-most row of brush piles. then I hauled some from the upper part of the backyard to the street and loaded the pickup to take to the stump dump. I rested a while, then trimmed some of our front bushes, which were way overdue for trimming. They look good, though I only got about half of them trimmed. Next Saturday, perhaps, I'll get to the rest. Lynda also planted some hosta in the planter under the overhanging windows.

Saturday we did more of the same, though not as much and not as long. All in all, the front yard is looking good, and the backyard doesn't look quite so much like a disaster zone. Two more weekends of similar production, with a few hours of evening work, and the two yards will be in pretty good shape.

We also watched our neighbor's little dog this weekend, which has been enjoyable. He's easy to take care of. In fact, he seems to like being alone in the day time, so we just left him in his house most of the day and kept him here at night.

Lynda's two step sisters and their families came to town, one from Kansas City and one from OKC, for the birthday celebration. They all came over for supper last night. Ten of us gathered around our dining room table for taco salad and fruit salad for dessert. We had expected only eight, but two who weren't coming did. One family of four stayed with us last night. That gave me less time to prepare for Life Group lesson today, but that worked out okay, as we had to cut off the lesson a little early so we could head to the restaurant for the last part of the birthday celebration.

I'm full of Bob Evan's Sunshine Skillet breakfast. Would love to take a nap, but I know that as soon as I lay on the couch the to-do list will pop up in my mind and I'll be too restless to sleep. So, onward now to finish dropped plot lines in Headshots. Then maybe I'll take some time to format In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People for a paperback edition. Then, maybe, I'll work a little on my budgeting spreadsheet. Or maybe I'll leave that for tomorrow night.

So many things to do, most good choices. I guess I just like to keep busy.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

So Much News, So Little Time

It seems of late that many things are happening in the world that I care about, and that attract my attention. I hear a news story and I think, "I could write a good blog post about that." But having gone to a twice a week posting schedule, how can I get it all in?

For example, in the national news is the story about the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, where religious freedom is said to trump certain government mandates. Or, stated another way, the government can't mandate something that compliance with will cause someone to violate their religious convictions. The full fallout from this decision isn't known. Yet, it's a prominent news story that's deserving of attention.

Then there are the scandals that are plaguing the Obama Administration. Phony scandals the president calls them. Real scandals the press calls them, at least that part of the press that is covering them. Revelations come weekly in the IRS and VA situations, revelations that make government mismanagement or misconduct seem more and more certain. What happened in Benghazi has never been fully explained. The situation on the Mexican border is pathetic. Any one of these things could justify a post with political analysis.

Closer to my own world, a couple of things about writing and publishing are making major headlines. Don't look for them on the evening news or in the New York Times. They aren't big nationally, but they are among writers. The negotiations between Amazon and Hachette continue. The very people who are upset at Amazon for driving down prices are now upset with them for failing to discount Hachette books, saying that they have lost sales as a result. And still we don't know for sure, because the negotiations are taking place with a non-disclosure agreement, exactly what the issues are. Some say Amazon is trying to strong-arm Hachette; some think Hachette is trying to force Amazon to charge higher prices. We still wait on the conclusion to and fallout from this.

And, in still other news, on July 1 the NY public library held a panel discussion/forum on Amazon and its impact on the book world. The panel included James Patterson, who has been an outspoken critic of changes that are occurring in publishing, changes he doesn't like. He said bookstores and libraries are threatened. He wants the government to take action. Mind you, he's never said what action he wants the government to take. I can only presume he wants some kind of law that either reigns in Amazon or otherwise props up book prices. How that would help libraries I don't know. It's also possible he might want e-book prices significantly raises or their distribution curtailed. Maybe the latter will help libraries.

Also on the panel is an intellectual property attorney named David Vandergriff. He runs a blog popular among self-publishers, called The Passive Voice, and he is known as the Passive Guy. I read his blog daily and comment from time to time. He posted a summary of the panel and his impressions of his fellow panelists and what they seem to think the condition of the publishing industry is. Very insightful. I commented on the thread. Comments are still being posted by PG's loyal followers, with a few drive-by, non-engagement posts by one woman who disagrees with PG.

I haven't listened to the recording of the panel discussion yet, but will do so, probably next Monday. The gist of it is: the publishing industry is in trouble; Amazon is the reason; something must be done. However, the big five publishers in the USA are making good profits, perhaps even record profits. Discounting by Amazon is driving sales to them. E-books are more profitable than print books. So what's the problem? The problem is that Amazon is such a big bookseller that the publishing industry doesn't like it.

Everyone seems to be predicting the fall of Big Publishing. I don't see it myself. Printers should be concerned, as e-book's growing share of the market will shrink their work. Booksellers should be concerned (especially Barnes & Noble), as people are discovering the ease of on-line shopping. But publishers don't look to me to be in trouble. What could hurt publishers? Only two things that I can see.

1. The fail to embrace new technology and methods.
2. Writers, including big name writers, begin abandoning them in droves in favor of self-publishing.

I don't see the latter happening in the next five years, probably not in the next ten years. The world has too many writers wanting to break into publishing that, even if more and more authors choose the self-publishing route, plenty of other writers will willingly step into their places.

However, I do see big publishing failing to embrace technology, in the form of e-books. They want e-book prices high to prop up the print book market. If e-books cost $15 and hardbacks cost $25, people will still buy hardbacks. But if e-books are $5 and hardbacks $25, fewer hardbacks will be sold. Already the print market is stagnant while the e-book market is still growing. Yet Big Publishing insists on keeping e-book prices high—even colluded with Apple to make that happen—so as to save the print book market. They don't seem to realize that their insistence on high prices are driving book buyers to the self-published market, where e-books typically sell for half (or less) of what Big Publishing charges, and where paperbacks, even at print-on-demand prices, are undercutting hardbacks enough to take market share.

This type of behavior will sink the publishing industry, eventually. When? I can't predict that, but again I doubt it will have significant impact in the next five years. Ten years? Perhaps. Quite a few more things have to happen before the decline comes.