Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Little Knowledge

A little knowledge, so the saying is generally quoted, is a dangerous thing.

Not in and of itself, it isn't. What the aphorism means is that the danger lies in how one utilizes the knowledge, and generally-speaking, I think it means that if you think you know more than you do, that can trip you up.

Ignorance can be bliss, but it can kill you. What kind of snake is that? Who knows? Pick it up, it looks harmless enough ...

Red-touch-yellow, kill a fellow. Better let it alone.

Knowing just enough to get yourself into trouble probably won't happen if you don't try to overstep what you have. 

And a little knowledge tends to make you appreciate much more somebody who has a lot of it.

When I worked the phones at the clinic years ago, I'd get calls from folks who didn't want to come in and who wanted to be diagnosed and treated over the phone. I was an LPN and worked my way into being a Physician's Assistant with a national certification and a license to practice in a couple of states and all, but unseen diagnosis based on symptoms without signs is a mug's game. I was fairly good at it, but I didn't take any big risks. 

Most of the time, most illnesses are benign, and most of the time, will resolve on their own.
Which probably saves a lot of medics from malpractice suits.

Sure, some illnesses are fairly evident, and the old saw about hearing hoofbeats and not looking for zebras applies, (unless you are in Africa), but still, there are only so many ways that illnesses manifest, and sorting them out can be tricky.

If you call during flu seasons and rattle off a list that sounds like it's the flu? Coughing, sneezing, aches, fever, like that, then chances are you have the flu.

But there are other things it might be, and I can ask questions and work toward a differential diagnosis over the phone–are you coughing up phlegm? What color is it? How high is your fever? Does your neck feel stiff and sore? –whose answers will likely shift what you have into another category. You have high fever and a stiff neck? Come on in, now. Might be encephalitis or meningitis–riding that out at home could do you in.

If I told you all the things that it could be, based on common symptoms alone, we could be there a long time.

Say, Doc, I got this tingling and a little numbness in my finger tips. What could that be?

Well, I'm not the doctor, only his assistant, but, well, it could be carpal tunnel, maybe a vibrational-injury, or a pinched nerve in your neck. 

Or a stroke. 

Or leprosy ...

If you know a little bit and you offer it at the wrong time, it might not be so good. Then again, being able to dislodge something stuck in somebody's windpipe, or to stop major bleeding isn't much the way of medical knowledge, but in the right situation, it is worth diamonds and then some. 

Knowledge is power–used in the right way at the right time. 

An Open Letter to Steve Perry, Formerly of Journey

Yo, Steve–

I just answered three more letters meant for you, because having the same name and an agent apparently is enough to convince your fans that I am you. 

Even convinces some publishers, because that's where the most recent batch came from. The publisher just stuck them into an envelope and forwarded them to me.

You have some pretty amazing and loyal fans, and you have touched their hearts. The three to whom I had to say I wasn't you were a ten-year-old girl who wanted you to drop by her music recital; a seventy-year-old woman who is a long-time and ardent fan; and a young woman who writes songs, and who sent you a picture of herself and one of her cat. She wanted you to send the picture of the cat back, by the way.

I have gotten mail like this for years, and some of the stories included are as poignant as any I've ever heard. 

I expect you've heard a lot more, but I feel like a voyeur reading these. And until I open them, I'm not sure if they come from one of your many fans, or one of my considerably-lesser number of such. If they start with, "Dear Steve, I've always loved your music ..." then I don't need to read any farther, but sometimes they don't mention that until half a page down.

Steve, I'd be most pleased if you'd set up a paper mail address, or an email address where your fans can send you stuff. I mean, I appreciate a stuffed toy or a bar of chocolate as much as the next guy, but they aren't sending these to me. 

If you want to drop me a line and let me know where to forward these missives, I'll keep it private, but they are your fans, and you should give them a venue where they can reach you. Goes with the gig, doesn't it? Lord knows how many of us who share the name are getting material intended for you.  

Do the right thing, hey?


(The other) Steve Perry

Memento Mori

Went to a memorial for an old friend of my wife's yesterday. They met during a political campaign they worked on as volunteers twenty-some years ago. Along with several other women, they stayed in touch, got together now and then for dinner and drinks, and became collectively known as The Goddesses. 

Rosie was woo-woo. Did yoga, loved rituals, was the life of the party. Everybody thought she was in her mid-seventies when she had a relapse of breast cancer, but it turned out she was eighty-one. She had kids, grandkids, a long and full life, was an Irish-Catholic-pagan, and a lot of people turned out to say goodbye. One of those people who went and did, an extrovert.

The venue was the gym at the Kennedy School, and while it wasn't quite an Irish wake, there were a lot of glasses lifted in a lot of toasts, and a band that played Celtic music and had the smallest grandchildren dancing. 

Slán, Rosie.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Living in the Past - Neurology

I've spoken to this before: Humans live a half-second or so in the past, and the reason seems to be that the brain's internal editor does this so we can make sense of the world. 

There's a fascinating article in The New Yorker, The Possiblian, by Burkhard Bilger, profiling neuroscientist David Eagleman, and in it, a quick and easy experiment to show you how your brain dispenses with what it considers useless clutter. It deals with saccades, or rapid eye movements, and how it works is simple. Go look in the mirror. Shift your gaze to your left eye, then to your right, then back again. What happens is this: Your eyes (your brain) won't register movement. Even if you close one eye and try it, it still doesn't pick up motion. This is entirely subjective, because if you record this, the camera will see it. The little vid up top, I couldn't detect any movement when I shifted my focus from eye-to-eye, none. But plainly, it is there.

I confess I find this somewhat spooky, but my brain thinks this kind of input is a waste of cognition, and simply edits it out. And this isn't the only thing it estops.

The reason they use a gun to start a sprint instead of a bright light? At close range, hearing works faster than sight. The human ear can tell where a growling tiger is by the milliseconds of difference it takes the sound to reach one ear ahead of the other ear. 

An expert drummer can keep time better than a click-track, and can register differences most of us can't come close to hearing.

That fight-or-flight slowing of time? Subjective–they devised a way to test it, and you don't objectively slow down incoming data, you only think you do. The brain marks life-or-death events so as to be sure to remember them, and maybe avoid them in the future. 

I find all this kind of stuff fascinating. 

Storm Clouds

My brother and his family live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Wednesday, EF-4's and '5's rolled across the deep south, killing at least three hundred people and flattening whole towns, the worst tornado outbreak since 1974, and maybe the most damaging since the 1930's. 

More than 150 tornadoes unofficially reported. 

They are still searching for bodies in the rubble, and what a half-mile to mile-wide whirlwind does to bolted-to-the-foundation houses sometimes looks like yard debris run through a wood chipper. Pictures of people standing on a concrete slab where their homes were. Cars upside down blocks away from where they were parked. 

Where I grew up, there weren't basements–if you dig down a few feet, you hit water. 

NPR interviewed a fireman in the hospital who survived. He went to fetch his sons and saw one of them snatched away as the walls of his house collapsed, as if the boy was attached to a giant rubber band and snapped into the air. Miraculously, the boy survived with only minor injuries. The wind carried him into the air ... and then set him down. He walked back relatively unharmed, tracking his father's flashlight beam.

The fireman had broken ribs and a collapsed lung where he was hit by his washing machine.
Imagine how strong a wind must be to pick up your washing machine and smack you with it.

The son wondered to his dad if the next house they had could have a basement. Oh, yeah, the father said, even if he had to dig it with his own hands. 

Life in Tornado Alley.

My brother and his family were outside the path. They saw it, but it missed them. Didn't even lose power.

Those of you who believe in global warming–and count me among them, the science makes sense to me–probably have heard that the rise in ocean temperatures of even a degree or two will almost certainly increase both the frequency and severity of storms–hurricanes, tornadoes, down to the summer thunderstorms. Weather is driven by many things, but temperature is high on the list. 

We aren't talking about having to turn the AC on a little earlier and sweltering through a couple more days of 100+ days in August. Global changes will be profound. Stronger storms are only a tiny part of it. Once you start screwing up a major ecosystem, you really have no idea how that is going to manifest, the Butterfly Effect spawns across Chaos Theory. 

For all our technology and control of our environment, when the big winds roar, the best we can do is to warn people and then hunker down. Category 5's and EF-5's are apt to start showing up more often. We aren't ready for either, and I'm not sure what we can do to get ready. 

Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oh, Yeah, the Band ...

I did a session with the Closet Musicians, did I mention? Had a fun time–they have a diverse and interesting songbook, most of which I could manage cold, a good sign. Like baby bear's porridge, you don't want too hot or too cold, but just right, and having to concentrate on a couple of odd chords is an okay stretch. 

I played "Hey Jude," for them, didn't embarrass myself too badly, and they seemed willing to add that one into their list. A good start.

They've been doing this a couple years, have about a dozen more-or-less regular members, and usually six or eight who show up. There was another guitar, a banjo, ukulele, washtub bass, a kazoo and rhythm stick player, and a singer-only at the session, and we got along fine. Apparently there are a couple other guitarists who drop round, as well as mandolinist, harmonica player, accordionist, and a keyboardist.

They are an older group than the NFUs. I was out-yeared by three of the six, and not far ahead of a couple others. 

Geezers rule ...

I enjoyed myself, and was invited back, so that's probably a good sign ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Top Shot II

Second season of Top Shot, on the History Channel, ended last night. If you've been following it, you know who won, and if you haven't, the spoiler won't matter. If you are going to get the DVD, stop reading now.

Came down to three for the final two challenges. Gunny, Chris, the good old Mississippi boy, both ex-Marines, and George, the Air Force sniper from Noo Joizey.

Gunny, early forties, was a pistol guy, slabside expert, but fairly good with any handgun. George, twenty-something, who taught at the USAF sniper school, the best with a long gun. Chris, from Mississippi, shot a mean bow and was the best shotgunner. 

Penultimate challenge, they got to choose their weapon from a half-dozen, and their target and range. 

All along, I figured George was going to come up the winner. He was consistent, usually at or near the top, and good with a variety of weapons. He was also a big, muscular, arrogant, and cocky kid, and I was rooting against him for that. He was good, knew it, said so loud and repeatedly, come to kick ass and take names, self-centered, and it all irritated me. Plus he could bench two of me, and curl more than one of me ...

Host asked them what they'd do with the hundred grand if they won. Chris and Gunny said they'd put their kids through college. George offered he'd buy a couple new guns every month. 

In the elimination, Gunny scored enough points to guarantee he'd be in the final challenge. Chris missed shots, and it looked as if he was going home. Chris was down a point, two rounds left to go, all George had to do was hit one of two. So he picks a .357 Magnum revolver, the largest target there, a chalk board, and sets it up at twenty-five feet. These guys could step up there blindfolded and hit that, seriously.

George shot. Missed. Said, "Oh, my God!" but with a hint of a grin.

The son-of-a-bitch tanked it on purpose.

The host said, "What just happened here?"

Chris made the shot, they were tied, so it went down to the last round. Civil War era Sharps rifle, a dinner plate.

Chris shot first, hit. 

George shot. Missed again. 

On purpose? A sniper? Oh, yeah,  I could have made that shot without my glasses. 

So the arrogant, self-centered kid tanked on purpose to give his good old boy buddy a chance to win. 

And Chris did win.

I didn't see those thrown shots coming. And I hated having to revise my opinion of George, but I did.

Of course, the producers set it up that way. Gave me a reason to root against George, and kept at it going all the way through, then caught me flat-footed with his reversal of character when he shifted into unselfish mode at the end. 

Hokey as the show is, that was clever. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Radio Lives On

Only now, they call it "podcasting ..."

I just did one with a couple of guys for a Star Wars site, because this is the fifteenth anniversary of Shadows of the Empire

Fifteen years since that one came out. My, how time flies ...

It'll be up in a week or two, and I'll post the link. Meanwhile, here's the site.

I confess I enjoy these interviews. The fan who run such places are invariably enthusiastic, they know more about my book than I do, and I get to tell funny stories to folks who appreciate 'em. What's not to like?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Has Come and Gone

Saturday, we had spring. Seventy and sunny, clear, got the weed-eater and the machete out and took a whack at the grass, blackberry vines, the English ivy. Worked up a good sweat, and the yard looks better.

Easter Sunday, it drizzled on and off all day.

Today, we had, what was for us, serious rain, from about four a.m. until nine a.m. or so, and it's been windy and rainy and sun-breaks since. There's a term I never heard until I moved up here, "sun-breaks ..."

The current forecast is for it to rain until the end of time. Or at least until next weekend.

Apparently not too bad for the cherry tree out back, to judge from the blossoms. 

Welcome to Oregon, folks ...

Musical Chairs

Last week, the band broke up. Well, the jam-session I attended went away when the guy sponsoring it had a chance to join a group what gets paying gigs, and more power to him for that. 

Having, however, gotten into the idea of learning how to play with other instruments going off all around me, I felt a certain disappointment. So I hied myself over to Craig's List and stuck up a note, the essence of which was, geezer, plays a little, sings a little, looking for folks with similar abilities and tastes for recreational jam session. I appended my play list.

Gotten a couple of nibbles, and what looks like a long-running group not far from here that gets together weekly. I am welcome to drop round, they said, and I believe I am gonna. 

I dunno if I'll be a fit, but it's interesting that there are other closet musicians around ...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Basketball Glory

Never been all that big an organized sports fan. I mean, we watch the Super Bowl. I like to see gymnasts fly, there's the Olympics, and some of the trash sports are fun. I used to enjoy playing baseball, but watching that for me is as exciting as watching the grass  grow. 

But the Trailblazers–sometimes call the Jailblazers and of late, the Frailblazers–owned by billionaire Paul Allen, is the local team, and since Comcast offers their games, and since the vast wasteland of television sometimes has nothing on I want to see, we tend to get hooked into the games.

Root for the home team, why not?

Even got to go to one this season with my son, whose company has tickets a couple rows from the floor. 

Basketball is fast. You can see what is going on, and even low-scoring games will put seventy or eighty points up per side. Unlike, say, soccer, where you see a bunch of human ants on the field from far away, they run back and forth for like six hours, and nobody makes a point the whole time ...

Basketball is physical, and the drama is there. (Watching the Lakers play recently, there was a great little bit of business: Pau Gasol, about to shoot a foul shot, walked to the goal, then reached up to straighten and fluff the bottom of the net. Flat-footed. A tall guy, Gasol.)

I wasn't tall enough to play when I was a kid, and by the time I started to stretch out, track was more appealing, but I played HORSE and could shoot granny-style foul shots. Those were the four sports we had back in the day: Football, basketball, baseball, track. 

Saving throwing the next door neighbor's ball back over my fence, I haven't even touched a basketball in years. 

But Portland made the first round of the play-offs, which is fairly amazing, given that the team has been riddled with injuries. Been enough knee and foot surgery to keep a big clinic busy, and at one point, there were only eight healthy guys who could dress out, some of them still wet behind the ears. Nate McMillan was so desperate he was stopping tall guys on the street: Hey, you busy Thursday night? 

The local all-star, Brandon Roy, a twenty-six-year-old kid that everybody likes, had surgeries on both knees and fell off the map. He came back, but he wasn't the same. It was sad, there was some doubt that he'd ever play any serious minutes, though the coach gave him a shot and he did contribute, the magic was gone.

Washed up, the fans said. Get rid of him. Overlooked, he began to despair. 

Until yesterday. 

Portland was down twenty-three points in the third quarter against Dallas, after a zero-for-fourteen-shot run when Roy lit the Rose Garden up like a movie premiere. He sparked a run with eighteen points in the fourth, great shooting, passing, and the Blazers, who looked all but guaranteed to lose, making the series 2-1 Mavericks, and going to their house for the next game, suddenly came back from one of the deepest holes in NBA playoff history to win by two points.

It was amazing to watch, and not just because they won, but because everybody in Portland was rooting for Roy. If you want to see what a home court advantage is, watch the replay of that quarter. Look at the sidelines when Andre Miller, a man not known for his public displays of emotion danced–and I mean danced–up and down hooting like a banshee.

Whatever happens, however the Blazers fare, that quarter was one local fans will remember. Now and then, you get to witness sports redemption, fist-pumping, grinning, laughing, and shaking your head. This was one of those. 

Go Blazers!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Roy Rolls On

Finished Roy the Demon #10, "Chain of Command," and what I'm thinking about doing is adding it to the collected stories Gatekeeper in Hell, but exclusively at Dan's Fat Sam store. (Maybe eventually as a single, but not at or Smashwords for the collections published there.)

That way, new readers will have an incentive to check out the Fat Sam store first–which is where the link will take people from here once Dan gets it online. Aside from his copy being better, it'll have a bonus story not available elsewhere. Might help him and me both.

Now, in order to be fair to my readers who have already bought the Gatekeeper in Hell collection from or Smashwords, or who do before Dan lists it, I'll send the new Roy story to you at no charge, PDF or an epub file.

I know a few of you, but if you tell me who you are, I'll email it along. If you have my email address, you can drop me a note there; if not, you can do it here, and put up a funky version of your email address, using "dot" and "and" and such so the reapbots don't collect it.

Current Set List

Songs come and go; some I play for a while and they stop calling to me, so they fade. I hear one I like, or remember one and I can get the lyrics and chords, or figure them out, and start practicing it.

Here's what on my plate this month:

Bell Bottom Blues - Clapton
Layla - Clapton
Can’t Get Used to Losin’ You - Pomus and Shuman
One Toke Over the Line - Brewer and Shipley
Political Science - Randy Newman
Sail Away - Randy Newman
Louisiana 1927 - Randy Newman
Lonely at the Top - Randy Newman
House of the Risin' Sun - Traditional
Hotel California - Eagles
Lola - Davies
Walk Away Renee - Lookofsky and Sansone
We Just Disagree - Mason
Year of the Cat - Michaels
Hallelujah - Cohen
Been Too Long at the Fair - Zoss
Angel from Montgomery - Prine
I'm Blowin' Away - Kaz
Way Down in the Hole  - Waits
Dixie (Instrumental) - Traditional
The Weight - Robertson
Blackbird - McCartney
In My Life - Lennon
Yesterday (Inst.) - McCartney
Here Comes the Sun (Inst.) - Harrison
Hey, Jude - McCartney
 With a Little Help From My Friends - McCartney and Lennon
Stand By Me - King, Lieber, and Stoller
Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay - Redding
Brand New Key - Melanie
Born to Run - Springsteen
Telstar (Inst.) - Meek
Love and Affection - Armatrading
Have a Heart - Hayes
Stewball - Traditional
Comes a Time - Young
Dream A Little Dream - Andre, Schwandt, Kahn
For What It's Worth - Stills
Hesitation Blues - Traditional
If I can't Have You - Donaldson
Keep On Truckin' Mama - Traditional
Take a Whiff on Me - Traditional
To Make you Feel My Love - Dylan
Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown - Gilmore and Reed
Viper (The Reefer Song) - Smith
Werewolves of London - Zevon
White Freightliner - Van Zandt
St. James Infirmary - Traditional
Sloop John B - Traditional
Folsum Prison Blues - Cash

Not Afraid of the Zombie Apocalypse

"Brains ... Brains ... Or ... fried shrimp. 
Fried shrimp would be good ..."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Band Breaks Up

So, the jam sessions I've been attending weekly for the last six months, the NFUs (for No Fuck Ups) has ended.

It was a surprise, and a little sad.

Nothing acrimonious–the guy who has been hosting it at his house has too much on his plate–he's been asked to play harmonica for a group that is doing gigs, he's in another home-jam group, and it makes more sense for him to gear his playing to performing rather than jamming. I appreciate him having given us the opportunity and venue, and furnishing the beer (and pie afterwards, too.) 

Now that I've gotten a taste for being in a group, albeit one that isn't looking to go on the road, nor break into the local bar scene, I am thinking I'll have to find another one. Maybe host it at my house. 

Big wheel keeps on turnin' ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Another Favorite

Joan Armatrading's "Love and Affection." It has worn very well, check out the performance at Abby Road. I still get chills when I hear this.

Musical Resonance

I'm a Bonnie Raitt fan; Linda Ronstadt, too. In my guitar repertoire, I have songs by 'em both–"Been Too Long at the Fair," (written by Joel Zoss) "Angel from Mongomery,"(written by John Prine.)

"Different Drum," (written by Mike Nesmith–remember The Monkeys?) "Long, Long Time," (by Gary B. White)

Came across this one, a duet, I'd somehow missed. The wonder of YouTube.

Tasty Frozen Treat

When you cut way down on sugar and saturated fats, then things like pie, cake, cookies, and ice cream get hard to find without they taste like sawdust and cardboard. So my wife came up with a frozen bar that I love ...

Get some of those home popsicle forms, you've seen those, basically a hollow plastic fudgesicle-shaped container with a stick that goes in it. We use something like these:

The recipe:

A 14 oz. can of coconut milk, a same-sized can of pineapple chunks; two medium bananas; a little under two tablespoons of sugar; a dash of cherry juice.( If you are looking for a creamier texture, a teaspoon of guar or xanthan gum, which will give you fewer ice crystals.)

Pour off the pineapple juice and dump the chunks into a blender. Add the coconut milk, the bananas (good idea to chop them up a bit), the sugar and cherry juice. Turn the blender on. Let it run until the mixture becomes smooth.

Warning: Keep the top on the blender jar until you turn the motor off, please. 

Pour it into the molds. It makes enough to fill six of them, with enough left over to mostly fill an ice tray. Stick 'em in the freezer until they are set, that can take anywhere from a couple to three or four hours, depending on how much other stuff you have in there. The ice cubes you can toss back into the blender with some fruit or juice or whatever to make smoothies. (Or, you can put them into a glass and pour rum over them, which makes for an interesting and quite tasty tropical rum cooler–if it lasts long enough for the cubes to melt into it.)

To get the bar out of the mold, stick it under the kitchen faucet and run water on it for a few seconds, turning it this way and that. 

We totaled the ingredients and divided them out and it's about 116 calories each, just under 7 grams of fat, with 10 grams of sugar. Not bad for a once-a-day habit. Compare this to a Haagen Dazs bar with almonds, at 320 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 20 grams of sugar.


I'm Sorry But I Had to Do This ...

How Not to Fight

Saw this link on Wim's blog. Two guys in Philly. Kind of noisy, so turn the sound down a bit:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More on Literary Piracy

Since this has sparked some comment, maybe a bit more on how I view it.

There are two contrasting concepts in law I sometimes hold up, malum prohibitum and malum in se. The first means that a thing is bad simply because it breaks a law and isn't intrinsically evil itself. The second says the act is bad in and of itself.

In theory, laws are passed to protect people, usually from other people. Laws that protect sane adults from themselves? Not necessary. If all sexual positions except missionary are illegal and a pair of consenting adults want to do it dog-style, whose fucking business (pun intended) is that? Not the legislature's. 

Protecting the kids? Sure. Protecting somebody who doesn't want to do it dog-style and who is forced to do it? Absolutely. Mutually-agreed upon, no harm, no foul? Get outta town.

My belief is that laws should be drafted to protect people against the unjustified initiation of force. This doesn't just include direct physical force, but actions against persons and property that cost the victim time, money, bruises, or blood.  

These get parsed differently, usually by how dangerous and how wicked a criminal act is. If you rob a bank with a note says you have a bomb, it is armed robbery whether you have the bomb or not, because the threat is there. Penalty for that is worse than if you break into the place at night when nobody is home and burgle the vault.

Breaking into an account online and stealing money from it? Same penalty as the hands-on real-time burglary, at least in theory. Surely you can see why? 

If I had a hundred bucks in my account and you cleaned it out, the money is just as gone either way. Theft is theft; mine, you took it without permission, you are a thief. 

Guy points a gun at you and takes your wallet? There's a law against that, and because armed robbery is, by most moral codes in most of the world, considered a bad thing. Malum in se.

Murdering grannies and children hither and yon? Rape? Slavery? Assault?  Malum in se.

Running the stop sign at three a.m. on a Tuesday when you can see for a mile in any direction and you know no traffic is coming? Malum prohibitum. Yep, the law is designed to protect folks at the intersection, but nobody is there but me? Where's the harm?

If some yahoo down in Chigger Bite, Louisiana, gets the city council to pass a law that says you can't sing Rolling Stones songs on Tuesday? Malum prohibitum. (Maybe Lady GaGa is Malum in se ...)

In these cases, however silly, there laws against those acts. And if you break those laws, there is a chance you'll have to pay the piper if you get caught, however much you disagree with it. 

We all break laws all the time. Some unintentionally. Some because we aren't aware of them. Some because we don't agree with 'em. Some because we are willing to risk the penalty for whatever reasons. Maybe some of us are evil overlords.

If I run the stop sign, then I substitute my judgement for the traffic law's. They say I should stop at that intersection, I didn't see any reason that I should. But: maybe the next guy hasn't gotten his glasses checked lately, and he doesn't see the old lady on the bicycle out for a night ride because she has insomnia, and he runs over her.


Is he at fault? Yes. If granny was wearing her ninja outfit and almost invisible in the dark, he's at much as fault as if she were lit up like a Christmas tree: He ran the sign. The jury might take that into account, the clothes, but the driver did the crime, he has to be willing to do the time.

Copyright law says that the author has the right to distribute copies of his/her work. That's because the law recognizes intellectual property as a right, at least most places in the world.

If  the author rents those rights out, fine. If somebody starts printing up copies and selling them sans permission, most people can see that such an act is wrong. But so many of those same folks don't see that copying the book and sending it out an an e-file is just as wrong, especially in this day when electronic books are becoming the norm. By so doing, you decrease the potential buyer pool.

It's not about whether you make profit personally. Rob a bank and give the money to widows and orphans? You are a bank robber with heart, but still a bank robber. Maybe the jury cuts you some slack, but don't bet the farm on it.

Okay, duping a file and emailing to a few friends is not robbing a bank. But, consider the classic grape example. You go into the store, you are in the produce section, buying veggies and fruit. You see some nice grapes, you pluck one from a bunch you aren't planning to buy and eat it. Big deal, one grape. Safeway ain't gonna go bankrupt. You are about to spend eighty bucks on groceries.

If, however, a thousand shoppers each eat a grape, it is a bigger deal. 

If you pluck that grape from those you are planning to buy, you can justify that, right? 

But isn't it the same? If the grapes are sold by weight, it's a few grams light at the register. BFD, right?

 If a thousand folks do that,  it's a few thousand grams, and that makes it pounds. And if this happens day in, day out, such tiny pilferage gets to be a big factor in a market where the profit margins are 2% or 3%.

Had a market close here locally recently because shoplifting apparently cut so much into the margin the place started losing money. 

If everybody who goes to the park picks one flower, pretty soon the shrubs are bare.

Have I swiped stuff this way? Yes. But I knew when I did it that it was wrong. I didn't try to justify it as perfectly all right to make myself feel better about it. 

Hey, everybody does it. They can afford it. It's not all that much. It's a write-off. I'm not really part of the problem, but part of the solution, if you think about it–I'll tell folks how good the grapes are at Safeway, they'll sell more.

Uh huh. These are all things to make you feel better about doing something that you know is wrong. If you are gonna do it anyway, fine, I understand. Been there, swiped that, I don't believe that the little sins send you to Hell.

Just don't try and pretend it is an act of virtue. 

It isn't. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Super Rich Pay Less Tax

Oh, my, look at the title of this post! Rich people are paying less tax now then they used to pay–which wasn't much then, relatively-speaking.

Anybody here surprised to find this out? Anybody? You in the corner? Say what? Yes, you can go to the bathroom. Anybody else?

Yeah. That's what I thought. 

I don't mind if somebody living below the poverty level isn't kicking anything in. Somebody making a  million a year and not having to pay any taxes? I mind that. Liberty and justice for all hasn't quite overcome the rich-get-richer-and-the-poor-get-poorer-and-the-middle-class-hauls-the-freight thing, has it? 

And as Vonnegut said, so it goes. 


Been a while since I addressed this, so I thought I'd revisit it.

Copyright, as I understand it, gives you the right to distribute copies of a work. So in the instance of a book, say, you cut a deal with a publisher for an original novel, they print it and peddle it, and you divvy up the income. How it gets split depends on the contract you agree to, and the better your agent or lawyer, or the more clout you have as a writer, the larger your piece of the pie. 

In traditional publishing, a writer of my stature will get ten, sometimes twelve percent of the pie, if I am lucky. Bigger Name writers get more.

The copyright for your original work is yours, and you rent it to a publisher, but for the length of the copyright, which is life of the author plus a number of years–seventy, I think, now–you can rent it out again or sit on it. After that, generally the work enters into the public domain, and anybody can copy and distribute it, for profit or for free.

Unless you have a platoon of sharp lawyers and are Disney or ERB's heirs. Don't look for Mickey or Tarzan to fall into the public domain any time soon, though we are way past the original expiration dates on those.

I'm good with the time limit. Helps pay the bills while you are alive, might help get the grandkids through college, after that, it's free. 

Now, if you buy a novel that is three hundred pages long, and you hie yourself on down to the local Xerox machine and copy each page, because you want to write on it, or pass out sections to your American Lit class for study, you can do that under the Fair Use doctrine. And you can quote it in a review, like that.

If you copy the book, bind it, and go sell it on eBay? That's illegal. Plus it's a lot of hassle, standing there feeling sheets into a copy machine, then sorting them and binding them. If it cost you a nickel a page, plus your time? Not much profit in that kind of operation.

If you scan the novel you bought into your computer and read it there, I'm pretty sure nobody will care, any more than they do if you copy a movie off the cable for your own use, or rip your own CD for your iPod. Technically, such movie/music copying is a no-no, but practically-speaking, the feds aren't likely to come knocking at your door, since they'd have no legal cause–how would they know, and why should they care? 

If you open up an eBay store and start selling pirated copies of the movie or albums, you might get nabbed. If you exchange music over the net, chances are you'll get away with it, but somebody might decide to make an example of you. You've heard that story, some teenager downloads a couple albums P2P, and his parents get dinged with a half million dollar tab.

If you take your book scan and distribute it as a PDF, then you violate copyright law, though practically-speaking, the worst that happens is you get shut down if somebody notices.

The generation who cut their teeth on computers often tends not to look at this piracy as any kind of wrong. Not everybody, and to varying degrees, but every time I post this article, I get notes from folks who give me the "knowledge-wants-to-be-free" rationalization. Yeah, knowledge wants to be free. Entertainment wants to be paid for. If you chop firewood for a living and I drop by your house and load my truck with a couple cords and drive off without paying for it, that might bother you. Same difference.  

Free is a very good price, who can argue with that?

We saw what this attitude did to the music industry, and while one can argue that the record companies were more often than not greedy bastards–a CD that cost them fifty cents to produce going for fifteen bucks, and only a small part of that going into the musician's pocket? Sure, fuck 'em.

Except that the small part the musician was getting vanished when the record company's money dried up. Sticking it to the big corporation winds up sticking it to the little guy who works for them, every time. 

Which is why buying a CD (or an MP3) directly from a musician or a small store that stocks his stuff is a good thing. 

Am I pure as the driven snow about such things? No, I certainly can't claim that. I'll often stick an image up here I found on the web. When I can, I use freebie clip art, public domain, or photos that are obviously put fourth because people want them to be seen and distributed.

My bottom line is, I try not to use anything I think is going to cost the artist any profit.

If I put up a YouTube link, I'm pointing to somebody who–in theory–has worked out some kind of deal with folks who own the material. I don't put up music on my SoundClick page unless it's original, public domain, or in the case of a couple, by somebody I know who gave me permission, or that I bought a mechanical license for, but I'm not claiming anything in the way of moral purity here. 

Have I ever used pirated software? Yes. I don't have any running now, and I pay for shareware, but I never was, nor will I ever be Saint Stephen ...

We all draw the line where we draw it, and it's sometimes blurry. Naturally, I prefer that folks draw it so I get some benefit.  I try to draw it that way for others.

Most of my readers are loyal, they like my scribblings, and they want to see me get something for them, at least if my email and the posts here can be believed. They do the right thing. 

If the choice is downloading one of my books for free and having that maybe cause me to stop writing them, they see the alternate of paying something as a better way to go. And bless them.

Sometimes you need to remind folks to do the right thing. In the front of the eEditions of my books from Dan's Fat Sam store, he does this. Hey, do the right thing, help the writer out so he can keep writing and not have to get a Real Job. 

I appreciate that.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thrill Rides


Went to Oaks Park today with a couple of the grandsons and their parents. Loop Thunder, a small roller coaster with an itty-bitty 360º vertical loop, was okay, if rough on my knees. The cars were apparently designed for pygmies. Grampaw comes from the big roller coaster days, and those are more fun–with longer rises and drops and smoother turns, I'd much rather ride those than the small ones, but that's what was available, and the older of the two boys really wanted to ride it. Three times, though I only had to go on one of those. 

Then there were the other fun rides: The Nauseator, The Puke-a-Whirl, the VomitMaker ...

Go karts were okay. Curly fries were greasy. It was chilly and crowded, and we got through it. No Magic Kingdom, but the little boys had a fine time.

Now for something no less thrilling but completely different:

Somebody is coming up with an app for authors to sign their ebooks. Basically, it supposedly will let you take a picture with a fan, then scrawl a signature on it, and you can email to them. Good thought.

There's something one of you computer whizzes can come up with if you hurry, a quick-and-dirty way to lay a sig on a photo you can port to a fan's iPhone or iPad or whatever.

To that end, I'm tagging a photo of me for anybody who wants to stick it onto their ebooks. A .jpg file, and here you can have it by dragging and dropping ...

Don't say I never gave you anything ...