The Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla


Question: Where does the eight hundred pound gorilla sit?
Answer: Anywhere it wants to!

It hasn’t made much of a ripple yet in the political blogosphere, but among the various writers discussion groups, websites and e- newsletters, discussion of the Amazon-Publish America imbroglio is achieving a melt-down-and-drop-through-to-the earths core degree of nuclear passion. The implications of Amazon’s recently announced policy of requiring that small independent and publish on demand (POD) presses who want to sell through Amazon must print their books through Amazon’s Booksurge publisher-printer are being chewed over like a mouthful of rubbery and vile-tasting bubblegum through this weekend, ever since this story was posted in the Wall Street Journal.

A short background refresher in the vagaries of independent publishing may be in order here. Once upon a time, in a universe far, far away there used to be two ways of being published. The first kind was the respectable kind, with one of the big name publishing firms that with luck and if you were any good, or fairly good or even a literary genius, and you had any sort of agent, you would wind up with stacks of copies of your book in all the bookstores, a nice royalty check, maybe even an advance, good reviews in the right magazines, and hey, presto – as Blondie says, pretty soon you were a “real arthur.” The other kind of publishing was disdainfully known as “vanity” publishing. The assumption was that untalented hack with lots of money would contract with a publisher to print quantities of a book that “real” publishers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole and no one but the vanity author and his family and friends would ever read, and the vanity author would wind up with a garage full of expensive books that would never go any farther than that.

Clear so far? Good. It’s different now; between the internet, the development of POD, or print-on-demand technology, and the big-name publishing houses becoming risk-adverse, unadventurous and stodgy. Rather like Hollywood and the music industry, come to think on it: stuck on established big names, carefully constructed sure-fire blockbuster hits and guaranteed big returns. The quirky, original, eccentric and genuinely creative will likely never be invited in the door – even if they are talented, too. The result has been an explosion in the numbers of writers who have gone “indy” – just like filmmakers and musicians, because the technology has allowed it. Getting in through the doors of the big-name publishing houses is no longer the only game in town.

Print on demand technology allows a printer to print up copies of a particular book as they are ordered from a formatted electronic text file. Because they are usually printed in small batches, not in 10s of thousands at a whack, the cost of the individual copy is higher, but not all that much. And because they are printed to order, the matter of warehousing thousands of copies doesn’t come up; all very ecologically sound. It allowed writers who couldn’t or didn’t want to publish through a traditional publisher and couldn’t afford to pay for a print run from a so-called vanity press to pay a small set-up fee for their text and cover, which would be available to the printer. Whenever orders came in for their book, the printer could run off as many copies as needed and drop-ship them to the customer.

Sensing an opportunity, a whole host of new publishers sprang up or morphed from their previous incarnation. Most of these are internet-based: Author House, iUniverse, Booklocker, Booksurge, Publish America, Lulu: just check out the IAG books and members to get an idea of the range. And a fair number of authors set up as publishers themselves, since the actual printing of the books was now relatively inexpensive and accessible. While a good many of resulting POD books are just as much vanity publications as ever were, and are pretty dreadful besides – quite a few are not. In fact, the best of them are as quirky, literate and as high quality as anything available from the big traditional houses – and those authors who took it seriously have reached a wider audience. As another IAG member pointed out, readers don’t much care how a book that they love to read was published – they just want to read it. Nothing is in stasis for long – POD publishers grew, or were absorbed by others.

Amazon.com purchased the POD publisher Booksurge in 2005; not a large publisher or a particularly well-regarded one. In fact the worst POD book I ever reviewed was a Booksurge product, although that seemed to have resulted from author stubbornness rather than Booksurge incompetence. Still, it didn’t seem to be terribly out of line for a book retailer to be also in the book publishing business – and Booksurge books didn�t seem to be given any special favors among all the other POD books available from Amazon – until this last week. If anything, I thought it might indicate that the bright sparks at Amazon thought that POD published books were the wave of the future.

The main printer for many, if not most POD publishers is called Lightning Source; it�s owned by Ingram, the mega-huge book distributor. It’s essential for POD books to be included in the Ingram catalogue; it’s a main line into brick and mortar bookstores; other wise you might just as well be back in the vanity-press days, with a garage full of copies to hawk around. But it’s also essential for your books to be available on-line, and on-line means Amazon.com = the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla of internet book marketing. If it�s published, it�s available from Amazon. Over the last couple of years, Amazon.com has been relatively welcoming to readers and writers alike; offering opportunities to review and blog about our books, to do Kindle reader editions of our books, to do wish-lists and recommendations, to set up discussion groups; as a matter of fact, the Independent Authors Guild started as an Amazon discussion group.

So last Friday’s action by Amazon.com, demanding that POD publisher, Publish America now and henceforward have their books be printed by Booksurge, or else their authors books would not be sold directly through Amazon comes as a rather thuggish slap in the face. (Publish America’s news release is here.)

Worse – as reported here by Angela Hoy at Writers Weekly – it looks like other POD publishers are or will be getting the same treatment. (there’s a long bloglist of other reactions to this at Writers Weekly)

In essence, POD writers are being told to make a choice between doing business with our chosen publisher and printer – or being sold through Amazon. Amazon might be able to make this stick – they are, after all, the eight hundred pound gorilla. But pissing off people who bought as well as sold a fair number of books through them is perhaps not as good a business model as previously assumed. There’s a petition here, and a place to comment. I hope it does some good. (Donation not needed, though!)

(Crossposted at Blogger News Network, and at the Independant Authors Guild Blog)

Obamania Part Two

(Part one is here)
As was noted by a number of other bloggers and commenters, one doesn’t usually have a choice about your relations. Parents, cousins, grandparents and all; you’re stuck with them, as embarrassing as they are. Friends or spouses, business partners or clergy — those we choose — and we are known for good or ill by the company that we keep. Barack Obama’s chosen clergyman and mentor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has been shouting pernicious and venomous nonsense from the pulpit, apparently to great applause, every Sunday for twenty years. From this distance, he sounds too much like a black version of Fred Phelps for my taste. Black racism ought to be just as much the political kiss of death as white racism.

And perhaps it is – since well-meaning people of pallor seem to be fed to their back teeth with having “you racist!” screamed at them, every time they voice a mild criticism of controversial mayors like Ray Nagin and Marion Barry, or buffoons like Al Sharpton – or any one of those other race-card playing luminaries, who seem to have no more qualifications for the position they hold other than a whip-lash inducing swiftness in accusing critics of racism. Here we are in this year 2008; at least forty years since casual social racism was acceptable in most circles, more than that since racial segregation was the law of the land, sixty years since it was the common practice of the military, a hundred and forty since chattel slavery was outlawed utterly – well, really, what better time to have a conversation about race and racism in American society? Even if it is a rather academic discussion; most of the people who are not paid to care about racial relations simply don’t care all that much. They just get on with living and working.

So here’s the ultimate bottom line: give or take a couple of points either way, the percentage of Americans identified as ‘black’ lingers somewhere about in the low teens. A politician who has made a career about being ‘black’ and being the ‘great black hope’ just is not going to get much traction nationally, even if he or she can get all of that ‘black’ block to vote for them. They have to appeal to everyone else in the body politic, and a great many of them, too. Kicking a white, or Hispanic or Asian voter in the teeth in order to make points with the black constituency on Sunday, and then turning around and asking those white, or Hispanic or Asian voters to vote for you on Monday isn’t going to work all that well. It’s why Jesse Jackson never got vary far with any of his bids for national office. Considering his established track record, one really couldn’t picture him kissing Anglo babies or eating breakfast tacos on the South Side with much enthusiasm.

A serious candidate for higher office has to be able to do that – just like a woman seeking higher political office cannot be too closely identified as a radical feminist. You can’t make your initial appeal to the angry fringe, and then move smoothly on in appealing to the majority, not after spending months or years bashing the very people you are asking to vote for you. It just will not work, as Senator Obama probably already realized. His initial appeal was precisely because he appeared to be a skilled and polished mainstream politician who just happened to have the year-round permanent dark tan. Alas, the association with the Reverend Wright (not to mention his apprenticeship in Chicago machine politics) has revealed him as just another race-card player like Sharpton or Jackson, only with nicer suits and a more polished manner. Pity that. We will have a black president in the near future, but he or she won’t be one of those whose identity and appeal has been built exclusively as a ‘black’ candidate. They will be a candidate whose color is incidental to who they are and what their qualifications are; someone from the mainstream, someone like Colin Powell, or like the late mayor of Los Angeles, Ed Bradley.

(Later: amusing video from Conservativeintelligencer.com, “>here )

Prayers Please

I know this probably sounds silly to many of you, but we need your prayers. Our Hemingway Cat, Miko, has managed to somehow open a gaping wound in her chest. I’m taking her to the humane society to see what they can do for her, but I’m pretty sure she’s septic and quite frankly, we can’t afford to have much done so there’s a good chance she won’t be coming home.

I haven’t felt quite this helpless in a very long time. The family’s heart is broken. We just thought she was grumpy about the kittens which is why she was hiding out. She was even rubbing against my legs while I was doing Tai Chi like she always does. It wasn’t until I picked her up and she growled at me that I saw what was going on.

Been up all night. Had her crate next to me with my fingers in the bars so she knew I was there and could rub against them.

I feel terrible.

UPDATE: The good people at our local humane society say they can fix her!!!! It actually looks much worse than it is and it would even heal on its own with anti-biotics, but they’re going to be able to repair it at about a quarter of the cost I was anticipating. I’ll be letting those vets take care of her and all our pets from now on. I’m a complete sap for our animals. I’m a complete wreck after the past ten hours.

As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

Except .. they weren’t turkeys. They were eggs. Plastic easter eggs. Dropped from a helicopter.

The idea behind the Cartersville EggDrop was to replace the old boring egg-hunt thing with a helicopter dropping 10k Easter eggs onto a small section of a football field. After the event a neighbor said to me after the egg hunt, this had to be an Easter egg hunt engineered by men with no women involved. I added that it was most likely ex-military men.

He’s got a point.

The first sign of a plan gone wild revealed itself as we approached a fenced-in football field that already held about 5.000 crammed-in people. My first instinct was to turn and run, but I doubt that I could have explained my flight to the 5-year-old with a vice grip on his Easter basket . EggDrop ground zero was the 50 yard line, and it was surrounded by yellow event tape at a radius of about 20 yards. When the helicopter made its first pass, that yellow event tape was no match for the thousands of screaming kids who burst through to catch the falling plastic eggs. The real problem, though, was that the organizers had not expected that the first drop of around 700 eggs would pelt moms, dads, and unsuspecting eight-year-olds.

I would never … never … have expected that result.

At one point, I ran over to M-I [3]

They had a helicopter and a tank? That is all kinds of awesome. God Bless the South. [1]

and tried to explain to him that no parent is going to leave the field without the right wounded children, myself included. I further pleaded with him to radio the helicopter and ask them to hold off dropping any eggs until things could be sorted out. He informed me that he did not have radio contact with the helicopter.

Say ‘hello’ to my good buddy, Murphy!

As I pushed my way to the 48 yard line, I saw my two boys sitting on the ground crying. Meanwhile, goofy old Ray Liotta [2] in the helicopter was circling with another drop of about 700 more plastic eggs, which cascaded onto the field amidst rippling pops as the egg shells bouncing off every man, woman, and child.

It ended well – in that John escaped with his kids. I did some due diligence via Google and, sure ’nuff, there was a helicopter drop of eggs and there was a fair amount of chaos, confusion and general hurly-burly.

[1] I mean this sincerely.
[2] Not really Ray Liotta – but that would have been a nice touch. John bypassed the obvious ‘Turkeys Away‘ reference and compared the situation to ‘Operation Dumbo Drop
[3] On further review this isn’t really a tank – I have no idea what he’s talking about. But a tank would have been cool.

Cross posted to Space For Commerce.

Obamania and Spike Lee

(Part one of two)

An age ago when I had to keep closer track of what currently bubbled up to the top of popular culture and remained there as a sort of curdled froth, suitable for generating one-liners for whatever radio show I was doing for Armed Forces Radio, I read a long interview with Spike Lee. This would have been about the time that he floated into everyone’s cultural consciousness as a specifically black filmmaker, with She’s Gotta Have It and Do The Right Thing; a new fresh voice with a quirky and nuanced take on being black in America. It was a revealing interview which left me shaking my head, because it seemed to me that Mr. Lee was animated by a deeply held conviction that the American establishment and white people everywhere were coldly, malevolently and persistently dedicated with every fiber of their being and every hour of every day, to the sole objective of “keeping the black man down.” It was the top item on the agenda at every business meeting, every political gathering, and the topic of fevered discussion at every dinner table and whispered in every cloakroom, yea verily, wherever where white Americans gathered – there was the grand conspiracy to ruin the black American community. Or at least make them have a crappy day.

I couldn’t at that time say much about what went on at political and business meetings – unless it was anything like commanders’ calls or unit staff meetings. But I could speak rather frankly about what went around the dinner tables of white folk in America; being, to the best of my knowledge (and a look in the mirror confirms this) a person of decided pallor. Yep – as far as I can tell, even onto Granny Jessie’s farthest ancestral generation in this United States (which dated to 1670 something – all the other ancestors were comparatively recent arrivals) they were all white. Anglo. WASP. Whatever. Family was white, neighborhood mostly but not exclusively white working class (with lashings of Japanese, Hispanic, European Jewish), schools integrated but mostly white (ditto), churches mostly the white. Until I joined the Air Force, I swam in a pool of whiteness. After that point, I had quantities of friends, fellow barracks rats, NCOs, commanders, neighbors with, as one of them put it, a year-round very dark tan. But I could confidently say that white malevolence toward blacks – which Spike Lee took as a given as being ubiquitous and central to white life as Jello salads with crushed pineapple in them at Lutheran church pot-luck suppers – was an issue so far off the table that it wasn’t even in the same room.

It just never came up – well, except maybe at school, and in discussions of the civil rights movement; and in that venue I recall those others present rather mildly wished those black protestors well. Of course, segregation was not a good thing, racially-based poll taxes and tests, siccing police dogs on perfectly legitimate protest marches, or midnight lynchings; none of those things were approved of among those people I knew growing up. Separate drinking fountains, or separate but equal anything else were seen as pretty ridiculous. People ought to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; an eminently reasonable proposition, then and now. I was left shaking my head thinking that Spike Lee would be terribly distressed to know that there wasn’t any grand, overarching institutional malevolence towards blacks on the part of whites.

How deflating it would be for him to learn that there were only varying degrees of disinterest. But if it filled something in his life to believe so, to paint up his fellow citizens as unrelenting and tireless persecutors; it’s a free country. You’re free to believe whatever idiocy you choose – in the full knowledge that such beliefs say more about the believer than it does about those he believes it of. If Spike Lee and other movie people want to go wandering in their own fantasy-land, god knows they have enough company. It’s not called Hollywierd for nothing. The political realm is another matter.

(Part Two – the Toxic Reverend Wright to follow)

Among the Gardens of Stone

The grave-side service for Dave, my good employer and good friend, mentor in all things computer-related was held this morning at the Fort Sam Houston cemetery. I think his daughters had initially wanted to make it more private than it turned out to be. His sisters made no end of fuss over being so exclusive, especially when Dave had so many other good friends likely to be considerably miffed at being left out. Matters like this are sometimes the cause of family feuds that last for decades, with so many kinds of feelings running high. Grief, guilt and stress make a fairly toxic brew when words are spoken and cannot be taken back.

A good collection of his close friends and clients attended, scattering their cars alongside one of the rule-straight roads under the oak trees adjacent to pavilion number two. The Fort Sam cemetery is all very tidy and organized as it should be; acres and acres of green grass and sturdy white marble headstones. With the newest, the letters on them are clear and picked out with some kind of paint; with the older stones, the paint has weathered away, and it is harder to read the names and dates from a distance. It was cool last night, but clear and mild today with a light breeze. On the whole and if there is such a thing, it was a very good day for a funeral the first day of spring.

I went with my other regular employer, Mr. W, the Worlds Tallest ADHD child who was also a friend and client of Daves computer business. Dave had referred me to Mr. W., precisely because Mr. W. was absolutely hopelessly disorganized, and Dave was tired of going to his place of business and doing secretarial-admin work at 65$ an hour, when I could do just the same for considerably less. So we gathered under the sheltering oak trees, in the little pavilion, while the honor guard stood off well away with their rifles among the marble stones.

Daves family asked that flowers not be sent it was going to be a very simple and short service. I brought some anyway; from my garden. The Spanish jasmine that I planted when I first moved in is blooming in showers of little white stars that bathe the house and the garden in their scent. I clipped half a dozen long strands and tied them with a cream-colored ribbon, laying them before the little box of his ashes on the dais in the pavilion. I was glad I thought of doing that very simple, elegant and tasteful, but not so large as to present a hassle for anyone.

There will be a celebration of his life tonight, at a place in Alamo Heights that he was fond of. I have promised everyone that I would be there, for even more of his friends are coming to it, and I will have to support his sisters and his father they have been absolute sweethearts, have said over and over again how much they appreciate what Jimmy and I were able to do. I really wish we could have done this immediately after the ceremony, for I am so tired now that I feel like I have been beaten up. Ive been over at Daves place every day this week, helping them sort out things.

It has been a very long week and it still isnt over yet. I was paid and I have a job interview from one of Daves other clients, but even if I get that job, I wont begin work until April. I am more incredibly grateful for everyone who hit my tipjar since Sunday, who sent me advice, and even some offers to consider my resume. On Saturday, it looked like the wolf was not only at the door, but had moved right in and made himself comfortable in the living room. As of now, the wolf is banished at least as far as the bottom of the driveway, or even to the next block over.

I am sending personal emails as soon as I am not so tired that I am cross-eyed, thanking each and every one of my readers who were kind and generous. But for now I can thank you at least in this post. Your kindness to me allowed me to help Daves family in a way that wouldnt have been possible, if I had been freaking out over the taxes and the entry fees.

Again, thank you so much! John M. H. , Barbara S., Jason van S., Theresa H., Frank G., Philip M., Janet B, Tony Z., Christopher H., Bill W., Robin at Rant n Raven, Michael T., Thomas S. Sean W., The Mind Body Institute (huh?), Winston C., Oren W., John M., Paul Van B. Barbara P., Heather M., Sissy W. @ Sisu, Mary Y., Eric S. @ Classical Values, D. Scott A., Sherry R., Brian @ FasterJags, Day By Day, Kevin B., Michael W., Clare T., Paul K., James McM., and especially Da Blogfaddah, who was kind enough to link to my original post. Thank you so very much. Sgt Mom

Aftermath

Daves family arrived last night his father, two sisters and a brother-in-law, along with his older daughter. His second daughter arrives tonight maybe. Weather and the airline schedule permitting. So far, sorting out everything has not been as fraught as expected. I spent a good part of the day at the trailer with them: very nice, level-headed and sensible people, not much given to hysterical demonstrations. His brother-in-law was doing valiant duty with various local funeral directors when I arrived this morning, while Jimmy and Daves oldest daughter sorted out what was in his various accounts. One of his sisters set to sorting out his clothes, the other to the books and various family pictures and Daves Navy memorabilia the usual clutch of things that accumulate in a corner of a military veterans desk or bureau drawer; a couple of metal or cloth rank insignia, some name-tags, the usual handful of ribbons and decs. Jimmys little boy amused himself with a box of dominoes, and built towers and walls out of them on the glass coffee table. Jimmy, Daves daughter and B-in-L went downtown to get the death certificate and to sort out what they could about Daves car, which is still at the garage. I drove his youngest sister over to the grocery store for some cases of soda and water, and a Little Cesears for enough luncheon pizza all the way around.

I can only think that doing all these practical things is very steadying, and obscurely comforting. Occasionally one of us teared up, but just a little. They have decided on a private interment at Ft. Sam on Thursday afternoon, with a gathering at a place he was particularly fond of, for all his friends afterwards. I have edited the website to reflect this, and added a picture of him, from when he finished Navy Basic which his sisters unearthed and we all thought was just perfect.

But I just dont know how long it will take, when I am having trouble with a computer to get over the impulse to call Dave and ask for help with it.

Later: his website is here – it was down all last night when I wrote this and wasn’t available for the linkage.

(Thanks to so many friends who read and linked to my Saturday entry – thanks to some incredible generosity, my financial crisis has been whittled down to fairly manageable porportions. I can never say thank you enough!!! – Sgt Mom)

Rule Number Eighteen

Chris Gerrib writes

In the process of writing yesterday’s entry, I found the USMC Rules for Gunfighting. It’s both true and amusing.

Thank God I never had to apply these to ‘real life’.

Watch their hands. Hands kill.

Except that one, once. Kinda-sorta.

I was reasonably sure the guy wasn’t armed and he was what he looked like he was, which was a yokel from town delivering a new ditch witch to contractors aboard base.

But, god-damn. When a uniformed Marine roars up in a government vehicle that vaguely resembles a police car, parks it so the motor block is between you and he, unsnaps his holster and yells ‘show me your hands’ you do not stand there with your paws in the pockets of your overalls going ‘hunh?’

I did relish the look on his face when I un-holstered my M9 and chambered a round [1]. Hands were extracted and poked up in the air with gratifying speed.

For my enjoyment, even better was my next direction: to pick up the phone, mounted on a pole about two feet from his head, that had been ringing for five minutes.

If I’d been an ass I would have asked him to read the sign mounted above the phone:

VISITORS: ANSWER PHONE IF RINGING OR PICK UP PHONE TO CONTACT THE SENTRIES.

Cross posted to Space For Commerce.

[1] Readers might be wondering if drawing a pistol was a tad extreme. To this I will answer that this was not the main gate at Camp Lejeune but a rather more secure facility – we weren’t there to mess around.

An armchair grunt would also take issue with my not drawing the weapon as soon as I exited the vehicle.  To this I can only say that it wasn’t until I exited that vehicle that I observed he had his hands covered at which point the situation went from ‘drive out there and tell the asshole to answer the phone’ to ‘potential use of deadly force’.

Everything Started so Quietly

Saturday – it’s a work day for me. My weekend is split – Sundays are for a long hike with the dogs and work in the house and garden. Wednesdays are my Saturday, a long day given up to writing, both morning and afternoon. Mondays and Fridays are my workdays with my friend Dave the Computer Genius, doing office admin for his computer repair business, trying to launch the carpet-cleaning business for his friend Jimmy. Dave is a Navy veteran, horrifically overweight, divorced and a good platonic friend and as I said – a computer genius. I’ve known him for about six years, ever since he gave the coup de grace to the computer I bought in Korea to start my writing career and sold me a rehabbed computer to replace it.

Since then, he did work for the company I worked for then, for the company my daughter works for now, referred me to many of his computer clients – and when he discovered last fall that his admittedly serious and chronic health problems were not going to carry him off in a matter of weeks, he hired me to do his admin work, intending to build up his various businesses again. It suited me fine to work for him, two or three mornings a week; he had fitted up the back bedroom closet of the trailer that he owned and currently lived in as a tiny home office, just for me. That was my regular job to go to, on Mondays and Fridays, five minutes drive from home and I didn’t have to wear anything more formal than sweats or jeans. Fridays, he was usually out on jobs, but Mondays were days that we did marketing, and plotted out various mailings and letters for the computer business. He was a night owl – most of the times still asleep when I arrived. I am a morning person, so I was used to this. He had a key in a lockbox, so that I could let myself in.

He had planned a couple of weeks ago, to move again – into a small apartment attached to a house owned by some friends in Alamo Heights, a neighborhood that was closer to his computer business clientele. On Friday, he was out all day, but he telephoned me to ask if I could pack up all the things in my little office and from the bookshelves in the hallway – which I did. One thing about being in the military – good at packing up stuff for moving – and Moving Day was Monday. I finished packing up my office, all the files and mailing materials and stuff, broke down my computer and packed that, took down all the books from the hallway shelves and packed them. By then, it was almost two o’clock, an hour past my usual time; I was out of tubs and boxes and Dave wasn’t back from his afternoon job. I went home to call him – no phone at the trailer. All of his business went through either email or his cell phone. He asked me to come back in the morning, if I had time before going to the radio station; there were some more tubs I could use to pack the stuff in his desk. In the kitchen where I had not thought to look for them. And also, he said he would leave my salary for two weeks work in a place where I could find it.

So I came back this morning, just before nine. His car wasn’t in the driveway – not at all unusual. His Saturdays are like mine – a work day, usually. I didn’t have any reason to go down the hall, since my office was already emptied out, and everything I needed to work on was in the living room or the kitchen. It took barely an hour to empty out the desk, and the drawers, sorting everything into plastic zip-lock bags and layering it neatly in the tub. Well, everything but what looked like a couple of moldy, gnawed barbequed short-ribs in a plastic baggie, buried and forgotten a couple of layers down. OMG, every story about forgetful guys and computer geniuses – it’s true! I was looking forward to razzing him gently about that. I even made a note to point out the disgusting things, on the top of the kitchen trash. But my salary was nowhere to be found. I called up his schedule – oh, he had an appointment at 10 AM. Maybe he had left early and I had just missed him.

And I had also left a handful of computer equipment boxes on the top shelf, not being entirely sure that he wanted to haul them down to the new place, I had asked him about those when I talked to him on Friday afternoon. No, he said – they were for things that he might want to sell as used; keep the boxes and pack them. I had an empty crate still – perfect for the boxes. When I went down the hall to get them, I glanced into the bedroom and saw him lying sprawled on top of the bed, deep asleep. Oh, another one of those mornings when I tip-toed in and worked for hours without waking up the slumbering night-owl. Happened often enough before – I tapped on the door-jamb and said that I was done.

I didn’t tap very loudly, and I didn’t want to go any farther into the bedroom – yeah, we were friends and all, but I have imbibed so many of those Victorian principles about single gentlemen and bedchambers and all that. No, better to go home and call him on the cell-phone, save us all the embarrassment, since he was so deep asleep; night-owl and all. I went home and called his cell number, said that Blondie and I would stop in, on our way to the radio station. She wanted to take me to work this weekend, kill some time hanging out in Huebner Oaks, take in a movie, and I thought that it would give him time to wake up, pull himself together and remember where he had put my paycheck. And besides, Blondie wanted to see my tiny closet-office.

So, we let ourselves in again; I showed Blondie the closet-office, and I saw when we went down the hall again that he was still in the same position. Not a good sign.

And it was what might have been expected to have happened to an obese man in his late fifties, plagued with a colorful assortment of ailments. I didn’t even try looking for a pulse: his arm was cold, his chest was motionless and his fingertips were a uniform bruised blue. We called 911 from her cell-phone; the paramedics took what seemed like an ungodly time to get there, but were very kind when they did. So was the SAPD police officer who arrived sometime afterwards. I think he was weirdly relieved to find that both Blondie and I were calm enough to be of help; to locate some documents in the packed tub of stuff from Dave’s desk with his social on it, the cell-phone number for his next of kin from the computer data-base, to call Jimmy and find out that Dave’s car was in the garage for a suddenly-developed problem on Friday afternoon.

We stayed until the contract medical examiners van arrived, having already spent considerable time on Blondie’s cell-phone. His daughter authorized me to see to locking up the place, and on her instructions, the very helpful SAPD officer let me keep Dave’s wallet and keys. While we were waiting for the medical examiner’s crew to do their job, the manager of the trailer-park came by. It’s a natural nesting place for snow birds, so I imagine that this has happened many times before. The manager was very understanding; a special eye will be kept on the place, until matters are sorted out. Dave’s daughter will come to San Antonio on Monday, but tomorrow, Jimmy and Blondie and I will sort out more of the housekeeping things at the trailer.

So, not only am I now out for a regular job – I am short of a crackerjack computer tech, a hosting service – but most importantly, a very good friend and mentor, in one fell swoop. He tried to teach me everything he knew about computers; I am lucky if I retained about a quarter of it all.

I’ll be a week or so, sorting out all this and trying to keep calm. He had been dead for hours, as I worked away in the living room, packing his desk stuff. I keep telling myself, if I hadn’t come in at all, it might have been Monday before anyone thought anything amiss.

(Later note – as well as being a personal loss, this is a financial disaster for me, at a time when I most particularly needed a paycheck. I have a tax bill coming up, and the entry fees for a couple of literary contests that I had planned to enter “To Truckee’s Trail” in. I hate to bleg… but donations to my paypal tip-jar would be particularly welcome at this time.)

Ebony and Ovary

Oh, my goodness gracious me, the presidential-race politicking is just betting more and more engrossing, in that tacky drive-by on the high-way and slow down to take a look at the interestingly arrayed wreckage sort of way. Honestly, as an independent-tending-to-the-Republican side of the political side of the scale for the purposes of this particular race, I am a mere interested spectator to the machinations of the Democratic Party side of the house rather in the sense of a spectator in the seats of the ancient Roman Coliseum was to a show on the sands down below to a match pitting a team with nets and tridents against a team with swords. There will be blood. Just not sure at this point who will be left standing, to receive the thumb-up or thumbs-down at the end of it all. Or how many corpses will be left strewn across the sand.

Yeah, well Ive beaten that imagery into the ground ooohh, now we have a comic interval, with the Spitzer-fest. A prominent crusading New York DA, who made his political bones (and strewed his path lavishly with the bones of others, through strategic leaks to a compliant media) on prosecuting crime! Prostitution Rings! Wall Street White Collar Insider! Hoist on his own petard, stewed in his own juice! Great heaping plates of just desserts, just entrees, just salad course! All the way to the governors mansion on his record (and his family money) but wow usually my dread is that someone this spectacularly big of a hypocrite and all around a-hole is a Texan. Thanks, New York this one is all yours! Is he any sort of relation to crusading DA Mike Nifong of infamous Duke University rape case memory? Pity the wife doesnt have the nerve of some wronged Texas wives- she just appears to be too lady-like to kick him out of the house, loot the bank account and run him over a couple of times in the parking lot with her BMW.

Eh, well the political season is young, yet. Id have had a lot more respect for Her Inevitableness er, Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton if she had done something along those lines to demonstrate her displeasure after The Big He had confessed to his extra-curricular antics in the Oval Office. Sorry, its not a shock to me to learn that big men in high political places might be tempted to play hide the salam with women not their legal spouse. I just wish that if they must, they would have better **$#^!!!! judgment about who they do it with. And that perhaps their spouses might be just pissed off enough about being paraded out for the big stand by your man finale. Sorry, I dont mind sex its the stupidity that I cant make allowances for.

So, the Fresh Prince of Illinois has for two decades attended a church and accepted the spiritual guidance of a minister who is given to saying things like this in the pulpit of a Sunday morning. Hooo-kay is he some sort of weird kin to Fred Phelps? So much for the appearance of having moved beyond race in this happy shiny 21st century America. At this point, the great insert-whatever-here just looks like Al Sharpton with nicer suits and a bit more polish to him. Note to Sen. OB.: the clue to being the first black whatever in America, is not to be black. Its to be American. Any message, any person in your campaign that counters that impression does not play well, outside whatever bubble you may have been playing in heretofore.

Let the games begin. Its gonna get very interesting, if this week has been any indication.

(link courtesy of Roger Simon, and practically everyone else who has been linking to the ABC report all day. Note – this intelligence about Sen. O’Bama’s church has been kicking around for a bit in the conservative blogosphere, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise)

Spring Daze

Theres one terribly inconvenient and sort of disgusting thing about daylight savings time well, aside from the bit about setting the clocks ahead one hour. The additional daylight in the evening is nice, very nice. Nicer when I was working until 5 at various corporate hellholes, and usually arrived home after dark throughout the winter months; very pleasant, all the way around to arrive home with an hour or two of daylight remaining, and sit out on the back porch and go through the mail, while the birds squabbled around the feeder. But it puts the dark at the other end of the day now, and when I set out at sevenish for Spike and the Lesser Weevil to drag me around several blocks at the end of their leashes, it is still quite defiantly dark. Dark when we head out the door, dark when we jog up the street, with the Weevil leaping and pirouetting like gazelle on amphetamines. And dark when we get to the corner and run along Creekway street where, with luck one or both of them will want to poop.

Good god, do you know how hard it is to see dog poop in the dark, let alone be sure of getting all of it into the plastic bag? Even with a flashlight, its no picnic. A couple of lines of dog poop blending in with un-raked leaves and uncut grass, especially when everything is wet definately no picnic, I assure you. There are means of training dogs to use a king-sized litter-box or pan of something or other, so I have been told. By summer, I might very well consider that.

Lesser Weevils socialization continues apace. She will sit and hold her bearing, when commanded in a sufficiently masterful voice, while other dogs trot by all but the bad-tempered little black and white rat-terrier from up the street. His name is Peanut, since he is hardly larger than one. He barks to beat the band, whenever he sees us. Spike goes into hysterics of barking noisy but relatively harmless. Lesser Weevil seriously wants a piece out of Peanut, and stalks onward, turning her head towards Peanut and growling in a fairly menacing way. One of these days, she seems to be saying. One of these days, you piebald little rat.

On the other hand, Weevil is perfectly amiable to the pretty young Weimaraner female, who lives along one of the side streets and comes to the iron gate to be courteous, whenever we pass. She got out one Sunday and followed after us, which is how we came to know her. The family who owned her had just moved in, and discovered only too late that she could squeeze through a gap in the iron fence. They tell us that they had another dog, an older one who died about eight months ago, and that she misses the company. So, when we walk together, Blondie takes Weevil up to their gate so they can pass a few minutes together; rather odd because Weimaraners are supposed to be rather standoffish about dogs they havent been carefully socialized with

Then there is Horatio, the cat who is more dog than he is cat. Horatio is black and looks rather like my own Morgy and Little Arthur, is extremely sociable and doesnt seem to mind dogs. He lives mostly in the garage of a house up the road, where the garage door is very considerately left six inches open to facilitate Horatios social life. When we pass by the house, we usually stop and call him, and he trots out to say hello. Blondie likes him very much, saying that he is such a cool cat and she doesnt think his people appreciate him nearly as much as they ought. If she didnt already have two cats of her own, she would have taken him home already.

It rained, rained buckets yesterday, accompanied by amazing quantities of thunder and lightening; no way of knowing if this spring and summer will be as rainy as last year which was so rainy —

—-how rainy was it???—-

That the spring wildflowers lasted all summer, and some of them were still going strong in the fall. And instead of turning light brown and crispy by mid-summer, fields and brush remained pretty green all year. Kind of nice, seeing Mother Nature do all our lawn-watering for us, but I just dont think were going to be that lucky. Whatever weather we have in Texas theres always too damn much of it.

You Know You’re Not Listening to Enough Music When…

the song stuck in your head is that insipid “FreeCreditReport.com” jingle. The one where they’re in the seafood restaurant? Yeah, that one. All through Max’s walk. Yeesh. Have to grab a good CD for the drive to work.

In other news, E.D. Hill on Fox News just said, “…a tawdry triangle of trists and tricks.” The Spitzer thing. Shouldn’t that line be on The Cobert Report?

Question of the Day (080307)

Is it just me, or does the current news of Al Queda looking to attack America again seem just a little too convenient? I mean, I assume that they’re always looking for a way to hit us again, but to have it make “the news,” during an election year?

Maybe I’m being cynical, but this just seems to be a bit too convenient for the Republicans and it’s a bad idea if that’s what they’re thinking.

I know we’re facing an ongoing threat but let’s keep that perspective. Dragging out that threat when it’s politically convenient is even more cynical, and it’s insulting.

More Texiana and Chisholm Trailing

More western ranching and cattle-trailing trivia, for your weekend delectation. (part one is here )

The classical free-range cattle-ranching and long-trail-drive west actually only lasted for about twenty years, from the end of the Civil War to the mid-1880s when bad weather and a glutted market spelled the end of those ways. The cattle-towns depicted in western movies actually were limited to a very small time and space: Kansas, the terminus for those long drives from Texas, as the railroads crawled west. Abilene was the first of them, and Dodge City the last; in between there were others like Hayes, Ellsworth, Newton and Caldwell some of whom only thrived for a single gaudy, raucous season as a cow-town.

Most of them were not nearly as lawless as portrayed in contemporary news accounts. Many of the towns were in economic competition with each other, and since each had a fairly freewheeling press and enthusiastic (not to say cut-throat) economic backers any sort of ruckus in one town was quickly magnified by detractors in another. Two cowboys indulging in a bit of (relatively) harmless gun-play outside a saloon in Newton could be magnified into small war, riot and murder by a rival towns newspaper.

The first thing that a typical cowboy wanted, after three or four months in the saddle, alone with the cows and his fellow cowboys was not what you think. They wanted a bath and new clothes, first. Then what you think. Cowtowns offered very nice bathing facilities. Along with the other amenities which were what you think but the bathhouse was invariably the first to be patronized enthusiastically by the newly arrived.

One very enterprising lady of the evening in Dodge City later went by the name of Squirrel-Tooth Alice. The name came from a gap in her teeth and a penchant for keeping a pet prairie-dog, on a little leash and collar. Her real name was Mary Elizabeth Haley. She married a part-time cowboy and full-time gambler and all around bad hat named Billy Thompson. Against most expectations, she and Billy prospered. She died of almost respectable old age, in a Los Angeles nursing home. In 1953. She had also, as a child of nine or ten, been a captive of the Comanche, until ransomed by her family.

Most murderous gunplay in cow-towns usually involved members of the professional gambling fraternity or local law enforcement professionals. On occasion, this meant the same body of personnel. These were small towns, any other time than the cattle-trailing season. People doubled up when it came to jobs.

The Cherokee tribe assessed a toll of 10 cents per head on cattle herds crossing their lands on the Shawnee Trail, which ran through eastern tracts of present-day Oklahoma, to various points in Missouri Kansas City, Sedalia and St. Louis. A well-organized patrol called the Cherokee Light Horse enforced it; not for nothing were the Cherokee known as one of the Five Civilized Tribes.

One of the largest western cattle-ranch holdings were acquired in California by a hardworking cattle baron named Henry Miller, of whom it was said (with very little exaggeration) that he could travel from Oregon to the Mexican border and sleep on his own property every night. It wasnt his real name: he was born Heinrich Kreiser. Emigrating to the United States in the 1840s, he was working as a butcher in New York, when he bought a second-hand ship passage ticket to California from an acquaintance who had got the gold fever in 49, but decided at the last minute not to go. As he was boarding the ship, Heinrich Kreiser noticed that the ticket he had bought was stamped not transferrable, and became Henry Miller. Not that Henry Miller. This Henry Miller.

Things I like about Idaho

There’s supposed to be a high of 50 today and it’s already 42, on the 6th of March. We could have snow next week, or it could be up to the 60s.

While it’s warm down here in the valley, up on the mountains, the snowline hasn’t started to shrink.

I can walk Max through our neighborhood and our older neighbors who are all getting their gardens ready, wave and say hi. One gentleman sometimes walk over to give Max a pat on the head.

There are horse pastures in our residential neighborhood…with horses. There’s also some on the way to work. I’m a city kid by birth and nurture…this delights me.

If there’s a traffic jam, SUVs actually drive over curbs to get to a sidestreet and get out of the way.

Everyone here gets out of the way of emergency vehicles. Everyone.

Most of the time, people drive exactly 5 miles over the speed limit, cops, exactly 10…it’s not wise to pass a cop…or to speed up when you’ve got one behind you…get out of the way even if their lights aren’t on…and if you do get pulled over, dont’ even think about the word “entrapment.”

At art fairs and other such events, the VFW and Veterans Against the War will set up booths right next to one another and you can watch them just have a conversation. No yelling. Just differing points of view discussing things.

It’s fun listening to people from Southern California bitch about the weather…when it’s in the 40s.

You can get huckleberry flavored jam, syrup, pie, all with real huckleberries…I like huckleberries.

Election Day with Thoughts on Obamania

So it’s primary day in Texas. I was looking forward to today, so as to finally get a break from all the automated phone calls from the various campaigns.

It’s interesting to see the some rifts in the great clouds of swooning adoration surrounding B. Obama, though. Nothing puts the whole Obamania thing into better perspective than an essay by P.J. O’Rourke, from a couple of years ago. It was a review of a book about the Kennedys, but it does apply still:

“We got a mad crush on the lot of them. They were so stylish, so charming, and – at least in their public moments – so gracefully behaved… This may be the stupidest thing that has ever happened in a democracy. And it certainly shows an emptiness at the center of our idea of government, if not at the center of our lives. A desire to adore a head of state is a grim transgression against republicanism. It is worse than having a head of state who demands to be adored. It is worse even than the forced adoration of the state itself… There are some 230 million of us and we’d better start talking sense to ourselves soon. The President of the United States is our employee. The services he and his legislative cohorts contract for us are not gifts or benefices. We have to pay for every one of them, sometimes with our money, sometimes with our skins.

If we can remember this, we’ll get a good, dull Cincinnatus like Eisenhower or Coolidge. Our governance will be managed with quiet and economy. We’ll have no need to go looking for Kennedys to love. And no need to boil over with hatred for them later”

– From “Mordred Had a Point – Camelot Revisited” in “Give War a Chance”

Later and post-primary thoughts about Obamania, here, courtesy of the invaluable Rantburg (who is undergoing a persistant DOS attack from someone who apparently doesn’t much like what the ‘Burg reports on these days. Apparently they made fun of Mohammed, or something.