That is – one more holiday market to go, and then we can put up our feet and enjoy Christmas … well, save for perhaps regretting that we didn’t have time enough to hang out lights and ornaments on the bay tree for the amusement and edification of our neighbors. But on the other hand, we did get the Christmas fudge all done and distributed, save for the batch of Brandy Alexander which never solidified as it should have done … well, there’s always one batch that doesn’t go quite as satisfactorily as it should have, but with eight different kinds, it’s not that anyone would mind or even notice.

Blanco was cold and miserable; in the forties all day, with a sullen drizzle threatening in late afternoon. Still, there were people shopping, and we did pretty well, considering – but would have done better if the weather had been as pleasant as it was in Johnson City two weeks ago. But still – the cold! And this time we were in the pink pavilion, on grass, instead of in a place with a roof on three solid walls. I had long winter underwear on, and the brown woolen Edwardian suit, with gloves and a scarf, but my feet were near to freezing in thin leather lace-up boots. My daughter had a lovely insulated pair of winter boots, so her feet were fine, but the rest of her was miserably cold. Note to self – another pair of long winter underwear, and one of those little portable heaters that run on a propane gas bottle. The weather is expected to be milder for next weekend for the Cowboy Christmas Market in Boerne, though … but that brings up still another problem. The pink pavilion developed a bend in one of the support legs which makes putting it up and taking down even more difficult than usual. Not certain of how it happened, but the metal is quite definitely indented and broken. It was never the sturdiest of pavilions anyway, and now some of the other joins have developed bends or cracks at weak points. It was most definitely not designed for the hard use that it has gotten over the past two and a half years, so this next weekend, we have to rent one of the Boerne Market Days pavilions (plain tan and completely featureless) while we arrange to purchase a sturdier pavilion for the next market season. One of the other vendors in Johnson City had a very nice one, with much heavier top and sides; she bought it at Costco; a new one of similar design and features is on our list.

Today we went through some local favorite shops, picking up this and that with an eye to mailing gifts to family, and making our own Christmas the merrier. This included a stop at a Half-Price Book outlet, where neither of us found what we were looking for – stocking stuffers for cousins/nieces and nephews – but I found a pair of David Hackett Fischer’s accounts of two episodes in the American Revolution. The next of my historical novels is dimly to be seen, at a considerable distance – something set in that period. I thought earlier this year of what the next should be, after finally completing the Gold Rush adventure. I suppose the natural tendency would be towards continuing into the early 20th century, with the various characters from Adelsverein, from Quivera Trail and Sunset and Steel Rails. I’ve already hinted at some of those developments relative to the First World War … but I find myself curiously reluctant to go there – mostly because that was the time and place in which the optimism of the 19th century died, in mud and blood, tangled in barbed-wire. Right now – I don’t need tragedy and heart-breaking disillusion. I’d rather go back, to the start of our republic, close to the foundation of the American experience …

Besides – I have already hinted at a couple of different possible characters and plotlines: Race Vining had a relation named Peter, who served in Washington’s tiny, desperate army at Valley Forge – and Carl and Margaret Becker’s grandfather Heinrich was a Hessian deserter, who fell in love with an American woman … and perhaps the notion that the individual was the master of his own fate. Nothing more certain than that; the specifics of the plot will grow from research.
Besides – I have to write another Luna City chronicle, and another Lone Star Sons, first.

We spent the weekend after Thanksgiving in Johnson City, Texas, where they established the tradition of firing up for the Christmas holidays by covering the Blanco County courthouse with god-knows-how-many hundreds-of-thousands of lights, hanging in strands from the roof edge to the ground and noting the start of the holiday season in the Hill Country with a bang … a round of fireworks at about 7 PM Friday, as soon as it was well-dark. The firework show was lavish – and the three rows of vendor pavilions and the spectators in courthouse square were so close to it that little bits of spent ash from the fireworks sifted down on us. I hadn’t seen anything so splendid, or been so close – practically underneath it all – since a Fourth of July celebration at the Rio Cibolo Ranch in 2009.

The Blanco Courhouse - all lit up.

The Blanco Courhouse – all lit up.

The trunks of the pecan and oak trees star-scattered on the lawn around the courthouse were strung with lights, and the facades of many establishments around the courthouse square were also lavishly lit up. This whole ‘lighting for Christmas’ kicked off similar displays in other small communities and towns, but Johnson City is still the lead event. The crowds on Friday and Saturday evenings were substantial and in the proper mood for buying. My daughter and I made our expenses Friday evening, so sales on Saturday and Sunday were gravy. Our expenses were more than just the quite reasonable table/booth fee, since Johnson City is slightly more than an hour drive from home. We considered the drive to and from for three days running; two such trips at ten o’clock at night on a relatively unlighted country highway, with drunk drivers, speeding trucks, suicidal deer … and said, ‘oh, hell no.’

The nearest available affordable lodgings turned out to be at the Miller Creek RV Resort, which has three little cabins with a bathroom and functional kitchenette for rent. We booked one for two nights; the cabin porch presented a lovely view of the creek, which we were never to relish, as we were there only to sleep – long and deeply, following ten or twelve hours of active selling. The Miller’s Creek RV Park is a lovely little place, by the way; immaculately groomed and landscaped. It’s not one of those luxury destination RV resorts by any means, but a modest comfortable place, beautifully arranged – they even have a minuscule dog park, in addition to the usual facilities.

I think that the most reassuring part of our experience this last weekend wasn’t entirely due to the satisfactory sales – it was the experience itself. The people in this smallish Hill Country town came together to put on their yearly extravaganza. Volunteers from various local organizations giving it their all; families with children and polite teenagers, lined up in front of the cotton-candy vendor, right next to us. That vendor had the brilliant inspiration to sell his cotton-candy spun around a lighted plastic wand, which made the wad of candy look like clouds with a varicolored lightening-storm going on behind it. (Purchase the wand – get unlimited refills of cotton-candy!)

A look down the Market area.

A look down the Market area.

Any number of those polite teenagers came and bought origami earrings from my daughter, or inveigled their parents to buy them – indeed, there was one particularly engaging teenager who admired the earrings so much that my daughter sighed and gave her the particular pair that she favored, asking only that when Engaging Teenager had the money, to come back and pay for them. The very next night, Engaging Teenager returned with four crumpled dollar bills and four quarters. She confessed to wanting to be a writer and talked at length about what she liked in the way of books, how she kept being distracted by new ideas when writing, and how she was bound and determined to finish a story of hers for her grandmother’s Christmas present – because Gran had asked for just that thing. Engaging Teenager has the very same problem that I did, way back in the early days of my scribbling career; to whit – never being able to finish anything. We talked for a bit about that; reassuring and encouraging Engaging Teenager as an aspiring writer, though I suppose that we will never know if we did her any good. I did give her a copy of Lone Star Sons (autographed with a personal message, of course!), assuring Engaging Teenager that my one YA book venture might be a help in demonstrating the art of short adventure-writing. Such a nice kid – we hope that later teenagery won’t spoil her charm and spirit.

There was the procession of lighted automobiles, trucks, and tractors, some of them towing floats for the lighted parade on Saturday, the marching band and the senior citizen synchronized marching team with their lighted lawn-chairs … it was all very reassuring to me. Small-town America is still here, still confident, still ably conducting their own affairs, neighbor to neighbor – even when the neighbor is only a member of the peripatetic small-business gypsy-market. (I took pictures, using the ‘night’ function on the camera. Alas – none of those pictures came out very well at all.

The silver-gilt acorn earrings.

The silver-gilt acorn earrings.

Speaking of gypsy marketing; I bought my Christmas present indulgence for myself; a pair of vintage earrings from one of the other vendors. His family business specialized in vintage and estate jewelry, mostly silver and a large part reclaimed from a smelter in San Antonio. You know – those businesses who buy old silver and gold jewelry; it goes to be melted down. This enterprise has an agreement with the local smelter to let them come in, look over the takings and purchase at cost those items with artistic merit. But my Christmas present for myself wasn’t one of those so rescued; they were from an estate sale. Described as silver – I thought they had a gold wash – and reddish-brown jasper stones; this was a pair of acorn-shaped earrings. I liked them very much, especially as they go with the brown tweed Edwardian walking suit outfit. So – my present for myself.
Oh, and I wore a different vintage outfit every one of the three days. They worked very well for merchandising purposes – and yes, I will do this again. Many times.

I saw the hungry armies of the men who had no work
I saw the silver ship fly to her doom
I watched the world at war and witnessed brave men go berserk
And saw that death was both the bride and groom
I watched Bikini atoll turn from coral into dust
At Dealy Plaza worlds came to an end
And swirling winds of time blew as the Soviet went bust
And life is born in stars as some contend
The swirling winds have always blown around man’s aimless trials
And will continue blowing ‘til the stars
Wink out in just a few short eons as the goddess whiles
Away the time in counting kings and tsars
Who think that they control the winds that swirl around their heads
Believing they are mighty as the sword
Not knowing that in blink of eye they’re taken to their beds
The swirling winds of time are oft ignored
Until, like we, the winds becalm and we stand face to face
With zephyrs and Spring breezes at our back
Propelling us toward what it seems is finish of the race
The winds we have but time is what we lack –

Walt Erickson, the poet laureate of Belmont Club, on this particular discussion thread.

So, tempus fugit and all that … dust in the wind, as the pop group Kansas used to sing. That number always reminds me vividly of a certain time and place, a memory which is strictly personal and has no bearing on this post, really … save for reminding me in an oblique way, that as of this month twenty years past, I went on terminal leave from the USAF. As of the end of this year, I have been retired from the military for as many years as I was in it. I can’t claim that I have traveled as far in this last two decades as I did in the two before that … after all, when I went to my high school reunion in 1982, I won the award for having come the farthest to attend the reunion. That was the year I was stationed in Greenland at the time, and the reunion was coincident to my middle-of-tour leave. The two decades past included travel to California to visit family, to Brownsville on client business, to Washington DC/Arlington for a milblogger convention, to Houston once and innumerable road trips to the Hill Country on book business. Dust in the wind, my friends – dust in the wind.
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03. October 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Home Front, Old West

So that was a fun Saturday, although exhausting as it always is to pack the Montero, drive a certain distance, unpack the Montero, find a good spot, transport the canopy, tables, the tubs of books and the tub of table dressing and giveaway materiel, and the two camp chairs to it, and set up, ready for business. Then – four to six hours of face-to-face direct sales, broken by a sandwich from the HEB deli (No, lunch is a chancy thing at these events. There may be a food truck or a concession handy with something that we’d want to eat and don’t mind paying for … or not. We have wised up. We bring HEB deli sandwiches, and an insulated bag of bottles of drinking water.)

This is the second year for the Boerne Book Festival – last year there were about twenty of us, spaced out in a back room in the main building. If records and memory serve, we did sell a handful of books, but mostly, us authors were reduced to looking at each other after a certain point in mid-afternoon. I did have a table across from a local historian, Jefferson Morgenthaler, who did a very good book about the German settlements in the Hill Country – a book that I absolutely recommend, as he covered the same territory in non-fiction the same ground that I did in fiction. He is one of those local authors that I knew of, but had not met until that point – so last year’s event was not a totally wasted effort.

Neither was this year’s; they set us up on the landscaped grounds of the library, under the trees where a winding paved path went down to an amphitheater which was the venue for a couple of scheduled events, starting with a children’s ballet company performance: the mini-dancers performed as various forms of sea-life to the music of Saint Saen’s “Carnival of the Animals”. This was the most-well attended segment of the presentations in the amphitheater, I will have to admit, although the later presentations/discussions did have an audience. One of the authors wrote zombie thrillers and was of sufficient celebrity as these things go to have the local Barnes & Noble store with a representative sample of his books.

There were about thirty-five authors present, plus Alan of the Texas Author’s Association, who had a booth filled with books by members of the association. One of them was Clay Mitchell, who was a client of Watercress Press. Alice and I had done some substantive and line editing for his book, Amid the Ashes and the Dust, which is a terrific and evocative read, set in East Texas. Another was John Keeling, who has started a western series about cattle ranchers in Texas; the first book is called Take ‘em North: The 2E Brand Begins. We had a brief chat about writing about the post-Civil War long-trail cattle drives; always go back to the primary sources, we agreed. Just about anything about that enterprise that you saw in a movie or a TV show during the Golden Age of the Western (say from 1930-1970)  is liable to be howlingly inaccurate.

Boerne is one of those towns just about commute-distance from north-side San Antonio; with a very distinct identity, and a well-established historical district. The ambiance is one of very substantial proto-yuppie prosperity. A couple of new developments on the outskirts of town have sprouted up in the last few years, and the various businesses in the historic downtown have – for as long as we’ve been visiting – been very, very upscale. It is, in a word – a prosperous place.

My daughter and I did venture by turns into the used-book store, which is an outgrowth of the Patrick Heath Public Library; a lovely building on the grounds, with a two-level terrace at the back, and a beautifully-arranged selection inside. Seriously – this is a library used-book outlet, which was as well-sorted and set out as any high-end retail book store. My daughter bought Alison Weir’s bio of Henry VIII and I found a copy of the Crabtree and Evelyn cookbook, which I bought for sentimental reasons. And yes – I can’t resist cookbooks of a certain sort. I really used to love that company when they had an outlet in North Star Mall, across the street from the office building where I had a job, some years ago. Sadly, the Crabtree & Evelyn outlet vanished, seemingly between one week and the next. Eventually, there was nothing left in that mall which I was interested in, on my lunch hour, save maybe the Williams-Sonoma outlet. It all became high-end designer clothing, makeup and jewelry. I commiserated with the volunteer cashier at the bookstore about that. She was leafing enviously through the cookbook during the time it took for me to go back to our tent and get my purse. ‘Hah!’ I said. ‘You had your chance!’

So – a very good and reassuring start to the last-quarter-of-the year selling season. One of the readers that we sold a set of the Luna City Chronicles to, stayed for a while to lament about how her widely-geographically-spread friends visualized Texas … in a most unflattering way, of course. My daughter has marveled at how her English FB friends seem to think that we all live in little desolate towns, where tumbleweeds roll through deserted unpaved streets, and everyone lives in tumbling-down shacks with outhouses out at the back and gunfights in the streets on a regular basis.

No, it’s not like that – not anything like that at all… But perhaps we want to keep that quiet, because then everyone would want to move here, and that would quite wreck the place. Say, did I mention how hot it is in Texas during the summer? It’s boiling hot, miserable-hot, fry-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot. For five whole months, and sometimes six! No, stay away, stay away!

Anyway, the Daughter-Unit and I are planning out the next market events on our schedule; Johnson City and Blanco are a go for their markets, and Saturday morning at the New Braunfels Sophienburg’s Christmas marked in November at the New Braunfels Civic Center. Dates to be posted as soon as confirmed.

There have been any number of important stories covered by the nationally-based establishment media in the last decade or so – in the deathless phrase tweeted by Iowahawk, David Burge, “with a pillow, until they stop moving.” Through the internet and alternate media, a good many of those stories that would have stopped moving through judicious use of the media pillow in previous decades – have still managed to percolate from those alternate media sites into the national mass media conversation. Things like the Dan Rather/TANG faked memo, the Swift Boat Veterans going after John Kerry as the duty-shirking Eddie Haskell of the Swift Boat service and dozens of other incidents fought off the smothering pillow, the Chick-Fil-A boycott, and yes – eventually got discovered in the major media outlets. With considerable reluctance, one might add. The matter of black on white violent crime may be on the edge of being discovered by the mainstream media, much as the Hollywood producer in the Godfather movie discovered the head of a dead horse in his bed.

There are these issues, you see – about which the major national media outlets appear to have a strange, almost Victorian compact; a determination NOT to see them, even when ordinary citizens know about. Not only know about, but are deeply concerned – and have strong opinions. (I mentioned one of these issues some months ago – here.) The matter of illegal immigrants in the US is one of those radioactive issues that the media, the political and intellectual leadership in this country do not wish to touch. They wish for various reasons, including the fact that there are certain monetary and social benefits to tolerating an influx of illegal immigrants, that the issue be disappeared, bundled out of sight and off the front pages. But the issue adamantly refuses to stay disappeared – precisely because there are so many stories like this one; the horrific bus accident in Louisiana on IH-10 this last week, where it appeared that the driver of the bus was not only an illegal alien, but unlicensed as well.

It’s a regularly occurring thing, all across the West and southwest; automobile accidents involving uninsured and unlicensed drivers, often illegal residents. Sometimes alcohol is involved as well. Precise statistics are hard to find – especially since partisans on one side don’t wish to find them, and those on the other side may be prone to exaggerate for effect. But with so many ordinary Americans having had an on-the-road accident experience where the other party was unlicensed, fraudulently unlicensed, uninsured, illegal or any combination of the above … there must be a substantial number of them – together with their families, friends, co-workers and neighbors affected to a lesser degree. Then there are the million working Americans whose social security numbers have been stolen by illegals – a matter over which the IRS feels no particular urgency. A large part of Donald Trump’s popularity across flyover America is precisely because he does address issues like this. Perhaps this will break the major media’s reluctance to acknowledge such matters.
Or not. Your thoughts?

19. July 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Home Front

So, it looks like Her Inevitableness is tottering on the way to her coronation, attended by throne-sniffing, lickspittle courtiers like Chris Matthews of MSNBC, who most notably got bent out of shape last night by Patricia Smith (the mother of former SEAL Sean Smith, killed in the 2012 mob attack on the US consular office in Benghazi) calling Her Inevitableness a liar. Such “lese majeste!” harrumphs the egregiously offended Mr. Matthews, whom I assume followed up this with a demand that those kids get off his lawn.
But I am not here to thump Chris Matthews, richly though he might deserve it; I am here to meditate upon my present big fat Hillary problem. I say ‘present’ because way back when she was the First Lady, and for a brief time when she was a former First Lady, and warming a chair in Congress as a remarkably lackluster politician – I didn’t really care one way or the other. Frankly, I would have had a lot more respect for the woman if she had dumped her horn-dogging hubby as soon as they moved out of the White House over his sexual games with interns – but then I am a woman who does not suffer being humiliated in front of a national audience. And then my problem with Hillary, Her Inevitableness really developed.

This problem of mine sprang from two sources, starting around the beginning of the 2008 election season. One – which I shared with my daughter, who was at college at the time – was that suddenly, it seemed as if everyone assumed that because she was a woman … and I was a woman (my daughter being a woman also, although that should go without saying) that OF COURSE we would support enthusiastically and vote for her. OF COURSE we would support the First Woman President EVAH! And the other was how totally, cynically, Third World it was that the spouse of a former president should even be seriously considered as a viable candidate for that office herself on the basis of … really, not much. Sorry – as I said then and say now; this is still not Argentina and she is still not Evita, although the increasing resemblance to the first is more than a little disheartening.

And between then and now is the ghastly disaster that was Benghazi; four dead, including the ambassador to Libya – a disaster for which Her Inevitableness bears a large part of the responsibility, as the Secretary of State. She left her people in the lurch, and then lied over their dead bodies afterwards. And then there is the matter of electronic security over her email account, while serving in that office. Military people have been all but crucified over careless handling of secure communications – and high rank has offered no protection or excuse. Likely every secret service in the world has read her emails by now; I can only hope that they might leak them to the rest of us, so that we can find out what the hell went wrong in Benghazi after all.

In sum, this adds incompetence to the towering edifice of cynical entitlement and corruption that is Hillary, and no, I will not vote for her. Through the support of tools like Chris Matthews and massive vote fraud, she might very well be elected, too. From that I extract a small shred of comfort, in that she will be at ground xero when all the various disasters launched by the administration in the last eight years come crashing down to earth.

Discuss, if you can bear the crushing depression of contemplating Her Inevitableness being sworn in to the highest office in the land.

That is one of those military acronyms which everyone who has ever been in the military for longer than – oh, I don’t know – a couple of years? A single hitch in one of the armed services? Whatever; what it means in plain English is “operations security” – and what that entails in the larger sense – drilled in by basic training, refresher training, briefings, a constant dribble of AFRTS spots cautioning the same in 30 second bites, and occasionally by the direct intervention of a supervisor administering a stern reminder – is that you keep your mouth shut about stuff and treat classified material with every care. Even stuff that seems minor, inconsequential, trivial, and is not in point of fact, actually classified. Because a whole lot of little pieces put together by an expert analyst could reveal a pretty big picture; a big and possibly life-threatening picture to someone, or hundreds, even thousands of someones.

I performed this analysis myself in a small way myself, during the build-up to the First Gulf War, through the medium of casually listening to a whole lot of reader spots emanating from our lead station, and some chatter from friends, to the effect that they couldn’t get a reserved room in the casual barracks at that base, all of a sudden. And sure enough – a radio reader spot to the effect that there was limited availability of rooms in a particular transient facility. Another reader, to the effect of restricting automobile traffic on a certain road at that base; checking a map of that base revealed that road was the one in front of that very transient facility. And finally – a notice to the effect that mowing the grass in that particular area was delayed until further notice. Put that together with knowing that transport aircraft were stopping over in large numbers on their way downrange … why, yes; the aircrews were being billeted there, to catch up on sleep before the last long haul to Saudi Arabia. Unclassified? Heck yes – it was on the radio, for gosh sake. Significant information for someone who might want to disrupt the transportation conveyor belt into the theater of conflict? Very possibly.

In the larger sense, OPSEC means paying attention, and especially paying attention to that which is classified information. My own clearance and that of other broadcasters never went any higher than Secret, possibly because we were broadcasters and the powers-that-be feared and probably with good reason (see above) that we would inadvertently blab all kinds of indiscreet stuff into a live microphone. Even at that lowly level, I dealt later on with classified information as the security NCO. The production facility at Hill AFB occasionally worked with materiel which was restricted from general use; yes, we had a secure safe, and now and again I had to serve as courier, collecting classified scripts, video footage and other stuff which I did not actually know what it was – as it was all secured in a sealed envelope – meeting the arriving carrier at the gate at SLC airport, and taking it to the unit and securing it in the safe. I didn’t deal with this materiel often enough to become blasé through familiarity, and I was never in the least bit of doubt that loosing, or compromising classified materiel would have severe adverse effects on my so-called career.

History is chock-full of instances where a break in security – the intercepted message, the boastful bragging to the wrong person, or an outright traitor – spelled disaster and death. History is likewise full of instances where a strategic or tactical secret was kept through heroic efforts on the part of individuals or organizations, an effort rewarded with success. Knowing that people may die, and in job-lots, if you are not careful does tend to concentrate ones’ attention to OPSEC. And this is why that practically every retired military person that I have talked to personally, or commented through social media in the last couple of days, is incandescently furious that Hilary Clinton – for reasons of her own carelessness or convenience – flung down and danced upon every procedure on the books for keeping classified information secure. There are people who have had careers wrecked, been charged, served time for just a hundredth part of the lack of care that she demonstrated in her time as Secretary of State.

But they were none of them Hilary Rodham Clinton. To compromise national security on a grand scale is obviously one of those privileges which rank hath.

12. April 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Air Force, Domestic, Home Front, Local

Curious indeed, to reflect that by the end of this year, I will have been out of the Air Force for as long as I was in it – but the time does fly when you are having fun. But twenty years in the Big Blue Machine does leave marks, as well as an exquisite sense of how the military really operates in real time, among the lower-ranking levels, close to the ground. This isn’t a sense readily developed from reading, although I suppose someone with wide experience, a strong sense of empathy and close personal associations with veterans can develop it by proxy.

This around-about way of explaining how all this last weekend, my daughter and I were wondering about a murder-suicide at Lackland AFB on Friday morning. A trainee airman had fatally shot his squadron commander, and then killed himself. Of course, it all came out in dribbles over the weekend; the trainee was an E-6, aged 41 and a student in the pararescue course … and had also resigned from the FBI as a special agent. Everything about this was curious, even unlikely; the Air Force para-rescue specialty is one of the most physically-demanding jobs the Air Force has. It’s comparable to the SEALS, and Army Special Forces, in that many are called, few chosen, and even fewer still graduate.

And an instant promotion to E-5 or E-6, Blondie and I agreed, must mean this man must had been prior service; Marine or Army Ranger, in order to waltz in without going through Air Force basic. But to have dropped from the FBI to enlist … curioser and curioser, Blondie and I agreed – and until today, there was nothing really reported which explained any of this … until I found a story from the L.A. Times. A reporter had actually looked at the anomalies, and reported thusly:

Bellino joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1992, training first as an Army Ranger at Ft. Stewart, Ga., then as a Green Beret at Ft. Bragg, N.C., according to his attorney, Daniel Conway. In 2002, he left the Army and joined the Army National Guard, serving with a special forces unit based in Ohio, according to Conway and military records. During his time in the Army and National Guard, Bellino served multiple tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Kuwait …From 2004 to 2007, Bellino also worked as a civilian contractor with a private security firm, the lawyer said. In 2011, Bellino left the military, went to work as an FBI special agent in the New York office but resigned after less than two years, according to an FBI statement. He then tried to reenlist in the Army or join the Navy, but eventually settled on the Air Force because it involved the least amount of red tape…

To recapitulate; ten years in the Army, then the Army National Guard for nine years, to include three years as a civilian contractor, then a mere two years as an FBI agent … and back to military service, as a trainee among people half his age. I’d venture a speculation that this extremely checkered career is an indication of certain personality traits; traits that made him a very bad team player and a huge problem for commanders and NCOs, all the way along. I’d also speculate that he looked good at first look, every time … but eventually the problem traits surfaced, and it was just less trouble for all involved to let him move on. Discuss.

I know that I have not been posting much lately – here or anywhere else lately; just the bare minimum of commenting on other people’s posts and other people’s blogs and websites, but I had a couple of projects for the Tiny Publishing Bidness to work on, and then the two major projects to finish, format and upload to various platforms. Yes, I decided to go all-out and finish two books in time for the Christmas marketing season this year. Amazingly, neither one was the one that I had declared at the beginning of the year that I would have all done and ready to launch by this time  … yes, the adventures of young Fredi Steinmetz in Gold Rush-era California is rolled back another year. Sigh. I still have to do an epic-truck-load of reading of contemporary accounts and skull out a plot sufficient and historically-accurate to fill the last half of the book; which so far in my head will include a stint in San Francisco the year of the epically well-organized Vigilante organization, encounters with various historic personages, to include William T. Sherman, Lotta Crabtree and her formidable mother, some murderous claim-jumpers and a young woman seeking justice – while disguised as a boy. So, yes I will get on to that presently. After all The Quivera Trail was held at a third completed while I worked on Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart, and it didn’t seem to do any harm in the long-run.

So – the Harvey Girl adventure, Sunset and Steel Rails is done and ready for release on the 19th, in print and in Kindle. Amazon is dragging their feet apparently, in expediting the ‘Look-Inside’ feature. It isn’t up at present, but it should be in the next couple of days. Not bad, for something that I only got inspired to start in February of this year.  But The Chronicles of Luna City is a light and amusing present-day trifle which my daughter and I only got started on at the end of July – and here it is November, and that book is done and nearly finalized as well.  Three months, and just 70,000 words (but with pictures!) which is short for me, as most of the other books run 125,000 and up. (Although Lone Star Sons pegged in at 65,000.) There was one of the professional pulp adventure fiction writers – whose name escapes me at the moment – who was said to have done a book a month at one point in his career. Don’t know what the total word count was on any of them, but he must have worked in a white-hot blaze of energy … and Luna City is a light and diverting trifle, requiring very little research. Well, except for looking up restaurant equipment, and the names of obscure British TV series of the 1980s, and making certain that there aren’t any real companies with the same names of companies that I have mentioned in Luna City. Movie production companies really go for the obscure, I have to say. Had to nix six or seven possible names because there is a real production company out in the world with the name of something I thought would work for a movie production company. Luna City is pure contemporary escapism, utterly devoid of any redeeming social value in the eyes of the established guardians of our high literary culture … which I believe a lot of us have a need of these days, given how particularly screwed up, violent, and depressing real life seems to be, lately. (Oh, Established Guardians of our High Literary Culture? Yoo-hoo … over here! Now, gaze lovingly upon my upraised middle finger!)

So, light blogging will commence, now that all the hard labor of writing, editing, formatting and polishing have been done. Did you miss me?

… and then turn around and whine because some cis-male said something, or looked something, and I feel so … so threatened! Look, girls…ladies … possessor of a vagina or whatever you want to be addressed as this week in vernacular fashion; can you just please pick one attitude and stick to it? Frankly, this inconsistency is embarrassing the hell out of me (sixty-ish, small-f feminist in the long-ago dark days when there was genuine no-s*it gender inequality in education, job opportunities and pay-scales to complain about and campaign for redress thereof). This is also annoying to my daughter, the thirtyish Marine Corps veteran of two hitches. The Daughter Unit is actually is very close loosing patience entirely with those of the sisterhood who are doing this “Woman Powerful!-Woman Poor Downtrodden Perpetual Victim!” bait and switch game. So am I, actually, but I have thirty years experience in biting my tongue when it comes to the antics of the Establishment Professional Capital-F Feminist crowd.

See – it’s an either-or proposition. Either you are strong, capable, intelligent and have thick enough of a skin or at least a toleration and sufficient understanding of the world in general, and the male of our sex in particular to forge your way enthusiastically through the world, throwing off the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, the occasional sex-based misunderstanding, the overheard crude joke, the inability of many of the males of our species to attend to details of housekeeping or good organizational order, and their juvenile enthusiasm for sexual congress under circumstances and with co-conspirators which – the less said of that the better. That is the attitude that my daughter and I personally favor; we take no stick, and when someone – male or female tries it, we hand it back face to face with generous interest. That’s what strong, capable and intelligent women do.

It’s either that or the conventions of womanhood which held sway in popular Victorian culture. That is – one who is too fine, too delicate and too gentle to endure exposure, even by the slightest suggestion to any of the above … like tweeting a picture of two guys overheard making a crude joke and setting off an internet meltdown which resulted in firings, internet shamings, death threats and everything but the burning of Atlanta. Seriously, what Ms Richards overheard and took exception to – essentially complaining to a wide audience that “Ohhh – those awful men were making me feel threatened! Make them stop!” was relatively mild when compared to some of the conversations I overheard (or sometimes participated in) while in the military. I can only imagine the degree of absolute meltdown if Ms Richards had heard some of them … and yes, both my daughter and I have often been the only woman, or one of a handful of women in a sea of men.

So, strong, capable and equal … or frail, sensitive and desperate for that fainting couch; pick one or the other and stick to it consistently. At the very least, don’t talk like one, and act like the other. It only confuses the guys and embarrasses the heck out of women like me.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz)

11. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Fun With Islam, GWOT, Home Front · Tags:

This year is not one of those significant anniversaries – the year-marks that end in zero or mark a quarter or a half of a century, but for a couple of reasons, this one seems to weigh more heavily on me than any of the others, save possibly the one-year-after mark. It had only been a year after a perfectly shattering, unimaginable event, quite the equal to me of what Pearl Harbor had been to my parents. Without a whisper of warning – oh, if you had an abiding interest in the matter, or were a particularly imaginative secret squirrel, you might have seen it coming – a fissure the size of the Grand Canyon suddenly split the normal, day-to-day world, and after it, everything was different. On September 12, 2001, the world looked superficially just as it had two days before, save for maybe a few more American flags, and having to get to the airport hours before your flight, not to mention the gaping hole in the skyline of lower Manhattan. But it was the new normal, and kids in middle-school or starting high school have never known anything else. What I recall from ‘before’ is as remote and faraway to them as the Dust Bowl, or the splendors of the Edwardian era. That was then, this is now.

This is the now, with ISIS, or ISIL or whatever they wish to call themselves, recruiting volunteers across Europe and the Middle East, to establish a new Caliphate in the Middle East. What our armed forces bought in blood in Iraq has been essentially given away by this administration as carelessly as if it were a no-longer-fashionable shirt put into a plastic bag and dropped off at Goodwill. The southern border is made of wet tissue paper – and this administration has essentially contrived to swamp working-class communities with illegal aliens … who at the very least are innocent of the ability to speak English, and at worst are unrepentant gangsters. It can also be assumed that just about all of them are unvaccinated against diseases both common and uncommon which are also extremely communicative. Yes, well done.

Those same borders are also open to Islamic terrorists of the same stripe as those responsible for 9-11. It is likely only a matter of time before an atrocity every bit as horrific strikes a major American city … just as it is only a matter of time before certain of our inner city black underclass breaks out in city-killing riots. The present of Detroit may very well be the tomorrow of certain other cities. The working and middle-class flee, and if the city is glamorous enough, the rich and the very poor remain behind. If it isn’t glamorous enough, only the very poor remain. Many of our cities seem to be hanging by a thread – especially the older, old-industry ones. It is only a matter of time …

And so, we wait for the other shoe to fall. And it will fall – there is no doubt on that, just as there is no doubt regarding this current administration’s ability or willingness to rise to the occasion.

Starting Anew

Bizarrely enough, that’s what it has seemed like around here for the last few weeks. Winter during the week, with temperatures in the twenties, summer on the weekends, with a high that just barely escapes the threshold for turning on the AC. While the British Isles seem to be considerably more soggy than usual (old joke – English roosters don’t crow, they gargle) and just about every part of the US but for the west coast and south Texas are snowed in, we are here able to contemplate spring planting. That, and taking the tender plants from the plastic greenhouse and hanging them out in the open air. My daughter’s hibiscus has gone back to it’s accustomed place, and I have two packets of seed potatoes ready for the big raised bed. The winter cold here – such as it was – did for most of the perennial vegetables which were on their third year anyway; pepper, okra and eggplant. The first weekend in March, though – off to various outlets to replace all of the above and tomato starts, too. Historically the final freeze of the year in these parts is March 15th. After that, it’s full steam ahead.

Having the overgrown photina cut down kick-started the garden projects this year, too. The front entryway is entirely re-vamped, and planted with a new rosebush, some interesting bulbs and seeds, and some ornamental garden bits. The narrow flower bed alongside the walkway to the front door will also be cleaned up and fixed with brick, pavers and gravel, with a few plants allowed in certain places. I trimmed away all the dead stuff from the three pots of gladioli – and the new green growth is already putting up little green fingers. I believe the plants know that hard winter is already over.
The various spider plants wintered over in the greenhouse without much harm, and return to their usual places … or close to some of their usual places, since the limbs of the mulberry were pruned back quite severely. The frost-nipped bushes in the back which grew to a great height and attracted swarms of butterflies and humming-birds have all been tidied up – and my daughter has been filling the bird-feeders again, to the great joy of the various wrens, sparrows and doves. This is also to the great joy of the cats, who sit on the windowsill, with their tails twitching, and impotently watch the birds through the glass.
We meant to begin planting things – the potatoes, onions, beans and lettuce, but the day got away from us, with sorting out the back porch. It had become a kind of dump, with the bicycle parked in the middle of it. I hated sitting on the glider with my back to the garden, so we switched around the glider and the gas barbeque, threw away a pretty hefty bunch of accumulated stuff – and there we are; a back porch that I can sit on once again, and look out at the garden.

A week and a half to go to Christmas – and I am slightly bummed, although in rather better financial shape than I have been in some previous years. The last of the Christmas craft sales events – Christmas on the Square in Goliad – was pretty well wiped out by cold beyond the capacity of large crowds to endure. We came home with two tubs of books, not having sold a single thing, and it’s been ages since that happened.

I have set up a week-long direct sale through my book-website; 15% off the regular direct sales price, but I am beginning to get the distinct impression from personal experience that fourth-quarter holiday sales are definitely down. Well, it could be worse – it definitely has been worse. The sale of the California property affords a bit of a cushion, and that it allowed us to revamp the HVAC system is bliss, especially as it continues cold. I’m thinking that we owe the Jon Wayne people a lavish Christmas card, for the work they did resulted in much superior system to that originally installed, which heated and cooled sluggishly and sparsely, and with a horrifying degree of inefficiency. The new system heats or cools the house within five minutes of turning it on, and every room is comfortable.

Countdown – three weeks and a bit to the New Year, and also the time for all us ordinary peons not exempted for one reason or another to get right with Obamacare, or the Unaffordable Care Act. Well, not us, personally – so far, Tricare Prime for me remains relatively unscathed, save for a not-insupportable increase in the quarterly fee. Blondie’s Humana policy is also relatively unscathed, at least for the next year. The cost of a Un-ACA compliant policy for her also costs almost three times as much as the policy she has now – and both of us are extremely wary of entering anything personal into a usgov site as frelled as that one seems to be. We’re actually hoping that the whole ungodly mess is revoked sometimes over the next year – although it may just implode of it’s own.

Really, if schadenfreude had calories, I’d be as fat as Oprah Winfrey was at her max-girth; watching Obamacare implode and seeing the Obama administration look like fools – like a laughing selfie at a memorial service. Could anything in public be more crass, more juvenile? Meanwhile, North Korea – yet again – is edging closer and closer to total breakdown, what with Li’l Pudgy going all Henry VIII on his closest kin and advisers. Dennis Rodman seems to have appointed himself the chief envoy to the place, which only goes to prove that these days, satirists must have a devil of a time staying ahead of reality.

Our Booth  After Rearrangement
That is what our booth at the Boerne Market Days contained this last weekend – the first time that we have done Boerne Market Days as a vendor and not as a strolling shopper. Saturday morning was rainy in San Antonio, and the skies were overcast all day. None of the vendors minded not having any sunshine – as long as it didn’t rain! We had a nicely-placed booth space, about midway between the bandstand at one end, and the food-trucks parked at the other. By the way, the gorditas are fab. Sometimes they make the chicken gordita with cut-up chicken chunks, instead of ground chicken meat – but still tasty, anyway. Another good thing – one of the big trash cans was right in front of us, so no need to set aside a bag for our own trash. And it was a landmark for anyone looking for us.

My daughter and I have done a lot of book events, some of them in conjunction with a craft fair, like Goliad’s Christmas on the Square, so we pretty much know the drill; bring tablecloths, plenty of stock (packed in plastic tubs with lids) plenty of change, receipt books, lots of flyers, postcards and business cards, and something to ornament the table with … and chocolate candy. Most everyone likes chocolate, although one of the most relentless book marketer I know has a cookbook with recipes incorporating lemons – she makes lemon cookies or cake, and gives away samples.

This time, we had two more improvements to our retail efforts; a folding dolly hand-truck, which can carry one of the heaviest tubs and one of the lighter ones at a time, and folds up very compactly… no, it isn’t industrial-strength, but better than schlepping the heaviest tubs of books by hand for half a block or more. $20 bucks at Sam’s Club, which might very well be the best and most useful $20 ever spent there, over the long haul. The other was a little attachment for my daughter’s cellphone, which allows us to process credit card payments to her Tiny Bidness Paypal account. We couldn’t process credit/debit accounts before, which has sometimes been a bit of a bind since … well, not too terribly many people carry around checkbooks any more, or cash, either – and going to an ATM and getting cash for a sale is sometimes a bit of an inconvenience for people.

If we keep this up – this making an appearance on the regular market circuit – there are certain things that we will just have to get, in addition to the storage tubs and the hand-truck. We rented the pop-up tent, two folding tables and a chair from the Boerne Market Days management, but eventually we will have to get our own 10 X 10 pop-up; most of the other regular vendors had them, in varying degrees of quality, with zip-up sidewalls for additional privacy, security and shelter from the elements. We will also probably invest in a pair of banners, either to clip to the front of the pop-up or to the front of the table, advertising our various enterprises.
We made back and a bit more the amount that we paid for the space, and rental of the conveniences – but not very much more. We talked to many other vendors, who were similarly disappointed. Either it’s just not close enough to Christmas to loosen the purse strings – or that everyone is looking at the current economic situation with a very tight hold on the pocket-book.

Even so, this last weekend was a learning experience – and one of them was that Boerne Market Days is very animal friendly. A lot of shoppers had dogs on leashes, and one iconoclast among the vendors eve had a pair of infant goats on display. They were such cute babies – but I am told that when they are fully-grown, they can be evil in the extreme.

I guess that it must be proof of sorts that we live in a pretty OK residential area … and also that Blondie and I are snoopy and stand on our rights and obligations as citizens, in that we have had cause to call the San Antonio Police Department twice in three days, and both times officers of the gendarmerie appeared within about twenty minutes or half an hour of the time we called. Yes, we are those neighbors … well, not the kind of ‘those neighbors’ who unite the other neighbors in disbelieving horror, but the other kind of ‘those neighbors’ – the ones who know other neighbors casually to speak to, who note and recognize things which are curious and out of normal order, and are not afraid to speak up and tell someone in ostensible authority. Like whoever is on the other end of the non-urgent telephone number.

This is what good neighborhoods are made of – not gates, security fences with combinations, private patrols, and not middle-class values and paychecks. It is also a relatively fragile construct, because once the forces of darkness and unrestrained disruption/criminality take over, it is damn hard to get control back. The people who live in a place must have an element of effective control over it through the soft power of social control – backed up by civil law, otherwise it’s a straight shot to gangbangers shooting up at random, kids sleeping in bathtubs or on the floor, and 24-hour mercantile establishments with their cashiers behind bullet-proof glass bastions and metal shutters over the windows.

I don’t want to live in a neighborhood like that – probably neither did George Zimmerman – and so this why Blondie and I take our phones with us when we run in the wee hours of the morning, and walk the doggies in the slightly-less-wee-hours. Mess with our neighborhood – we will dial 311 and explain the mess to the obliging dispatcher. Maybe this explains the difference between red and blue states at the working-class level. Here in the last redoubt of red-land, we still believe that we can hold fast; we can keep our neighborhood a place where you can walk the dog, let the kiddies play in the front yard, put garden ornaments of nominal value in the front yard and have faith they will remain there – and go running and dog-walking at all hours with a feeling of relative security. It’s just how we roll.
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And the starry sky above, don’t fence me in. So goes the old pop song – but I’m not asking for lots o’land, just some small bits of it for which I will pay. Not too much will I pay, though – since I am not one of the economic or political aristocracy, for whom corners are cut and favors rendered. But I do have a point and I am getting to it, round-about.

A long time ago, when Sgt. Mom was first-term enlisted airman and only newly a mom, I reenlisted into a high-demand military specialty, for which act of reckless patriotism I was awarded a rather generous reenlistment bonus. (The last one ever awarded, since the broadcaster career field began contracting shortly thereafter, and the Air Force had sufficient broadcast technicians and managers on hand to meet administrative needs.) Of which the federal government skimmed off their usual cut for taxes, since I was not canny enough to hire someone to do my taxes for me who would find a way to minimize the ‘mordita’ abstracted from the bonus. But I was sufficiently foresighted to invest the remainder in a long-term CD (after purchasing my baby daughter the biggest damned stuffed bear that I could find on the local market) and to continue to reinvest the interest. And then I believe I rolled the CD over into another one, when it matured … which left me with a sufficient nest-egg by 1985, when my daughter and I scored a free round-trip home from Spain to our home of record – this being a bonus for signing up for another tour in place at the current assignment. It costs a bomb to pack up and shift a family to another base – so by way of reducing expenses, the Air Force encouraged a military family to do another three years by offering round-trip airfare home for the whole family in between tours.

By that time, my parents’ home and mine of record was the building site on their scenic hilltop outside of Valley Center – so we went back for a very pleasant stay over Christmas of that year, and I began to consider following Mom and Dad’s example. That is, to buy a nice little bit of rural acreage, and eventually retire and build a house on it. So – we popped around while I was there, and looked at some nice bits of rural and semi-rural land – not long enough to find anything that I liked straightaway and could afford, but for Mom and Dad to get an idea of what I would like. Eventually and after my daughter and I had returned to Spain, they located a nice little 3 acre plot of unimproved howling wilderness in the mountains near a scenic little burg called Julian. I approved their choice, sank my nest-egg into it as the down-payment and for the next ten years, every month I sent a check to a nice retired couple in Iowa. I think I actually visited my land precisely once in all that time … but it figured in my long-term plans, when I finally came to my last assignment at 20 years of military service. I’d buy a house through the generous auspices of the GI Bill, work for another twenty years after leaving the military, then sell that house and use the funds for building the retirement house; just as Mom and Dad had done.

And then … that plan was diverted. I began to like Texas very much … and realized that sale of a house in Texas probably wouldn’t bring me enough to build much more than a garden shed in California. And then the current political and economic situation put me off that plan even more. In the meantime, one of my jobs is for a local ranch real estate guy – I bring some order to his office, and put together the brochures for the properties that he is working … and I won’t soon forget the one that I was putting together, when I decided that I would sell my California real estate and take up something in the Hill Country instead. It was for a multi-million-dollar property near Leakey, with a beautiful green natural spring-fed creek lined by huge cypress trees, and I kept looking at the pictures that I was editing into the brochure and thinking, “I want a bit of that.”

So, about three years ago, I consulted with Mom and Dad (who was then still living) and told them that my plans were changed. I wanted a bit of the Hill Country, which I could at least visit on weekends, not something I needed to drive for two days to see. I was partner in a Tiny Bidness which was so locally-focused that taking it anywhere else just wasn’t possible, I was connected through an interesting array of people, I was a member of a local Tea Party, and I had written three novels about the place … heck, I even have a pair of ornate western boots, although the pick-up truck and the hunting rifle are still in the future. The die was cast. I listed the three acres with a local realtor, and waited and waited and waited. Honestly, it’s a hard tract to sell, not being appealing to every taste; on the edge of a national forest, miles from any seriously scenic attractions, no electricity (most of the neighbors depending on generators) and having to dig a well for water. Well, that was why it was affordable to me in the first place. But this week I finally got a bid on it which would allow me to break even on what I paid for it. And I took it. Honestly, what I wanted was something close to what I had put into it in the first place, although I think my ranch real estate friend is convinced that when it comes to land sales I oughtn’t to be allowed out without a responsible keeper. He thinks the terms are eh-to-barely OK. But I have accepted them – the sale goes into escrow today, and in another few weeks, the ranch real estate friend and I and my daughter will take a long drive into the hills to look at what we can see. I am looking forward to that – and having my own little bit of paradise close by.

Still, it’s a bit of a wrench – I loved living in California very much, loved growing up there, hiking and riding in the hills, being able to go from the seashore to the high Sierras in a few hours. I loved the smell of citrus orchards, and the look of the hills, golden-tawny and spotted with live oak trees, dusty blue in the distance, the little pre-war cottages like my grandparent’s house, purple jacaranda blooming at Christmas, and palm trees rustling in the wind. That California still is there of course – but in increasingly smaller patches. Time to move on.

(cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

And it’s only Tuesday, too. It’s also Red Hat evening, for the ladies of the small group who are in the habit of sampling the delights of a select restaurant, on the evening of the third Tuesday of the month. Hey, I need a social life, or so says Blondie. It’s about the only darned time I do eat a restaurant meal – and the informal rules of the club are that the person whose’ birthday falls in that month picks the restaurant, and that it be a reasonably priced one. So an evening out in the offing tonight – although it will be a goodish drive over to the venue for this evening.

Otherwise, it’s been kind of a mixed bag; this morning I had an email from the California realtor who is listing the once-wooded and now-possibly-wooded again acreage that I own in Julian, California. I’ve been trying to sell it for almost three years now, and the realtor finally had a good solid offer for it, which he wanted to run by me. Well, the offer is for $5,000 more than I paid for it myself, which I am perfectly happy with. The last serious offer was for $10,000 less – and that I considered a bloody insult. So … when the check is in my hot little hand, then I will go to my ranch realtor friend and sometime employer, and see about a couple of acres in the Hill Country. I did up a brochure for him yesterday, with pictures of a little place in Frio County – not that I want that place, but it is something like it that I would be looking for. Meadows dotted with large oaks, a water well and two tiny and rather ramshackle appearing cottages on it. Something like that, I told him – something small and unpretentious. If it’s structurally sound, repair and renovate the house (or houses) and if not, tear down and build something like it. I wouldn’t be interested in a big house, either – just a small one with room for a little guest cottage or two. So, if the sale goes through – then, one step closer to my dream Hill Country retreat.

The Tiny Publishing Bidness has a couple of clients on board, and a prospective big project in the offing – but my business partner, the original owner of it – has not been entirely well this year. She’s in her eighties, and this week is going in for treatments. Both her mother and her brother died rather painfully from pancreatic cancer, and so of course she is dreading the same fate. Naturally, her mind is not the least focused on work. Still, she is in better shape than one of Blondie’s regular employers, another sweet elderly lady living around the corner. (Blondie cleans house for her once a month, and is on call for errands and to drive her to doctor appointments when the sweet elderly lady’s daughters are not available. She has not been well either; and has been hospitalized for several weeks. Her chronic problem is back again, and she is not strong enough for chemotherapy … or anything, really. She was released from hospital, into home hospice care, and it’s a matter of just waiting, now. Blondie is gutted, of course – she is very fond of both these senior citizens.

The friend that Blondie was going to go into business with – to found a little art enterprise which would eventually support both of them – that one fell by the wayside, although we both rather saw it coming. The friend loves drama, having that traditional artistic temperament. We thought that she could at least focus on business matters sufficiently to be able to avoid inflicting the drama on Blondie … but nope. All is not lost, though – Blondie is going to forge ahead with the origami art, and set up a website of her own, and go through all the hoops and requirements of getting the sales license, and setting up a boutique business of her own.

And I am just fiddling with the final format of The Quivera Trail – the next book, which will roll out at New Braunfels’ Weihnachtsmarkt in November. And as soon as I am done with that, and the other Tiny Publishing Bidness projects, I will start on the next book…
And that’s my week. Yours?

Oddly enough – guns were not a terribly real presence in the household – or even the neighborhood where I grew up. Dad, and our near friends and neighbors didn’t hunt, and as near as I can recall, none of them were obsessed collectors. I never even saw a firearm, in use on on display – save in the holsters of law enforcement personnel – all the time that I was growing up. The use of firearms of any sort was an issue so far off the table that it wasn’t even in the same room. Oh, my brother JP had cap pistols, and Dad did possess two sidearms – a pistol, which may have been a Luger, and with which he nailed a particularly annoying gopher one evening with a clean shot through the nasty little buggers’ head – and a Navy Colt (actual model unspecified), which was rather more of a relic than a useful firearm. I saw it once and once only.

Dad kept those firearms in some secure place in the house; I do not know where, never wondered and none of us children were never motivated enough to search for them. We just were not that curious about guns, even though the Colt had a story behind it. Mom and Dad had found it secreted away between some rocks on the beach, in a battered old-fashioned leather holster, I think about the time that they were living in Laguna Beach when Dad had just gotten back from a tour of Army service in Korea – or possibly this happened when we were all living in GI-Bill student housing in Santa Barbara. From what Mom had said, some six or eight months before they found it, there had been a robbery of a local gun collector. They didn’t hear about the robbery for months or possibly years afterwards – so, they kept it. I don’t imagine Dad ever attempted to fire it, although being a tidy and logical person, he might have cleaned it up before putting it away.

Being a west-coast suburban sort of person, and since Dad and none of his friends were hunters – guns just were not a presence in real life, save in holsters on the hips of law enforcement personnel. As strange as it may sound to a European, or to someone from an American inner-city sink, it is entirely possible to live for decades without ever seeing anyone but a law enforcement officer carry a weapon, or witness an act of gun violence or the aftermath thereof. Just chalk that up to being a middle-class person with absolutely no inclination to walk on the wild side … of anything. It is possible that any number of my friends and neighbors at the time, or since then, had a side-arm or long gun which they kept quietly in a closet, or in the glove box of their car. Taking it out and waving it about was just not the done thing.

In point of fact – I never even handled a weapon personally until well into my military service; first an M-16, which I had to qualify on sometime in the early 1980s, and then again with a Beretta pistol in the early 1990s, upon being suddenly faced with a TDY to Saudi Arabia, better known as the Magic Kingdom. American military personnel with orders there had to be qualified to handle that sidearm. Fortunately, the orders fell through once the powers who issued them realized that I was not the flight-qualified documentary photog they were looking for.

And then I finished up settling in Texas, and turning to writing historical fiction, in which guns of various sorts do play a part. Again, although Texas is supposed to be the wild, wild, gun-loving west, personal weapons generally they aren’t any more visible here then they were back when I was a kid … although I do believe more of my friends and acquaintances here do have them – mostly as collectors and historical enthusiasts. Again, usually only the law enforcement officers carry openly … unless it is a historical reenactment event, and then it’s katy-bar-the-door. Through the offices of another blogger, I did manage to get a brief course in the use and maintenance of an early Colt revolver, and through the good offices of another friend, we enjoyed an afternoon of black-power shooting on a ranch near Beeville. But all of that – and a bit of ghost-writing about early revolvers is about all that I have ever had to do with guns. I should hate to think that I might need more than this – because it will truly mean that my world has changed, and not for the better.

(Crossposted at my book blog)

It looks like Mittens is our man, as far as the GOP presy-nom goes in this year of Our Lord 2012. Not my personal first choice, as I retained a sneaking affection for Rick Perry as one of the very first among our dear establishment Repubs who glommed onto the Tea Party from the get go … but, eh … this is not a perfect world, probably will never be a perfect world. Speaking as an amateur historian, it’s more interesting as an imperfect world anyway. As far as I’m concerned in this current election season, Anybody But Obama will do for me. I don’t care wildly for establishment career Republicans, especially the ones embedded in the Washington D.C. establishment like an impacted wisdom tooth … but in a realistic world, we work with what we can get.

Of course, one of the sneaky push-backs generated as the campaign season wears on through summer and fall will be objections and veiled – or not so veiled – criticisms of Mitten’s Mormon faith. That is, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, LDS for short, the common reference within those communities particularly thick with them. (In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which saw the Enterprise crew voyage backwards in time to our tumultuous century, Captain Kirk attempted to cover for strangeness in Mr. Spock’s conduct by saying, “Oh, he did too much LDS in the Sixties. That line raised an enormous horse-laugh in the theater in Layton, Utah, where I saw that movie in first run: Probably not so much as a giggle, everywhere else.)
In the event of his nomination as GOP candidate, I remain confident that every scary trope about Mormons will be taken out and shaken vigorously, as representatives of the U.S. establishment press furrow their brows thoughtfully and mouth the successor-to-JournoList talking points, and members of the foreign press corps (such as the BBC) worry their pretty, empty heads about those crazy fundamentalist Americans going at it again. Christian fundamentalists on steroids, is what it will boil down to, I am sure. Polygamous marriage, every shopworn cliché about Religion American-style that you’ve ever seen in books, movies and television will be put out there. How our press nobility can accomplish this and still look away from the nuttier-‘n-squirrel-poop ravings of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago without giving themselves existential whiplash, I can’t imagine. I am confident that a prospective Romney presidency will be painted as about one degree off from A Handmaid’s Tale, and there will be plenty of blue-state punters who will eat it up with a spoon. I would hope that the sensible ones would be able to stop hyperventilating long enough to listen to reason about all this.
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It has happened to us again; we came home from morning walkies on Thursday with an extra dog, to the bafflement and apparent disgust of the Lesser Weevil and Connor … who seem to be getting over it, even as I write. The current canine find is small, attractive, and relatively well-behaved and seems to be agreeable to cats. Which a dog in our house had damn-well better be … the cats outnumber the dogs, and are Superior Beings – at least, as the cats see it, and woe betide the canine which doesn’t acknowledge this superiority immediately.
We have done this quite often – arrived home with another dog. Usually we can locate an owner almost at once – either the original owner or someone who will step up to the plate and take said dog on. Now and again we have had to turn them over to the county animal shelter; a concern which is trying their damndest to re-house the amiable and healthy animals which are turned into their facility. This time we do have some hopes of locating the owner who is missing him. How many people in a short range of our neighborhood have managed to misplace what appears to the expert eye (of a breeder just a short way away) to be a young pure-bred male Pomeranian, of an appealing reddish coloring, an amiable personality, and agreeable to other cats and dogs. He (an unmistakably un-neutered he) was running around on one of the main streets through our neighborhood. It took a bit of effort to catch him, as they are fast-moving little b****rds. Two of our neighbors stopped and told us – as we were carrying him home – that they had tried to catch him, as he was merrily skipping about in the traffic along that main feeder avenue. We were the first to be successful, probably because he was curious about Weevil and Connor, so that after about three blocks of pursuit, feints and dodges, my daughter managed to scoop him up in her arms and carry him homewards – all eight pounds and some. Of which I think a pound or so is in the weight of his fur and about half a pound in the weight of his balls … un-neutered male, as I said.
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It’s been another one of those weeks, sportsfans; all kinds of odd things going on, some of them personal and some of them in the larger world. Kind of hard to see which of them are more important in the big scheme o’ things, and not many of them worth a full blog-post.

1. So King Barry I did his state of the union address this week. Meh … I didn’t watch, although we did catch a few seconds of it while channel-surfing. Just enough time to wonder why on earth he appeared to be such a garish orange color … seriously, he looked like a giant Cheeto with ears. I gather the speech was the same paint by the numbers blah-blah-blah. It must not have gone over all that well with the partisans, because I distinctly heard an announcer or a guest on a certain classical music program make a crack about it; something about a certain classical music performer getting more applause than the state of the union address.

2. Gingrich or Romney, Romney or Gingrich. I am underwhelmed. The sniping between the partisans is unseemly. My one wistful desire is that it were possible to take elements of all the candidates and mold them into one single candidate: Gingrich’s fire and take-no-prisoners attitude, Romney’s skill at organization, Santorum’s constancy to principle, Perry’s experience as a governor … but it isn’t, so I’ll just have to deal with the easy decision of who to vote for in November. Anybody but King Barry, of course, but I might give the Dread Cthulhu a look-in.

3. Working all week on an editing job; a novelette supposed to be a horror story, but in actuality it was what I call secondary guy-porn. Primary guy porn is what you think it is, secondary guy porn has lots of loving detail about weapons and vehicles in it. Secondary fem-porn has lots of loving detail about clothes and accessories. Hey, it’s a living. And it’s not the worst project I’ve ever edited.

4. The second edition of the separate books of the Adelsverein Trilogy has been uploaded to Lightning Source, the proofs are approved, and it should be listed on Amazon and the usual suspects by the end of the week – and at a price of a couple of bucks cheaper than the first edition. I’d always winced, looking at the retail price, and winced again, whenever I had to purchase a bulk quantity at my author discount from Booklocker. Here’s hoping that the Trilogy chugs along just as steadily as Truckee does – both e-book and print versions … and the German translation sells like hot-cakes.

5. Sigh. We found another lost dog. And no, we’re not keeping this one, as we did with Connor. German shepherdish, youngish, fairly clean and well-mannered, unneutered male, bouncing around in the empty field back of St. Helena’s. He followed along with us, all the way home; did not take well to having a leash put on him, so we deduce that he was never taken for walkies. Of course no tags. He’s already listed on fido-finder, and tomorrow we’ll go through the usual rounds. The other two dogs are freaked out by this. The Weevil has taken over Connor’s bed, wedged underneath my desk, and Conner has had to take the Weevil’s bed, which I moved over next to my chair.

And that’s been my week – yours?

In no particular order of importance, I contemplate the following:

1. Regretfully, Morgan Freeman has now joined my personal celebrity s**t list, for pronouncing the Tea Party to be racist. Usually those who fall into my list have a long track record of offences; he has done it in one fell swoop of a lengthy TV interview. Yes, I know that most actors and entertainers are political morons – especially those who feel obliged to piss off a major portion of their fan-base.

2. So . . . thirty years ago, there was a rock on a hunting lease in West Texas with a racial epithet painted on it . . . which was painted over by the lease-holder, at the urging of his son, who is now presently the Governor of Texas. And this is all that the WaPo can find by way of criticism of the man. Hoooo-kayyy. From those wonderful people who brought us Watergate, this is a sad come-down.

3. And speaking of Watergate – it didn’t actually kill anyone, which is more than you can say for Operation Fast and Furious, or ‘hey boys’n’girls, lets have the ATF take the lead in supplying serious weaponry to the Mexican drug cartels!’ Seriously, if the Mexican government was to demand extradition of Attorney General Eric Holder, the head of the ATF, and every other numbskull who expedited the various gun-running operations on charges of criminal misconduct and accessory to murder, I’d say – have at it. Deliver them all to the border in handcuffs, with a big pink bow around their necks. Impeach now.

4. Michelle Antoinette’s little excursion to Target? Oh, please, woman – if you had any nerve at all, you’d have gone to Walmart.

5. Will Amanda Knox dethrone Casey Anthony when it comes to criminal justice tabloid fodder? Should I or anyone else not in the immediate family or social circle of either one really care one way or the other?

6. And why is it now October and we are still having to run the air conditioning?

PS – and one more thing: every time I hear something being flogged as ‘green’ and ‘environmentally sound’ or ‘renewable’ … I am fairly sure the object in question is a rip-off, and/or completely unsatisfactory compared to the non-green, environmentally unsound, and non-renewable version.

Three thousand, six hundred fifty days, more or less,depending on leap years – since the end of the 20th century. Oh, I know, calendar-wise, only a year or two off. But we don’t count strictly by the calendar. Afterwards, we count by events. Myself, I have the feeling that the 19th century didn’t truly end for good and all until 1914. That’s when the 20th century began, in the muddy trenches of WW1. All the previous comfortable understandings and optimistic assumptions of the earlier world were shattered right along with three monarchial dynasties, over the course of four years. When it was over, the world of the time before seemed impossibly far removed, to those who could remember it – a number which, as the decades passed, became steadily fewer, until that world was entirely the stuff of books, paintings and relics, rather than true human recollections. We eventually adjusted and accepted the new reality of things. The old way, and the shattering events in which it passed – became a date on a monument, a paragraph in a history text, a book on the shelf.

Being that humans are mostly optimistic and pretty adaptable, we patched together some new understandings and assumptions, which worked pretty well – or at least we became accustomed to them . . . until the 20th century ended on a glorious autumn morning, ten years ago. One day. And then we had to become accustomed to the new reality. More than three thousand dead, a hole in the New York skyline that will never be filled in again – the ghosts of twin silvery towers showing up in the backgrounds of movies, now and again, drawing your sudden attention with a catch at the heart and memory.

And three thousand-something men and women who went off to work one morning, families who took a vacation, catching an early morning airplane flight, firefighters going on shift, everyone living out those thousands of petty daily routines, most of them probably quite boring. I am certain that practically every one of those who became casualties on that morning – a name and a face on a makeshift poster, a black-framed picture on the mantel or in the obituary pages – were looking forward to the end of the workday, the end of their journey – to coming home for a good dinner, wrapping up that business trip and getting on with that portion of our life that is ours, and belongs to us and our families and loved ones alone.

But they were never allowed that luxury, of having a tonight, a tomorrow. Those lives which they might have had, would have – were brutally wrenched from them, in an organized act of terrorism, wrenched from them in fire and horror and blood, while the rest of us watched or listened – watched in person, on television, or were glued to a radio – ten years ago today.

Ten years. Time enough for children to grow to middle-school age, never remembering that time before, or the loss of a father or mother, who worked in a department in the outer ring of the Pentagon, or in an office on a high floor of the World Trade center. A foreign country to them, is that place, where once you could go into the airport terminal and go all the way to the gate to meet an arriving friend . . . and for travelers not to have to take off their shoes to go through security. Or even have to go through security, come to think on it. A world where one could have no reaction but idle curiosity upon noticing a woman in full black burka, or a nervous-appearing man of Middle-eastern appearance, taking pictures of an otherwise undistinguished bridge or power station. A world where a familiarity with the dictates of the Koran and the Hadith, the maunderings of Sayyid Qutb as regards America and the workings of a desert tribal autocracy are an eccentric interest and hobby – not a professional necessity.

Ten years. The world that was passes from memory, and we have the brutal world of ‘now.’ As an amateur historian, one of my own comforts on this anniversary is that – it was always like this. We will survive, we will live in a world that is made new and eternally renewed by events, events that will eventually fade . . .

But today, we remember.

Past anniversary posts –
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
I didn’t write a specialized post for 2009, and last year I only reposted some music videos.

I am so spoiled for choice when it comes to political idiocy of the week, but this particular bit of arrogant ‘the proles are too stupid to live without the guidance of the best’n’brightest of the current administration’ just about tops my list when it comes to a list of people who – in a just world should be pelted with rotten vegetables and then shunned by all decent citizens. Words fail – but only momentarily, upon following the breadcrumb trail to the original account in the Wall Street Journal – which is unfortunately subscriber only – just the first few sentences only are quite enough:

“In a conference call with reporters, Mr. Chu said the more-efficient bulbs required would save consumers money over the life of the product, even if the up-front price is higher.
“We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money,” he said.”

Excuse moi! Or to put it in blunt military language – who the f**k died and made you god – that you and your disgusting ilk think yourselves have the right to dictate what or what we shouldn’t do, when it comes to personal choices as regards the care of our households? Or by extension, what we should eat, wear, drive, drink, where we should live – I had a bucket-load of that when I was in the military, bucko, that’s why I am a prickly libertarian today. And – you kids, stay off my lawn! Keeping people from wasting their own money, forsooth? How about closing down state lotteries? Or Indian casinos? Yeah, thought not.

So, here’s the down-low, Mr. Chu darlin’ – the only possible way that I accept someone dictating to me what is a waste of my own personal money, is either to be my dad (who has passed on) or to marry me (and a couple of million other citizens). Pucker up, buttercup – or take your worthless dictatorial *ss off and get yourself another hobby. Otherwise, this – *0 – is a rotten tomato, headed in your direction with considerable force. And I will be purchasing another case of 100w incandescent light bulbs as soon as possible. Anything to put the tiniest crimp in our government’s grand intentions of foisting off all those insanely expensive curly-whirly, un-flattering light-producing, un-dimmer-switchable, so-called energy-saving bulbs . . . which really don’t last all that longer than incandescent bulbs anyway.

You heard me, Mr. Chu. I’ll spend my money on the light bulbs of my own choice . . . and if you don’t like it – come and take them. Be warned, though; it didn’t work out all that well, the last time someone in Texas tried to come and take it.

I saw an online headline in the past couple of days that read, “Teachers wonder:  Why the scorn?”  Had a similar question pop up from an old friend from high school on Facebook.  It also came up up last election season when yet another old friend was running for some position in California (he’s a teacher by trade) and wanted to know why military people seemed so dismissive of “Teacher’s rights?”

I can’t say it’s the right answer or the only answer, but it is my answer:  Military people teach every day.  We train our subordinates, in and out of the classroom.  We help them develop their careers.  We act as mentors, counselors, teachers, friends, parental surrogates, and boss.  We don’t think it’s all that big a deal.  Yes, some people are better at teaching in a formal situation than others, but the passing on of information is not magic.  Not in 2011 when people actually get degrees without interacting with a teacher other than via email or online forum.

One old friend argued that because she has more formal education than most lawyers, and certainly more than “most idiot Republican” politicians, she’s entitled to more money.  I asked if she were teaching MORE as a result of that education?  No.  Was she teaching harder material as a result of that education?  No.  I asked her how her level of education effected how well she taught a standardized curriculum and she got downright pissy.  “There is NO such thing as a standardized curriculum, if you’d ever REALLY taught, you’d know that.”  I ignored that entirely and drove home my point:  A teacher’s level of education has little to no effect on their ability to communicate a set collection of information to their students.  Follow up questions, in-depth subject background, oh-by-the-way-you-might-find-this-bit-of-minutia-interesting, THOSE all benefit from you’re having an advanced degree IN THE SUBJECT YOU’RE TEACHING.  Your advanced degrees make YOU a more informed person, but you’re not doing my kid any more good than the fresh faced youngster with a new BA and teaching certificate who may actually still CARE about teaching.

“Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have.”  ~The Wizard of Oz to Scarecrow.

Unions:  At this point, unions aren’t helping teachers one bit.  When teachers’ unions were formed, they were necessary to ensure that teachers could make a living wage.  And they ARE making a living wage.  They don’t get paid a lot, in most cases, but they now have pay and benefits that are above the poverty line by a good margin.  Good teachers, exceptional teachers, get paid exactly the same amount as really crappy teachers.  Why?  Unions.  The unions are for equality, across the board, no matter how much you suck.  They are a beast that must be fed and to be fed, they must get more for their union members so the union members can feed them more.  They’re like many another bureaucracy, the initial reason for their existence has LONG passed, but they must justify their continuation and the way they do that is to insist that their members are some sort of victims, insist that only the union can keep the evil political machine at bay, only the union can “fix” what is broken.

The problem is that these days we’re all victims, we’re all not making enough, we’re all working harder for less money and teachers unions trying to argue that they’re still worse off than most of the rest of us, just isn’t flying.  If you’ve got a salary AND insurance these days, you’re doing pretty damn well.  We’re broke too, and for you to ask more of us while we’re still struggling to get back on our feet, is just damn insulting.

THAT’S why the scorn.

Well, it’s not the wilderness, actually – that place where my parents built their retirement house, but it would certainly look so to someone more used to living in the city. No streetlights, and the houses are set back from unpaved roads, so a possessing good stock of flashlights and fresh batteries are something that every household out here needs, especially if people are planning to go somewhere and return after dark. I had to work the combination to the front gate by the light of my cell phone at one point, so no – I won’t forget a flashlight on my next visit, especially if I am going someplace after dark. There may be starlight and moonlight on occasion, but underneath the trees, it can get as black as the inside of a cow.

Which some of the neighbors have, by the way. A cow. And some goats. At least half of them have horses, too, now all winter-shaggy and bored, mooching around in their corrals, next to the road. At once place, the horses managed to chew away a lot of the three-rail wooden fence. The previous owners used to keep it all in good repair and painstakingly painted white. The new owner doesn’t seem to care quite so much. Everyone has dogs in their yards. At my parents’ place, one can track a pedestrian around the neighborhood by following the sounds of sequential dogs barking. There are also coyotes on the prowl, especially at night. This does not make it healthy for outdoor cats; my parents and most of their neighbors have lost cats to coyotes and other predators, in spite of taking every care. It seems that the only way to keep cats entirely safe is to keep them indoors.

For some strange, atavistic reason, my parents have always loved living on a dirt road, out in the hills. Possibly this cuts down the numbers of door-to-door evangelists and vacuum cleaner salespeople, but it’s heck on automobile suspensions … especially when a heavy rain has gouged huge gullies across the roadway, and what would have been the gutters on either side became canyons capable of swallowing up Mini-Coopers. Or they would, if anyone was demented enough to drive a Mini-Cooper along some of these roads. This last December was nothing but wall to wall rainstorms. A couple of their close neighbors are contractors, with small businesses and earth-moving equipment. They have a lot of fun playing around, re-grading the road, although one of them, known as the Bad Neighbor, didn’t helped much at all. He tried to fill the ruts with adobe, scraped up from his property. Alas, wet adobe turns into slippery mud; in the next heavy rain, one particular spot will be a kind of automobile slip-n-slide for an unwary driver traveling at more than 20 miles an hour. The water and power authorities offered more useful assistance by dumping concrete and asphalt rubble into the deepest of the gullies.

The rain made everything even greener than the winter rains usually do, though. The big fire seven years ago cleared away a lot of undergrowth, and of course, the various fire departments since then have cleared even more. The familiar marks of an old brush-fire are evident everywhere: the parti-colored dead branches of a tree or a shrub, bleached white in some places, soot-blackened in others, sticking up out of the middle of a lush thicket of new green growth.

Birds were everywhere – humming-birds squeaking like rusty hinges, and quail rustling through the undergrowth. I would surprise rabbits in the morning, when I walked down the hill for the newspapers: tan-colored, with a little white-cotton powderpuff for a tail. They lolloped lazily out of my way, as if humans didn’t frighten them very much at all. Probably they don’t: dogs and coyotes must be more of a real danger to the rabbits.

And that’s what it’s like, back in the hills. Given a choice, I’d have my own country retreat … but I think I’d skip the unpaved road part of it. Asphalt paving is a wondrous invention.

…a note in C-sharp.
I have a couple of horrifically impending deadlines, so blogging is at a minimum until I can meet them – and it is important to meet the most impending of them since it is a paid writing project.
Another of them is the follow-on to this book, A 21 Story Salute
Finally, I have to carve out some time after these two projects are done to finish the next book, which will be called Daughter of Texas, although the working title all along has been Gone to Texas.
In September, I will be at the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene, Texas to promote the books now available. May I ask a favor – of those readers who have read To Truckee’s Trail and the Adelsverein Trilogy? If you haven’t done so, can you post a rating and review on Amazon for them? Nothing especially lengthy; just let readers know what you liked about it – and if you have criticisms, be honest about that, too. It’s kind of embarrassing, they’ve been out on the market all this time, and have only a handful of reviews each. (Although oddly enough, they still continue to climb in the ratings. But slowly … like an arthritic snail crawling across a hot asphalt parking lot.)

Thanks!
Sgt Mom