Monday, September 29, 2008

Farewell to Shea

A lot of my kid memories are tied up in the New York Mets. I was born too late to care about the Dodgers and Giants moving outta town, but I remember how cool it was to have a brand-new baseball team and 10 teams in the National League instead of just eight. I remember sitting on the living room floor with the Newark Evening News, reviewing the baseball standings and the weekly summary of all the individual hitters and pitchers statistics.

I remember watching Tom Seaver almost get a perfect game except for Jim Qualls, who had only 31 major-league hits but one of them went down in history. And the planes flying overhead while Lindsay Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner were trying to call a ballgame. And the little grin on Cleon Jones' face as he caught the final out of Game 5 — it's hard to see that look under the cap on what is now a grainy film from that day.

Shea Stadium was, as Newsday put it today, a "blue collar arena for blue collar fans." You went to that other New York baseball stadium for the shrine stuff and the "team of destiny" crap. You went to Shea for the players who worked as hard as you to cut themselves a break, and when they got one — such as the all-time greatest baseball moment in 1969 — it was glorious.

Here's a great memorial to the stadium, too. I missed the whole thing, but it sounds like the farewell to Shea Stadium was a terrific ceremony, one that completely washed away the bad taste left by the 2008 Mets' disappointing finish. I don't follow the Mets like I did when I was a kid, but I've got a little lump in the throat over the demise of Shea Stadium. It wasn't a grand old ballpark, I suppose, but it was where the Mets played, and that was enough.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Download Richardson & Bluhm books for free

It has taken me some time to grok why we should offer our books as free downloads, and I'm not sure I can explain why even though I now grok.

All I know is I've just reset the download price to zero for my The Imaginary Bomb and Warren Bluhm's Wildflower Man and The Adventures of Myke Phoenix.

So, go nuts. Enjoy the stories. Then buy the books for your shelf. Or, if you want to buy or barter for a signed hard copy, e-mail me.


Government and theft

ck made some very cogent observations in the comments to my post "The debt thing," and I'm dragging them out here so they don't get missed:

1) All government spending is theft.
2) Some of that government spending benefits you directly; some indirectly. You are a recipient of stolen goods.
3) You allow yourself to be stolen from. You are complicit in the theft.
4) Democracy is the system whereby you and your group try to make sure you receive more of the stolen goods than you have agreed to allow to be stolen from yourself and your group members. (congressional districts call this "earmarking".)
5) Your debt is someone else's asset.
6) Taxation is direct theft, brazen even, they tell you how much they have taken every paycheck.
7) Fiat money printing ( M3 in economic speak ) is indirect theft. Every dollar printed dilutes whatever dollars you have in you accounts or possession.
8) The purpose of a central bank is to allow the printing of fiat money ... those who print the money obtain first call on the tangible goods of the productive.

It is pretty simple really, we all have to consume to survive. The trick is that not all of us have to produce something tangible or anything at all to be able to consume. In a democracy enough non-producers will always win.

You can always barter, it's fun, healthy, and doesn't require you to use fiat money. It is fairly easy to find productive people with which one can trade value for value without the intermediary of FRNs.

Barter is not part of the quotidian.

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What do they want from us?

Bing! My "Refuse to be Afraid"-o-meter clicked on last evening as I stumbled across a sound bite of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke staring into the camera and threatening the talking heads of a Senate committee.
I believe if the credit markets are not functioning, that jobs will be lost, that our credit rate will rise, more houses will be foreclosed upon, GDP will contract, that the economy will just not be able to recover in a normal, healthy way.
Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have spent the past few days implementing H.L. Mencken's vintage formula regarding the ruling class:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
The populace is indeed alarmed and clamorous to be led to safety, but this is the worst time to be alarmed and the absolutely worst time to be terrified. When rulers send their minions to whip you into a state of irrational fear, the question always to ask is, "What do they want from us?" Well, clearly they want the "bailout plan" that appeared overnight to be passed, preferably without most of us reading the fine print or considering the ramification of the federal government taking ownership of the means of production financial sector.

Journalist William Greider, writing in The Nation, is among those saying "Hang on just one darn minute, fellas." He begins an article titled "Goldman Sachs Socialism":
Wall Street put a gun to the head of the politicians and said, Give us the money--right now--or take the blame for whatever follows. The audacity of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's bailout proposal is reflected in what it refuses to say: no explanations of how the bailout will work, no demands on the bankers in exchange for the public's money. The Treasury's opaque, three-page summary of plan includes this chilling statement:

"Section 8. Review. Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency." In other words, no lawsuits allowed by aggrieved investors or American taxpayers. No complaints later from ignorant pols who didn't know what they voted for. Take it or leave it, suckers.
You always have to wonder when a government agency seeks carte blanche power and immunity from prosecution. Oh, wait, no, you don't have to wonder. You just have to refuse. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (For the semi-literate, that's a Shakespearian reference, not a sudden change of subject to Copenhagen politics.) In the end, Greider drinks the Kool-Aid, opining that if the Bernanke-Paulson power grab doesn't work, the next step should be to "force-feed new life into the real economy with government spending on public projects and capital formation. How much spending? Rescuing America from irresponsible Wall Street is worth whatever it costs to save the bloodied bankers." And then how do we rescue America from irresponsible government spending?

As I've confessed over the past few days, I don't know enough economics to propose a different answer than borrowing $700 billion to give to banks that have borrowed too much. I do know enough personally about bankruptcy to recognize that getting a new credit card only postpones the crash. Oh, and I know that the crash is never as bad as you feared and in many ways even a relief.

And I know that fear is the mind-killer. Others are writing good writings about what it all means and how to protect your assets as best you can. My sole advice is for you, before you take any action, to take a deep breath and repeat Frank Herbert's litany of the Bene Gesserit from his Dune novels:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The debt thing

This, I know, is Economics 101, but I've recently started thinking in terms of the agreement I've implicitly made with my wage-master, i.e., we've agreed that it will pay me X dollars in exchange for every hour on the premises. Putting coins in the vending machine becomes two or so minutes of work, for example. It helps keep things in perspective and, I hope, will give me one more layer of thinking before I make an impulse buy.

It's an eye-opening exercise. I find, for example, that the federal and state governments routinely seize the fruits of 10+ hours of week before I can touch it, of course, but the real interesting (and somewhat depressing) thing is the extent to which I am paying out for things I already "own." It seems I spend about 14 hours a week working to reduce the debt balance on property, vehicle and credit cards, and of course a substantial number of those hours goes to pay the interest, rather than pay down the debt. About two hours goes to the 401(k), one hour to insurance, a little more than two hours to fill the gas tank ... but when the credit payments are taking up more than amount Big Brother confiscates, you have a problem.

It's nice to have all of the comforts and toys I bought on the "let's have it NOW" plan, but make no mistake: Many decisions and positive changes are being delayed because of decisions made sometimes years ago. A word of advice from a wage-and-debt slave: Save your money. Pay with cash.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let me see if I get this

I admit economics is not one of my strong points. But let me see if I'm following this.

The U.S. government has taken over the two biggest holders of mortgages, which were created by the government and had deep ties to the government anyway.

The U.S. government has loaned $85 billion to a giant insurance company.

The stock market rallied Thursday on word the U.S. government and other governments around the world are working on a plan to bail out banks in general.

The gist seems to be that some huge companies ran out of money, and the U.S. government is giving them some of its.

Now, I don't know much about economics, but I do know where the U.S. government gets its money: Taxes and firing up the printing press.

The back of my hip hurts. Hurts bad. You know, the spot where I keep my wallet?


Thursday, September 18, 2008


UPDATE: Second link fixed. Thanks Joel!

It was long past time I read Eric Frank Russell's classic novella "And Then There Were None," and if you haven't yet, go do so. Here is one easy way to do it.

A military ship carrying an ambassador of the Terran empire lands on a remote planet that was settled about 400 years ago and hasn't had any contact with the empire since. The ship's mission is to bring the planet into the great imperial fold.

Things go awry from the start, beginning with the farmer who, asked to bring them to his leaders, doesn't seem to understand the concept of a "leader."

First published in the June 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, "And Then There Were None" is a great glimpse at an alternative way of managing human interaction. You may recall (and if you don't here's when I said it) that I thought Ayn Rand copped out in Atlas Shrugged when she justified her superior rational woman blowing away an indecisive minion who couldn't decide whose side he was on. Without giving too much away, Russell offers one of the best explanations I've ever encountered regarding why, six years later in Rand's novel, the oh-so-rational Dagny Taggart committed an irrational act.

The theme of violence vs. nonviolence as a response to tyranny is central to my novel in progress, The Imaginary Revolution. I've hit several roadblocks as I attempt to bring the concept into focus in an entertaining way. Now I see Russell has already walked that path for me. Encountering "And Then There Were None" was like bumping into a fellow who, as I'm trying to thrash a path through thick brush, pulls me aside and shows me the trail through the jungle that he's already cleared.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Oh, no. Meg, say it ain't so.

Meg Ryan was one of the hottest women on the silver screen at one time, and one of the most endearing. Her face was perfect, the very definition of cute. And now comes word she wasn't OK with the idea of aging gracefully.

I haven't seen her lately — well, technically I haven't seen her ever, but I haven't seen her image lately, so I was aghast while reading an otherwise entertaining review of the apparently terrible movie The Women, to read:
Meanwhile, unacknowledged is Ryan’s obvious extensive plastic surgery, which makes her look like someone trick or treating as Meg Ryan circa 1992, rather than the forty-seven year-old woman she, in fact, is.
Oh, no. Meg, say it ain't so. But, apparently, it is so. I never will understand why women are tempted to disfigure themselves rather than accept the aging process.

On a related subject, the compilation of reviews at Rotten Tomatoes presents a Tomatometer reading of 10 percent, which is one of the worst ratings I've ever seen at RT. The film's only redeeming quality seems to be that it draws attention to the terrific 1939 film starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine and dozens of other talented women.

The only reason the original The Women isn't a well-known classic that won the Best Picture Academy Award is that it was made in 1939. There's something amazingly magical about that year — Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Of Mice and Men, Ninotchka, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, Gunga Din, Union Pacific, The Rains Came, Intermezzo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Destry Rides Again, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Love Affair, Dark Victory, The Man in the Iron Mask, Young Mr. Lincoln, Goodbye Mr. Chips — It's like some magnificent creative mist settled in the air whenever someone tried to make a movie in 1939.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

B.W.'s Book Report: Bel Canto

A third world country entices industrialist Katsumi Hosokawa to visit by booking renowned opera singer Roxanne Coss to perform at a special birthday celebration for him, in hopes of getting him interested in expanding. Hosokawa's love of opera is well known, as is the fact that he's a big fan of hers. He has no intention of building a factory there, but he will do anything to hear that voice.

The celebration goes swimmingly until armed rebels enter the room, intending to kidnap the president, spirit him away into the jungle and hold him until their demands are met. Problem: At the last minute the president decided he'd rather watch his nightly soap opera than attend an opera recital, so he's not there. The rebels decide to take everyone hostage instead.

That's how Ann Patchett's award-winning 2001 novel Bel Canto begins. I bought it a couple-three years ago and had completely forgotten why until I pulled it off the shelf and started reading. What motivated me was recognizing the name from my shelf as I perused, of all things, Entertainment Weekly's list of "The New Classics: Books — The 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008."

Whatever my motivation, I'm glad this was the one I pulled off the shelf. It's a very quirky book that warns you early that most hostage-takings don't end well and neither will this one, but Patchett draws you in and makes you care about the people in that house anyway, on both ends of the gun. It's a wonderful accomplishment.

And who among us lovers of freedom can put down a book with passages like this? "Both parties were intractable and what the party inside this wall didn't understand was that the government was always intractable, no matter what the country, what the circumstances. The government did not give in, and when they said they were giving in they were lying, every time, you could count on it." A brilliant book with that underlying theme serves the cause of limits, if not shackles, on government, and I rise to applaud the effort.

But this is not a political tract by any stretch of the imagination. It's, to rip off the San Francisco Chronicle blurb on the back cover, "The most romantic novel in years. A strange, terrific, spell-casting story." This one gets B.W.'s highest recommendation.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Friends don't let friends drown in the quotidian

Oh, yeah.

Never mind.

The thing about blogs ("Web logs," remember?) is how easy it is to share your grand ambitions and your deepest doubts with the world. The thing about keeping a journal is, if you don't review from time to time, you can forget when you're treading water over the same territory.

Yesterday was a "deepest doubts" day, bigtime. Thankfully, friends sometimes remember things that have slipped your mind. Just a couple of comments yesterday, and the upside of my head is properly slapped and we're heading back on track.

"Tell me what I'm missing; how do I reorder the hours to get things done?" I asked, and Sunni pointed out I'm not missing anything, I just need to reorder the hours. And then good old reliable anonymous — how does that guy/gal find the time to write so much? — delivered the coup de grace: "Does this mean the terrorist quotidian has won?"

Ah, the quotidian. The routine. The drab. The sucker of life from many a Great American Novel and symphony. The thing I declared would not stop me. By golly, Andy, it almost stopped me.

So, the big challenge for today is not "how do I find time to do these?" It's "where do I start." Let's see — the last thing I wrote over here was "After all, the safest place in the world is inside a cage, where no one can reach through the bars to harm you." And the last thing I wrote over there was "'Peacekeepers have arrived,' Marilyn said. 'The governor’s office says about 1,200 sailors have been deployed around the encampment. They’ll be landing at the spaceport in a few minutes.'”

Man. Which one to grab first?

Thanks, friends, for not letting me whine for more than a day. I was drowning and let out a wail, and you threw me a rope. I don't know how to thank you. Oh, yes, I do: I can finish the books.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Treading water



You know that old cliché, "When God closes a door, he opens a window"? The doors and windows have been acting strangely lately.

As you probably know, there's this day job that keeps the FRNs coming into the house at a steady enough pace to keep the wolves from the door, and there are a variety of projects, some completed, many not, that I have undertaken in an effort to free myself from the day job eventually.

Lately, almost all that the closed windows and open doors have done is pull me deeper into the day job. You know, the one I've described as the wage-slave job. I don't hate it, I enjoy the people I slave away with, but it's not my first choice for spending most of my day. But, to be redundant again and repeat myself, those FRNs keep the wolves from the door.

There is this one window that's open a crack: An enthusiastic friend (no, not that one) has an idea for a book. If I try to creak that window open further, the other two book projects would creep farther behind. And of course, all three projects are hampered by the time commitment required to bring in the FRNs and keep the wolves out.

But that's the current picture: All of the doors and windows have been closed except the ones that involve working on someone else's ideas. On the other hand, a well-rewarded salesman often said, "You can have anything you want if you help enough other people get what they want." So maybe what I want has to wait.

It's the proverbial dilemma. But that's why I've been silent the past few days, and why this might be a silent or infrequently updated place for a while. I am open to other alternatives; my deepest desire is to fill in the blanks between the front and back covers of the projects I posted at the top of this page, but there seem not to be enough hours in a day. Tell me what I'm missing; how do I reorder the hours to get it all done?

Humble apologies for the intense navel-gazing and the downer tone on a site that I'd prefer to be encouraging to you. I wanted to post something new, though, and this was all I got.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

'Last thing we need now is a great leader'

Thank you Michael for pointing the way to a positively brilliant Penn Jillette column about the value of a stupid president.

We need someone stupid enough to understand that the president of the United States can't solve many problems without taking away freedom and therefore shouldn't try. The only reason John McCain scares me a little less is because I think he's a little less likely to win. They both promise a government that will watch over us, and I don't like that.

I don't want anyone as president who promises to take care of me. I may be stupid, but I want a chance to try to be a grownup and take care of my family. Freedom means the freedom to be stupid, and that's what I want. I don't want anyone to feel my pain or tell me to ask what we can do for our country, or give us all money and take care of us.
The thing about being treated as not-a-grownup is that a parent — which is exactly what the "president who promises to take care of me" pretends to be — sets the rules of the household for the child's own good. This explains many of the laws that treat the citizenry as children.

Jillette positively nails what the US of A needs and what it doesn't need. Check it out.


Random thought on tats

Perhaps a thought like this qualifies me for early geezerhood, i.e., "What's wrong with these young whippersnappers nowadays?!?" But:

If a girl grabs a razor blade or some other sharp object and starts cutting into her body, it's interpreted as a cry for help and mental health professionals are called in.

If a girl hires someone to grab a needle and cut an illustration into her body, it's cool and sexy and everyone stands around admiring the work.

A little butterfly in the small of the back is kind of cute. A labyrinth of pictures covering an arm or a face or a torso? Looks like a cry for help to me.

Am I a geezer or am I on to something here?

Afterthought 15 minutes later: I'm not trying to tell anyone what or what not to do with their bodies. I'm just curious about this distinction between "harmful" cutting and "artistic" cutting.


Friday, September 05, 2008

The missing name and, again, the missing word

In a couple of nights of speechifying last week, Barack Obama and Joe Biden did everything they could to tie John McCain to Emperor Bush. In a couple of nights of speechifying this week, McCain and Sarah Palin said the word "Bush" just once. And when it came up, it wasn't tied to "George W."

"I'm grateful to the president for leading us in those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history, and keeping us safe from another attack many thought was inevitable," is what McCain said Thursday night, adding: "and to the first lady, Laura Bush, a model of grace and kindness in public and in private." The Elephant Branch of The Party was not going to use the incumbent emperor's full name.

Clearly, the major players in the race for emperor sense that people who live in the US of A have had enough of the old regime. "Change" is the major theme of the day. Exactly what will they change? They'll put a new face in the Oval Office. They'll rearrange a deck chair or two.

But as with the Donkey Branch speakers a week ago, once again the proposed leaders of these independent states did not use the words freedom or liberty in their remarks. Peruse the texts and you will find neither McCain or Palin said "freedom," and you'll find McCain mouthed the word "liberty" only in the context of protecting and advancing the empire: "Today, the prospect of a better world remains within our reach. But we must see the threats to peace and liberty in our time clearly and face them, as Americans before us did, with confidence, wisdom and resolve."

And as he closed, he urged his supporters to "fight for the ideals and character of a free people." A free people, not free men and women. A collective, not individuals.

Freedom and liberty have become catchphrases, echoes from another era that are rolled out because they still resonate deep in our souls. After this ritual that the Donkeys and Elephants are performing now, the victors will retire to their chambers to pass more laws and new restrictions of our liberty.

I am grateful that I am allowed (for now) to write these things, to use the word emperor to describe the position that is often described as "leader of the free world," or to point out that The Party is a single monster with two heads, without being arrested or imprisoned as government critics in many places have been.

This freedom isn't free, however, because freedom has a cost: It is mine only as long as I consent to the seizure of one-third to one-half of my earnings to maintain the empire. And the rules may be changed at any time.

I do not delude myself by imagining that replacing Augustus Caesar with Tiberius will make any substantive difference. The central struggle of our day is not between the Donkeys and the Elephants; it is between the State and the Individual. I have no need to beat the State; I just want to be left alone. That's not likely to happen.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

B.W. Spins Tunes: That Lucky Old Sun

Brian Wilson's music is a bit like the great Bert Lahr Lay's potato chip commercials — you can't listen just once.

I put on That Lucky Old Sun a few days ago (it came out Tuesday but the local paper streamed it starting Aug. 22), and my first reaction was "OK, that's nice. It's not Smile, but it's OK."

Funny thing, though. I can't get the tunes out of my head. I'll walk away from the computer (which always has music playing when I'm here) or get out of the car, but the songs will keep playing. "FOR-ever - YOU'LL be my SURFER GIRL" ... "They HAVE the GOOD KIND OF LOVE" ... "I'm goin' HOME - HOME" ...

Brian Wilson's band is as good as Springsteen's E Street Band in terms of bringing the master's music to life. Of course they're not The Beach Boys — may the gods of rock forgive me — they're better. This album shows they're more than just a great Beach Boys cover band, as they tackle Wilson's best new music since 1998's Imagination album. Scott Bennett, one of the band's multitalented forces, contributed the lyrics.

The Rolling Stone review says That Lucky Old Sun "evokes the healing feeling of the Beach Boys' great Smile-recovery LPs, 1967's Wild Honey and 1968's Friends." Yeah, that's probably right. It's as if, three years after Wilson exorcised the Smile demons and finally finished that brilliant project, he picked up where he left off, only more relaxed and nostalgic. As you might suspect with a song called "Forever You'll Be My Surfer Girl" in the mix, he does a lot of looking back, both musically and lyrically, but it has a new and fresh sound.

Two thumbs up, four out of five stars, 7.9 out of 10, by whatever scale you want to use, this is a worthy addition to the Brian Wilson canon.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Police state news

Some morons broke windows on a police car and threw stuff Monday during demonstrations near the Republican National Convention — those reports were easy to find. "Sporadic violence" results in 284 arrests.

But the earlier pre-emptive strikes by the goons of the police state — those were a little harder to seek out, although semi-mainstream Salon had good summaries here and here.

Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald calls St. Paul "the most militarized I have ever seen an American city be" here.
... even more so than Manhattan in the week of 9/11 -- with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations. Humvees and law enforcement officers with rifles were posted on various buildings and balconies. Numerous protesters and observers were tear gassed and injured.
On the various news channels, none of this is happening, as far as I can determine — although I confess to being a very sporadic news channel watcher.