Monday, December 15, 2014

McCammon Didn’t Copy King.

Let me start by being clear that I am a huge fan of both Robert McCammon and Stephen King. I've read all of their collective works and I love horror as well as many other genres. In both cases there are books I havent cared for, though they are the exception. Ive also been able to see each writer mature over time to become true masters of the written word and its been one hell of a ride. Because Ive loved both since I got into horror in the 80s, I was always irritated by flippant claims that Mr. McCammon copied Mr. King. There is no need to defend Mr. McCammon, but there has been an unfair criticism of his early work that are still making the rounds. The two most often used examples are the vampire novels Salems Lot and They Thirst and the apocalyptic novels The Stand and Swan Song.

Lets first look at the vampire novel. Salems Lot and They Thirst were the same in the following ways:

They were vampire novels
They both had a Master that directed the mayhem
They both happened in the USA

How they were different:

Salems Lot had themes focusing on imbedded evil or evil calling to evil while They Thirst was more apocolyptic
Salems Lot was on a small scale with few characters or POVs unlike many others of Kings works while They Thirst was more on the scale of Swan Song including spending a lot of time on the Masters POV.

The novels arent similar in scope or arc. There were very few vampire novels at the time. Before Salems Lot, there are only 38 works of fiction dealing with Vampires going back to the 1800s. It was not heavily trod ground. They Thirst came out in 1981, the same years as The Hunger by Whitely Strieber and The Keep by F. Paul Wilson. Only McCammon gets criticism for copying King by daring to write a vampire novel 5 years after Salems Lot. 

As for the apocalyptic novels, The Stand and Swan Song are the same in the following ways:

They were apocalyptic fiction
Both dealt with evil
They both happened in the USA
Both were on a grand scale and involved traveling across the USA
Both had an avatar of evil walking the earth in human form
Both ended with hope
Both are long works

How they are different:

The Stand started with disease while Swan Song started with nuclear war.
The Stand covered approximately two years while Swan Song covered nearly twenty.
The Stand climaxed with a Dues Ex Machina and Swan Song resolved though the decisions made by its characters.
The Stand had two camps where good and evil people were drawn. Swan Song had no camps. It was a world of suffering where the evil avatar worked hard to eliminate hope in any form and people became concentrated version of who they were inside, later to be revealed in physical transformation.

When King released The Stand in 1978, there had been over a hundred fictional works dealing with apocalyptic themes, 17 of which were due to a disease. Though saying The Stand was only about a disease that reduced the worlds population until it collapsed is as much of an oversimplification as claiming that Swan Song was a copy of The Stand because it was a apocalyptic horror story that came out ten years after Kings novel.

But what exactly is the claim? Certainly not plagiarism since neither plot is either original or a copy of any other. Then what is the gripe? That Stephen King came out with his versions of these tropes before Robert McCammon? I fail to see how this translates into one copying the other. Neither man invented these genres and each brought something different to the table with their works.

Neither Salems Lot nor They Thirst were the strongest works from either writer, while The Stand and Swan Song are perhaps in the top five books each man has written. The genre was already well-tilled ground when both started their versions, yet each managed to bring something memorable with their efforts.

Stephen Kings first novel was published in 1974, while Robert McCammon was first published in 1978. Mr. King was more prolific in his first ten years and after creative differences with his publishers, Mr. McCammon stopped writing for a decade. Since his return, he has released 5 Matthew Corbett novels, a new collection of short stories about Michael Gallatin (The Wolfs Hour), The Five, I Travel by Night and soon to be released The Border.

Mr. King just released the novel Revival, where the main character is a musician, and where music plays a big roll in moving the story forward. I wont give away any spoilers, but only an asshole would claim that he copied Robert McCammons novel The Five from three years earlier because it was about musicians.

Both writers are masters of their craft and both have had books that have not been as well received as the bulk of their work. What I recommend is that you read them all, enjoy them all and forget about the claims. They are hay made by small minds at a time when Horror was in its hay day and Mr. King was crowned. Kings accomplishments do not detract from anyone elses, and I can enjoy other works without performing blasphemy and so can you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


I decided to make mead.

For those that know me, this may seem a strange decision since I don’t and never have drank alcohol. But except for a few soapbox moments in my teens, I have believed that socially responsible drinking is a good thing.

It may be the only reason I exist.

My wife drinks but is what is commonly known as a teetotaler. So why make not one but two large batches of mead? Because the process of fermentation has always interested me, and because it is my way of being included in the process. I had a friend years ago, whose life's dream was to become a brew master. It became clear that beer is not simple to make and one needs to be able to taste and appreciate the many variables.

Mead is known as the ancestor to all fermented beverages, and was made under crude and filthy conditions as far back as 2500 B.C.. It is arguably the easiest to make, second perhaps only to prison toilet wine. While I'm sure there are some prison block masters out there, I'm not interested in following that process. Mead is fermented honey, made from water, honey and yeast. You can also use Acid Blend and Yeast Nutrient.

For as little as $80 bucks you can make your first batch. Since that first batch includes buying some reusable parts, subsequent batches will be even cheaper.

There are many types of mead. Like wine, it can be made dry, semi-sweet or sweet. There are also a huge variety of meads that are created by adding things like fruit, fruit juice and or spices. There are also a ton of recipes online by mead enthusiasts.

For my first time, I decided to make one five gallon batch of traditional dry mead (my wife prefers dry to sweet), and one five gallon batch of Acerglyn (no clue how to pronounce it), which is mead made with maple syrup. I won't take up space with recipes here but for dry mead, I went with eight pounds of honey and for the acerglyn, I went with six pounds of honey and two pounds of real maple syrup (no Log Cabin).

Both glass Carboys are in my man cave bubbling away as the CO2 is released through the airlock a bubble at a time. Because light is bad for fermentation, I cut holes in the bottom of two paper grocery bags to cover the carboys.

In 2-3 months, depending on how it progresses and how patient I can be, it will be time to bottle and hopefully they will both be palatable. I'll let you know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Shame on China

In September 2014 a protest started in Hong Kong. The groups known as the Umbrella Movement or Umbrella Revolution, objected to the fact that Chinas Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress (NPCSC) announced it's decision to disallow civil nominations. The NPCSC instead opted to have its 1,200 member nominating committee select the candidates that the people would be allowed to vote for in the coming election.

The story was covered here in the USA but it didnt get a lot of traction. The coverage I did see focused on the disbelief over the unfair decision to have such a huge decision made by a group of hand picked people of the nations political party. This subversion of the democratic process caused some people that bothered to learn about the situation some real angst. What kind of country allows such a small group of people to select the candidates that the people can vote for and eliminates civil nominations?

On this election day, I just wanted to point out that the USA does the same thing, though we have the moral high ground since the Republican Party picks 2,286 delegates and the Democratic Party has 3,189 in 2012 in order to give us the two people to choose from.

But Scott, there are other people on the ballot and were closer thane ever to having a viable third party.

The first part is true. There is no law against civil nominations outside of our two parties, but there might as well be, because in practice, no other candidates are allowed the same coverage or right to debate. As for a viable third party, it is theoretically feasible, but practically implausible. What the third party has done in previous elections is take away undecided voters from the middle.

How dare China only rely on one party and 1,200 people. We have two parties and around 5,500 people making most of our decisions for us, proving our superiority.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Am A Death Dealer.

I Am A Death Dealer.

I foolishly thought the war was over, but it's never over and will never be over. I just got complacent.

In 2008, I wrote a story called Jihad. It's a fictional story inspired by real events. In it, a couple's home is invaded by mice. At first the husband makes a halfhearted effort to kill a few while his wife takes the brunt of the invasion. In one scene, she starts the lawn mower and is covered with the chopped up remains of baby mice, poop and nest that was built above the fan on top of the machine. She ran a few feet and puked on the lawn. Only when the husbands Xbox cables were chewed did he kick it into high gear and start actively trying to kill the hoard.

If you ever get a chance to read it, know that all of the scenes that describe what the mice chewed up and all the interactions in the first part of the story actually happened, including the lawn mower scene with my wife. Only when the husband slips into madness do I go off script and into fiction. That one year, starting at the end of summer and going through the winter, I killed 54 mice over a nine-month period.

As I described in the story, I went to Home Depot and stared at the wall of death. So many choices and I tried them all, except for poison. We had dogs at the time that ate mice if the found them and were worried about unintended consequences. But every form of trap available at the time got a proper field test in casa McCoy. In the end, I found that the most successful trap was the traditional wooden based, spring-loaded mousetrap with peanut butter as bait. In the intervening years I've never had to set out more than five or six traps and mostly in the garage and almost always in the winter.

A few days ago, my wife noticed some mouse poop in the closet we built over our garage. I agreed to set some traps and went back to my old reliable set up. Just to make sure I nipped this minor incursion in the bud, I set out eight traps. The next day, nothing. The day after that, I had one dead and the rest of the traps licked clean.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen the peanut butter cleaned off a trap, but I’d never seen eight traps licked clean to the point where the copper catches shined brighter than when I bought them. It was a minor set back and I took it in stride. I tripped the traps and bent the catches where the holding bar hooks on so that they were much more sensitive and re-baited the remaining seven. The next day, I had another dead mouse, but the other six traps were at least partially licked clean. That was this morning, or technically yesterday morning as it is now after midnight. I'd hoped to catch more and it bothered me that the traps seemed so ineffective, but I shrugged it off and went to work.

At 3:00 PM, I got a text from my daughter saying she had a mouse in her room. A mouse. In broad daylight. Running around her room. I thought she was putting me on, but she assured me she was not. I told her I would take care of it when I got home.

Of course it was nowhere to be seen by the time I arrived, but only a few hours later at bedtime, my daughters caught it under a glass. They wanted me to let it go. I was irritated, but not angry and I agreed. I walked all the way passed the end of my driveway and chucked it into the neighbors yard and went to get ready for bed.

In the finale of my story, I had a huge mass of mice attack the main character by chewing a hole in the ceiling and dropping on top of him. The character was surprised, not expecting them to be Airborne qualified. Death from above.

At approximately 10:30 this evening, I woke to the my wife's cry of "It's on me!". She jumped up from bed and I followed, unsure what was happening. One of the damned things must have been climbing above her and dropped on her head. When she jumped up, it went down her shirt. She shook it free and it landed on the bed. By the time I was awake enough to react, it dashed to the floor and under the bed.

Only then did she tell me that after I had released the one little monster into the wild, the girls saw two more in their room. What the actual fuck! I wasn't mad at her for not telling me, but I was shocked at the number of mice so brazenly running around my house. The winter of my Jihad, when I racked up the 54 kills, I only ever saw one in broad daylight, and that was in the garage, never inside my house. Now in one night, we spotted at least three and possibly four with one little bastard making moves on my wife.

I felt a small piece of the madness creep over me that I had imbued my fictional character with back in 2008. The Home Depot was closed, but Walmart was open 24/7. After a quick consultation with my wife, we agreed that it was time for poison. The traps were just not getting the job done. These little insurgent bastards had been trained in counter trap warfare. Our two Greater Swiss Mountain dogs had been sleeping in our room during the attack and did nothing. At no time in their lives have they ever shown the slightest indication that they are willing to hunt anything, but after a quick Google search, I found articles that set my mind at ease. Even if they suddenly showed interest and actually found one of the dead mice, it would take a lot of them to make the dogs sick.

I got to Walmart at 11:00 PM. It's Thursday night and I was still groggy. The scene was surreal.  There were over fifty cars in the lot and as I pulled up, a group of a dozen teens were walking away with bags in both hands heading to some unknown destination. I walked inside and was relieved to find that most of the people in the store were there to restock the shelves. There is no wall of death. It’s not even an isle, just the last one fifth of an isle, but it had what I needed. There were enclosed poison baits and sticky paper next to the traditional traps that had so recently failed me. I was through playing around and bought two-dozen of each. When I got home I placed four of the poison baits in the garage, one in a kitchen cabinet, four in the closet above the garage, one under our bed and one in my daughters closet. I also laid out glue traps, two in the closet and two under our bed and one in my daughter's closet.

It's now past one in the morning. I don’t feel sleepy. The thought of those little bastards crawling across my bed at night disturbs me. Mice have never bothered me beyond the desire to not have them destroying my stuff or poop in my kitchen. This is the first time I ever felt creeped out. I accepted the fact that spiders and other bugs crawl over me occasionally at night and while it isn’t a pleasant notion, it never kept me awake. But a mouse dropping on my head or crawling on my face? When the fuck did they get so brave? Even if they aren't afraid of us, they have no idea those two 90 pound carnivores are gentle giants.

So the war that never ends has made it’s way into my family's bedrooms, and I will bring pain and death upon my enemy for their trespass, but tonight, they have won the psychological war.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mark Twain's Autobiography

I've had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of the two-volume autobiography of Mark Twain. These are large volumes and not without repetition, yet I do not hesitate to recommend to every Twain fan and especially every person that calls themselves a writer to either read or listen to these books. I've pasted the following passage from volume two. It is a relatively short read and well worth your time. In it, Twain describes the effort required to secure author copyright law in the United States and his significant contribution thereto (I do not fail to see the irony). If the time required to read 3,600 words is too great, at least do yourself the favor of skipping to the Q&A portion at the end, you will not be sorry.

I went to Washington, a fortnight ago, at the suggestion of the Committee of the Copyright League, to help nurse the amended bill through its initial examination by the Patent Committees of the House and the Senate. Mr. Paine made the trip with me. We had the League Committee for company on board the train—a committee composed of two publishers, a poet, and Robert Underwood Johnson. The publishers were William Appleton and George Haven Putnam, fine men, both, and choice examples of their calling. The poet was Mr. Bowker. No, I am in error; it was two publishers and two poets, for Underwood Johnson is himself a poet, though that is not his regular line; neither is it Bowker’s; both of these singers earn their bread by surer handicrafts. They live upon salaries—Johnson as one of the editors of the Century Magazine, Bowker as something connected with a railroad. Both of these poets have published modest volumes of verse, and possess copies; both are hard workers for an enlarged literary copyright, and have given their steady and earnest labors to this cause in the Copyright League for years without salary, and without having any
pecuniary interest in the proposed lengthened term of literary copyright. I believe that if we could go back over the past two centuries since England waylaid the author, in Queen Anne’s time, and robbed him of his poor little rights, we should find that from that day to this the long struggle to regain those rights for the author has been conducted, almost exclusively, not by the authors who would be benefited by the restoration, but by minor poets whose poems were perishable and evanescent; poets who had little or no use for a copyright of any kind, let alone an extended one. These benefactors, so far as my knowledge and experience go, never get any real help from the small handful of authors who could be pecuniarily benefited by a liberal life-term for books. When I went to Washington sixteen years ago, to help just such a committee as this one in the nursing of an international copyright bill through the House of Representatives, James Russell Lowell, I think, was the only author who appeared there whose books promised to outlive the forty-two-year limit—except myself. At the hearing before the Patent Committee of the Senate, Mr. Lowell appeared just once, for fifteen minutes. He made a strong and striking speech, then disappeared, and was seen no more. Howells didn’t come; Edward Everett Hale didn’t come; Thomas Bailey Aldrich didn’t come; as I have already said, none of the ten or twenty authors personally and really interested in getting justice for American and foreign authors came forward to assist, except Lowell and myself. Underwood Johnson was of the League Committee in that old day. The international bill was passed, and became law. This victory was attributed to Johnson, and the grateful French Government decorated him with the Legion of Honor for it, and he still wears in his buttonhole that red thread which distinguishes the member of the Legion of Honor from that remnant of the human race who have failed to get it. It makes me jealous; it makes me spiteful toward Underwood Johnson; it embitters me against the French; for Underwood Johnson didn’t win that victory, I did it myself. When a legislative body is not acquainted with the interests and rights and wrongs of authorship, these things must be explained to the members before they can be expected to understand the situation; explaining by documents is not worth while; no member can find time to read them; explaining by speeches before a hard-worked committee is not worth while, for the committee cannot in turn convey the acquired information to the rest of the House otherwise than by speeches, and speeches are not effective when they concern a matter in which the House feels no interest. Copyright is a thing, which all legislative bodies are ignorant of and unfamiliar with, and there is only one way to get a copyright measure through Congress—that is by canvassing the Congress individual by individual, and enlightening each in his turn. I did that sixteen years ago. I did not go to the homes, hotels, and boarding-houses of the members, for that would have taken three months. Sunset Cox smuggled me in on the floor of the House, where of course I had no right to be and would have been turned out if the sergeant-at-arms had chosen to see me; but neither the sergeant nor the Speaker paid any attention to me, and so I got into no trouble. Sunset Cox supplied me with Democrats, two and three and four at a time; Mr. John D. Long supplied me with Republicans, and in three or four hours I had had personal contact and conversation with almost every member of the House. As argument I used only two or three essential points. It was not difficult to make them clear and comprehensible, and I made them so. The commonest remark that fell upon my ear, all through those hours, was— “I have had no time to examine this matter, Mr. Clemens, and I did not understand it before, but I will vote for the bill now.” The bill went through, and a grateful France decorated Underwood Johnson, the poet. However I suppose I ought to be fair, and for this once I will be. It was because of the existence and industries of Underwood Johnson that an international copyright bill was devised and brought before Congress. But for Underwood Johnson, there would have been no bill; but for the bill I should not have been there—and so, a fair and righteous distribution of the honors requires that Underwood Johnson get half the credit and I the other half. If he will give me half of his red thread I will withdraw from him all bitterness, all animosity, all spitefulness, all envy. This new bill proposes to change the present legal life of a book (which is forty-two years) to the author’s life and fifty years after. Underwood is working as hard for it as ever. He and Bowker appeared before the double committee on the first day’s hearing and made speeches; Howells was there also, not to speak, but in order that the ten or twenty American authors actually interested in extension of copyright might have a representation in the flesh. I did not attend that first sitting, but I attended next day’s sitting, at five in the afternoon, and spoke. The place was crowded, and the two committees had been patiently listening to reasonings and wranglings all day long, and they had listened to the like the whole of the previous day. When Congressmen perform their whole duty in this devoted way the spectacle furnishes the outsider a new light on the legislator’s life, and with it a very sincere admiration for men who can labor like that in causes which cannot interest them, and must, of necessity, bore them. I did not go to Washington to make a speech. The speech was merely an incident, an accident, and not a part of the committee’s previously arranged program. My business in Washington, and my desire, was to put in force a private project of my own—a repetition of my industries of sixteen years before: I wanted to talk to the members of the House, man to man. Mr. Speaker Cannon would not overstrain his powers by smuggling me into the House, but he said he would make a fair compromise in the interests of my mission; he would give me his private room in the Capitol, and also his colored messenger to run errands for me. This was very convenient. It was really better than exploiting my canvass on the floor of the House. The colored servant was Neal. I had known him sixteen years before, when I was lobbying for the international bill. Neal has served a procession of Speakers of the House, which stretches back without a break for forty years. He knows every member as well as he knows the members of his own family. Before I had talked with any more than twenty members I perceived that they felt no hostility toward the extension of literary copyright—that is to say, book copyright—but were not at all pleased with the bill’s attempt to intrude mechanical musical devices, and other things whose interests belong in the Patent Office and had no proper connection with copyright. As soon as I felt convinced that this was really and truly the attitude of the House toward the bill I ceased from urging the whole bill and thenceforth urged only the literary end of it. I talked with a hundred and eighty members of Congress that day, and satisfied myself that if the musical feature of the bill could be eliminated the bill would pass. Afterward I talked with the chairmen of the Senate and House Committees that had the bill in charge, and found that they were tired of the music, and were already considering a project to report the bill with the musical foolishness left out. I ceased from my labors then, leaving two hundred and six members uncanvassed, the temper of the hundred and eighty already canvassed convincing me that the temper of the House was friendly enough toward literary copyright and could be depended upon to remain so without any further persuasions of mine.

December 19, 1906 Mr. Clemens gives his reasons for insisting upon an extension of the Copyright Bill—arranged in the form of an interview with a member of Congress. . . . . That was an odd mission of mine to Washington. I arrive at this deduction by a critical examination of the matters involved in it. Instead of compacting them into a solid block, and thus confusing and dimming them, I will try to make them clear by separating them through the handy process of question and answer. I will imagine myself as undergoing examination by a member of Congress who desires to qualify himself to vote upon the Copyright Bill by inquiring into the particulars of the interests involved.

Question. Mr. Clemens, you are here to represent—whom? Answer. The authors.

Q. All authors? A. No. There are perhaps ten thousand American authors, but I have appointed myself to represent only twenty-five of them.

Q. Why only twenty-five out of the ten thousand? A. Because all but the twenty-five are amply protected by the copyright law now in existence.

Q. How do you mean? A. The new bill proposes to extend the copyright-life of a book beyond the existing limit, which is forty-two years. It is possible that the books of twenty-five living authors may still be selling profitably when they reach the age of forty-two years; the books of the other ten thousand, amounting to an annual output of five or six thousand volumes, will all be dead and forgotten long before the forty-two-year limit is reached; therefore of our ten thousand authors only twenty-five are pecuniarily interested in an extension of the existing copyright limit.

Q. Mr. Clemens, are there other persons interested in the making of books, and pecuniarily affected by copyright laws? A. Yes. To begin with, the publishers.

Q. How many publishers are there? A. About three hundred. They publish an annual output of five or six thousand new books, and presumably the result is an average profit of a thousand dollars upon each—say an aggregate of five or six million dollars; presumably also, they get as much more out of books whose copyrights are dead, and on which they pay no royalties to authors or their families, but filch the author’s share and add it to their own.

Q. It is not the authors, then, that get the bulk of the money resulting from authorship? A. No. Far from it! The ten thousand cannot be expected to produce, each, more than half a book a year. Authorship is not their trade. If one of these makes a thousand dollars out of his book—and sometimes he does—it takes him two years to do it; while he is making five hundred dollars out of his book his publisher may publish forty other books, and make forty thousand dollars.

Q. By this it would appear that authorship is mainly important to the publisher, not to the author? A. It is true. Pecuniarily, no one concerned is perhaps so little interested in authorship as are our ten thousand authors. Fortunately for them, they do not get their living by authorship; they get it in other and securer ways; with them authorship is a side issue, a pastime.

Q. Very well then, as I understand it authorship is worth several millions a year to publishers, and worth next to nothing to the main body of authors. Is that it? A. Yes, that is what I am meaning.

Q. Then it seems plain that authorship is one of the most trifling of all imaginable trades. I cannot call to mind another trade that matches it for pecuniary humbleness. Do you know of one? A. No—none except whitewashing fences; and even that would be a better trade, if you could exercise it in the winter as well as in the summer.

Q. There are still others who are pecuniarily interested in the making of books? Name them. A. At a guess, two thousand book-compositors, earning a wage of two million and a half dollars a year—

Q. Go on. A. Some hundreds of printing-press men and boys—

Q. Proceed. A. Some hundreds or thousands of binders,paper-makers and printing-ink manufacturers.

Q. Go on. A. Some scores of illustrators, photographers, and engravers.

Q. Go on. A. Some hundreds of box-makers, packers, porters, and employees of the railways and express companies.

Q. You have footed up a formidable army: Mr. Clemens, is there anybody in the country who is not pecuniarily interested in the making of books? A. Yes sir—the authors. The ten thousand.

Q. Let us now get back to the beginning and add up results. Some thousands of persons and their families are greatly and importantly interested in the making of books; you have granted that these thousands are all well protected by the existing copyright law—protected beyond possibility of hurt; you have conceded that all of the ten thousand authors except the specialized twenty-five, are amply protected by the law as it stands, since their books will never live out the forty-two-year limit, and could therefore not be advantaged by extending it. Now then, I wish to ask you a serious question. You have proven that in representing the twenty-five you represent the smallest interest, the poorest little interest, the most microscopic interest, that has ever intruded itself upon the attention of a legislative body in this age or any other. This interest has been intruding and complaining, persistently, for two centuries, in England and America, and in that period has wasted the valuable time of Parliaments and Congresses—time so valuable, so precious, that if you should reduce that valuable time to dollars and cents the aggregate would amount to millions and millions of dollars, and would build fifty battleships and equip for war a hundred thousand soldiers. Mr. Clemens, how do you excuse the continued and persistent agitation of this matter?

A. I excuse it for reasons, which seem to me to justify it. In the first place, upon the grounds of our moral law. Our moral laws endow us with certain rights; one of these is the right to hold and enjoy, unchallenged and unmolested, property created by our honest industries; and this endowment is not discriminated, but comes to us all alike, all in equal measure. It does not give this property-right to publisher, butcher, land-owner, corporation, shoemaker, tailor, and deny it to the author; it includes the author. It is every man’s right—his right, and not a benevolence conferred upon him by legislatures. The moral law existed before copyright, and in authority supersedes any usurping statute that can be inflicted by the legislature. Legislatures can by force of arbitrary power rob an author by statute, but no casuistry can keep that robbery from being a crime. It is lawful crime, legalized crime, but it remains crime just the same. The clause in the Constitution of the United States which denies perpetual property in an author’s book is a crime, and an excuser and defender and propagator of crime—and the fact that it is part of the Constitution in no wise relieves it from that stain, and from merited contempt. The publisher who withholds royalty from a book that has passed the forty-two-year limit under the plea that the Constitution and Congress have granted him permission to commit this degraded crime is not any less a thief than he would be if the property which he is stealing was protected property. In one of our cities there is a firm of publishers that make and sell copyright-expired books only. There are several partners in the firm, and one of them told a friend of mine that his share of the profits of this nefarious trade amounts to forty thousand dollars a year. That person ranks as a most respectable man, but to my mind he belongs in jail, with the other thieves. The late Baron Tauchnitz was the only publisher I have ever known who was above seizing and using property which did not belong to him, the only publisher I have known in whose reach the author’s widow and orphan could safely leave unwatched their poor little literary belongings. Yet the name he commonly went by, in an ignorant world, was “that pirate!” I personally know that he would not put upon his book-list a book which he had not bought and paid for, whether its copyright was alive or was dead. He knew that no Constitution and no statute can take away perpetual property-right in an author’s book, but can only act as a thief’s confederate and by brute force protect the thief while he steals it. I know of no American publisher who is not a pirate; I will gamble that if there is a publisher anywhere who is not a pirate it is Tauchnitz’s son. With your permission I will venture yet another reason for not being ashamed to come here in the interest of that grotesquely small band—the twenty-five authors who could be benefited by the requested extension of the copyright limit to the life of the author and fifty years after. It is this: almost the most prodigious asset of a country, and perhaps its most precious possession, is its native literary product—when that product is fine and noble and enduring. Whence comes this enduring literature? It comes from the twenty-five, and from no other source! In the course of a century—and not in any briefer time—the contemporaneous twenty-five may produce from their number one or two, or three, authors whose books can outlast a hundred years. It will take the recurrent successors of the twenty-five several centuries to build a hundred imperishable books; those books become the recognized classics of that country, and are pointed to by the nation with exultant and eloquent pride. Am I claiming too much when I claim that such a literature is a country’s most valuable and most precious possession? I think not. Nations pride themselves upon the splendors of their deeds of arms, statesmanship, conquest; and when they can point back, century after century, and age after age, to the far-stretching perspective of a great history, their pride is beyond expression in words; but it all exists by grace of one thing—one thing alone—the country’s literature. It is a country’s literature that preserves the country’s achievements, which would otherwise perish from the memories of men. When we call to mind that stately line— “The glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome”—we should remember with respect and with reverence that if the great literatures of Greece and Rome had by some catastrophe been blotted out, the inspiring histories of those countries would be vacant to the world to-day; the lessons which they left behind, and which have been the guide and teacher of the world for centuries upon centuries would have been as utterly lost to us as if they had never had an existence. It is because of the great literatures of the ancient world, and because of those literatures alone, that the poet can sing of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome, and thrill us with the sublimity of his words. It is not foreign literatures that sing a country’s glories and give them immortality—only the country’s own literature will perform that priceless service. It were worth a Congress’s while to spend upon a copyright law time worth the cost of even a hundred battleships if the result of it might some day be the breeding and nourishing of a Shakespeare. Italy has many battleships; she has many possessions, which she is proud of, but far and away above them all she holds in pride one incomparable possession, one name—DANTE! I represent only twenty-five persons, it is true; only twenty-five out of eighty-five millions; considered commercially I represent the meanest interest that could ever intrude itself upon the time and attention of Congresses and Parliaments, in this age or in any future one, but I am not ashamed of my mission.

Twain, Mark (2013-10-05). Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2: The Complete and Authoritative Edition (Mark Twain Papers) (p. 317-324). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Poor Shaming

Bashing the poor has become a popular pastime in the last few years. This surprises and saddens me.

For the purpose of full disclosure, Im neither proud nor ashamed of my past. It happened and Ive moved on, but my experiences are relevant to this discussion. Much more relevant than the most of the talking heads on the Fox News network, since they are from at least middle class backgrounds and most were even better off than that. The further complicate matters, the concept of what being poor means seems to be frozen in time and that time seems to be the fifties.

While my parents were married, we lived on a small piece of land in the country in northern Minnesota. While my dad had a good job as an electrician for a natural gas pipeline, he couldnt afford to build even a modest house on the land, so they poured a cement slab and bought a singlewide trailer. Later, we were able to upgrade to a doublewide trailer. When I was eleven, my parents divorced and my sister and I chose to live with my mother. It was only when we acquired a new single wide trailer and had to move to a trailer court that I realized that not only had we been poor before, but we had just slipped even further down the line. For the majority of the next seven years, we hovered below the government-defined poverty line for the years 1978-1984. Just as a reminder, the country was in a serious recession and gas shortage just to spice things ups. Being poor sucks regardless of how the economy is doing, but it sucks worse during a recession.

The Right has elevated Reagan to near deity status, yet Reagan did not call poor people leaches, or lazy. He didnt poor shame. He did start a few programs to help the poor to include giving away cheese and butter on a monthly basis. I can still remember the taste of that cheese that came in 10-pound blocks. We occasionally ran short of food at the end of the month and I do know what it means to be hungry, and I will always be grateful for that cheese.

When my mom realized just how bad it was going to be, it was the summer before my twelfth birthday. She came to my sister and I and asked us if we thought she should sign up for welfare and food stamps. She warned us that if we didnt we would be in for some hard times. I thought about it very seriously and said that as long as I could find some kind of job, I didnt want to go on welfare. She agreed and decided not to go on the dole. I started working part time at age twelve. It was illegal and the money was under the table, but I worked and we got by, but we did sign up for free school lunches.

While Reagan didnt feel the need to poor shame, the schools decided to differentiate the color of the meal tickets. They had devised the meal ticket system to speed up the line by not wanting to take cash. Instead, family bought the tickets and the staff punched it ten times and then you bought a new one. The regular tickets were blue, but the free meal program tickets were pink. I think the school system was afraid that we would try to sell the meal tickets so we could by drugs and alcohol.

There was a recent article published on the Heritage Foundation website, authored by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, both of whom work for The Heritage Foundation and are allegedly experts on poverty, while seemingly never having experienced it. For those of you that dont know, The Heritage Foundation is a right wing think tank that provides position papers and attempt to shape policy. There are both left and right wing think tanks. I am highly suspect of any position put forth from think tanks on either side.

I had a few different jobs while I was in the Army. One of them I had in the Reserve was Psychological Operations. Our job was to develop and deploy propaganda among other things, and these think tanks are propaganda machines.

Also for those that dont know me, I have always been fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but my meter does fall slightly right from center. Im strong on defense but not a saber rattler and think we need to rely on our military less than we have since 9/11. I prefer smaller government and less bureaucracy but I do believe in a social safety net. That may sound like a natural conflict, but I think it can be done. I also believe in programs that assist people in improving their financial situation and most of all, making sure that all children, regardless of what class they are born into, are given the same opportunities and in some case that takes level setting. We need to quit looking at fellow Americans as adversaries and start looking at start focusing on making our entire nation strong.
The main thesis of the article that you can read here, is that poor people have a lot of stuff that most ignorant, better off people think are luxuries, and that poor people today are far better off than poor people from the 1950s and currently the US definition of poor is much different that the rest of the worlds definition. There are a lot of graphs, but the first one lists all of the amenities that are considered luxuries and it starts with a refrigerator. Fox news staff were uniformly shocked that 99.9% of the unwashed masses of poor owned a refrigerator. If youre one of the middle and upper class that visualizes Oliver Twist asking for more porridge or perhaps Charlie Chaplins Tramp character, you are deluded. Poor does not mean homeless.

I will agree that a poor person in the US is better off than a poor person in Somalia. Ill also buy into the idea that the poor in 2014 are better off than the poor of the Great Depression. But while I agree that things have got better over time, poor is still poor and the measuring stick they are using in this article is ignorant.

As an example, lets go back to the shock over refrigerator ownership. In 1978, when my family was below the poverty level, which was approximately $7,000 a year, we were able to secure a loan for a single wide trailer and pay trailer park lot monthly rental. In 1978, all trailers came with a fridge, a stove and a washer and dryer. There were times when we didnt have anything to put into the fridge or cook on the stove, but we had them. Most apartments, even in poor neighborhoods have similar appliances. When rich people hear that, they are aghast, likely because they envision their $10,000 plus stainless steel walk in refrigerator with built in water, ice and wine dispensers. What most regular people have is in fact a classic plastic fridge that retails (when not on sale) for about $350. A used fridge can go for $50. Even back in 1978, if for some reason our single wide trailer didnt come with a fridge, we could have picked up a used one back then for $25 dollars, and boy did we feel like we were rolling in cash because we didnt have to salt our pork or cut a block of ice from the lake to keep our free government cheese and butter from spoiling. People in Somalia may see it as a luxury, but they dont have access to thrift shops and yard sales where cast off items from upper classes like fridges are common and dont retain their retail value, but do continue to work for many years.

Anyone that doesnt know that is so disconnected from the average American let alone poor Americans that they have more in common with warlords in Somalia than their fellow citizens.
The current poverty line for a four-person family is $24,000 dollars a year. A lot of other items on the list of luxuries Ive already covered as being included when you buy a trailer or you can pick up for very little cash. The energy usage survey bureau didnt ask if they had all new appliances, they just measured the fact that they were using energy. Number five on this luxury list is air conditioning. Back in 1978, AC was not included as standard equipment in trailers, but it is today, and again, the wealthy visualize central air and the entire dwelling at a cool 68 degrees, while the reality for most is a used window unit that helps but is just not the same. Cellular phones and cable television are in the top twenty and once again we have issues with scale. Fox showed one person that had an iPhone, but the energy usage survey asked if they had a phone. You can get a cheap phone included with a two-year contract for less than $40 a month. Its a phone the wealthy wouldnt be caught dead using in public so they cant envision anything else when they hear cell phone. Also, the energy usage survey doesnt say that all 4 family members have them, though that is what the poor shamers are assuming. An old school land line phone service cost about the same as a cheap cell, and most poor people no longer have them, especially if they need to move around for work, but a home phone is not listed as a luxury item. It would be seen even by the wealthy as a necessity, just like having a roof over their head is not listed as a luxury, but it is being called out that way due to a complete lack of understanding of how the poor live day by day. 

The only item that shocked me on the list, as something that we didnt have and I still dont have, was a Jacuzzi. Allegedly, 0.6% of poverty level families had one. They must live in California and once again, there is no indication that they bought it new. I did a quick Craigslist search and found one in my area for $75 dollars in good condition needing a new circuit board. With the repair, Ive got clean 6 person Jacuzzi for $150. I may finally fulfill this dream, but even if I made only $24,000 a year, I could swing $150 for a Jacuzzi if that was really important to me.

The other conditions that dont show up in this type of survey are how people that make near or below the poverty level survive. People in rural America do a lot of hunting, fishing and even trapping to save money. When I worked for under the table wages as a minor, I worked in a restaurant and got at least one complimentary meal each shift. It wasnt a lot, but even at 20 hours a week, that $3 dollars an hour went a log way toward making ends meet. It meant I went hungry less and didnt have to make shoes out of old tires.

Later in the article they make a lot of hay about people not starving to death. These numbers are being used as an excuse to cut the food stamp and free lunch programs and the people making those arguments are completely missing the fact that these poor people are not starving to death becausewait for itthey have FOOD STAMPS AND FREE LUNCH PROGRAMS!!
How dare the poor not be starving to death! These bastards are trying to pull a fast one over on the rest of us. They arent even sweating their asses off in rat infested hovels. Instead, they are only mildly perspiring in rat infested hovels thanks to that used window AC unit. Sheer luxury! And theyre laughing their way to the food banks, those TV watching, clothes washing, cell phone owning bastards! Its all a scam!!

No, its not a scam. Are there are some people manipulating the system and benefiting unfairly? Yes, and theyre called criminals. Feel free to find and punish them. I was considered poor for the first twenty-three years of my life, including the four I spent in the army. I broke above the poverty level in 1990 and Ive never looked back. Are there people that are generationally still trapped in poverty? Yes there are, but Ive been closer to it than these experts, and I never met anyone that was happy about it or worked at staying poor just to screw over the rest of the hard working tax payers. If you listen to this crap on TV and believe it, then its time you started thinking for yourselves and quit listening to talking head idiots that are exaggerating and misquoting flawed data to further the agenda of their chosen political party, or worse, spreading bullshit just for the sake of ratings. Its time to wake the fuck up and think for your selves, because even if there were a huge conspiracy to live off the teat of hard working taxpayers, cutting those peoples benefits will hurt their children more than it hurts them.

Unless youve grown up poor, its hard to understand the challenges associated. Ive also seen a lot of articles lately about white privilege. While I dont disagree with the reality of white privilege, there are some false assumptions. The biggest is that poor white people can benefit from this privilege. America is not supposed to have a class system and if youre middle class or higher and a decent person, you may not have any negative feelings for people in the lower income brackets, but if youre honest with yourself, you likely have deeply embedded biases and prejudices.

I dont share details of my personal life with everyone I meet. Im not shamed or proud of it, it simply is. When the topic does come up, there is a very common response to finding out I was poor white trailer trash. Few say that out loud, but when you read earlier that I spent the early years of my life living in a trailer, what did the voice inside your head whisper to you? When I talked about getting free cheese and butter and free lunches, what images popped into your head?

Like the Irish at the end of the19th and beginning of the 20th century, once they lost their accent and if they changed their name, they were just one more white European. They could blend in with people that still hated the Irish and were able to hide their ancestry if they so chose. No one that looks at me today either at home or at work could tell what my economic background was, so I can now blend and take full advantage of white privilege. The difficult part for the poor, regardless of race, is escaping. Even in my northern Minnesota town, which was as far from the hood as you can get, I grew up around the roughest and most at risk kids. Drugs and crime were prevalent and there was a lot of peer pressure to conform to those behaviors. That pressure came in slightly rougher forms like bullying, which seems less severe in retrospect but at eleven felt very real and scary.
The trailer court I live in was called Hillcrest Manor. Not sure why they feel the need to name them that way. I called it the place hope goes to die. Being poor in America regardless of where you live has always and will always feel hopeless. That lack of hope for the future expresses itself in many ways, usually though the use of tobacco and alcohol at a minimum, and often in more extreme way, causing a cycle of failure and frustrations that cant help but imprint the children living in that environment. When a poor kid ends up in jail or working a manual labor job, no one is surprised. Its expected, but why? Poor does not equal stupid. Gifted children are born into all economic levels. Opportunity and access do vary a great deal, but even if it was equal, the other factors that the poor deal with including poor nutrition put their gifted children at a disadvantage.

I consider myself extremely fortunate and lucky. I spent years five though eleven in the country and with two wonderful friends. They were brothers and their father was a doctor. We were close in age. The older brother knew when he was six that he would one day be a lawyer. It never occurred to him that he would be unable to achieve his goal. I had no idea what I was going to be and had no idea even then how I would achieve a goal once I had one, but that optimism and that healthy and positive example stuck with me though my formative years. Had I spent those years at Hillcrest Manor, I hate to think where I would be today. The luck of the draw genetically also helped, because despite having a learning disability that effects my ability to learn languages (including higher level math like calculus), I was blessed with a genius IQ. The Army then gave me the missing piece to the puzzle, which was the confidence to believe in myself. The Army also tested me, reinforcing what I would never be good at but allowing me the opportunity to discover areas where I excelled.

I dont think there is any greater gift a person can get in the early years of their life than to come to grips with what limitations they have and gain the confidence not to focus on those gaps but to develop their strengths. But clearly, I am one of the exceptions. I know of a few others, people that have made it and escaped their past, but as I stated earlier, Hillcrest Manor is not the hood. Its gravity was easier to pull away from than other environments where the poor are concentrated and Minnesota is one of the most literate states in the country. My success is not miraculous, just not predictable, and thats the problem. Our country needs to re-evaluate our priorities and start changing the bias we have that allows most of the country to write off children based on the circumstance they were born into. For strictly selfish reasons in order to compete with the rest of the world, we need to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to achieve as much as they can, or we risk being trapped in this cycle of poor shaming and perpetuating a culture that refuses to change the state that so many people spend time complaining about. Instead of whining about people on food stamps having the nerve to actually own a refrigerator, we need to close the gap between the classes by providing equal primary education, ensuring that all children have a healthy diet and access to positive role models and invest in the future of our country. Telling the poor to suck it up and to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is not a strategy or a solution.

Finally, while I can understand the desire to find some scapegoat group of people to blame all of our woes on, our nations poor are not it. Trying to make them villains only succeeds in making those people look like a giant douchebags.