Friday, January 15, 2016

Fire Starter

The older I get, the more I am interested in learning about things that didn't even register for me when I was even 40.

Growing up, I was interested in shooting, hunting and archery. I put time into these pursuits and got a lot of pleasure from them. In my twenties, a friend of mine got me interested in rock climbing and riding motorcycles, and I explored these hobbies with equal gusto. Then my time and energy was taken over with learning how to be a husband and father. That was plenty to keep me busy for most of my 30's.

As I got closer to 40, an old interest started to take over my thoughts. I had always wanted to be a writer. My goal was not particularly lofty. I wanted to be good enough to write a story that people would enjoy. I had no idea how much work would be required to get to that point but I did reach it and it was good. Like all the other skills I've picked up over the years, writing ability does when not used.

Now that I'm looking at 50, I find myself wanting to keep up with skills and not let them degrade and I don't have a lot of interesting picking up new ones. The shift has been less around new skills and more around new knowledge and capabilities.

Most of my friends and family found it odd that I wanted to learn how to make mead when I don't drink. I found the process of fermentation interesting years ago and just never pursued it, but last year I did and made a batch of mead. It was fun, interesting and satisfying. Now I know how and I'm sure if I continued to pursue it, I would get better, but my wife doesn't care for it and she would be my primary customer.

Recently, I've become obsessed with making fire. Not starting fires, I'm not a firebug, just the process of being able to make fire with primitive means. I'm not alone. There are several websites specializing in all kinds of primitive skills. There are also many YouTube channels dedicated to survival that include making fires and I learned a lot by watching them.

My journey is not over, but I have had a good time making fire kits for friends, family and myself. I chose the flint and steel method and put together all the necessary bits in leather pouches. If I was more dedicated, I would go out back and collect the deadfall and kindling and make a fire now, but this is Minnesota and I would rather not go through that in sub zero weather. True, that's when you need to be able to make fire the most, but I think I'll start in the spring and work my way up to winter survival.

I'm not sure what I'll pursue next, but I think it may be a new angle on an older and favorite hobby. I've loved archery since I was around 8, and I've starting to watch videos on primitive methods for making bows, strings and arrows. Who and I kidding, it's only a matter of time and that time is after winter.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Jackpine Savage tries 3 Gun Competition

As a proud Jackpine Savage, I've been shooting since I was barely a sapling. I took to rifles immediately and later pistols with equal relish. Shotguns, however, were not my favorite. That's an understatement. It's more accurate to say that I hated them for many years. My dislike started with my first encounter.

For those of you that knew my dad or have at least heard stories, you won't be shocked to find out that he had my shoot a 3" magnum from a seated supported position when I was nine. I remember the noise, and sliding backwards, then falling backwards. It took a few minutes to get feeling back into my shoulder. The moment left an impression. Later, when I found out that the best duck weather was in a cold downpour, I was further soured. Finally, shooting a shotgun at a moving object in the air requires to forget the opposite of the discipline of the rifle.

Shooting a rifle requires (as I learned from my father),  1. Consistent cheek to stock weld. 2. Sight picture. 3. Breath control. 4. Steady squeeze on the trigger.

A shotgun requires learning the lead distance and slapping the trigger. There is no luxury of breath control and no sight picture or a steady squeeze. It takes practice to switch from one to the other, and my hatred for the shogun drastically reduced my desire to put in the time.

Flash forward 30 odd years and I heard about 3 Gun matches. There is no false advertising, it requires 3 guns, a rifle, a pistol and... a shotgun. But, and it's a big but, there are no or at least very few targets flying through the air. In short, I could shoot it like a rifle against fixed targets. I can do that.

When it came to choosing my three, the pistol was the easiest decision. I already had a Springfield XDM .40, but for accurate fast shooting, I followed the online advice and got a 9mm XDM. The only thing it required were a few extended mags and a precision trigger kit. I went with the Powder River Precision trigger kit and dropped the pull down to around 2 pounds.

I had no idea how much I would actually like it, so I didn't want to go broke. I sold a few pieces I wasn't using. A Mini 14 and a couple of pistols and got a Mossberg AR15. It had good reviews, especially for the price. The trigger was the largest complaint, so I dropped in a Timney trigger kit. The stock also left something to be desired, so I upgraded that as well. At first I tried a red dot, but the fact is, my old eyes needed optics, so I replaced it with a 1-4 power. What I got is a bargain AR that shoots like a carbine twice it's price.
Lastly, I needed a shotgun. Since my dad passed, I made sure to take care of the shotgun he loved the most. With it, he won best in Bemidji in Skeet and Trap two years in a row. The Browning A5. His was made in Belgium int he 20's and besides routine cleaning, I wouldn't touch it.  Even if I did, would it work for a 3 gun competition? I did some searching and found an article from a man that blogs as Major Pandemic

I was sold. I found a 50's era Twelve Light on Gun for less than $400, and added the magazine extension, a synthetic stock and a Polychoke without the break (due to match rules), and I was ready.
My first match was a little rough. I had yet to install the trigger kit in the pistol. I had feed issues with my AR until I was told to load only 28 rounds in the 30 round magazines (go figure), and when I got to the last two shells in my A5, I also had a miss-feed that required a longer spring (only $6 dollars).

I also got sun burned and was very hungry and thirsty because I forgot to pack food, water or sunscreen.

Here's what I learned about the people that shoot in 3 Gun matches. They are good people. They enjoy it and they care. Technically, we are competing, though not for a prize, just for the lowest time, but it doesn't feel like a competition. You're just out shooting with new friends and learning. The main goal is the better than you were yesterday. I got a lot of advice and assistance. True, no one gave me half their sandwich, but they did have water and this is a shooting range not an after school special. But still, I felt welcomed.

I made adjustments to my gear and created a checklist of items I would need for my next match. There are several in the Twin Cities area during the summer and I'm sure all over the US. I can see how this could get very expensive for someone that was 20 years younger and had a serious chance of getting good. I am neither. My bargain basement gear works just fine for me. Now I just need to get out there and have fun.

If you enjoy shooting as a sport consider joining me, I guarantee you'll like it. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Grandma's House

One week each summer from the age of six until I was ten, I spent a week at my grandma's. She seemed so far away, a whole hour back in Deer River. She lived on Hanson Lake in the house her first husband had built. My sister got a week also, so we each got a two week break from each other.
The first night was always awkward. Grandma had fewer rules than I had at home but I was always tentative and a little afraid. I slept in an upstairs room and it was strange. The smell was comforting, but different and after living in a trailer, even a small house seemed large when it had an upstairs and a basement.
It might have been the different noises or because Amber wasn't there guard me until I slept, but that first bedtime was always hard. There were Peanuts books by Charles Shultz in the room and while I barely remembered the rest of the surroundings, those books were comforting.
The next morning there were always Leo's pancakes. Leo was my grandpa, but we called him Leo. Later, I understood that he was my Grandma's second husband and he never wanted to be seen as trying to take Grandpa's place. I never met my Maternal or Paternal grandfathers, both died before I was born.
Leo was grandpa enough that I never felt like I missed anything. His pancakes were delicious and unlike anything else I'd ever tasted. I had an important job watching the light on the grill and took it very seriously. More like a cross between a crepe and a typical pancake with bacon grease as critical ingredient, I put down more than my share. They also made their own syrup, the traditional way in a large pan outside on an open fire. The whole family would visit during maple syrup season and I would walk through the woods with Grandma checking and collecting buckets of the sap and when it snowed, Leo would make us hard maple syrup candy right from the pan.
They had a real bar in the family room and Leo would take my order like I was a grownup and serve up my kiddy cocktail with the flair of a real bartender. He was a gifted story teller and a man of mystery, with strange gravity defying devices carved from wood like tops and a thing that would suspend a belt on the edge of the table and bounce as if suspended by a magnet. He also polished stones and I loved to look at all them and touch their smooth surfaces.
Hanson Lake was a magic place. Near the dock there were large rocks that could be peeled off in sheets and almost seen though. Closer to the water, giant bullfrogs hid in the tall grass. Leo said he would cook up the legs if I caught one. I caught a few but let them go.
Grandma would take me fishing on the lake. First we would go get supplies. I would always get a toy from the store by the lake and usually lose it before I returned home. One year we got Worm in a Can Cola. The top had two holes, one to drink from and one to let in air. We would gather earthworms from the rich soil and go out near the lily pads and bobber fish for sunnies and then eat them that night, either in a cornbread or beer batter. Nothing tasted better.
One winter we were there when Grandma got a bunch of chicks. We played with them for hours; they were so cute and yellow. That next summer I got to see them all grown up. Grandma collected eggs and we went out to the pen one night before dinner.
"Pick one out."
I couldn't really recognize them all grown up but I convince myself I knew which one had been my favorite and I pointed it out. She picked it up and carried it back to the house. Halfway there, she stopped at a stump, grabbed the bird by the neck and swung it around snapping its neck with a quick twitch of her wrist. I stood by, eyes big and unable to speak. She chopped off its head and gutted it quick, handing me a foot so I could see how the claws opened and shut when you pulled on the tendons. Then she showed me how to pluck it and I helped. By the time it came out of the oven, I was done with my silent mourning.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Long Walk

The memories of my time in the Army fluctuate. One day they seem so long ago that it must have happened to someone else and I just heard the story, and other times it feels like I just got back home from Ft Dix yesterday.

I wasn't an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician for long, yet I was young and it left a permanent impression on me. I did the job back in the days before bomb suits and robots. We walked downrange without hat or blouse, because they could get in the way. We had a hero kit strapped to our legs filled with a blasting cap crimper, a demolition knife, a dive knife, a Leatherman and a role of electrical tape.

During the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, I heard the expression "the long walk" for the first time. It's what the EOD techs now call that lonely stroll downrange to either identify or render safe an unexploded piece of ordnance or Improvised Explosive Device. The Long Walk. It fits. It says so much in only a few words. Yet despite the inherent danger associated with even the most mundane of tasks like blowing up a faulty hand grenade with a block of C-4, I never once remember being afraid.

This is not bravado. I didn't lack fear. I was just under the delusion that I could handle whatever was at the end of my walk. They did a good job at school and later in the unit reinforcing this belief. Despite having lost 162 techs between 1941 and 1985, it seemed like those were things that happened to other people. We needed to believe that, so we did.

This is what I thought as I took another kind of long walk today. The elevator door opened to drab colors, worn carpet and a tired institutional smell. The building is quite different from the one my father died in seven years ago, but the feelings are the same. I was there to visit one of my favorite people in the world and had no idea if she would even know I was there.

Like most people, I had two grandmas. My father's mom passed away when I was eleven. We were never close. She was so much different than the person I thought of as my real grandma. Grandma Dora was always my grandma, and now she's in hospice. She's 95 and has had a full, rich life, but I am greedy. I want more. One more game of scrabble. One more meal shared. One more story told. I sound like my daughters when they were small but I don’t care, I want one more.

The elevator closed behind me and I was afraid. Like the walks I took to see my father in his final days, I feared that I was not ready for what was downrange. I feared that I would not be strong enough for Dora or my mom. Would this be the last time I saw her? Would she know I'm there? Was I already too late?

You're never ready. There is no ready. So I put one foot in front of the other and patted the spot on my hip where my hero kit used to rest and I tried not to think about what could happen. Those things happen to the other guys. Now at home, all I can think about is to hope I have another chance at the long walk, so I can hold her hand and look into her eyes, just one more time.

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.