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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't You Dare Forget!

Like the majority of retirees, we live on a fixed income, which doesn’t provide an excess of discretionary funds. Like death, taxes, and spam email, one certainty in life is that in the coming years, those flexible funds will shrink.

What I purchased at WalMart five years ago for ninety-five bucks now rings out of the register at one-twenty or thirty. If my math’s right, that’s over a twenty percent increase.

I’m lucky however in that I can control the spending. As many, I purchase items I can well do without, and eventually, I’m sure I’ll be forced to forego such indulgences.

While many of my acquaintances are in the same boat, there are some who have unfortunately compounded their problems by an injudicious use of the dreaded credit card.

The fees and interest they pay on what those innocuous slabs of plastic provides eats into what little discretionary income they might have.

And if you can’t guess where all of this is leading, I’ll tell you.

At this very moment, our country is in that same boat. As one, we are facing rising prices and an almost insurmountable debt. What is it now, thirteen trillion and counting?

Hey, the BP gusher is a dribble compared to the runaway gusher of additional debt Obama and his followers have slapped on our shoulders. And they’re still spending. They won’t stop!

According to watchdog, Bob Livingston, Congressman Ron Paul’s Federal Reserve Transparency Act was taken out of the Wall Street reform bill. An effort by House Republicans to re-insert the language failed, with more than 120 Democrats who had co-sponsored the bill voting against it. That’s something I can’t figure. If they’d co-sponsored it, why vote against it?

Heaven forbid, partisan politics!

There is only one way to stop this insanity. It is up to us, the common, everyday citizen who tries to follow all the rules that many in congress ignore.

There must be a change in the mindset of those in Washington. Look how the health bill was jammed down our throats. How much did the Speaker of the House truly know about the bill when she blithely remarked “We’ll have to pass the health bill so we’ll know what is in it for us.”

Such insouciance is not only appalling, but a stinging slap on the cheek of every American unless they’re too dumb to know she has insulted them. She doesn’t give doodly-squat about the American people. Her position is for her ego, just like so many up there. That isn’t the mindset we need.

I’ve had folks call me to task for some of the negative columns I’ve written about the problems the health bill will create. I hope by now they’ve opened their eyes as more and more worrisome details float to the surface like BP’s oil.

You know the bill forces employers to provide insurance for workers or face massive tax increases. Right? Did you also know those taxes would reach up to $52 billion? Result? Goodbye jobs.

American businessmen aren’t stupid. They’ll cut the workforce, adding to the ten percent unemployed. Some companies, like John Deere, Caterpillar, Medtronic, Verizon and even some ski resorts have already announced their intention to cut jobs.

Why didn’t Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and those others recognize this problem? They didn’t because all they care about is themselves and their egos.

There are still over three months until mid-term elections. You can bet those jokers will be filling the air with the lies of success and distortions of truth that unfortunately are part of the political game.

As an average citizen, you can’t let them fool you. That’s what they’re counting on, that we’ll forget their tricks.

If we can manage to wrest control of one of the chambers, the House or Senate, then we can refuse funding for the bill, effectively stopping it until it can be reworked, not in a smoky backroom, but in the open, with the media watching. Like the guy who said he would save America promised.

By the way, remember that provision that says insurers cannot cut your health benefits off at a certain point? That’s true. The catch is, it isn’t free. In fact, premiums will run—are you read for this?-- from four to nine hundred a month.

Now, you sleep well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

So You Want to Write

Here in Southeast Texas, spring and autumn are only a couple weeks shoehorned between a brief, but sometimes bitter winter and long months of blistering summer. That’s okay though for one of my favorite summer pastimes is going to the beach and watch tarballs melt.

Despite its brevity, for the last twenty-five or so years, autumn is one season I always anticipate, not only because of the break in the blistering temperatures, but because each October, the Golden Triangle Writers Guild hosts a national writing conference.

The first one I attended was back in eighty-four at the old Hilton, now the MGM Elegante. It was a one-day affair, hosted by the Golden Triangle Romance Writers’ Guild. I started not to go, figuring it was just a bunch of women, but my wife insisted, telling me I’d probably learn a lot more from a bunch of women than a gaggle of men telling war stories.

As usual, she was right.

Robert Vaughn was the speaker. Fantastic presentation. A morning and afternoon session. When it was over, I was hooked. I joined the Guild and started attending the monthly meetings regularly.

And they’re still going on. The second Tuesday of the month, 7:00 pm, at Barnes and Noble at Parkdale.

Being sort of slow, I had always figured writing was strictly talent. You sat down, dashed off a hundred thousand words, sent it to a publisher, and wrote out your acceptance speech for the Pulitzer Prize.

As usual, I was wrong.

Though the Guild, I learned that writing is a mixture of talent and craft, the latter being as important as the former. Nothing turns an editor or agent off like poorly constructed sentences, grammatical errors, or lack of motivation. You might have the greatest story ever told, that legendary ‘Great American Novel’, but if the editor can’t get past the first few pages because of poor writing, it will make no matter.

Conferences provide not only the nuts and bolts of the craft, but also contacts with people who can help you get published. Here in Beaumont, our annual conferences were going like ‘gangbusters’ (you younger readers probably have no idea what that means). The organization had international recognition with membership in many foreign countries. Then Rita the Witch rode in on her broomstick. Ike didn’t help. With members scattered, meeting rooms destroyed, GTWG fell into a slump.

As most worthwhile organizations, it pulled itself out for a 2009 conference at the MGM Elegante. It was a dandy. Many of the editors, publishers, agents, and writers who conducted breakout sessions let the Guild know they would be available for the 2010 conference.

I wish I could say this year’s conference would surpass last year’s, but I can’t. Due to a set of bizarre circumstances not even a best selling writer could plot, there will not be a conference.

However, rest assured there will be one in 2011. The board for the Guild has already met and is working on putting it together.

Sure, it’s a disappointment for us all, but you can still pick up information on the craft and contacts by attending guild meetings. If you’re looking for additional information and one-on-one help, take at look at Lamar’s Continuing Education.

Lamar offers a series of non-credit writing courses, both online and on campus.
There are several from which to choose: article writing; teen writing; how to write fiction; novel writing, and several others. Instructors are experienced writers such as Jessica Ferguson, D.J. Resnick, Wendy Lanier, D.B. Grady, and yours truly.

Yes, I shamelessly admit that I teach a short six-week course in the spring and fall titled ‘Writing the Novel.’ It is a hands on course in which students actually write parts of the novel at home that we critique in class.

By the end of the six-week period, many students have written the beginning, the end, and outlined the middle of the book.

If you’re interested in more information about any of the writing classes at Lamar, go to http://www.lamar.edu/ce or contact Rhonda at 880-2233.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The End of a Generation

When most of us old codgers think about our childhood, we always manage to remember the good rather than the bad, but even the bad, we’ll often view through tinted glasses.

I was lucky to have been part of two wonderful families, families vastly different from each other in some respects, yet bound by the common chains of hard work, frugal spending, and boundless love.

Dad’s families lived in town. Mom’s on the farm.

And even back in the thirties and forties, there was a world of difference between the two cultures.

Mom had four brothers and three sisters. She was next to the youngest of the girls. The youngest was Mae. Of the four brothers, Troy was the youngest.
Two weeks ago at ninety-four, Mae passed away, joining Mama and Papa Holley and all her siblings, except one, Troy, who lives in Nevada.

Remembering her seldom dull ninety-four years, it is sort of apropos that she left us on July 4. She went out with a bang, just the way she lived her life.
She was a beautiful girl and striking woman. Of all the girls, she was the one most likely to pull against the traces, to live life as she chose.

Back in the twenties and thirties, farm girls had to be tomboys, but Mae was even more of a Tomboy than the other girls. She could give as much as her brothers could hand out, then throw it back at them harder than they could take.

Once sitting out on the patio on a warm summer night in Fort Worth, Dad recollected helping the family harvest a patch of cotton. They had an old goat running loose, wandering the cotton field, chewing on the leaves. Kids being kids, none like pulling cotton, so Mae, looking for some distraction to perk up the boredom of their sweaty work, discovered that if she hit the goat with a green cotton boll, the goat would scamper over to Papa Holley and jump up on his cotton sack.

Papa, according to Dad, would curse and scream at the goat, which promptly bounded away. Despite Papa’s raving, no one would admit throwing the boll. But, every time the goat came within Mae’s range, she popped the animal with another boll.

Now Mae was in her teens, so when Papa finally figured out the culprit, he couldn’t whip her. She was too big, but after that out in the cotton field, he always kept one eye on the row, one eye on the goat, and the other eye on Mae.

I remember once when I was small. I’m guessing around five. We lived in Wheeler, and Mama and Papa Holley were out around Littlefield, north of Lubbock. Mae was visiting us, and she and Mom got it into their heads to visit their folks with me in tow.

Now, that in itself wasn’t unusual, but the fact they decided to hitchhike was unusual. And we did, over two hundred miles. As I remember, they dressed me in a sailor suit. What driver or his wife could refuse a five-year-old in a sailor suit with his thumb out?

We made it without a problem.

She was always adventuresome, and more than once out on the farm, she’d get into rock fights with my cousin, Ed, and me. She won most of the time. She didn’t hurl a rock like most girls. She whipped her arm over her head and twisted that wrist just as she released the rock. She was a darn good rock chunker.

She married a construction boss. The company for which he worked built dams, so they traveled a great deal, taking with them their children. Not one to whine, Mae was one of those women who adapted and adjusted to whatever the circumstances. And in those years of traveling around the country, pulling their trailer house behind them, Mae always was bright and cheerful—at least as bright and cheerful as possible with a handful of kids around.

She was one of the most positive people I’ve ever known.

When we lose a loved one, all of us reflect on what has been, and we all feel the pain of knowing that what once was so vital in our lives is almost gone. With Mae’s passing, only one brother remains, and then it’ll be like an era has ended.

It hasn’t, and I know that. Their blood still flows in many veins. I guess what really bothers me is they, as countless families in the past, will soon be forgotten.

Two generations from now, who will remember the little things like Mae being a great rock chunker, or that she and Mom hitched over two hundred miles with a five-year-old?

Small things, but it is the small things that define us, that most of us cherish.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Realities of the Oil Spill

I can’t begin to imagine the devastating feelings experienced by our Gulf neighbors to the east. The closest experience I’ve had to such was back in my early fifties when I got crossways with a supervisor. I thought I was going to lose my job, and I almost panicked, wondering where a fifty-something would find work. And when I did, I knew my salary would be nothing like my current one.

Fear, desperation, panic—I felt them, but nowhere the degree those affected by the oil spill feel them. To a small degree, I can imagine what it would be like to see my whole way of life destroyed.

Where would I go? What would I do?

Fishing the Gulf can be profitable, but many fathers of those businesses have encouraged their children to find other work. They were well aware of the vagaries of such a career. This spill is one of those unexpected disasters, creating a domino effect among subsidiary businesses and their supporting communities.

And the president’s knee-jerk moratorium, a result of his lack of knowledge, both personal and advisory, of the social and business culture of the Gulf Coast, exacerbated the problem. Fortunately a judge overturned it, but then old Barrack appealed that order.

This was the first major spill since Valdez in eighty-nine and Ixtoc back in seventy-nine. They don’t happen every day. Unfortunately when they do, they usher in catastrophic results.

We’ll get through this, but not for a long, long time.

Like it or not, fossil fuels are our basic energy source. We depend on them. Our leaders (a loose use of the word) in Washington have for several administrations promised to do something about clean energy. They haven’t even tried.

Sure, all this ‘green’ talk sounds great, but if there is any idiot out there who believes all this clean energy nonsense is going to come about in the next five years, and produce all the jobs Barack Hussien Obama, i.e. Barry Soetoro, claims, then you and the President have been smoking something.

Fossil fuels provide sixty-six percent of the world’s electricity. If the country wants clean energy, why not turn to the one source we could have quickly, at least in a relative sense, nuclear.

Currently, nuclear power produces only nineteen percent of the electricity we consume. Wimpy France, where six Frenchman couldn’t fight their way out of a wet Kleenex, produces eighty-percent of its electrical energy from nuclear plants. Maybe there’s something in the air over there that makes them wimpy, but I doubt it is the nuclear emissions.

See for yourself. The country hasn’t blown up or become radioactive like the wacko environmentalists want you to think.

What does nuclear power have to do with that automobile sitting in your drive? Stop and think. What if there were enough inexpensive nuclear electricity not only to power your house, but your car, your boat, and your RV?

Far-fetched? Not as much as you might think.

Right now, those electrical hybrids are rich-people cars. We middle class consumers, for whom forty thousand for a car is outrageous, still rely on gasoline refined from demon oil.

But if enough nuclear-generated electricy were available, prices would drop. Technology streamlined computers and peripherals over the last twenty years. What happened? Prices dropped. Don’t tell me they can’t do the same with automobiles if the incentive is right.

Corporations will continue to refine and develop technology for products Americans want, and if there is enough demand for fairly priced items utilizing electricity, prices will drop.

Now, I didn’t go to Harvard. I’m not considered brilliant. I didn’t win the Nobel before I earned it, but I’m smart enough to realize that if we stop drilling for oil before all of the pie-in-the-sky solutions are actually operating, we’ll not only import more oil, but will double or even triple the price of gasoline.

Solar generated electricity is intriguing. I wouldn’t mind it, but I don’t have an extra eighty thousand lying about to put in such a system.

Face it. We need oil. Accidents happen, tragic accidents. Those responsible should pay.

The problem is though, just how do you put a price on one’s lifetime?

www.kentconwell.blogspot.com