Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Column with a short shelf life.

I wrote this piece back in November but never managed to sell it to anyone. So I figured I'd give it away for free, right here, to you lucky people.


There are two types of people in this country: Those who despise an election process that drags on for nearly two years, and those who merely hate it. But do the members of these diverse groups have valid reasons for their feelings? Does all this electioneering lead to sensory overload?

Let’s take a look back at the bid for the presidency. Barack Obama announced his candidacy a full twenty-one months before the election. John McCain followed suit three weeks later. Which meant we, the general public, were forced to begin thinking about all sorts of painful issues much earlier than was truly necessary. I, for one, resent the fact that precious media resources were devoted to topics such as the economy, health care, and the war on terrorism, rather than focusing on more relevant subjects, such as Clay Aiken’s sexual preference or the latest castoff from “Dancing With the Stars.”

Fortunately, the pundits—in an effort to keep our attention—had the good sense to dangle a few shiny objects in our field of vision, such as the cost of Governor Palin’s wardrobe, photos from her days as a beauty queen, and, in a surprising twist, a comprehensive etymological study of the phrase “hockey mom.”

But is this type of in-depth coverage more than the average American voter can withstand? To find out, I spoke to a man I’ll call “Joe the Figment.” The results of our conversation were revealing, to say the least.

Me: Mr. Figment, do you think today’s political campaigns are too long? Does the ceaseless barrage of rhetoric numb the average citizen to the point where he or she simply tunes out?

Joe the Figment: I like bean dip.

Me: Interesting. So is a two-year election cycle overkill or, to the contrary, does it give each of us ample time to thoroughly analyze the candidates’ views?

Joe the Figment: I wish I owned a pony.

Clearly, all of this campaigning is taking a toll. The question is, what can we do about it? In my view, one solution would involve a national “announce your candidacy” day, falling perhaps a month before the general election. Unfortunately, with the pesky First Amendment being what it is, there is no effective means by which to prevent a candidate from announcing his or her intentions early and beginning an oratorical assault on our senses.

That leaves only one viable option: Endeavor to make the campaigns, and the election itself, much more entertaining. To that end, I humbly submit the following trio of suggestions.

• Allow the debates to be judged by those renowned arbiters of talent, Simon, Paula, and Randy. The possibilities are intriguing. You could, for instance, require the candidates to perform an a capella arrangement of their foreign policy platform. “Nonsense,” you might say. “Musical ability has nothing to do with a candidate’s political prowess.” I say: Tell that to Bill Clinton and his saxophone.

• Stage a no-holds-barred cage match between vice presidential candidates. Talk about a crowd pleaser. And if you think Joe Biden would have had an unfair advantage over Sarah Palin in this arena, you are deluding yourself. Yes, Biden has years of cutthroat Senate experience on his side, but Palin’s survival instincts are as sharply honed as the hunting knife she used to dispatch a feral hog last spring.

• Haul out the polygraph machine. At every rally, campaign stop, stump speech, and town hall meeting, the candidates’ statements would be charted by a lie detector. Not only would this strategy reveal their true feelings on issues such as abortion, Social Security, and taxes, we would likely get a few chuckles from the reactions to such seemingly innocuous remarks as, “It’s great to be back in Des Moines.”

These are but a few examples of how we can make the election process more rewarding and less stressful for all of us. I urge you to take my words to heart.

By the way, I am running for county dogcatcher in 2010. I would appreciate your support.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More of that big buck.

Just click here to see a video I posted on YouTube.

O' sweet irony, why must you torment me so?

I've been hunting some this year and haven't seen a good deer yet. I went yesterday afternoon and saw nothing. When I got home, Becky had taken this photo of a deer that was hanging around our front yard.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Memorable holiday music, to say the least

One of the ad agencies where I used to work (a long time ago) made this very memorable holiday video. Make sure you watch it all the way through.

Way to go, Joe!

My friend Joe Valenzuela sent me a photo from his latest blood donation. That means he earns a free hardback. So, Joe, email me again and let me know which book you want and how you'd like it signed. (Joe forgot to make the "Hook 'Em Horns" gesture, but since he's been to so many of my signings, I'll let it slide.)

Who's next? Go give blood and earn a free hardback! See the blog entry below.....

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Want to own a Kleenex tainted with Scarlett Johansson's snot—and a little lipstick?

You can, right here

Men Are Just Happier People

My wife just forwarded this to me. Pretty funny.

Why Men Are Happier Than Women.....

Your last name stays put. 

The garage is all yours.

Wedding plans take care of themselves. 

Chocolate is just another snack. 

You can be President. 

You can never be pregnant. 

You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park. 

You can wear NO shirt to a water park. 

Car mechanics tell you the truth.

The world is your urinal. 

You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky. 

You don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.

Same work, more pay. 

Wrinkles add character. 

Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental-$100.

People never stare at your chest when you're talking to them.

The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected. 

New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet. 

One mood all the time.

Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat. 

You know stuff about tanks. 

A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. 

You can open all your own jars. 

You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness. 

If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.

Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack. 

Three pairs of shoes are more than enough. 

You almost never have strap problems in public. 

You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes. 

Everything on your face stays its original color. 

The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.

You only have to shave your face and neck.

You can play with toys all your life. 

Your belly usually hides your big hips. 

One wallet and one pair of shoes -- one color for all seasons.

You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look. 

You can "do" your nails with a pocket knife. 

You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.

You can do Christmas shopping for all of the people on your shopping list on December 24 in 25 minutes and then act like all of the other gifts purchased for YOUR relatives and friends were your idea.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This will choke you up.

Another entry in the stupid criminal files.

From the Statesman.....

San Antonio cashier tells robber to get a job

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio police arrested a robbery suspect after a fast-food restaurant worker laughed at him and said get a job -- if he needed money.

The failed holdup happened last night at a McDonald's.

Police say the suspect approached a cashier and demanded money. Police say the cashier laughed and apparently didn't realize the man was trying to hold up the place.

The suspect then allegedly pulled out a box cutter and demanded the cashier's wallet. The employee complied, but had no money in his billfold.

The suspect fled, but was caught by police who responded to the robbery call.

San Antonio police say the suspect is expected to be charged with aggravated robbery.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I watched an interesting show on the history of Christmas last night on the History Channel. Learned quite a few things. Did you know that there were winter solstice celebrations around this time of year—long before Christianity came along? Many people worshipped pagan gods such as Mithra and Odin. Some of these celebrations or festivals were brimming with drunkenness and debauchery. Way back when, people used to drag evergreens into their homes as a way to battle the bleak wintertime and celebrate life. Then Christianity grew and the holiday sort of evolved into a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Didn't stop some of the partiers, though. The Puritans even cancelled Christmas for a while. You can read more about it right here. All in all, Christmas has had a sort of strange and varied past. Here's an interesting excerpt:
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.

On a completely unrelated note, the city council in Austin is considering a law against feeding deer. Austin would become the largest city in the state with such a law. But getting rid of deer in urban or suburban areas isn't as easy as stopping the feeding. According to a state biologist, the deer would remain where they are, though they'd be less likely to congregate. The only real solution is to trap them or "harvest" them. Harvest means kills, of course. Meanwhile, the same homeowners who gripe about the deer freak out if they see a coyote. The danger posed to humans by coyotes is so tiny as to be almost nonexistent, but people want them exterminated. Gee, what happens when you get rid of all the predators? Animals like deer tend to thrive. 

One of my game warden buddies called me this morning, just touching base. He mentioned that he'd done a recent investigation into an incident where some Mexican drug runners in a boat exchanged gunfire with Border Patrol agents in another boat on Lake Amistad. The sad thing is, that sort of thing doesn't even make the news anymore. Likewise with another incident where a Texas warden got dragged about a hundred yards by a fleeing suspect. 

The heads continue to roll in the publishing industry. There have been recent layoffs at Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Nelson, and quite a few others. As I've mentioned before, this is not a good time to pitch a book—but that's what my agent is doing for me right now. Hey, the editors have to acquire something, right? Cross your fingers for me. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A couple of photos.

It actually snowed here last night, and here's proof, plus my dog.

You know how some people find the Virgin Mary in a tortilla or in the mold growing on the side of a water tower? Well, my wife found Charlie Brown in a couple of buttermilk biscuits. Of course, you might see something else. But I say it's Charlie Brown, and it must be a portent of something. 

Monday, December 08, 2008

Just a reminder...

Number of OU players from Texas: 41

Number of UT players from Oklahoma: 0

Number of Florida Gators from Texas: 8

Number of UT players from Florida: 0

Of the teams that have a legitimate claim to being the best in the country, how many were within literally one play of having an undefeated season? One.

Which team was that? You know the answer to that already. 

Hook 'Em

Young hunter has success. 

My friend Joe sent me a photo of his recent deer-hunting adventures with his son, Joseph. Nice buck, Joseph. Joe also said he'd be donating blood again soon. Send me a photo, Joe, so I can post it here. 

Friday, December 05, 2008

One tricky momma. 

Here's a good example of real life sounding just as intriguing as an imaginative crime-fiction novel:
From CNN:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Doreen Giuliano was obsessed with saving her son from a life behind bars after he was convicted of murder.

She gave herself an extreme makeover -- blonde dye job, fake tan, sexy wardrobe, phony name -- and began spying on jurors. She befriended one juror to root out any possible misdeeds at the trial, and for nearly eight months, they drank at bars, smoked marijuana and shared meals in her tiny Brooklyn hideaway.

The juror eventually opened up to her about his time as a juror, completely unaware that this seductive older woman was the same dutiful mother who sat through the entire trial just a few feet away from him.
Doesn't this sound like a great premise for a novel? If fact, it wouldn't surprise me if something like this has already been written. You can read the full article here.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

As they say, life is in your hands. (Plus, maybe, a free book.)

There's an article in the Austin American-Statesman today about a woman who has donated 25 gallons of blood in the past 18 years. I have a lot of catching up to do. I started donating blood last year, so I'm only at about ten or eleven pints. But I donate every eight weeks and it adds up quickly. 

If you've never given blood, you'd be amazed at how simple and painless it is. Plus, most blood centers have mobile drives that pop up all over town, so you can usually find one that's only five or ten minutes from your house. The good feeling you get becomes an addiction—I can't imagine not giving blood every eight weeks. 

Can I talk you into donating blood? I'm going to try. Here's an offer good from now until the end of the year, or while supplies last. If you will go to a blood center or a mobile drive and donate blood, then send me a photo of yourself as you're donating, I will mail you a signed hardback copy of Bone Dry, Flat Crazy, or Guilt Trip. (A few of them have very small remainder marks, but does that really matter?)

Think about the gift possibilities. I could sign the book to your father or mother or brother or sister. Or I'll sign it to you, and you'll have something to read over the holidays. Does that sound like a fair trade? 

One other thing: Since there are some people out there who would simply surf the Net and find a photo of someone donating blood, then email that photo to me, you'll have to make a gesture in the photo that will verify it as an authentic response to my offer. What's the gesture? Simply make the Hook 'Em Horns symbol when the photo is taken. For you non-Texans, I've attached a photo, so you'll do the gesture correctly and not wind up in trouble with the authorities. 

I really hope you'll consider my offer. I'd like nothing more than to mail out a bunch of books in the next four weeks. Just email me a photo and your address. There's an email link on my website: 

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

They changed it!

I'm guessing some attentive editor saw the humor and decided it wasn't appropriate. Also, they probably wanted to make it clear that they were talking about Bill Clinton, not Bill Crider. 

We've known this for a long time.

This is a headline from the CNN web site:

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sorry. He's left the building. 

I was doing some research on copyright protection this morning, and I ended up on the Web site for the U.S. Copyright Office. There, they have a long list of FAQs. Here's one that caught my eye:

How do I protect my sighting of Elvis?
Copyright law does not protect sightings. However, copyright law will protect your photo (or other depiction) of your sighting of Elvis. File your claim to copyright online by means of the electronic Copyright Office (eCO). Pay the fee online and attach a copy of your photo. Or, go to the Copyright Office website, fill in Form CO, print it, and mail it together with your photo and fee. For more information on registration a copyright, see SL-35. No one can lawfully use your photo of your sighting, although someone else may file his own photo of his sighting. Copyright law protects the original photograph, not the subject of the photograph.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One thankful penguin.

He was being chased by whales, and the people in the boat were watching. Then the penguin...well, watch it and see.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I'm thankful for.

In no particular order....

Readers, in general.

Readers who read my stuff.

My savvy agents.


A wife who is optimistic about my future as a writer, even when I'm pessimistic.

A mom who is equally optimistic.

Mexican food.

That, despite the economic news, we're in much better shape than most people realize. Just ask someone who lived through the Depression.

My dog, even though she is spoiled rotten.

That I've been able to work from home for 17 years.

Open-minded people.

Great in-laws.

Good health.

Great friends.

People willing to fight for us while we sit around and eat turkey. 

I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot things.

What are you thankful for?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tell me these men weren't brothers.

Former Texas attorney general Jim Mattox died yesterday. I never noticed how much he looked like Buddy Hackett.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What can you say about this?

Book banned

Not long ago, I blogged about a book in a middle-school library that offended some parents. They wanted the book removed from the library. I can understand those feelings to some degree, because there are some books that are more appropriate for an adult audience. 

Ultimately, however, from what I read about this particular book, my opinion was that it should stay on the shelves. I'll admit that I haven't read the book, but I have seen the list of passages that the parents found offensive. I had no problem with it. 

Two votes were held to determine whether the book should remain in the library. Both votes returned a "yes"—the book should stay. Details are in the article below, from the Austin American-Statesman.

What the article says is that, despite the votes, the superintendent overruled the voters and removed the books. My prediction: He will—and should—be fired.

As for the parents, if they think their child's morals will be corrupted by what they read in a book such as the one described, they should have a little more confidence in the way they raised him or her. 

Here's the article:
Book removed from Round Rock middle school libraries
By Bob Banta | Tuesday, November 18, 2008, 10:54 AM

A teen novel that stirred controversy when the parent of a Round Rock student complained that it is obscene was removed from the district’s middle school libraries today.

The novel entitled “TTYL” by Lauren Myracle is a narrative in the format of cell phone text messages exchanged among a group of teenage girls. TTYL is text message shorthand for “talk to you later.”

Round Rock Superintendent Jesus Chavez sent a letter to Wes and Sherry Jennings on Tuesday saying he had determined that “while the book may be appropriate for some students, it is not appropriate for all of our students in the middle school and should not be made generally available in a middle school library open to all middle school students.”

“If parents wish their individual students to have access to the book, there are ample alternatives for the book to be made available to students at parent discretion,” the superintendent said in his letter.

Sherry Jennings, mother of a Ridgeview Middle School student, filed a complaint at the beginning of this school year after her daughter checked the novel out of the Ridgeview library.

Jennings said Tuesday, “We are extremely pleased that the superintendent is interested in quality education for our children and that he realizes that maturity-wise they are not ready for these types of books.”

Jennings said she objected not only to vulgar language in the book “but also to the sexual content of the entire book.”

Jennings said she and her husband are satisfied with Chavez’s response and plan no further action.

Jennings was scheduled to appear before the school board to argue her complaint on Thursday after previous meetings with school officials proved unsatisfactory to her. Chavez said in the letter to her and her husband that since the book has been removed, the hearing before school trustees will be cancelled.

In late October, a nine-member committee appointed by Chavez decided by a 5 to 4 vote to keep the book on school library shelves. The committee included central administration officials, parents, teachers, and a high school student council member.

On Oct. 9, a six-member Ridgeview panel concluded the book should remain in the Ridgeview library despite the complaint.
Stealing from Bill.

My friend Bill Crider always has good stuff on his blog, and sometimes, when I'm feeling lazy, instead of looking for my own material, I simply heist stuff from him. Thanks, Bill!

Here's a good example:

Bill links to a recent article about a college professor recalling some of the sentences his students have subjected him to over the years. Bad writing is always fun. Here's a snippet from the article:
You want more examples? How about these beauties:
• “The person was an innocent by standard, who just happened to be the victim of your friend’s careless responsibility.”
• “Society has moved toward cereal killers.”
• “Romeo and Juliet exchanged their vowels.”
• “Willie Loman put Biff on a petal stool.”
• “Another effect of smoking is it may give you cancer of the thought.”
• “The children of lesbian couples receive as much neutering as those of other couples."
Or, when asked to use the past tense of “fly” in a sentence: “I flought to Chicago.”
You can see the full article here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The best humorous essay ever written. 

In the New York Times, Joe Queenan has a funny essay about overenthusiastic book reviews. Here's a sample:

What makes this bellyaching so unseemly is that the vast majority of book reviews are favorable, even though the vast majority of books deserve little praise. Authors know that even if one reviewer hates a book, the next 10 will roll over like pooches and insist it’s not only incandescent but luminous, too. Reviewers tend to err on the side of caution, fearing reprisals down the road. Also, because they generally receive but a pittance for their efforts, they tend to view these assignments as a chore and write reviews that read like term papers or reworded press releases churned out by auxiliary sales reps. This is particularly true in the mystery genre, where the last negative review was written in 1943.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I have to agree with this sentencing.

From Mike Leggett at the Austin American-Statesman:

Death sentence for warden's killer

Jurors in Wharton County decided on a death-penalty sentence for 27-year-old James Garrett Freeman, who was convicted of killing Texas game warden Justin Hurst last year.

Hurst was shot one day before his 34th birthday after he answered a call about possible illegal hunting from a roadside Freeman ended a high-speed chase through two counties by leaving his vehicle and opening fire on Hurst and other officers.

Hurst had been a waterfowl biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department before he entered the game warden academy in 2002 and drew an assignment to Wharton County, southwest of Houston.

Hurst left behind his wife and infant son.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Better than getting shot by Cheney.

From CNN:
From CNN's Kathleen Koch and Erika Dimmler

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President-elect Barack Obama's daughters have been promised a puppy for the White House — President Bush's dog, Barney, demonstrated his technique for dealing with the media Thursday…sinking his teeth into Reuters TV White House correspondent Jon Decker.

Call it a case of biting the hand that covers you.

First Dog Barney and his handler were out on the front lawn for a walk when Reuters' Decker and another reporter approached.

"He looked very nice and friendly," says Decker. "I bent down to pet him and he just snapped at me."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dancing With Matt

In case any of you were too lazy to follow the link I mentioned a few days ago, here's that video I was talking about. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ever wonder why people think Texas is full of ignorant rubes?

Here's a snippet from today's Austin American-Statesman:
State Board of Education Member Cynthia Dunbar isn't backing down from her claim that Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama is sympathetic to terrorists plotting to attack the U.S.
And a little more:
In a column posted on the Christian Worldview Network Web site, Dunbar wrote that a terrorist attack on America during the first six months of an Obama administration "will be a planned effort by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down the America that is threat to tyranny."

She also suggests Obama would seek to expand his power by declaring martial law throughout the country.
This woman has a major impact on what Texas children are taught in school. 
Do you want to see a very inspirational, very meaningful, and very entertaining video—all in one?

 Click here. It takes a while to load, but I guarantee it's worth it. 

Thanks to my wife for the link. 
Quit reading this. Go vote.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Status check

The current state of the economy is affecting just about everything, including publishing. Not the best time to be pitching a book, but that's what my agent is doing for me right now. We're still waiting to hear back from several editors. If I'm lucky, the election results tomorrow will generate a new confidence, not just for the economy, but for all things American. We could use it. 

Other than that, I wrote a humor piece revolving around the prolonged nature of elections nowadays. Do you realize it's been twenty-one months since Obama and McCain announced their candidacies? I'm pitching the piece to a variety of pubs. 

Bow season wrapped up on Friday, and rifle season began on Saturday. I went hunting on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, but haven't seen a good mature deer all season. Meanwhile, about thirty minutes ago, a nice buck was feeding right outside my office window. Can't legally hunt in my neighborhood, though, and it would feel like shooting a pet, anyway. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

It was only a matter of time....

The question is, how do we know it wasn't really her?

From CNN:
Palin Look-A-Like Strippers Vie For Title
Winner Gets To Go To Washington For Inauguration
POSTED: 9:54 pm PDT October 23, 2008
UPDATED: 7:04 am PDT October 24, 2008

LAS VEGAS -- There has been no shortage of Sarah Palin imitators since the Alaskan governor became Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential candidate.
But Thursday night brought a new twist for Palin look-a-likes.
Tina Fey is enjoying new-found celebrity status playing Palin on Saturday Night Live. What’s good for Fey is also good for dancers at Club Paradise Gentlemen’s Club.
It was uncanny how some glasses and a little bit of makeup transformed some Las Vegas dancers into Palin look-a-likes, and it was not just local girls who are vying for the title, including one contender from Oklahoma.
My two cents, so to speak.

Imagine this scenario: You buy some stock in a promising new company. You get a really low price. Over the next several years, the price steadily climbs higher. You consider yourself a genius. Finally, it reaches a point where you decide to sell. You end up making a very nice profit. You sold high, just like you're supposed to.

So here's the question: Why would you follow the exact opposite behavior? Why would you sell when prices reach new lows rather than new highs? For long-term investing--especially in a diverse fund--now is the time to buy. (Disclaimer here that I'm no financial expert and you shouldn't come after me with a pointed stick if things go badly for you.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Red and Billy Don would approve.

They're making bourbon in Blanco County. Click here.

The outfit is called Garrison Brothers, and I can't wait to taste their product, when it's ready. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Puzzling comments

Is anyone reading this politically savvy enough to interpret the quotes below for me? Joe Biden said them on Sunday in Seattle:
"Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking," Biden said.

"Remember I said it standing here. if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. And he's gonna have to make some really tough -- I don't know what the decision's gonna be, but I promise you it will occur. As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it's gonna happen," Biden continued.
How do you feel about censorship?

Recently, a group of parents in Round Rock (a suburb of Austin) took issue with a particular book available in a local middle school. You can read about it here. The book was TTYL by Lauren Myracle. Apparently, there's some strong language and sexual content. The parents circled a petition, and here is the intro:
The purpose of this petition is to notify the RRISD Superintendent - Dr. Jesus Chavez, RRISD School Board Members, and RRISD administrators that we, the undersigned petitioners, are not satisfied with the level of scrutiny applied to the reading material that is allowed into our schools, and that we will not tolerate our children to be unknowingly subjected to books or other material that is obviously vulgar and offensive to the average person.
The particular book in question is entitled “TTYL” which is written by the author Lauren Myracle. We find this book to be HIGHLY objectionable on the basis of vulgar sexual content (see specific offensive excerpts from the book at the end of this petition) and request that it be PERMANENTY REMOVED from all RRISD Middle School libraries.
In addition, it is our right AND our request that the RRISD Superintendent and the RRISD School Board members implement a more suitable review process of library books in which such members include a cross section of parents with values that more closely-align with those of the majority of families in our community. This process should include future purchases AND those books currently in the library.
We are NOT advocating total censorship of books, but our expectations are that a system be put in place such that material that is not age-appropriate, that is mature in content, or that is obviously offensive or vulgar in nature be clearly identified or labeled as such.

Normally, I'm of the mind that you should allow your kids to read just about anything. I mean, at least they're reading, right? (I remember reading The Godfather and The Exorcist when I was about eleven years old. Then again, look how I turned out.) And as one commenter pointed out, it's not the kids who are reading that you have to worry about, it's the kids who aren't reading. I think there's at least a little bit of truth to that. Maybe that's a generalization, though. 

However, I can acknowledge that there are some books that aren't intended to be read by kids, and some parents might have legitimate concerns over which books are in the school library. Some parents will be a lot more conservative than others. Where you fall on this issue could be charted on a graph, and it would likely end up as the common bell curve. Most parents would fall somewhere in the middle; they want their kids to expand their minds, but they don't want them exposed to stuff that's outright crude or sexist or racist, etc., especially if the crudity or sexism or racism isn't used as a tool to deliver some sort of larger message. Other parents would let their kids read absolutely anything. (More power to them, I say.) Others would hover over their kids and prevent them from reading Tom Sawyer or Catcher in the Rye

Here are the passages the parents objected to in TTYL:
Page 7: did he stare at your boobs?..... so watch out he makes a big deal of being all Christian but what that means is the he’s majorly sexually repressed…..
Page 10: well, I was in the bathroom after 5th period…… when Margaret ejaculates…. She squirts when she comes, shit, I can’t believe it. Like Margaret is your friend, u asshole!
Page 13: we could bitch slap her till she apologized…
Page 15: she said he got a total stiffie while they were talking, she said it was hysterical
Page 28: I have a meeting with Mr. H. tomorrow… Just wear a tight shirt and he will give you an “A”
Page 39: making love with Rob would be amazing, I know it
Page 45: she’s a superficial psycho-slut
Page 58: it’s cuz I had a couple of beers, that’s all…
Page 59: WTF
Page 65: Rob is being a total penis-head
Page 115: what about Mr. H, that’s why you got those new jeans for to get him all hot and bothered….. did he jump your bones?
Page 139: put on crotchless panties and do a lap dance for him
Page 145: (after discussing the porn site…. jana especially liked the endorsements section, where he gives his lubricant rec in 12 tasty flavors
Page 150: where were you that you were drinking everclear punch?
Page 151: after discussing getting drunk at a frat party and taking her shirt and bra off…. Holy fuck….
Page 165: Fuck.. did you tell her everything, you’re not a whore, just like you’re not a lying bitch, stay out of my fucking business
Page 167: if I did a striptease in front of a teacher instead of 10 million frat boys would that be ok.
Page 168: boo-fucking-hoo…. Screw you
Page 174: discussing hot tub attire after a male teacher invites her to join him at a residence he is house sitting….. we haven’t even discussed your thong possibilities
Page 176: jana sent pictures…. From the frat party.. she was naked from the waist up, subject line was lesbo slut…. Shit, shit, shit….
Page 177: shove it up your ass
Page 186: did Mr. H talk about your bikini again, did he make any moves when you were in the car together?
Page 203: I was like paralyzed,….. Mr. H, kept inching his way toward me…. No I would just whip off my shirt instead…. IF there were a hundred drunk frat boys there to appreciate it.
Page 205: and he (Mr. H) was wearing a speedo, which made it doubly horrific
Page 207: who swoops in like wonder woman to rescue me from sex-crazed English teachers
Do you think the parents have a valid concern? If a middle-school kid reads books with this sort of content, what exactly will it do to him or her? 

Thanks, Joe, for bringing this issue up. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Political compass

I took this test, and I was surprised by what it said about me. Not that I'm going to reveal the results. But you should take it and see if you're similarly surprised.

What Warren Buffett says about the current market.
"A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful," said Buffett. "And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This took an amazing amount of guts.

From Patrick Beach at the Austin American-Statesman:

Christopher Buckley, author and son of late conservative icon William F. Buckley, last week surprised readers of the magazine his father founded, the National Review: “Sorry, Dad, I’m voting for Obama” was the headline on The Daily Beast blog.

Tuesday in a phone interview with the Austin American-Statesman he revealed another surprise: After NR readers raised holy heck over his perceived betrayal of the right, he offered to resign his column - and it was accepted.

“It upset a great number of people - a huge number of canceled subscriptions, apostasy, the whole thing,” he said from Washington.

When he offered his resignation to the magazine’s editors, “I was sort of hoping for, ‘Well, let’s think about it,’ ” Buckley said. “But to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me.”

Buckley, the author of numerous humorous political novels, most recently “Supreme Courtship,” is booked to appear at the Texas Book Festival in Austin Nov. 1. “It’s too bad,” Buckley said. “I’m not looking to crap all over NR, but it’s too bad.”
Sorting through it all. 

A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone ran a blistering profile of John McCain. I mean, this article wasn't just negative, it was absolutely devastating, saying that he's everything from a spoiled brat to a liar to a womanizer and on and on. It questioned everything, including his military record and his reasons for remaining a POW when he had the choice to go home. This article was the media equivalent of a nuclear bomb. 

Back in 2000, Rolling Stone ran a completely different sort of article about John McCain. It was written by the late David Foster Wallace, and it, generally speaking, hailed McCain as a hero. There were times, in the article, when DFW wondered if he was getting sucked in by marketing—whether, in fact, McCain really was what he appeared to be. But there's no mistaking Wallace's admiration and respect for McCain.

This question is, which article should you believe?

That's one of the things that bothers me about the election process. Slander and libel occur on a regular basis, on both sides. Ads mislead and deceive and flat-out lie. Who can you believe? The public is fed misinformation as a matter of course. Candidates don't always do everything they can to correct misperceptions. Many potential voters are unwilling or unable to find the truth on their own. For instance, at this date, how can anyone still believe that Obama is an Arab or a Muslim or a terrorist? He isn't any of those things, yet some people—people who will vote—think that he is.

Here's my solution, at least for the time being, because it's the only course I can come up with: I attempt to separate facts from opinion

If one candidate makes a claim or accusation, I attempt to find facts that back it up. There are legitimate sources out there that can help you sort through it all. 

In the meantime, how do you handle a Rolling Stone article that seems to contradict everything they said eight years ago?  

Friday, October 10, 2008

Good joke.

A drunk man who smelled like beer sat down on a subway next to a priest. The man's tie was stained, his face was plastered with red lipstick, and a half-empty bottle of gin was sticking out of his torn coat pocket. He opened his newspaper and
began reading.

After a few minutes the man turned to the priest and asked, 'Say Father, what causes arthritis?'

The priest replies, 'My Son, it's caused by loose living, being with cheap, wicked women, too much alcohol, contempt for your fellow man, sleeping around with prostitutes and lack of a bath.'

The drunk muttered in response, 'Well, I'll be damned, ' Then returned to his paper.

The priest, thinking about what he had said, nudged the man and apologized. 'I'm very sorry. I didn't mean to come on so strong. How long have you had arthritis?'

The drunk answered, 'I don't have it, Father. I was just reading here that the Pope does.'

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hey OU fans, something to remember on Saturday

Take a look at the rosters for this year's Texas and Oklahoma football teams. 

Number of Oklahoma players who are from Texas: 41

Number of Texas players who are from Oklahoma: 0

Happens this way every year. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Thanks to my friend John Grace for alerting me to this article.

Deer DNA helps state convict Zavalla man of poaching

The Lufkin Daily News

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Zavalla man was sentenced to two years in a state jail and a $3,000 fine last Wednesday for hunting without landowner consent, according to a press release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

An Angelina County jury sentenced 35-year-old David Peters, after DNA evidence was used against him in the case.

DNA was collected by county game wardens James Barge and Heath Bragg. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department forensics analyst Beverly Villarreal tested the DNA from a rifle seized during execution of a search warrant which proved that the rifle had been at the scene of the offense, the release stated.

Other DNA evidence from beer cans located at the scene and DNA from the defendant was gathered with the help of Lufkin Police Department's crime scene technician Debra Walsh and sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab in Houston, according to the release.

Assistant District Attorney Dale Summa told the Associated Press on Monday that investigators took DNA from a sample of deer tissue and matched it to DNA from deer blood found on one of Peters' rifles. They also matched Peters' DNA to that found on beer cans beneath a hunter's deer stand, an AP story stated.

Barge said the case marked the first time in his 11-career as a Texas game warden in which human DNA evidence led to a criminal conviction, according to the release.

"Game wardens Barge and Bragg went far beyond what a lot of officers would typically do in gathering evidence for this case, and they should be commended for their dedication," Angelina County District Attorney Clyde Herrington said in the release. "The use of DNA evidence is something we wish was used more often in our general case load. It was critical in this case."

The jury did acquit Peters of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which allegedly occurred when the land owner caught the defendant with the deer at the scene of the offense.

"One thing about this case that caused some concern among the game wardens and in my office as well is that some of these wildlife crime offenders can be belligerent and dangerous," Herrington stated in the release. "In my view, one of the reasons we have these laws about hunting and fishing is to protect people as well as wildlife."

Peters has filed a notice of appeal, the release stated.

Monday, October 06, 2008

This is how I spend my day.

Watch it below, or click here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A bunch of strangely similar snippets from reviews of Bill Maher's new movie, Religulous...

Is this kind of weird or what?

It's entirely possible to leave "Religulous" thinking the planet is shaped like a barrel and the people living in it are fish that needed shooting. The shooter is Bill Maher, the stand-up comedian who now specializes in bloviating. The fish include anyone who believes in God. (Boston Globe)
While frequently very funny, there is something unsportsmanlike in the glee that Maher takes in baiting the fish in his barrel. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Rather than simply shooting fish in a barrel, however, Charles and Maher have tried to ensure that "Religulous" takes on all comers. Those who laugh the hardest at others may be the ones who find the message of the film's finale most disconcerting of all. (Los Angeles Times)
We see Maher stop at a “truckers’ chapel,” where the good ol’ boys, resembling balding, pot-bellied ducks in a barrel, bristle at their guest speaker and where the preacher confesses to being a reformed“Satanist.” (Boston Herald)
What's more, Maher spears only small fish: marginal ministers, inarticulate eccentrics, some dude who plays Jesus at an Orlando theme park. (Newsday)
One trucker, irritated by Maher’s questions, storms out, declaring, “You start disputing my God and you’ve got a problem.” It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. (Chicago Reader)
Q: It seems like shooting fish in a barrel.
Larry Charles: It’s not though. Why is it? Why do you feel that way? He acquits himself very well. He answers the questions. He has no doubt in his mind about what he believes. (MoviesOnline)
Unsurprisingly, he's unsuccessful in making his interviewees doubt their long-held views. And while he finds hypocrisy, he's after bigger fish. (New York Daily News)
Remember: they all lie. All of them.

Or, at a minimum, they bungle the facts. Here's an article by Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Facts went adrift on taxes, deregulation and more Thursday when Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden clashed in the vice presidential debate. Some examples:

PALIN: Said of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama: "94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction."

THE FACTS: The dubious count includes repetitive votes as well as votes to cut taxes for the middle class while raising them on the rich. An analysis by found that 23 of the votes were for measures that would have produced no tax increase at all, seven were in favor of measures that would have lowered taxes for many, 11 would have increased taxes on only those making more than $1 million a year.
BIDEN: Complained about "economic policies of the last eight years" that led to "excessive deregulation."

THE FACTS: Biden voted for 1999 deregulation that liberal groups are blaming for part of the financial crisis. The law allowed Wall Street investment banks to create the kind of mortgage-related securities at the core of the problem now. The law was widely backed by Republicans as well as by Democratic President Clinton, who argues it has stopped the crisis today from being worse.
PALIN: "Two years ago, remember, it was John McCain who pushed so hard with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform measures. He sounded that warning bell."

THE FACTS: Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska led an effort in 2005 to tighten regulation on the mortgage underwriters -- McCain joined as a co-sponsor a year later. The legislation was never taken up by the full Senate, then under Republican control.
BIDEN: Warned that Republican presidential candidate John McCain's $5,000 tax credit to help families buy health coverage "will go straight to the insurance company."

THE FACTS: Of course it would, because it's meant to pay for insurance. That's like saying money for a car loan will go straight to the car dealer.
PALIN: "We cannot afford to lose against al-Qaida and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us."

THE FACTS: She appeared to confuse the two main Muslim sects in Iraq. Al-Qaida is solely made up of Sunni Muslim militants. Through the course of the war, U.S. forces fought ferocious opposition from both the Sunnis and the country's dominant Shiite sects. Now, both groups are largely maintaining a cease-fire with the U.S. A much-diminished al-Qaida, mainly foreign fighters, remains the primary threat.
BIDEN: Said McCain supports tax breaks for oil companies, and "wants to give them another $4 billion tax cut."

THE FACTS: Biden is repeating a favorite saw of the Obama campaign, and it's misleading. McCain supports a cut in income taxes for all corporations, and doesn't single out any one industry for that benefit.
PALIN: Said the United States has reduced its troop level in Iraq to a number below where it was when the troop increase began in early 2007.

THE FACTS: Not correct. The Pentagon says there are currently 152,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, about 17,000 more than there were before the 2007 military buildup began.
BIDEN: "As a matter of fact, John recently wrote an article in a major magazine saying that he wants to do for the health care industry -- deregulate it and let the free market move -- like he did for the banking industry."

THE FACTS: Biden and Obama have been perpetuating this distortion of what McCain wrote in an article for the American Academy of Actuaries. McCain, laying out his health plan, only referred to deregulation when saying people should be allowed to buy health insurance across state lines. In that context, he wrote: "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."
PALIN: Said Alaska is "building a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline, which is North America's largest and most expensive infrastructure project ever to flow those sources of energy into hungry markets."

THE FACTS: Not quite. Construction is at least six years away. So far the state has only awarded a license to Trans Canada Corp., that comes with $500 million in seed money in exchange for commitments toward a lengthy and costly process to getting a federal certificate. At an August news conference after the state Legislature approved the license, Palin said, "It's not a done deal."
PALIN: "Barack Obama even supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year."

BIDEN: "The charge is absolutely not true. Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote she's referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way."

THE FACTS: The vote was on a nonbinding budget resolution that assumed that President Bush's tax cuts would expire, as scheduled, in 2011. If that actually happened, it could mean higher taxes for people making as little as about $42,000. But Obama is proposing tax increases only on the wealthy, and would cut taxes for most others. In the March 14 budget resolution supported by Obama and Biden, McCain actually did not vote.
PALIN: Said a McCain-Palin administration "will support Israel," including "building our embassy ... in Jerusalem."

THE FACTS: Moving the U.S. Embassy from its present location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a perennial promise of presidential candidates courting the Jewish-American vote. In fact, moving the embassy is actually required by U.S. law. But successive administrations of both parties, including President Bush's, have made the same pledge only to find that the realities of Middle East peacemaking have forced them to invoke a waiver to delay it. Jerusalem is claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel's occupation of east Jerusalem is not internationally recognized. The city's status is a key issue of disagreement in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Another one bites the dust.
Former Round Rock pastor get 5 years for stealing nearly $700,000 from church

Donald Clyde also gets 10 years probation for taking money from Fellowship Forest Creek Church.

By Isadora Vail

Friday, October 03, 2008

GEORGETOWN — A former Round Rock pastor was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison and 10 years' probation after pleading guilty in August to stealing more than $700,000 from the Fellowship at Forest Creek Church.

Donald "Roddy" Clyde pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft in August, both of which carry a penalty of up to life in prison. But as part of a plea agreement, prosecutors and Clyde's defense attorney, Marc Ranc, asked that Clyde receive five years in prison on the first charge and 10 years' probation on the second charge, and that the sentences run concurrently.

State District Judge Ken Anderson accepted the plea deal Thursday, and tailored some of the terms of probation to fit the case. Anderson required that Clyde, once on probation, not be a part of any church for longer than 24 months, and not be a volunteer or hold a leadership position in a church.

Clyde, 49, turned himself in to authorities in August 2007 after he told officials he took money from the Round Rock church to buy vacations, property and horses. He told police that he used the church's bank accounts and credit cards for the purchases.

The finances were questioned when a church accountant noticed unusual transactions on the church's bank statements. After those charges were brought to Clyde's attention and authorities were called, he stepped down as pastor. He'd been with the church, which has a membership of about 1,500, since 1992.

Since the case began last year, about two dozen people from the church have attended every hearing. Most of them said the sentence was too harsh, and they had hoped for probation instead of jail time.

"I think it is a stiff sentence, but I am happy he cooperated with the investigation from the beginning," Ranc said. "He always wanted to tell parishioners that he took responsibility and that he was sorry but couldn't contact them because of the terms of his probation."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Taxpayer funding for the arts. 

I want to talk about a delicate subject—taxpayer funding for the arts. When I say "the arts," that includes a lot of stuff. But I'm going to talk about something specific.

First, though, let me say that I'm not a big fan of tax dollars going to arts programs. I know that sounds like a typical conservative position, but I think it's actually the opposite. Hopefully, by the time I finish with the post, I'll have made my reasoning clear.

This past spring, I spoke to a writers' group about six or seven hours away. They offered an honorarium, but I can't remember how much it was. Probably somewhere between $100 and $200. They also covered my lodging. I've just learned that taxpayer dollars, through the Texas Commission on the Arts, paid for my visit. And, as far as I can tell, that commission, as you would guess, is at least partially funded by the state, and they also receive some federal dollars. 

I'm going to make a broad statement based on my own opinion: It appeared that the attendees at this event could've paid for the event themselves. In fact, I'm pretty sure they did have to pay to attend, and they probably could've paid a few bucks more. None of them appeared to be living near poverty level. I don't see why the event had to receive any tax dollars instead of being self-funded. Honestly, I don't feel comfortable knowing that taxpayers footed the bill for my visit. 

Who pays to fund the commission? We all do. I don't want to get into a specific discussion about how every tax dollar is acquired and where each dollar goes—mostly because I'm not an economist and I wouldn't know the specifics—but I will say this: Every time our government—whether city, county, state or federal—spends a dollar, they have to acquire that dollar from somewhere. Some people might say, well, arts programs are only funded by dollars collected on luxury items or on sin taxes or whatever. (I'm just making that up, by the way.) But the bottom line is, if the state of Texas, for example, needs 10 bazillion dollars to meet its budget, it's going to attempt to collect 10 bazillion dollars in various taxes. If any given government can lower its budget, it can collect less revenue. Right? 

No matter how you massage the message, it appears that lower-income taxpayers are helping fund the arts. Maybe some lower-income people have no problem funding the arts, but I'm guessing many of them would rather have those funds used in another manner, or they'd prefer lower taxes. 

I talked a few weeks ago about receiving honorariums when I speak to library groups. The difference there is that those fees are typically generated by Friends of the Library groups. They raise the funds themselves, through membership dues, auctions, etc. So I'm not being paid by taxpayer dollars. (If I'm wrong about this, please, someone, let me know.) Also, if the library chooses to sell books, they can make a pretty good profit on these types of events, even after paying honorariums to authors. So it's a win-win situation. 

Anyone have any thoughts on this? I freely admit that I'm no expert on this topic, and if I've misunderstood how various funds are generated, please tell me how ignorant I am. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I doubt you'll ever see this video on The Daily Show.

Not Obama's finest moments. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

The people at Oprah magazine have officially told married people to shut up.

Another one bites the dust.

These wacky evangelists just can't seem to stay out of trouble. Frankly, he should also be charged for looking like Conway Twitty. 

(CNN) -- Evangelist Tony Alamo was arrested Thursday in Flagstaff, Arizona, on charges related to a child porn investigation, an FBI spokesman said.

The 74-year-old founder and leader of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries was arrested without incident at 2:45 p.m. (4:45 p.m. ET) as he was departing the Little America Hotel with his wife, said Manuel Johnson, spokesman for the FBI in Phoenix, Arizona.

The FBI, the Flagstaff Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety were involved in the arrest, he said.

Alamo was charged under a federal statute with having knowingly transported a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity, Johnson said.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brutal honesty from Dennis Lehane

Below is a snippet from an article on the Entertainment Weekly site. It's interesting to me that Lehane feels this way, and doesn't seem to be very nostalgic about, or even fond of, the series that launched him. 

Dennis Lehane is done writing whodunits.

''I'd say it's highly unlikely that I'll ever write another one,'' says the best-selling author of five Patrick Kenzie detective mysteries, including Gone Baby Gone, which was made into a movie last year by Ben Affleck. ''I was never comfortable with them anyway. I'd be writing these friggin' whodunits,'' he laughs, getting excited, ''and I could care less. I wanna tell everybody on page 2, he killed so-and-so, he done it! If you look at my books in that regard — and I'll be 100 percent honest about my flaws — you can see how I was whipping out the kitchen sink just to obscure s---, like the identity of the serial killer or whatever, and that's why the books got so labyrinthian in the last 100 pages.''

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ever seen a raccoon with mange?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Spin, spin, spin

Have you seen those new Microsoft ads with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates? If you haven't yet, you won't. They've already been pulled. Some say it's because they were poorly received, but...
...a senior vice president in Microsoft's central marketing group, Mich Mathews, contended in an interview Thursday that it was always the plan to replace the Seinfeld-Gates ads with ones that focus on Windows.

"The notion that we're doing some quick thing to cancel (the Seinfeld ads) is actually preposterous," Mathews said. "Today was always the day. ... Media buying is something you have to do months in advance."
I'm a 20-years-plus veteran of the ad biz, and I can tell you this: he's lying.

Microsoft is desperately trying to come up with something to combat the Mac ads—the ones with the cool Mac guy and the dorky PC guy. All I can say to that is good luck. Now it sounds like they are going to address those ads directly, and I think that's a huge mistake. They should ignore Mac's ads altogether. Or attempt to hire Mac's current agency. 

Trying something new

I've decided I want to pitch a story to This American Life. If you haven't listened to this show on NPR, you really should, and you'll likely become addicted as quickly as I have. What they do is present a collection of stories revolving around a theme every week. For instance, a recent show had a theme of "The Enforcers." One of the stories was about a group of online guys who screw around with scammers on the Internet. They make the scammers look like idiots in ways I won't explain, but it's really funny. They are, in effect, self-appointed enforcers on the Internet.

The trick, for me, is to come up with a story that will be right for TAL. Not just any story will do, even if it's interesting and well told. It has to fit into the personality of the show. The only way to understand the personality is to listen to a bunch of episodes.

Anyway, I've been thinking about some ideas, and I have about six now, but I'm still weighing their merits. Some seem better than others, but it's likely I won't know how good the idea is until I interview the subjects for the story.

One of my good friends (known him since I was about ten) is coming over this afternoon to re-tell me a great story he originally told me a couple of months ago. It's an interesting story about a woman and a strange man she gets involved with. As an added benefit, my friend is a really good storyteller.

After we're done, if I think I've recorded something worthy, I'll edit it together, burn a CD, and send it off. 

Wish me luck. Maybe you'll hear something of mine on the radio. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Do you live in Round Rock, Texas?

If so, please click here.

Thank you. 
The great decision-making hierarchy for speaking engagements. 

Like most authors, I get invited to speak at various events—large and small book festivals, library meetings and luncheons, civic groups' monthly meetings, etc.  The attendance at these events can vary widely.  I've driven eight or nine hours to speak to ten people.  Sort of a letdown.  Then again, I've driven one hour and been pleasantly surprised to find an audience of 150.  

It's fun to get out and talk about my books, but after you've done enough of these events, honestly, the novelty begins to wear off a bit.  Instead of speaking purely for the enjoyment of it, you begin to weigh the potential benefits.  You ask: What's in it for me? How many books will I sign?  Is it worth it to spend a Saturday traveling and speaking rather than doing something else I enjoy?  I'm not alone in this type of thinking, either.  Every serious author I know has eventually developed  an informal system to determine whether he or she will accept a speaking or signing invitation. Here are some of the things I look for myself:

How many years has the event taken place, and what sort of audience does it normally draw?  Will I be speaking to a small group or a large one? 

How far away is it?  I'm much more likely to drive an hour than a day to speak to a smaller group.  

Who's selling the books?  Most groups arrange for my books to be sold, or they invite a rep from a local bookstore to sell books.  If the group has made no plans to sell books—especially if it hasn't even occurred to them that books should be available for purchase—well, frankly, doesn't it make sense than I'd be less likely to participate?  Some of the groups expect authors to bring and sell their own books, and many authors (especially newbies) are willing to do that.  I've done it a couple of times myself, and you can make some pretty good money.  But, ultimately, it's better for me if a bookstore is involved, as that will help spread the word about my books even further.  Plus, I don't have to maintain an inventory and haul books around.  Library groups and civic organizations should also be aware that they can make some good money if they order and sell the books themselves.  (These comments don't apply to private book clubs.  I don't expect them to be in the book-selling business.) 

Which authors have spoken to the group in the past?  If it's primarily self-published authors, that tells me something about the event.  You probably know what it tells me. If the previous authors have been "traditionally published," I might contact one or two of them and see how it went.  Did they draw a crowd? Sign a lot of books?

If other authors will be appearing at the event with me, who are they?  Does it make sense for us to speak together?  Are they self-published?  If they are, I'm more likely to pass.  

Does the organizer seem organized?  Is it a last-minute invitation?  Are all the details plainly spelled out?  Do they appear to know my work?  Or are they merely trying to fill a speaking slot with a warm body? 

This might seem obvious, but if a library group asks me to speak, I'm more likely to do it if they have my books on their library shelves.  I can usually check this online, and there have been a few times when the library did NOT carry my books.  Why would I speak at a library that doesn't carry my books?  

Time of year is important for me.  I turn down more offers during the fall because of deer hunting and college football. 

Okay, the last one, and it's a biggie.  Many organizations offer a speaking fee (also known as an honorarium), and they might also cover travel expenses, including airfare, gas, hotel, meals, etc.  The availability of a speaking fee will certainly impact my decision.  Again, I'm trying to make a living at this.  This might surprise you, but most library groups have a budget for speakers—even if it's just a token amount. Some routinely pay several hundred dollars, or even more, depending on the speaker. (If the library handles book sales, they can still make a very nice profit from the event. If they invite a sales rep from a bookstore, they should ask for a generous percentage of the profits.)  To me, a speaking fee is less important if I'm going to sign a lot of books (say, fifty or more) and meet a bunch of new readers.  

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Central Texas sunset

Snapped this shot yesterday evening, not far from my house.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Telepathy, Plagiarism, Homage, or Coincidence?

This is yesterday's Hagar the Horrible and today's Blondie.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

And the winner for strangest ad on Craigslist goes to...

Free Nine Foot Tall Male Genitalia Statue (NW ATX)

Reply to: see below
Date: 2008-09-04, 7:21AM CDT

I am trying to free myself of this 9' tall statue my grandmother made me, it does not go with my house's theme and sticks out and is too tacky for my taste. I will give to first to come pick it up and get it out of my site. It is all black, and, yes it is of a man's private parts. Please call me immediately, at (deleted). Thanks.
Dear UniCare,

I hate you.

This isn't news, of course.  I've hated you for quite some time.  The hate has grown each year, with each new notice of an increase in my premiums.  

In those notices, you mention the rising cost of health care.  Did those costs rise 25% this past year?  That's how much you increased my premium.  You've increased it about that much every year.  Every single year.  I hate you for it.  I've gotten to where I shudder when I see that large envelope in the mail.

Here's the funny thing, though.  I took a look at the most recent annual report for WellPoint, the company that owns you, and I found some interesting text.  Even though it says your mission is  "To improve the lives of the people we serve and the health of our communities," I think you're being a tad misleading.  

In the letter to shareholders, you mention that in 2007 "WellPoint grew earnings by more than 15 percent."  You also say "we expect 2008 to be a record year...including the highest earnings per share we've ever generated."  

That's the bottom line.  You are making a bunch of profit, and you are doing it by steadily increasing the cost of your health-care plans, to the point where it's just plain ridiculous.  But, at the same time, you're making invalid excuses for raising your rates 25% at a time, every year, year after year.  

That's why I hate you.  Plus, you smell funny. 


Ben Rehder

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Class Act.

There's a question as to how much longer Dave Letterman will hang out late at night, and they deal with that topic in the recent issue of Rolling Stone. Forget all that, though. This is the snippet of the article that moved me:

In the Rolling Stone article, Letterman discusses guests including Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern, with the most moving remarks about musician Warren Zevon, who appeared on "Late Show" shortly before his 2003 death from cancer.

Letterman recalled his "heartbreaking" meeting with Zevon in a dressing room after the show.

"Here's a guy who had months to live and we're making small talk. And as we're talking, he's taking his guitar strap and hooking it, wrapping it around, then he puts the guitar into the case and he flips the snaps on the case and says, `Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.' And I just started sobbing.

"He was giving me the guitar that he always used on the show. I felt like, `I can't be in this movie, I didn't get my lines.' That was very tough," Letterman said.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More Palin, and I don't mean Michael.

Bill Crider sent me this photo, but in defense of my wife's mastery at all things Web, she had already pointed it out to me. 

Bill says, "Might be photoshopped, but who cares?"

Now this is a VP running mate we can all get behind.

Uh, maybe I should rephrase that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some odds. Some ends. 

I haven't been posting much lately, but here are a few tidbits....

For the second year, I acted as a barbecue judge for the San Antonio Masonry Contractors Association.  I'm not qualified, of course, beyond the fact that I have a mouth.  I stuffed myself with ribs, brisket, chicken, and maybe some squirrel.  Burped 'cue for a couple of days. 

Good news!  I've won a luxury car or a bunch of cash or a shopping spree or an "exotic island adventure," according to the friendly folks at the Awards Verification Center in North Richland Hills, Texas.  How nice of them to just randomly give me something so nice.  The thing is, I'm kind of busy right now.  Will someone please call them at 800-525-1289 and let them know how grateful I am?

I was so impressed by the performance of my new superzoom point-and-shoot camera that I'm writing an article about it for an upcoming issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  That way, I can write off the camera!  Take that, IRS!  In your face!

Anybody who deer hunts knows that corn is up to about $11 a bag.  If anybody around here knows where to get it cheaper, let me know.

Haven't been reading much lately, but my lovely wife and I are going on vacation soon, and I plan to do some reading then.  What's that?  Where are we going? Thanks for asking.  The answer is Clearwater, Florida.  Hurricane Fay was nice enough to skirt around that portion of the state.  

Not long ago I watched In the Valley of Elah.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, except for the final minute.  The last scene was a tad predictable, and I thought it was the only part of the movie that was heavy-handed in delivering a message.  I imagine the director weighed the pros and cons of that scene for quite a while before deciding to shoot it. 

Question: Why does the media still report everything Hillary Clinton says about any topic under the sun?

You know what Stephenie Meyer needs?  A PR agent.  She isn't getting enough exposure.