Jul 012015

SCOTUS on Marriage EqualityWell the big news last week was the SCOTUS ruling re: marriage equality, gay marriage, or whatever else you want to call it. I’ll stick with the official title of “Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health”. I have to say, the ruling both relieves and saddens me.

I’ll start by stating from the beginning that I am happy that LGBT marriages are now recognized and have the same governmental rights as do straight marriages.

But now it’s time for me to ramble a bit. Sorry if it bothers you, but there are just so many offshoots on this topic. I’ll try to stay on track, but I’m bound to roam a bit.

First of all, it saddens me that this has been used as such a divisive issue for so long. It saddens me that so many people, even now, are using the ruling to drive wedges even deeper between one another. That people in favor of the ruling are thumbing their noses at people of religion who condemn the gay lifestyle. And that people opposed to the ruling can be so self-righteous in their condemnation. And most of all, it saddens me that so many people are completely overlooking what are, to me, some of the unintended consequences of this ruling.

If I were gay, I would counsel my friends and loved ones to be tolerant of those who condemn me and mine. I would remind them that this is nothing more than a political ruling, and that the real battle is in the hearts and minds of my heterosexual neighbors. I would point out that flaunting and taunting drives wedges, and that what we need to do is build bridges.

If I were Christian, I would counsel my friends and loved ones to remember the words of Jesus when he urged us to look to our own sins before going after those of our brothers and sisters. I would urge them to always remember that above all else, He wanted us to love one another.

But I’m not gay.

I’m not religious.

I’m an agnostic heterosexual male of mixed race and heritage. When people look at me they usually see a tall, overweight, white guy who typically has a smile on his face. I’m happily married, have a great wife of almost thirty years, great kids, and great family in general. I have a very good life. I make it a point to try to see the best in people, and I try not to judge until I know all the facts. Even then, I try to see things from the perspective of the person or persons with whom I disagree. If you know me, you know I love to play devil’s advocate. It may be my biggest conceit – thinking I can get people to see the other side of an argument. And I suppose that’s what I’m advocating here… trying to see things from the perspective of the other person. Because whether you’re straight or gay, religious or not, that whole “Love Thy Neighbor” thing? It’s a pretty good idea.

But I’m also a realist. I know that it’s the nature of people to seek out others who believe as they do. And in the absence of that, they want to justify their beliefs by making others acknowledge them. This inevitably leads to lawsuits and government getting involved, and that’s where things almost always get screwed up. Now, there is something that I do have very little tolerance for, and that’s governmental interference in personal matters. Yes, I’m pretty much a hard and fast Libertarian. I think that the Constitution that the country was founded on was another pretty good idea.

The founders of our nation were refugees. They were attempting to leave behind governments where a person could be imprisoned (or worse) for speaking against the State, or for holding differing religious views than those of the crown. So when they found themselves building a new nation, they wrote a bunch of rules that would hopefully prevent such things from happening again. They called it the Constitution. You know, the document that recognizes certain “inalienable rights”? Rights like the freedom to express yourself politically or religiously without fear of government interference or consequence.

And implicit in the first Amendment of that document is something that most of us learned about in school, but many seem to have forgotten. It’s something that Thomas Jefferson succinctly phrased as the “separation of church and state”. It guarantees a person’s right to practice (or not practice) the religion of their choice, and recognizes that not all people hold the same religious beliefs. It places a safeguard within the very building blocks of our nation, saying that the government has no business interfering with religion.

But there’s the other side of the coin, too. Religion also has no place interfering with government. So you can’t have your cake and eat it, too (so to speak). Either you’re in favor of separation of church and state, or you aren’t. It can’t just be when it pleases you. So am I in favor of removing religious icons from government buildings? Not necessarily… but I fully support the government’s right to do so. Just as I support the church’s right to a tax-free status. “Render… unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Because of that, it bothers me that marriage equality was ever a governmental issue to begin with. Because in typical fashion, the government has hosed it up yet again. Now before you get up in arms, hear me out.

There are several implications to this ruling that I think will come up in the future. For example, how is it that a marriage somehow became a contract between two people AND the government. Why is that? Why do we need to go to the state to get a marriage license to begin with? Shouldn’t it be a civil union license? If you choose to view a marriage as a religious institution, shouldn’t it be a ceremony conducted within, and recognized by a religious entity? And conversely, if you view a marriage as a governmental contract, then shouldn’t it be a ceremony conducted within, and recognized by a governmental entity?

Too radical? For some people, sure. But I’ve seen plenty of arguments for the idea of a civil ceremony that everyone must have in order to gain the government protections currently inherent in traditional marriage. Then, if you want to also be married in the eyes of your God, you can also have a religious ceremony. The religious ceremony can be done at the same time, but should have zero impact on how the State views your union.

But, in my opinion, that’s not the biggest faux pas in this ruling. No, the unintended consequence of the SCOTUS ruling is that they are now acknowledging that a right that is guaranteed in the Constitution must be recognized in all fifty states of the union. Yeah, that sounds funny when you phrase it that way, but I honestly don’t think the SCOTUS majority thought of this.

Let’s step away from whether or not marriage is a right recognized by the Constitution. There are arguments on both sides, and both have valid points. But now there is a precedent. By the logic of this ruling, if the court decides something is covered as a right in the Constitution, it MUST be accepted in all fifty states. Personally, I would think this was self-evident, but there is always a gray area in the definition of certain words.

And there are other gray areas. Because now we have added the personal interpretation of a handful of people into the equation, and that is where you end up with the government overstepping its bounds. There is already an argument being made that concealed handgun licenses (mine is actually recognized as legal in more states than gay marriage was recognized) must now be recognized in all fifty states. The logic is there. The precedent is there. And there is a more concrete foundation for the right to bear arms in the Constitution than there is for marriage equality.

So do all fifty states now have to recognize my CHL? If not, then isn’t this a case of secular cherry picking, just as many opponents to gay marriage cherry pick sections of the Bible as the foundation for their opposition? I know it’s a lot to ask on such a hot topic issue, but if you try to leave emotion out of it, and see the implications of this ruling, where does it really leave us? What will the fallout be?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. Unlike a lot of the people screaming on both sides of the issue, I don’t have all the answers.

All I know is that I’m no better or worse off because of it. After all, I’m not gay. I’m not religious. But I have friends and family who are gay. I have friends and family who are religious. And I don’t see that this ruling has hurt any of them.

But it’s the people who claim to speak for one side or the other that I see behaving so badly. Come on people. Remember that “Love Thy Neighbor” thing we talked about? Let’s give it a try. This ruling didn’t suddenly turn the LGBT community into raving serial rapists who are out to get you and your way of life. And it didn’t suddenly turn Christians into a massive lynch mob that is going to pass judgement and stone anyone who is gay. We are all the same people we were a few weeks ago. We are all adults.

Let’s act like it.

 Posted by at 1:13 pm
Jun 242015

WW1A lot of us writer-type folks seem to be freaking out over Amazon’s changes in its payment policies on the relatively new Kindle Unlimited program. The panic attacks are instigated by misleading article headlines that (whether intentionally or out of ignorance) scream to the rafters that Amazon is once again trying to ruin self-publishing. These headlines scream that the ‘Zon is now only going to pay authors by the page read. According to several of the articles I’ve seen, the author will only be paid for the portion of the books that you (the reader) actually read. I’ve seen all sorts of analogies – from the cook only getting paid for the part of the meal you ate, to the musician only getting paid for the part of the CD you listen to. But that’s NOT what’s going on here folks.

All of us who publish through Amazon received the same email, and it says very plainly,

We’re always looking at ways to make our programs even better, and we’ve received lots of great feedback on how to improve the way we pay KDP authors for books in Kindle Unlimited. One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers. We agree. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that beginning on July 1, the KDP Select Global Fund will be paid out based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.

(NOTE – the underscore and bold in the above quote were added by yours truly.)

When Amazon began Kindle Unlimited, they had a payment plan in which a KU customer could download a book, and as long as they read 20% of the book, the author got paid an equal part of the KU/KOLL (Kindle Owners Lending Library) pool. For those who aren’t familiar, KU and KOLL are programs that allow certain Amazon members to temporarily download e-books, similar to borrowing from a library, so they can read the books without purchasing them at full price. Amazon gets a membership fee as their compensation, and they put a portion of that into a pool to be split among the authors whose books are loaned out to entice more authors to enter programs that make their work available to those customers.

So as I said, when KU came out, as long as the person downloading the book read 20% of it, the author received credit for an equal share of the pool. It didn’t take long for many authors to figure the basic math on that one. Why write a 200 page book that required a reader to read 40 pages before you got paid, when you could write a ten page “book” that required the reader to only read two pages for you to get the same payment? For many authors, the emphasis on writing quickly shifted from writing and publishing novels, to writing and publishing short stories and serialized fiction. I don’t really begrudge those who when that route. It was a basic business decision, and I think everyone involved knew that it was a way of exploiting a loophole in the system. And I think most realized that it was a loophole that was bound to be closed once Amazon figured out how to do it without screwing everyone over. It was pretty much inevitable.

So all the teeth gnashing, and chest beating about how Amazon is screwing the little guy is, once again, nothing more than a bunch of sensationalist BS. Let’s remember that it was just last year that Hachette was screaming to the rafters about how Amazon was using its “monopolistic” position to squeeze the traditional authors out of their pay? Never mind the fact that Amazon paid indies almost three times more per sale than Hachette, or any of the Big 5 paid their authors. Never mind the fact that Amazon’s “monopoly” (which it absolutely isn’t), exists only by virtue of the fact that there is no other place where a customer can go to shop for a book, look for it using all sorts of search parameters and/or keywords, and find it with a few simple clicks of a mouse. Never mind that Amazon’s customers are the ones who determine which books are the best sellers, not the literary critics at a newspaper who get paid to write the reviews.

Monopoly? How is it a monopoly if I can go to Barnes & Noble, or Google, Kobo, Smashwords, or any other online book distributor to buy most books?

“But Amazon requires indies to sell their books exclusively on Amazon!” No, they don’t. They simply make it more attractive and more profitable for those who do. I have experimented with selling exclusive on Kindle Select, and with selling on all the other online distributors. I have done this on several occasions, watching my sales over months to see where it makes more sense for me to place my books. And I have come to the conclusion that for me, it simply makes more financial sense to sell exclusively on Amazon through Kindle Select. The additional money I make via the KOLL “borrows” more than offsets the few paltry sales I get through the other online distributors.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t have any naïve idea that Amazon is in business to promote indie publishers. They’re in business to make money, as most of us are. But I do admire the way they go about it. They recognize that the ones they have to please are not the authors. And it’s not the big traditional publishing houses. From what I see, nearly everything they have done up to this point is in an attempt to please the customer. Isn’t that a novel concept? A business whose primary concern is for the customer!

So look at it from the customer’s perspective. I (the customer me, not the author me) log onto Amazon, and they have a list of items I’ve searched for, items I’ve purchased, items I’ve put in my wish lists, and just about any other kind of item I’ve looked at on their site. They compare that to items purchased or looked at by other people with similar purchase histories, and they put the items in front of me that, based on comparative shopping, they think I might be interested in.

Looking for a fifty inch flat-screen television with smell-o-vision? Sorry, we don’t have that. But people who have searched for similar items have ended up purchasing this similar item for the low price of…. You get the point. Amazon makes it easy to shop on their site. They want to continue to make it easy to shop on their site. Because that’s what keeps us coming back for more.

I’m not going to change that, and the Big 5 aren’t going to change that.

And I find that refreshing.

And before anyone thinks I’m in favor of this because it doesn’t really affect me, since I don’t write much short fiction, let me point out that I will likely begin losing money on this, too. Not because of the KU issue, but because my books are in Kindle Select. This means that I currently get money for people who “borrow” my books via KOLL. And if you recall, KOLL will now also be thrown into the “pay per page” category. And let’s face it, a lot of people who borrow a book via KOLL probably never read it, or don’t read it all the way through. So yeah, I’ll likely see some money lost. That’s why they call it a business. If I see drastic losses, then it will obviously be time for me to re-evaluate whether or not I keep with the Select program. Right now, I make more through Amazon borrows than I did with Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, et al. If this changes things, then maybe I’ll have to go back to publishing in all the other sites again.

I hope not. That’s a lot of work.

All right. Time to get off my soap box. Time to get back to work on the WIP. Stay safe, everyone.  Bye

Jun 222015

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve already fallen off on my resolution to post here daily. I thought about it before letting the blog slide for a few days, but had a couple of people point out to me that the time I was spending on blog posts was time that I wasn’t working on the WIP. It’s a valid point, and after considering it I’ve come to the conclusion that my time would be better served by blogging less, and spending more time on the book.

I’m not yet sure how often I will end up posting, but it will probably be at least once a week… maybe more. Maybe I’ll make Wednesdays my blogging days – “website Wednesday”. Who knows? But today is Monday, and I’m here, so…

So, what’s happened lately? The obvious one is that yesterday was Father’s Day. It was a peaceful relaxed day, with my wife trying to pamper me, and me feeling guilty when she did. The kids all called to wish me a good one, so that was really nice.

The hardest thing about it was trying not to dwell too much on the fact that it was my first Father’s Day since my dad passed. I kept finding myself thinking about him, and at times had to make myself busy doing something else to keep from tearing up. I guess it’s natural, and I know there are so many people who have gone through the same thing or worse. But it’s new for me, and I’m still finding my way.

20150622_071322We spent several hours of Friday evening and Saturday morning on the yard. With it being a much bigger yard, it takes MBH and I working together for a good three or four hours. And for the last two times we’ve mowed, we’ve noticed that the riding mower seems to be cutting crooked. This morning when walking the girls, we got back home and MBH looked at the yard and said, “It looks like one of those crazy hair styles where someone was trying to cut a pattern into their hair.” Personally, I think it looks more like drunken aliens were trying to make crop circles, and couldn’t quite hold the pattern. Either way, it doesn’t look like a well maintained lawn. I don’t know if you can see the lawn art in the attached picture, but there it is. I really need to take a look at the deck of the mower & see if there is some sort of adjustment to straighten it up.

But the garden is growing, the yard is mowed, and today it’s back to writing. Let’s see how that works out today, shall we?

Oh! A PS for the person who left a comment asking whether or not I built this website myself – First, I am using a discontinued WordPress theme called “Suffusion”. It’s very adaptable, and you can pretty much make it look however you want. I elected for a relatively simple color scheme with light print on a darker, static background. Here’s the thing though… your comment appears to be clickbait spam. Granted, if it is, it’s better written than most, but it’s suspicious enough that I’m not going to allow the pending comment through. If you are an actual person, please feel free to reply to this & let me know who you are, but until such time as I am convinced, your link will die in limbo.

Stay safe, everyone.   Bye

Jun 172015

20150616_091753The Birds!

It seems like Mother Nature keeps throwing new things at us. I suppose that’s to be expected when you move to a new place, especially when it’s a rural location. New plants, animals, worms…

Yesterday it was birds… swallows, to be precise. We’ve seen them all around the neighborhood and commented on how nice it is to see something other than the common sparrows we were used to in Houston. But there’s something I never knew about swallows. Swallows like to nest in well protected, shaded areas. Places like you have under your front porch. And they build their nests out of mud and straw.

And they’re evidently VERY stubborn!

A few days ago we found the beginnings of a nest under our front porch. It was just started, so I got the water hose and washed it away. The little guys were understandably upset, but I wasn’t going to have us walking under a nest to get in and out of the front door. Almost immediately, they had started again. And again, I washed it away. Three times we went through that little exercise, until evening fell and it looked like they took the hint.

They started again yesterday morning. Like I said, they’re stubborn. MBH suggested spraying the area with that blue glass cleaner. You know, the stuff that starts with a “W”, but has a copyrighted name? Wink She figured the ammonia smell might discourage them. So I tried it.

It didn’t even slow them down. I don’t know if those little buggers have no sense of smell, or if maybe their stubborn streaks are just stronger than their sniffers, but they kept right on building. It took three more bouts with the water hose before they finally gave up. And yes I checked… no more building this morning. J

And that’s about it for my Hitchcockian adventure of the day. Let’s see what tomorrow presents.

Stay safe!

 Posted by at 2:31 pm
Jun 162015

cabbage wormInvasion of the lettuce eating something or other worm!

We noticed several days ago that there was something munching on some of the green leafies in the Garden Tower. At the time, it wasn’t too much, and I wasn’t too concerned (what with me trying to be Mr. Organic Gardener and all that.) Two days ago, I got much more concerned when I found quite a bit more lettuce chewed, as well as some of the spinach. Worse yet, some of the lettuce was beginning to rot.

Picking through the lettuce, I found several spots with black eggs all over the leaves, and finally, I found this little guy (or more accurately, this gal) happily munching away and laying her eggs. I picked out the leaves she was on, as well as the ones on which she had laid her eggs, and tossed them into the burn pit.

Alas, that was not to be the end of the story. Yesterday was another rainy day, so I didn’t go outside to check on things. Late in the evening, MBH called me outside. She found another of the little buggers, and more eggs scattered throughout an entire section of lettuce. Trying to cut our losses, I pulled the entire pocket from the tower and looked closely for any more eggs or worms. Let’s hope I go them all.

On the writing front, yesterday was a great day. It was the first mostly full day of writing I’ve gotten, and I knocked out just a bit shy of 3000 words. W00t! If only every day could be like that. LOL

So off I go again, to the WIP. Stay safe.