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Archive for the ‘Opines’ Category

Chris kicks it

Posted: Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe

The pope’s main guy in Minnesota showed a disgusting lack of compassion and common sense when he told a Roman adherent that they had to reject their son. The youngster is gay, and Archbishop John Nienstadt said the parents would be condemned to eternal damnation unless they joined him and the pope in their hatred of gay people.

No kidding! What’s more, the self-styled “man of the cloth” put it all in writing.

Enter Chris Kluwe…

Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings punter, continues to stand up for LGBT equality. Here is an excerpt from a letter that he sent to the pope —

“Tell me… what purpose does the Church serve attempting to influence the affairs of a secular state? The federal benefits under law currently denied gay couples certainly fall under the realm of Caesar, don’t they? No one is forcing the Catholic Church to marry gay couples if that is not the Church’s wish. You can keep the sanctity of Catholic marriage solely between heterosexual couples if you feel that is what’s required (again though, I caution you on the dangers of presumed infallibility).

Chris and Isabel Kluwe and family

“All we are asking is for you to extend the open hand of tolerance instead of the closed fist of fear and hate. As American citizens, we respect the right for everyone to practice whichever religion they so choose, including the right to not practice one at all. Haven’t we learned enough from the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Talibans of the world? What does it benefit the Church to attempt to influence secular policy in this country, especially when that influence is to deny basic human rights to others? Will you now assume Caesar’s throne, grasping the transitory ephemera of worldly power and control, while forsaking the eternal kingdom of Heaven?”

 

You built some of it (at most)

Posted: Saturday, September 1st, 2012

It’s no big deal that Republicans who want Barack Obama defeated have taken the president’s words out of context. I expect them to do that.

When they give an attaboy to entrepreneurs to “prove” that they really did build their company, what they’re really doing is telling the rest of us that they seriously don’t get it. They don’t understand what it means to be a complete member of a civilized society.

The current Republican party has taken the notion of individualism and ramped it up to an extreme. Attaboy or attagirl who went out and built a better mousetrap. Goodie for those who are making a fortune from their company.

CRH2 Bullet Train (China)

CRH2 Bullet Train (China)

They didn’t build their company by themselves. If it’s a better mousetrap, there’s the Interstate Highway system that gets the product to market. If it’s a sports team, there’s the taxpayer backed arena where the team plays. The arena was probably built with union labor.

If it’s a service industry, there are clients to schmooze. Along the east coast are our “bullet” trains that really don’t run much faster than trains of the last century. They could be running faster, but the USA decided to stop investing in infrastructure. Trains in Europe are much faster, and everyone uses them because they go absolutely everywhere. Europeans decided – collectively decided – to keep their infrastructure up-to-date. Trains in Japan and Chine are faster than ours. And, most of those trains are electric.

Belgium's "Solar Tunnel"

Belgium’s “Solar Tunnel”

In Belgium, they had to put a roof over some tracks to keep a forest from dropping huge trunks and branches on the tracks. In 2011, they put solar panels on the top of that makeshift tunnel. It generates enough electricity to power 4,000 trains a year.

Our trains are electric, too. Unfortunately each train in the USA has a diesel engine that powers the electric motors, spewing tons of greenhouse gasses that the rest of us get to breathe.

The US economy is sputtering and squeaking. One reason is that the “I built it” crowd has sent so many jobs overseas. Henry Ford – no friend of big labor – paid his autoworkers more than the going rate to put together Model Ts. He said he wanted his workers paid enough so they could afford to buy a Model T.

Today’s industry moguls have forgotten that. They know how to get products made cheaply, but they don’t know how to keep the marketplace running smoothly. They don’t know that it takes consumers to buy their awesome and shiny mousetraps. Cutting costs is only half the equation. If they want to claim “I built that” on cutting costs, it’s a dreadful legacy to leave to their grandchildren.

We need that American oomph that went over and kicked the crap out of Mussolini and Tojo. We need to hear from Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt who kept corporations in check and boosted our system of National Parks and Wilderness Areas. We need to see more Republicans like Ike Eisenhower who launched the Interstate Highway system. We desperately need more Republicans like Abe Lincoln who had the guts to defy the apartheid of our Founding Fathers to let our national Constitution evolve into something more inclusive.

What we need is a little more WE and a little less ME.

Open Letter to Charles Schwab

Posted: Thursday, August 16th, 2012

NOTE: Charles Schwab donated a quarter million dollars to one of those rightwing Super PACs. This is the letter that I sent to him about that–


Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab

Dear Mr. Schwab:

I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. That part of the Bill of Rights was put there to insure we can have a say on political matters, if nothing else. People elsewhere don’t always have this right, and I think it’s absolute when it comes to political expression.

That said, I am a client of the company that bears your name, and I’m concerned about a hefty contribution you made to one of the rightwing Super PACs.

I’m concerned because part of the money you’ve earned off my account has helped fund a political position that feels that I’m a substandard human being.

Those PACs fight against basic human rights for lesbian and gay Americans. Each says that I ought not have some of the privileges you enjoy every day. They say I can’t marry the man I’ve lived with for almost twenty years. When I get sick, they say that he isn’t to be allowed to visit me in the hospital. When I die, the PACs you support say he shouldn’t get anything from my estate.

The PACs you support don’t want me to teach or adopt. In fact, most of them think it’s just fine to fire an American citizen just because he or she was born gay.

One of two things is going on here. Either you agree with all those homophobic (anti-gay) positions, or you have other reasons for supporting those rightwing political special interests and their gay stances are just a minor issue.

The right’s gay stances aren’t minor to me. They want me to sit at the back of the bus and pretend I’m not gay.

I can’t do that, Mr. Schwab. God made me gay, and that’s the life I live. And you are supporting groups that scream and yell that I am somehow less deserving of all those pesky inalienable rights other US citizens take for granted.

My account of $xxxxk isn’t the largest one in your stable, but it is a lot of money to me. Even if your contribution was personal, not corporate/business, I hope you will stop anti-gay political activity with your name because it is extremely offensive to some of the people who are providing your income.

Statistics say ten percent of the population worldwide is gay. You just insulted ten percent of your clients with that contribution to the Super PAC. If you (or the corporation that bears your name) really are anti-gay, let me know, and I will move my accounts. If not, please consider all the consequences of supporting a political position that has a stated intent to squash the rights of a sizeable minority of your fellow countrymen.

Sincerely,

s/Sven Wagner

 

GOProud vs The Gays

Posted: Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Being gay and conservative seems weird to me. Andrew Sullivan is gay and conservative, and he seems likable and reasonable. I don’t understand his political preferences, but I think his views are honest.

Then came GOProud, the rightwing gay group. They endorsed Mitt Romney.

Romney has done so much pandering to the extreme right (tea party) in the Republican Party that he’s emerged as one of the most anti-LGBT candidates ever. He’s no Rick Santorum in his hatred of The Gays, but Romney is definitely anti gay. He wants us to go away and sit at the back of the bus. If my husband is in the hospital, Romney doesn’t want me to have visitation rights. In fact, he wants to take our marriage license/certificate and send it through the federal shredder.

And GOProud endorsed this caustic candidate. It’s like all the hens in the chicken coop voted to make the fox their leader.

But it gets worse. There are seven people on the GOProud board of directors. Only seven people voted on this endorsement. Three of them aren’t even gay.

  • three non-LGBT board members voted for the endorsement
  • two LGBT board members voted for the endorsement

The other two LGBT board members voted No.

GOProud isn’t a gay group after all.

When news broke about the endorsement, I was confused. Romney is such an awful candidate with completely caustic views that I thought it was a dismal day for LGBT politics.

Nope: it’s worse than I thought. My gay brothers and sisters on the right have abdicated. They are letting non-LEGT people sway their group. They’re letting straight people make endorsements that no sane gay person would ever make.

 

About e-book price fixing

Posted: Monday, June 4th, 2012

From the Authors Guild

This summer, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote will review the Justice Department’s proposed settlement of its lawsuit alleging that five large publishers and Apple colluded in introducing agency pricing for e-books. Judge Cote’s task is to determine whether the proposal is in the public interest. We encourage you to submit your own comments on the settlement, which the Tunney Act requires the Justice Department to read, consider, address, and deliver to the court. We’ll get to the mechanics of submitting comments (it’s quite simple) in a moment.

First, here’s our view, in a nutshell: the proposed settlement is not in the public interest, because it needlessly imperils brick-and-mortar bookstores while it backs an online monopolist and discourages competition among e-book vendors and e-book device developers. The settlement needs to be rethought, and substantially modified.

Agency pricing, in which the e-book vendor acts as the publisher’s “agent,” with no authority to change the retail price of the book, was a reaction to a specific anticompetitive provocation – Amazon had been routinely selling frontlist e-books at below cost. Amazon’s predatory tactic wasn’t scattershot; it was (and remains – Amazon continues to deploy this weapon with the titles of non-agency publishers) highly targeted. When not constrained by agency pricing, Amazon chooses to absorb substantial losses on e-book editions of a specific subset of new hardcover books: those that are most likely to be stocked by traditional bookstores.

The Justice Department’s proposal, which would permit Amazon to resume using the frontlists of three major publishers for anticompetitive purposes, appears to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the market for trade books, particularly the interplay between the online market for print books and the e-book market. Amazon, which has long commanded 75% of the online market for print books, clearly understands that relationship well. The story of the introduction of the Kindle is largely a story of Amazon exploiting its dominance in the online market for print books to gain control of the e-book market.

Frontlist, Backlist, and the Rise of Online Bookselling

To understand the U.S. market for trade books, one needs to understand how online retailing has radically altered the competitive landscape of bookselling.

The literary marketplace has traditionally been divided into two broad submarkets: frontlist (the season’s new books) and backlist (everything else). Retailers faced the most competition in selling frontlist books – new hardcovers and new paperbacks were the most likely titles to appear on the shelves of stores (bookstores, airport newsstands, and big box retailers, among others) across the country. Backlist books were far less likely to be on store shelves, except for the relatively rare “core backlist” titles that had become steady sellers (To Kill a Mockingbird, Green Eggs and Ham, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, for example). “Deep backlist” books, a subcategory of backlist books that were sold almost exclusively through special orders or at used bookstores, were the least commercially available books.

With the rise of online bookselling, these categories still largely existed, but online booksellers, with endlessly long bookshelves made possible by inexpensive warehouse space and on-demand printing technology, came to dominate the market for backlist and especially deep backlist titles. For nearly all backlist books, representing roughly 90% of all in-print titles, the online market had become the market, and Amazon owned the online market. The deeper one traveled down the backlist, the more complete Amazon’s dominance. Amazon had even gained control of the furthest end of the long tail – out-of-print books – by buying up the major competing online used bookselling networks.

Online Print Book Dominance Dictates Amazon’s E-Book Tactics

From Amazon’s perspective, as it prepared to launch the Kindle, the print book market had two components: the part in which it faced significant competition (the market for new books and core backlist titles) and the part in which it didn’t (everything else). Amazon would leverage its online print book dominance to conquer the e-book market, protecting its profits on 90% of titles by focusing its predatory tactics on the other 10%, the books that were most likely to be on store shelves.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores were in the crosshairs, jeopardizing vital participants in the literary ecosystem. Bookstores remain critical showrooms for works by new or lesser-known authors and for entire categories of books, such as children’s picture books. Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more open to trying new genres and new authors when in a bookstore than when shopping online.

It seems to come down to browsing versus searching. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are optimized for browsing; the stores’ “search engines” – their information desks – aren’t what draw in customers. A reader browsing the shelves and tables of a bookstore is often hoping to discover something unexpected. Virtual bookstores, on the other hand, are optimized for search – browsing isn’t the attraction. Readers behave accordingly, tending to use virtual bookstores as search engines to find books they’ve discovered elsewhere.

Publishers were aware of much of this and that the health of brick-and-mortar bookstores relied heavily on frontlist hardcover book sales, but Amazon persuaded them to break with established practice and release books in digital form at the same time they released them as hardcovers. The protection for the hardcover market (and brick-and-mortar bookstores) was implicit: Amazon agreed to pay the same wholesale price for e-books that it did for hardcovers.

Things didn’t work out. As Amazon launched its Kindle in November 2007, publishers learned that it would be selling a long list of frontlist e-books at a loss. As Scott Turow said in his letter to members on March 9th:
It was as if Netflix announced that it would stream new movies the same weekend they opened in theaters. Publishers, though reportedly furious, largely acquiesced. Amazon, after all, already controlled some 75% of the online physical book market.

Amazon quickly captured the e-book market as well, bringing customers into its proprietary device-and-format walled garden (Sony, the prior e-book device leader, uses the open ePub format). Two years after it introduced the Kindle, Amazon continued to take losses on a deep list of e-book titles, undercutting hardcover sales of the most popular frontlist titles at its brick and mortar competitors. Those losses paid huge dividends. By the end of 2009, Amazon held an estimated 90% of the rapidly growing e-book market. Traditional bookstores were shutting down or scaling back. Borders was on its knees. Barnes & Noble had gamely just begun selling its Nook, but it lacked the capital to absorb e-book losses for long.

The publishers had made a huge mistake.

Taking Aim at One Percent

Even as it targeted the 10% of titles sold in bookstores, Amazon would be selective. Amazon could get the most bang for its buck by taking aim at the narrow band of books on which its brick-and-mortar competitors were most dependent – those new titles from larger publishers that bring readers into bookstores. Once in the stores, a reader might choose to purchase other books within the list of 10% of titles in which Amazon faced competition: it was best, from Amazon’s perspective, to keep readers out of bookstores and safely online, on Amazon’s turf.

So Amazon’s predation focused on a slice within a slice of the literary market. Amazon would sell at a substantial loss the electronic versions of select new hardcovers: the new bestsellers, near bestsellers, and might-become bestsellers from commercial publishers. Our best estimate was that Amazon’s predatory tactics focus on less than one percent of in-print titles.

Amazon’s highly selective predation not only conquered the e-book market, it paid immediate dividends in the print book market. Marketing studies confirm what Amazon no doubt guessed: readers who buy Kindles tend to dramatically shift their print book purchases to Amazon.

The strategy was brilliant, a predatory feedback loop in which online print book dominance allowed Amazon to absorb selective losses to gain control of the e-book market, which in turn gave Amazon an ever-larger share of the print book market. It was a tactic Amazon could continue indefinitely, as it offset its losses on the most recognizable new e-books by taking profits on e-books by lesser-known authors, on backlist e-books, and on its growing share of print book sales.

After Two Years of Predation, Agency Pricing Opens the E-Book Market

For more than two years Amazon’s predatory pricing went unchecked. Then, in January 2010, one month after B&N shipped its first Nook, Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s iPad, with its iBookstore and its proven iTunes-and-apps “agency model” for selling digital content. Five of the largest publishers jumped on with Apple’s agency pricing, even though it meant those publishers would make less money on each e-book they sold. Again, from Scott Turow’s March 9th letter:
Publishers had no real choice (except the largest, Random House, which could bide its time – it took the leap with the launch of the iPad 2): it was seize the agency model or watch Amazon’s discounting destroy their physical distribution chain. Bookstores were well along the path to becoming as rare as record stores. That’s why we publicly backed Macmillan when Amazon tried to use its online print book dominance to enforce its preferred e-book sales terms, even though Apple’s agency model also meant lower royalties for authors.

Agency pricing brought real competition, steadily loosening Amazon’s chokehold on the e-book market: its share fell from 90% to roughly 60% in two years.

Agency pricing allowed cash-strapped B&N to make substantial investments in e-readers with the reasonable hope of earning a return on those investments. Customers are benefiting from the surprisingly innovative e-readers those investments have delivered, including a tablet device that beat Amazon to the market by a full twelve months.

Authors in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program benefited as much as anyone, as Amazon more than doubled its royalty rates to match Apple’s agency model royalties.

Most importantly, agency pricing has prohibited Amazon from using the most popular new books from six large publishers to undermine the economics of bookselling. Agency pricing has given bookstores a fighting chance.

The Proposed Settlement Allows Amazon to Resume Its Predatory Practices

The Justice Department’s proposal undoes all of this. Its settlement with three large publishers would require the publishers to allow Amazon (and other e-book vendors) to sell e-books at below cost, so long as the vendors don’t lose money on the publisher’s entire list of e-books over a 12-month period. Amazon, a far richer and more powerful corporation than it was even two years ago, has every motivation to revert to its prior ways – it will take losses on the books that bring customers into bookstores, and make it back on less popular and backlist books. It will lose money on the one percent, and make it back on the rest.

The Justice Department is sanctioning the destructive, anticompetitive campaign of a corporate giant with billions in cash and boundless ambitions. The situation is bizarre, and without precedent, to our knowledge: the Justice Department is intervening to help entrench a monopolist.

We encourage all authors to speak up, and let the Justice Department know that bookstores play a vital role in our literary ecosystem, and the public has a strong interest in protecting them from predation.

So fast, it’s hard to follow

Posted: Friday, May 25th, 2012
Photo by Mark Singleton

Photo by Mark Singleton

When the homophobic California law called “prop 8” up for a vote, it passed mainly because of two things.

  1. Religions dumped millions of dollars into anti-gay advertising in the state. The Mormons and Roman Catholics gathered up their tax-free donations and used the money to influence a political struggle for equal rights. They’re hate-mongers, and there’s little excuse for not taxing them if they are going going to act like political machines.
  2. African American voters came out in record numbers because Prop 8 was on the same ballot as Barack Obama, the first black president. At the time, people of color were solidly against equal rights for gay men and lesbians. They helped push the anti-marriage measure through. It passed with 52% of the vote.

Since then, there has been a shift in public opinion like I’ve never seen before. In just a few short years, support for equal treatment for LGBT citizens has grown.

There are three reasons, I think.

  • More gay people have begun to live their lives in the open. They don’t hide. They aren’t closeted. This is huge. Study after study says that when straight people support equality for LGBT people, it’s because they know somebody who is gay. Just living openly and honesty is the best thing any LGBT person can do.
  • President Obama announced that he is not going to challenge DOMA (anti-marriage federal statute). He says his administration considers it unconstitutional. It is. When I was a kid, people could go to Las Vegas or Mexico to get a “quirky” divorce when their home state disallowed the divorce. After the quirky out-of-town divorce, it was accepted by the home state. There was never a question about it: if you get divorced in Las Vegas, you’re divorced everywhere. DOMA says that doesn’t apply to gay couples. Rick and I were married in Washington, DC. It was a legal wedding that is recognized by the civil authority in DC. It is recognized by the canons of my church. It is not recognized by my home state of Texas. It is not recognized by the federal government. What happened in DC is supposed to stay in DC, and that’s wrong. If a straight couple had gotten married there, Texas would see them as married. I don’t have equal protection. Texas is homophobic and wants to keep queers in their place. That’s wrong. DOMA is evil. The Texas constitutional amendment that says two dudes can’t get married is hateful and un-Christian, but bubba likes to be hateful. President Obama started a change in attitude when his administration told government lawyers to stand down in DOMA cases. It’s more than a legal move. It changes public perception of DOMA and all the anti-gay hate laws.
  • President Obama and Vice President Biden and several Cabinet secretaries have said publicly that they support marriage equality. The NAACP (the largest group for racial equality in the US) came out in support of gay marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center has branded some of the worst anti-marriage organizations as Hate Groups. They are! I personally am so grateful to the NAACP and SPLC for their action.

There was a time recently when I was building up a big resentment over this. I worked for equality for people of color. When I was a pimply-faced kid, I even took part in a march headed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I am not a newbie to the issue of equal rights. The content of ones character really is more important than some accident of birth, like skin color. I’ve worked and pushed and marched and protested, and I never did it wanting anything in return. It was just the right thing to do.

Then Prop 8 passed, and it passed because of people of color came out to vote for Barack Obama. LGBT equality isn’t a “civil rights” issue, they said. Marriage should be between one man and one woman, they said.

They are wrong. What we have in the US is marriage apartheid. Heterosexuals can marry, but they don’t want anybody else to have the same laws opened to same gender couples.

And then came Biden… and Obama… and the NAACP… and the SPLC. Reports about bullying and gay suicides became everyday reports on the news. The military started letting gay soldiers serve without lying about their sexual orientation (and the effectiveness of the military hasn’t suffered). Cadets who are openly gay are being graduated from American military academies, and they are beginning to serve with honor.

Now the shift has begun. Latino voters have always supported LGBT rights. In the big cities, gay ghettos are often situation right next to Latino neighborhoods. We’ve been buddies for years.

The change is with black voters. When President Obama and Vice President Biden talk about equal rights and justice, people listen. When the NAACP goes public over gay rights, people of color — especially older black people — notice.

I am so grateful to them. I am in awe of Mr. Obama. He truly is the first “gay president” … like Bill Clinton was the first “black president.”  President Obama didn’t have to do such a risky thing as come out so strongly for equal treatment for LGBT citizens. It was gutsy, and I am so grateful to him. What he did was more than the occasional lip-service some pandering politicians have done in the past.

When I first heard about it, I didn’t think it was a big deal. I was wrong. This is epic. It is huge, and I wish that we could get all those suicides back to see it. I wish we could bring soldiers like Leonard Malcovich back to life so he could see that soldiers don’t have to lie in the America.

It’s going to be huge when my marriage to Rick is recognized in Texas and the other hate-filled South. But the real news will be when two women get married, and it doesn’t make the news except in the wedding listings of the local paper. The real news is when we have equality that isn’t a big story.

Leonard Matlovich grave
Matlovich’s grave at the Congressional Cemetery. The tombstone reads: “A Gay Vietnam Veteran When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one” Photographer: Michael Bedwell

Traditional Chattel

Posted: Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The day after President Obama said he supported marriage equality for lesbians and gays, his Republican opponent — Mitt Romney — said he wasn’t even convinced that a gay “partner” should be allowed visitation rights in a hospital. It wasn’t one-step-forward / two-steps-back. To get from the president to the Republican position doesn’t even involve steps. You need a car.

Mr. Romney wasn’t alone. Most Republicans, including the gays in the Log Cabin Republican group, have been against what Mr. Obama said. Gay Republicans are against this. They say the announcement was pure politics. If they want to see “politics as usual” they need to look in a mirror. They’ll be against whatever the president does, even when he says he supports gays and lesbians.

Politics as usual from the right says they’re in favor of traditional marriage. Maybe we could look at that. When the Old Testament was being written, marriage had a specific purpose. Traditional marriage was a civil institution in Israel because it gave the husband a list of belongings. The wife was chattel, according to the traditional laws. The wife belonged to the husband, and marriage was instituted for that very purpose. The wife was in the list of goodies that included the goat and the pots and pans.

And that’s what the Republican hate-mongers want? Every time I hear “traditional marriage” I have to smile. They’re ignoring what is actually tradition when it comes to marriage.

They might say chattel isn’t what they meant. They’ll say they only mean that traditional marriage is between “one man and one woman.” Maybe they stress “one” because their presidential candidate is a Mormon, and we all know that group has a history of giving polygamy a test drive or two.

I’ve been attacked by right-wingers who tell me that everybody knows Christian marriage is between a man and a woman. They want to concentrate on Christian marriage. Like Charlemagne?

Charlemagne was a great Christian ruler in Europe toward the end of the 700s. He was so Christian that he received his royal crown by the pope. He loved women. He loved them so much that he was married to at least 10 of them. Ten wives… mostly at the same time. Charlemagne fathered 18 children with the help of 8 of those wives. He almost qualified for a wholesale rate or harem rate or something.

When one of these latter day wedge-issue politicians mention “traditional marriage,” I like to ask which tradition. Is it the one where the holy institution of Old Testament marriage gave the husband lots of property rights? Or maybe it was the New Testament tradition of Charlemagne’s stack of marriage writs.

I also heard Mr. Romney grow tired of journalist’s questions about marriage equality and medical marijuana. He snapped at the reporter, asking her if she had any questions on “significant” issues.

We have a clear choice in the next election for US president. Clear indeed.

Marriage chattel versus marriage equality.

Dred Scott v. Sandford versus Brown v. Board of Education.

Banned by Wikipedia

Posted: Tuesday, April 24th, 2012


This is a note from my publisher, Mystic Ways Books —

We have been officially banned from Wikipedia. They say it is forever. Our crime: updating the bibliography on the bio page of one of our authors. If you want information about our books, Wikipedia is not the place to look. We had a quick meeting and decided to shake the dust off our sandals and not even respond to this arbitrary action on the part of a factless website.

As usual, they are accepting the news with a lot more grace than I would.

Remembering Europe

Posted: Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

My first visit to Europe was in 1966.  I was a teenager with more git-up-and-go than sense.

A friend an I flew to London (Heathrow) and immediately hopped on a train to Yugoslavia. We were going to meet some of my friends buddies there. They lived in a Communist country, and Yugoslavia was one of the few places we could all reach without too much hassle.

We met in Opatija, in what is now Croatia. While my friend was catching up with his Communist friends, I busied myself discovering the local breads and mineral waters. I spent hour after hour swimming in the Adriatic. You know those pretty urchins? They can really hurt when you step on them. Ouch.

The most common language back then was French. My French really sucks. When I tried, they’d usually just chuckle and ask me to go back to English.

I had two assets: a Eurail pass which gave me unlimited travel on the European train system and a suitcase of Levi 501 jeans. The trip across the English Channel was brutal. Crossing that bit of water was almost a half a day, as I recall. They broke apart the train and loaded all the cars onto ferries to slosh from England to France. We took the Eurostar on a more recent trip. Crossing the English Channel through the Chunnel was a whopping 13-minutes. It just isn’t such a big deal as it once was.

The Levi jeans were along because somebody said I could make spending money on them. Holy moly, they were right. Back then 501s were something of a rarity in Europe. It seemed like everybody wanted a pair, and they were willing to pay much more than I thought they were worth. I basically ended up with an empty suitcase and a full wallet.

With the train pass, we didn’t have to worry about things like schedules. We rolled into Munich one afternoon and found the entire city was full. There was some kind of crazy convention or event going on. Even the youth hostels and ma-and-pa room rentals were full. No worries: Eurail Pass to the rescue. At the ticket counter, we asked for the next sleeping car on the schedule. Our pass let us get a sleeper by paying an upgrade from First Class. It meant that a fancy sleeper was cheaper than most hotels. And that’s how we came to visit Hamburg. We hadn’t planned on visiting that place. It was my first “red light” district. (Who knew they existed for-real. Right?)

My friend took great pains to introduce me to what he called a German delicacy: sweetbread. His obvious delight should have been a clue, but I’m a slow learner. I think “sweetbread” is a high-follutin word for a cow’s thymus gland. I decided two things that day: first, I was going to make damn sure I knew what I was eating before I ate it; and second, I was going to lay in a serious plot to get my friend to eat some “calf fries” on our return to Texas. I’ll see your thymus and raise you a cojone or two. Hamburg: such memories.

We went to the town of Bayreuth in Germany. It’s the home of a big Festival of Richard Wagner’s operas. I’m not a fan of opera. If I were a fan of opera, I still wouldn’t like Wagnerian operas. But we went because (a) my friend loved Wagnerian operas, and (b) he loved tormenting my ears. Those things are so long that they break for food during intermission. My friend dragged me to the stage door:

“Herr Bohm,” he told the guy at the stage door. “Ich bin ein Freund.” There were some more words, but I don’t remember them. Anyway, in a few minutes, this old guy walked up. They obviously knew each other. Karl Bohm was one of the greatest conductors of Wagnerian operas in history, and my friend knew the guy. Not only did they know each other, but we ended up at a local restaurant during intermission. The two of them were rattle off things too fast for me to translate, so I just ate and drank beer. I don’t know if it was legal for a 15 year old to order beer, and I never asked. I just ordered it and drank. And drank. And drank. I missed the entire second half of the opera marathon because I was passed out up in a corner of the festival house.

Everybody has their own memories of adventures. My memories of Bayreuth have gaping holes.

We hit Belgium and the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. In Italy, we spent several weeks going through cathedrals and museums. In Austria, we got up into the bell tower just before noon. If you haven’t heard humongous bells sounding out the Angelus from a distance of a meter or two, it’s something you won’t soon forget. I learned two things that day: first, you can’t hope to stay standing when the bells are that loud; and second, my traveling companion had a total mean streak.

In Austria, my friend took me to the apartment of an old friend of his: György Ligeti. I didn’t know the guy was famous. I just thought he was a really old guy. Ligeti was a composer, but he never did music you could hum or understand. Ligeti once composed a piece for pipe organs where you put little weights on all the keys and selectively remove them one at a time. It was a kind of inverse music. The trouble was that they picked a pipe organ in Lübeck in East Germany. It was a famous organ, and Ligeti’s music blew out some of the organ’s guts. This famous organ was designed by a short-sighted engineer who didn’t think somebody like Ligeti would try to have every pipe blowing throughout the song. Ligeti was asked to leave Lübeck.

At Ligeti’s apartment in Vienna, his wife served us ice cream. She apologized because it was Thursday. My friend had to explain it to me. It was an “ice cream Thursday” (sundae). International puns can be tricky on the best of days.

So a couple of years after this trip, I saw Stanley Kubrick’s moving, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the credits rolled, I saw “György Ligeti” scroll across the screen. He wrote some of the music for the movie. Cool, I know this guy! His was the weird wonky stuff you can’t hum or whistle. Nobody ever tapped their foot to a Ligeti creation. Whatever. I wrote to Mr. Ligeti and told him how happy I was to see he was branching out into theatrical music. He wrote back that he knew nothing of the matter. Apparently Mr Kubrick thought he could slide the music through without paying for it. It ended up in court. Ligeti sued. Whoever owned the rights to Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube and Richard Strauss Also sprach Zarathustra also sued. This was all from a stupid congratulations letter from me.

Years later, I saw a note in the newspaper that Ligeti finally settled with the movie company. I wrote to him, suggesting that a finder’s fee would be justified. I asked him if I would get a cut. Mr. Ligeti wrote back, saying that what I got from the transaction was his gratitude.

Humph! Artists.

We almost went to Venice, but there was a thunderstorm raging when our train rolled into the station. That much water in a thunderstorm: we begged off and stayed rolling.

In Paris… yum. There were cathedrals and all the famous buildings. We did the Louvre for three or four days, and we weren’t even close to being finished walking through it.

One evening, we decided to catch a ballet. It was Bluebeard by Michel Fokine, not my favorite but we could afford the tickets. During intermission, I met the most adorable French guy. He was about my age (15) or there abouts. And he was stunningly sexy as so many French men are. I was smitten to the point that I completely missed the second half of the ballet. And for the next few days, the French boy and I were inseparable. I wanted to figure out a way to immigrate, but my evil/mean travel buddy told me that my collection of Levi 501s would probably run out before I was able to learn enough French to get a job. (Bitch.)

It was a glorious few days in total lust with my French pastry. We ran and skipped and kissed through the windy streets of that city. Great fun.

Back at our youth hostel, there was a phone message for me. This was a time when calls between France and the USA were difficult and expensive. It had to be my French boy toy because he was the only person who knew where we were staying.

Nope. It was a phone message from my mother. She reminded me that the streets of Paris have eyes, and that she expected me to act with the decorum of a proper 15 year old.

From that day to the day mom died, she refused to tell me how she knew.

I’ve been back to Europe several times. Somehow none of the stories are as whacked as 1966 when I was 15.

Health care trickle-down

Posted: Friday, April 6th, 2012

Wynn WagnerThe GOP says companies should not be forced to pay for health insurance benefits they don’t like. No big brother, they say.

I don’t remember a single employer in my life that was qualified to judge what health care I need.

  • Big government is an open forum with elected officials.
  • Big business is a secret club of rich guys.

It is only with government that I have any input.