Archive | March, 2021

Lest We Forget

21 Mar

One of my favorite words in the English language is “cenotaph,” a memorial for someone who died but NOT at a gravesite. There’s lots of these, and most of the time, our eyes glaze over these. So who are these memorials for?

I personally love statues–as a history buff, I like to be reminded about what had happened in the past, and find out more. As a Navy brat, I honor those who served. However, not everyone thinks the same way as I do. We make a lot less statues these days. So when you find a memorial, it’s usually much older.

They’re also not cheap. Which means someone thought enough of this person(s) to raise the money for them. Veterans memorials are easy to understand. Those who served want people to know that their neighbors gave their lives in a conflict that they themselves served in. It’s a chance for them to remember their brothers and sisters who didn’t come back. It’s hard to do that; I’m a member of a veterans’ organization, and at the bar every night at 7 pm, there’s a toast that everyone repeats:

To those that went,
To those who are there still,
To those who have not returned,
To those who never will.

7 o’Clock Toast

It is a very moving, very simple ceremony, and I love participating when I can. However, you want to know that your sacrifice was honored, which is why the WWII memorial in DC was so important. Veterans were flown out to see their memorial.

However, then there are the memorials to those who died a long time before. Take a less controversial example – the Alamo Cenotaph. This was built in 1936 to honor the Battle of the Alamo a hundred years before. So they died and any kids of theirs had died long ago. So what were they celebrating? Statehood? History? Sure, but there’s a more insidious remembrance of that. They were saying, “We’re Texas. We won our independence, and we’re still independent!” On the other end of the spectrum, it’s not an accident that California’s flag says “California Republic” (even though they didn’t even bother with a war… or a government lasting longer than a month).

But what the father wants to remember, the son wants to forget. Trust me, if someone put up a statue to honor the Capital Hill occupation in Seattle last year, fifty years from now, some group would want to tear it down because the protestors were “slaveholders” of dogs and cats, and ate the flesh of animals for their food.

As you can see, I’m torn on the issue of memorials. I certainly don’t want one for myself. But what do you think? Are statues a waste of time; better to honor the living than the dead? Or do they serve a purpose in our society, regardless of their intent? Let me know in the comments below!

And after that, why not check out one of my books! Or if the $1.99 is too rich for your blood, download some of my stories. You’ll be glad you did.

Getting Out of My Own Way

20 Mar

My middle school counselor once told me, “You’re like a man driving a car with your feet on the gas and the brake pedal. If you can take your foot off the brake, you’ll go faster.” In so many ways, we are our worst enemy, and constantly get in the way of what we seek.

Now I could blame a lot of that on my ADD, but everyone has some reason why they can’t succeed, and the truth is that it doesn’t come easy to anybody. In school, I was frequently bored, and if I didn’t see the point of an assignment, I didn’t apply myself. So my grades suffered. For example, we were required to do a project for driver’s education where we had to cut out fifty traffic accidents out of the newspaper (yes, I’m dating myself) and indicate how this could have been avoided. I thought this was stupid and didn’t do it. So I didn’t get to the driving part of the course and didn’t get my license until I was 21.

It was only when I went to grad school–much later in life–that I was able to focus… although that probably had more to do with me paying for it directly.

This affects all parts of your life. For example, I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 25. I was brought up with a firm belief in “love can wait,” but the schpiel went something like this: “When you’re ready, God will find someone who is also ready for you, and you won’t be alone any more.” No one explained that you actually have to ask women out. Now that sounds silly, but to a socially awkward boy like myself, this was an important step that was left out. So I had crushes, and the few times I actually got the gumption to do it, I got shot down a lot.

“Oh, boo-hoo, Marcus, me too.” Let me explain–when I asked someone out, it was because I was convinced I wanted to marry them. I was already committed at that point. I didn’t understand the idea of just dating to have fun–or get laid–or just to not go alone to a movie. Everything was at a higher level because the dumbasses who came up with a abstinence problem thought kids knew the basics. It was only have therapy, and lots of rejections after, that I could actually get my first girlfriend.

Work is like that too. I always remember the phrase “high school never ends.” In a way, my boredom has always been a determining factor in my career. I liked being on stage, but because I was always taught “you need to be paid for work,” I never even considered being an actor or musician. When I went into teaching, I think it was because I enjoyed being an actor, but had a captive audience. It was a natural fit. But when I got my teaching certificate, it never occurred to me to “volunteer” in the place I wanted to travel to… and being a history teacher, I wasn’t exactly in demand. So as I joke, “I wanted to go overseas in the worst way, so I went overseas in the worst way.” I took a job as a dorm parent, because at least it was in an overseas school. I insisted on teaching a class in an addition to working a full job, not thinking that I really needed the time off instead. Nope. So in a role that I wasn’t ready to handle, I burned out pretty hard.

It worked out in the end, but man, if I could just get out of my own way, I figured I could have gotten there a lot faster. I’m sure I’m not alone in this–what obstacles did you put in your own way? Let me know in the comments below!

And if you like my writing, why not pick up one of books? Or if the $1.99 threshold is too much of an “obstacle,” download one of my free stories instead!

Technically Brilliant, Still #@%$*!

19 Mar

What is the point of creating a wonderful, detailed world if you can’t write a story in it? What’s even worse? Writing a story that bores your readers.

I’ve talked about the difference between storytellers and stylists before, but since I started a book recently, it’s been back on my mind. After stopping by a Little Free Library, the book that I found is Brightness Cove by David Brin. I’m sure part of my discontent is that this the beginning of a second trilogy in this universe, so I have no history with this series. So I’m coming into this book blind.

Right from the beginning, the world building was exquisite. Six different races living in harmony, a whole religion based on hiding from the rest of the universe. Brin writes well-developed characters that inhabit three (or four) different storylines, telling the whole planet’s story as it is revealed. It’s a brilliant creation!

But I’m halfway through the book and… I couldn’t give a damn. Part of the brilliance of the world building is its downfall. Six races are about three too many to keep track of in my head. Oh, and throw in alien animals with strange terms, and I have to think, “Is that the cat thing? Or is that a cow? Which is it?” When I start getting confused, I just tell myself to ignore it–after all, it’s not crucial to the plot. However, I was finding myself ignoring more and more of the detail that the book was becoming incomprehensible.

This book includes a map, which is good because it’s one of my pet peeves, but if you don’t mention where any of this action is happening until page 80, it’s useless to me. Which gets to the three (or four) different storylines–technically there’s four, but the fourth so rarely comes into play that I’m surprised when it shows up! It follows the three adult children of this papermaker we meet at the beginning, which helps, but then there’s this group of tentacle alien kids who are obsessed with English lit who are built an undersea ship so they could fulfill their dreams of being Jules Verne. (It actually makes sense in the story.) Oh, and there’s this other alien that’s supposed a leader, but only appears to let the reader know that “here’s what’s happening at the higher level.” Of course, I didn’t know it was an alien–or what type of alien–because the author didn’t bother explaining that race until page 150.

I think any one of these stories would be worthwhile to follow on its own. I like the young woman taking care of the wounded man who came from the stars. I like the scout who finds a girl who came from beyond their hiding spots. I could do without the monk or the alien kids, but maybe if I had time to concentrate on all the characters there, I might care more. There is just TOO MUCH going on here for me to care enough to keep reading the story.

This is the problem between stylists and storytellers. The stylist wants to write a story that will allow him to play with themes and sentence structure and different characters that will show the ennui of existence. Or whatever. The storyteller just wants to tell a good story. It might play with the same things, but that’s not her intent. She just uses those tools in service to the story; not the other way around. This is the reason Samuel Clemens wrote at the beginning of his novel:

NOTICE

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR,
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

He got tired of literary critics telling him about the themes and what he meant when he was writing Tom Sawyer. He was telling them–I didn’t think any of that! Just enjoy the story!

So I’m not sure I’ll finish this book. It’s great, brilliantly written, but not gripping–I barely care what happens to any of these characters. Have you run into this problem? Authors who care so much about using conceptual tricks to make art that he forgets to write a good story? Let me know in the comments below!

As you might have guessed, I fall under the storyteller category. It’s not great art, but try picking up one of my novels and let me know what you think! If the $1.99 threshold is too high for you, download some of my stories for free!

Just because you’re paranoid…

18 Mar

I was talking with a friend the other day about a project and I asked for his email address. He didn’t want to use email; too easily hacked. His reasons were valid, but at what point does your security make it impossible to work?

There should be a term for this in IT Security, finding the balance between security and access, but I haven’t found it. (May I suggest “the Johnston Paradox?”) There are lots of really cool security tools that you can use to prevent people getting into your computer: biometrics, two-factor authentication, key fobs, ID card insertion, and even insanely complicated passwords. However, the more difficult you make the access, the harder it is to use, the less more likely users are going to simply bypass it and use their own (less secured) devices.

In 2001, I was working for a major insurance company, and my team’s entire job was finding out how we could let executives to use their PDA’s (handheld devices before iPhones). The demand was huge, but the security problem had to be overcome. You’re dealing with people’s personal data, or corporate finance, stuff you really don’t get to get out.

However, the problem is often NOT getting access, it’s when your computer interacts with the rest of the world. When I get online, I get pelted by four or five different digital intrusions just going to my first web page. We have automated security to fight automated intrusion software. Cookies attach themselves to every site you go to, although most now have to tell you they’re doing it. Most of the time, it’s just ads wanting to sell you things, but it doesn’t take much to be more insidious.

Just like most people, I take comfort in anonymity. I’m not important or rich enough to hack. Now… that’s foolish, and it’s not like I still don’t use passwords or take basic internet precautions, but someone looking up “Marcus Johnston” on the Internet has to get to the second page of search results to find me… and you’ll usually get “Johnsons” before you find the “t.” I still have a piece of tape over my camera, but not over my microphone.

But let’s say that you DO have something someone wants? You can encrypt your email, but there is decryption software, and it’s just a matter of time if someone really wants to read your communications. So my friend is not paranoid if wants to avoids email and pass flash drives instead. But it does means our communication is going to be slower, and if someone wants to listen in on your cell phone conversation, all you really need is a good (but technically illegal) ham radio. However, if I let myself worry about that, I won’t get anything done. If someone wants to read my diary, it won’t take much, but they also won’t get much other than my whining. It’s more flattering than damaging.

So my level of paranoia is far, far lower than my friend who… well, works in an area where a higher level of security is needed. But where’s your balance? Do you encrypt your emails? Or are you still annoyed when you have to change your password beyond the four you can remember? Let me know in the comments below!

And while you’re on my webpage, why not check out my books! Or if $1.99 is too unpredictable in our economic security, download one of my stories for free!

“Oh, my father he was Orange, and my mother she was Green”

17 Mar

St. Patrick’s Day is a weird day for me; for starters, it’s an American holiday more than an Irish one. I have Irish ancestors, but mostly because they married my Scotch-Irish ancestors, on the opposite side. Do I wear orange or green?

My father’s direct line ancestors–the Johnstons–were on the wrong side of the Kirk at the end of the 17th Century. They were Dissenters, good Presbyterians who didn’t like the rule of the current presbyters (that’s “elder” in Greek) who ran the church (or “kirk” in Gaelic). But at that point in history, the Kirk was the political force in Scotland, so the Dissenters had to go… and there was a place to send them. The Battle of the Boyne had defeated the main Irish resistance in Ulster (Northern Ireland). They needed good English subjects to support their colonization, and when they couldn’t find enough, they settled for “non-Irish,” so my family left Lowland Scotland for Northern Ireland.

It took a while, but even my ancestors realized after three generations, this was a bad deal. So after a hundred years of fighting/marrying the Irish, they were offered “virgin land” in Canada and my 5th great-grandfather left Ireland for Peel Township, which today is the outer burbs of Toronto. The problem is that farming in Ontario is… a break-even proposition. It was enough to have eight kids, and since my 4th great-grandfather was the 3rd son, he wasn’t going to inherit the new family farm. So he moved to Iowa, which started a journey of farmers in my family from Iowa to Missouri to Nebraska to my grandfather saying… “Hey, why do we have to farm?” So my family became very nomadic… like many Americans.

Which kinda gets to the point–we left and so did the Green. St. Patrick’s Day (was originally) celebrated by Irish-Americans who really got the short end of the stick when moving to America and decided to celebrate that which the Anglo-Saxon majority thought was inferior. (“No Irish Need Apply”) The Ancient Order of the Hebrideans was formed out of the Irish-American illegal miner unions to protect and celebrate their heritage. That was the history that my wife’s family comes from… but despite having a more direct Irish relation, they also married Scots when they came to America.

Which is a fancy way of saying, “We’re all mutts.” Americans are great at blending races–St. Paddy’s Day isn’t just about celebrating being Irish–it’s just a great excuse to party! So wear whatever you want. We’re not marching down the street to scare our neighbors. We’re marching to celebrate the fact we’re still here. And that’s worth celebrating. That’s something a good Jewish boy like myself can sympathize with: “They tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat.”

But what do you think? Do you wear orange today? Do you even bother to remember wearing green? Let me know in the comments below!

And while you’re at it, try cracking open a book by a great American Jewish Libertarian writer of Scottish and Irish descent. 🙂 Or if $1.99 is too high a hurdle for you (since you’re a little drunk this evening and spent all your money), download a free story! You’ll be glad you did.

Covering Your Head

16 Mar

I covered my head for five years. I wore a kippa/yarmulke on my head and… it changes the way the world perceives you. So I have some sympathy for women who wear the veil. But just like any civil liberty, there are limits.

Just to be clear, I wore the whole Modern Orthodox Jewish kit, tzitzit/fringes were hanging out of my shirt. Save for the black coat and hat, I was publically well identified as Jewish. Why this came up for me this morning was because Sri Lanka is proposing banning the burqa. They would join fifteen other countries–mostly European–and for roughly the same reasons. Opponents would say that it’s just another law targeting minority Muslims, That it’s blatant racism against a religious practice. Proponents say it’s a national security issue. Terrorists can (and have) used the burqa to disguise themselves and carrying weapons in plain sight.

Neither issue I want to debate today. My problem is one of choice. We focus on the burqa because it was the veil popularized by the Shia in Iraq and Afghanistan… where Americans were shooting at other Muslims. However, that is only one interpretation. Many Muslim women do variations on the veil; some only wear one during services. What kind of veil usually depends on where your family came from, what level of observance you perform, and what your social status is. For example, our former babysitter had moved from Somalia. Her veil was really tight around the face and she covered everything else up. Our Persian neighbor didn’t wear a veil at all, unless she went home, and then it was rather loose around her head. Of course, our babysitter was a college student who lived in a really crappy part of town and our neighbor was a medical researcher who spoke six languages. If your whole family was Somali immigrants that you lived with, the pressure to conform is higher.

But it comes at a price; everyone looks at you funny. I had several men come up and witness to me about the saving power of Jesus Christ (only once since I took off the kippa). Only once did someone ask where a kosher restaurant was. What ends up happening is that you have to explain it a lot to people who ask (which happens a lot).

So why did I do it? Because I wanted to fit in. My wife wanted to attend an Orthodox shul where some of the men wore the black hats and coats, some women wore wigs and long dresses, but you didn’t have to. I wanted to identify with them. And we did for five years. But then we had a falling out with that synagogue and we moved to a conservative shul… and I stopped wearing that get-up, because I didn’t want to be identified with them any more.

The point was… that’s my choice. I didn’t hurt anybody with it. It was a pain in the ass and Muslim women who lives as a minority in a country probably get the same hassle. What I’ve been told is that they feel liberated from feeling like a sexual object, but honey… men are gonna look at you anyway. They might also say, “People are going to see the color of my skin and judge me anyway, so why does it matter if I wear a veil?” Valid point.

But we’re getting away from the point. The burqa specifically is a step too far. Not only do you have the security issue (because naturally, you can’t be photographed for a driver’s license), but it’s also saying, “I need to keep a distance between me and everyone who is not my family.” It might be your choice, it might be your husband’s choice, but if you have to go to those extremes… then why bother living in a Western state? Maybe that’s not your choice either, but it puts you in such a bubble that the rest of us can’t help looking at you as the other. Not us. And in many cases, a big threat. That’s calling “fire” in a crowded theater… and that’s not where you want to be.

I should go into a tirade about bubbles, but I’ve hit the end of my word count here. But what do you think? Do I just don’t get it? Am I perpetuating the patriarchy? Or is this a perpetual problem throughout history? Let me know in the comments below!

And while you’re at it, if you like my writing, get one of my books! But if the $1.99 is a hurdle too high, download one of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did. 😉

Sympathetic Villains

15 Mar

It happens so rarely that you have to sit up and take notice. In my opinion, the best fiction has an antagonist that you can actually sympathize with. When you know why they’re doing their scheme, it makes the story really come alive.

So I finally decided to watch Jack Ryan Season 1 on Amazon Prime. I like the Tom Clancy books, I like his universe, and I’ve even read the books (literally) ghostwritten for him since his death. Then I watch the show and… yep, you’ve got all the old characters reimagined for the modern day and I’m loving it. Then they introduce Mousa bin Suleiman… holy crap!

Here you’ve got the perfect villain; it doesn’t start that way, though. He’s just a dad with four kids, struggling with his new job, and his wife doesn’t like the guys he’s bringing over to the house. He just happens to be the leader of a breakaway Muslim extremist cell. He’s intelligent, speaks multiple languages, charismatic… heck, he even beats the crap out of ISIS leaders who are perverting the cause. You’re rooting for him as much as you’re rooting against him. Plus the actor does an amazing job of showing the man who has so much need for revenge, at the same time, worried about what his actions are doing to his family. Frickin’ brilliant!

Mind you, that’s the Clancyverse–from the beginning in Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy always made sure you knew what the villains were doing and why. They were not just paper targets for the heroes… they had a solid reason why they were doing bad things. In some ways, I always thought Clancy gave terrorists far too much credit. When he wrote clever scenarios for attacks, Tom thought like… well, an American. Al Qaeda knew what targets get the most attention. Bin Laden attacked the biggest building in New York (twice!), Clancy blew up a church in Texas (well, on paper, anyway). Personally, I think the church in Texas would be more effective, but I’m getting way off point.

Sympathetic villains are hard to come by, probably because it takes time to develop them. Take Hans Gruber from Die Hard; you follow him and his whole crew from the beginning of the film. He’s smart, effective, charismatic and he’s there to rob the place. You don’t know that at the beginning of the film, of course, but he’s systematic and clever and suave. Of course, when you’re trying to rob a major international corporation, you kinda have to be. I guess that’s why I also like Heat. De Niro is great as the leader of this heist, but they hire one doofus who likes to fire off his gun and suddenly everything unravels. (That movie was actually based on true events.)

It’s so much easier to create black and white villains, or robots wrestling, or faceless aliens coming to kill us all. But when you have to know why they’re coming to kill you… oooh, much scarier. What do you think makes a good sympathetic villain? What’s some better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

While you’re at it, you can check out some good villains in my books! 🙂 Or if the $1.99 threshold is too high for you, download some of my free stories. Mind you, I don’t have as much time to develop the enemies in those, but you can get the flavor for my writing. Enjoy.

Somewhere Beyond the Barricade

14 Mar

A couple posts ago, I talked about the problem of D.C. Statehood. One of my readers suggested we just give independence to all those American territories and be done with it. As much as I like this solution, this is easier said than done.

Take the United States, for example. We can track the first Plan of Union back to 1754, the first plan for a united American colonies twenty years before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. Why did it take so long? Because the consequences of independence (in one form or another) cost more than the people involved wanted to pay. The Plan of Union was rejected by the colonial legislatures; it never went to the Crown. The idea of losing some of their rights to a national government was anathema. It was only when they saw that control already being taken away from them that the colonies were willing to “hang together or hang separately.”

If you ever have the chance to see the HBO miniseries John Adams (or read the book), it emphasizes this problem clearly. Even with clear proof that the the British were going to increase their control, and didn’t give a damn what the colonies thought about it, it was still barely a majority vote in the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration of Independence… one year after the war had started.

Let’s move a little closer to the present. The Republic of Texas is much glorified today, but the reality was a little more… well, gritty. American colonists in Mexican territory lead a revolt against their government and win in 1836. The newly freed Texans decide to join the United States and are told, “Thanks, but no thanks.” So for the next ten years, the thinly populated, geographically huge state barely held together. The Mexicans weren’t happy about letting them go and frequently ignored the border. The Comanches were raiding the hell of their outer settlements. The Texas Rangers had to buy their own guns and frequently weren’t paid. The Texan Republic had to sell off chunks of its claims to the US to pay the bills, until finally, it was admitted to the Union in 1846.

Let’s take the Philippines, which is the most recent example of an American territory becoming an independent country. It was ceded to America back in 1901 after the Spanish-American War and ended up finishing the fight the Spanish started against the Pinoys. Even then, the next thirty years were not the most stable for the American administration, and had to deal with lesser degrees of violence. In 1935, the Philippines became a commonwealth, which is a fancy term for “state in name only.” They were supposed to be on a path to independence in 10 years, but WWII intervened, and after being occupied by the Japanese, finally were granted independence in 1946.

Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands are also both American Commonwealths. PR became American in the same war that got us the Philippines (NMI after WWII), however PR is a LOT closer to the US. However, it’s the fact that it’s not on the mainland makes it difficult. Hawaii was annexed back in 1898 and it took WWII to make the US realize, “We really need these islands,” and it still took Alaska going first to get Hawaiian statehood in 1959.

So even with all those obstacles, PR doesn’t want independence, it wants statehood. The 2017 referendum was overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, although only 23% of voters showed up due to the PPD party boycotting it, since they like the status quo. The previous referendum five years earlier still wanted statehood in a clear majority over the current situation. Should they get it? In my opinion, yes. Will they get it? Eh… probably about the same time we solve abortion and immigration. 🙂

My point is that independence or statehood has always been a highly politically charged and difficult to resolve issue… and that’s just the American examples! 🙂 But what did I forget about? What would make things easier? Let me know in the comments below!

While you’re at it, why not check out my books and buy one! If $1.99 is too rich for your blood, download one of my free stories. You’ll be glad you did.

Chasing One More Sunrise

13 Mar

I finally got my dream bike! Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Azor Carolina, a Dutch-style bicycle I’ve wanted for over a decade. Strange choice, I’ll admit, but mine. However, when your dream becomes reality, not everything works like you expected.

Let me start by explaining why I wanted a Dutch-style bike. I love cycling. Absolutely love it–it is one of the few forms of exercise I actually enjoy doing (along with fencing and badminton). However, from that statement, you can guess that I am not Lance Armstrong. In fact, I hover around 250 lbs (110-120 kg or 17-18 stone) Because I suffer from an overpowering sense of cheapness, I’ve never wanted to put that much money into a new bike. I usually got a used bike or an inexpensive new bike… and drove it into the ground, spending more on repairs than I would have if I just spent the money upfront.

My son Asher pulling the staples out of my new arrival.

However, after actually buying a nice bike, getting that stolen from my backyard, and then having my replacement cheap bike get run into the ground by my son, I decided to wait until I could buy a nice bike. Unfortunately, between our budget, and COVID spiking the demand for cheaper bicycles, it’s been at least half a year since I’ve been on a bike.

Then I received an inheritance from my grandma passing. Not something I expected, but a small pile of cash came into my lap, so I finally could buy the Dutch-style bike of my dreams. Why Dutch-style? Because the Dutch (and Danes, to a lesser degree) treat their bicycles like we treat cars–meaning, they don’t think much them. You start your commute, you get on your bike, and you ride. You don’t have to check you tire inflation or your oil your chain (although you should), you just peddle. So they build their bikes to take a LOT of punishment. Just to ensure the least amount of hassle, I made sure to get a fixie (single gear) with a coaster brake, because those are the things that mess up that I can’t fix by myself. It also lets you sit up and ride seated upright so that the experience is very comfortable.

Some assembly required.

Because most American bicycle companies either appeal to the suburban dad who wants to be Lance Armstrong or the suburban mom who just wants a comfortable bike to ride on the weekends, I actually turned to the Dutch. The Amsterdam Bicycle Company has amazing customer service and helped me pick out what I wanted. They’re also insanely in demand, requiring a two month window from purchase to build to arrival. Yowch.

Anyway, it arrived on Wednesday, and I was over the moon! It had actually was sent out from their shop in the Netherlands the week before, but because international shipping is… weird, it bounced around Holland for two days, because sitting two days in Paris, then finally jumping the pond to Atlanta, Indianapolis for US Customs (o-kay… why not Atlanta? Who knows!), and then the box arrived. It was 85% completed, and even with my mediocre repair ability, I could assemble the rest. Except there was no seat post… so I put my old bike seat on it so I could ride it. Also the wheels were wobbly, rubbing against the splash guards, so had to take it over to the bike shop to learn they were “out of true.” Faced with another two-to-three day repair wait, I just took off the splash guards, and rode it.

It rode like a dream. It also reminded me that my old bike seat really hurts my crotch, so after my first five mile ride, I decided to wear my bicycle shorts with the padding in it. After my second long ride, I was reminded… “Oh, right, I haven’t ridden for six months. I can’t go 14 miles round trip without exhausting myself!” So once I got home, I soaked my legs in an Epson salt bath, my butt is bruised from the uncomfy seat… but I feel great. I finally have wheels again.

It’s bright orange because after being in two bike accidents with cars, I aim for maximum visibility. My new ride will still have to go to the bike shop to make it perfect, but that can wait. Meanwhile, what do you think? Have I been too cheap for too long? What kind of bicycle do you ride? Let me know in the comments below!

While you’re commenting, why not pick up one of my books? If you’re cheap like me, and $1.99 is too high a bar for your budget, download one of my free stories! You’ll be glad you did.

Voting with your Feet

12 Mar

There is one survey that is one hundred percent accurate and is a great indicator of how you’re doing–regardless if you’re a business, as a city, or a nation–how many people are trying to get in the door.

So I ran across this article about people leaving San Francisco, California and the SF Chronicle explained that they looked at postal data and found that most people just left the City, not the State. Since numbers can be manipulated to suit any agenda, it’s important to be examine what people are saying. The conservative argument is that people are leaving California for other states because of the flawed policies. The Chronicle is liberal publication, so they’re fighting against that spin.

The article makes very good points–regardless of policies, San Francisco has insanely high rents, because up until recently, people really wanted to be there. So a lot of people simply changed apartments in the City to get a cheaper one. But most important, they just left the City for the burbs in the Bay Area.

However, they are leaving, and in record numbers. 50,000 people last year out of the City proper–in 2019, the population was 874,961–so one out of 17 people left in last year ALONE. 100,000 out of the Bay Area–7.7 million–so a much less robust one out of 77, helped a little by the SF exodus. Why? The biggest reason is because it’s a real pain in the butt to change jobs. So unless your job is guaranteed remote, you CAN’T live anywhere you want. You have to be able to commute to work. Of course, that doesn’t include the problem of selling your house, packing, leaving your friends and family (which might also be your childcare), and pay a lot of money to shift to somewhere better.

My job IS remote and as much as I love it here, I can’t move to New Hampshire, because my wife’s school is here in Arizona. (We probably could leave, but honestly it’s not bad enough to leave. See: “pain in the butt.”) To take another example, we are seriously pissed off at our son’s school. They dragged their feet at reopening, resisting a governor’s executive order to open their doors, and it took yelling at five different state agencies to get them to finally budge. Even then, the principal was determined to point out as they’re slowly reopening, “the order is not mandatory!” BS it is.

When my son burst into tears (starting last August) when we told him he couldn’t go back, we wanted to leave it THEN. But our son LOVES that school. Loves it. We had an option that had a in-class education and he rejected it because he loves that school. Our daughter wants to go there next year. And that greatly reduces our ability to tell the principal to *$&% #$*# &$*@$.

So with all that baggage, imagine how upset you have to be at your living situation to leave town? Assuming that it’s optional–if you don’t have work or can’t afford being there. This happens to people all the time, but not in numbers that you can count to a negative output in the thousands. Yet… is the city and county of San Francisco about to clean up its homeless, tackle it’s massive crime problem, and it’s anti-business attitude? Not yet. Give it a few years and those who are left will finally vote in harsh measures and tough officials (see New York City in 1990), but since the City has been slowly collapsing for a decade, I’m not going to hold my breath. But I imagine it’ll affect redistricting next year, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco itself… but that’ll just be a larger Democratic district. All the Republicans are moving to Idaho, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico… they’re not moving to Democratic strongholds like Oregon or Washington State.

Just to be clear–any time you get a one-party government it’s a disaster. Wyoming (Republican stronghold) is considered one of the most corrupt state in the US, although that’s listed because they have no mechanism against corruption. People are not dying to emigrate to China, they’re dying to leave. So when you can vote with your feet, people do. A business that treats you like crap when you enter the door if not a door I will return to.

Man, looking back, this post is a little more rambling than usual–my apologies. Where did I go wrong? What juicy example did I miss? Let me know in the comments below! And while you at it, if you like my writing style, check out my books. If the $1.99 is too high an obstacle for you, download my stories for free!

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