The Debt Collector: Three Songs for Blood

Blood  Samosude is the title character in the libertarian musical,  The Debt Collector. Blood not only makes his living  collecting debts, he is also  a true believer in the sanctity of contracts. Like a priest of justice, Blood single-handedly fights to uphold the property rights of Helga Hauser, the landlady, despite a legal system that seeks to thwart creditors.

Kelly Clear sings the part of Blood in the three songs embedded below. The first song is about his work collecting debts.

The Debt Collector is a libertarian play, and it deals with more than just property rights and fiscal responsibility from a libertarian perspective. There is a love story. And there is conflict between the sexes. And there’s the explicit issue of how to pick up girls. Got your attention, didn’t I?’

Libertarian men are known to be socially awkward. Part of that awkwardness stems from a desire to make conscious, responsible decisions about issues that nature intended us to settle in subconscious and non-verbal ways. When the thinking part of the brain tries to dictate to the limbic system what to do, the individual comes off as awkward as someone trying to dance using logic rather than rhythm.

Blood is an idealist. He is drawn to Siren the Social Worker, whose words he recognizes as being Marxist, but whose being is the embodiment of his ideals of grace, beauty and harmony. He sings about his mixed emotions in “When I’m With Her.”

If you are drawn to a potential partner and want to set up a liaison, what do you say? Most people will not come right out and say what they are thinking. But Blood, committed to honesty and mutual respect, blurts it right out, with predictable results. Along comes Carl, the Welfare Father, to give him a lesson in seduction.

Without violating another’s rights, how can one best go about propositioning someone and still not make it as awkward as legalese? The Non Aggression Principle would suggest a direct, explicit verbal offer, which can then be turned down or accepted in the light of cold, hard day. But how often does that work? In the song “More Perfect Contracts”, Blood sings about his romantic ideals.

Sadly,  politically correct respect and  cold, dispassionate disclosure  of intent is not something that is likely to work with Siren. Here is a song in which she expresses what approach does turn her on.


To see how things turn out for Siren and Blood, watch the entire musical or stay tuned here for more song demos. This uniquely libertarian musical touches on issues you will never see addressed anywhere else in musical theater.

Posted in Composers, Lyricists, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Christmas Carol Revisited

A Christmas Carol Revisited: Analyzing George C. Scott’s Scrooge

[This article was originally published on Hubpages in 2010 and eventually de-indexed.]

A poster of George C. Scott's "A Christmas Carol"

A poster of George C. Scott’s “A Christmas Carol” Source: Wikipedia

An Excerpt from A Christmas Carol

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”


I’ve never really liked A Christmas Carol. Every time I’ve tried to read it, or have seen it performed, I kind of felt as if it was intended to be a direct slap in the face to me and my parents, and the values they taught me. “Don’t leave the light on. Turn the thermostat down. Don’t waste money. Don’t have a baby unless you can support it.” Those are the things I heard all my life. Scrooge embodies all those values, and when they knock him, they’re knocking me.

However, last year, because I was hard at work on The Debt Collector, I wanted to watch a performance of A Christmas Carol in order to experience first hand the kind of mentality I was up against. I was going to take my daughter to see the latest version at the local movie theater, but we somehow missed that. Also, a theatrical version was supposed to showing in the area, but nothing came of that, either. Finally, as a last resort, I went to Wal*Mart and bought two videos for the price of one, a sort of package deal. For the adults, there was George C. Scott in the starring role. And for children, there was some cheap cartoon version.

I asked Sword which one she wanted to see first. “Let’s watch the grown up one first,” she said. She was trying to be nice about it, since she imagined she’d probably like the cartoon better.

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Scrooge is a Model of Filial Piety

In A Christmas Carol, much is made of Scrooge’s miserable childhood. His mother died in childbirth, bringing Scrooge into the world. His father, who loved his mother more deeply than words can tell, was grief stricken and blamed the infant for the mother’s death. As a result, Scrooge knew neither the love of a mother nor the support of an affectionate father figure. The only person who showed him any kindness was his elder sister.

Now, in this day and age, most would roundly condemn the father’s cruelty. He would be blamed for every failure in Scrooge’s life. Scrooge would go into therapy and learn to speak knowingly of abuse and neglect, casting aspersions on his father’s good name, and dodging responsibility for his own actions. “I was abused,” he would be taught to say. “It’s all my father’s fault. I can’t help it.”

And yet when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge his miserable childhood, and he is forced to relive all those painful moments, moments that are best forgotten, Scrooge never says one bad word against his father. “He was stern,” is the most he can manage.

This remarkable stoicism, this refusal to point the finger or shift blame, is something that immediately made Scrooge rise in my estimation.

No parent is perfect. Some are better than others, but everyone makes mistakes. To spend your life blaming everything on your parents, instead of taking responsibility for your own actions is counterproductive.

The virtue of filial piety and of tight lipped stoicism in the face of soul crushing adversity is seldom praised. But we know it when we see it, and Scrooge has it in spades.

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Scrooge is a True Gentleman in his Dealings with Women

Here is the short version of Scrooge’s love life: he hasn’t got any. The slightly longer version is this: he fell in love with Belle Fezziwig, and they became engaged. For years, he was satisfied with the engagement, but did not actually wish to marry. She, on the other hand, tired of waiting, called the whole thing off, and married somebody else. Scrooge, heart-broken, never stopped loving her, and he never took up with any other woman.

The evil spirits of Christmas that plague Scrooge accuse him of selfishness and greed. But let’s examine the facts here and see who exactly it was who was guilty of greed. Was it the man who asked nothing for himself, who enjoyed Belle’s companionship, but did not force himself on her body and soul? Or was it the woman who, the moment it was clear that Scrooge would never marry her, immediately went and found somebody else who would? Did she love Scrooge for himself, or only for the things he could give her: social position, wealth, sex, children? How great was her love? What was she willing to sacrifice to it? How great was his? What degree of self-restraint must it have taken of him not to make demands on her virtue? Don’t you think he wanted to sleep with her?

Keep in mind the back story. This was a man who was denied the love of a father, because his mother had died giving birth to him. His sister, also, died young, leaving a motherless boy. In those days, contraception was in its infancy, and a pregnancy often followed immediately after marriage. For all women, childbirth was painful and gruesome, and they often emerged scarred. Death in childbirth was not at all uncommon.

Did Scrooge refrain from marrying Belle because he did not love her enough, or because he loved her too much to risk killing her? At a time when sex, childbirth and death were so intimately intertwined, was it not the better man who preferred a platonic relationship over one that might very well destroy the object of his passion?

Scrooge, Charity and Government Welfare

Scrooge is needled for his stinginess, his miserly behavior and his risk aversion in general. He’s a party pooper and a loner and he doesn’t like Christmas. Who doesn’t like Christmas? His failure to support consumerism is a point of contention.

But the crux of the attack on Scrooge is his attitude toward the poor. When he is pestered by people soliciting for charity, he mentions that he already supports several public institutions whose purpose is to provide for the poor. Why should he contribute more, when these fine pillars of society already exist and are funded by his taxes?

The solicitors reply that many would rather die than go there.

So far, so good. Admittedly, Debtor’s Prison, the Poorhouse, and the Treadmill (whatever that is!) don’t sound very inviting. You might think that it’s because people in the nineteenth century were particularly cruel to others in unfortunate circumstances. But in fact, public institutions set up to “help the poor” are no kinder today. Social workers bully the people they are supposed to serve. Families under their supervision are broken up and destroyed. I have had clients who would rather become prostitutes than go on welfare.

The conclusion that logically follows from these all too true facts about public aid to the poor from the Dickens classic is that there should be no such institutions. However, this is not the conclusion that most people draw.


Paying for Love

It all comes down to love. There’s nothing more important than that.

Children are love. They are the greatest treasure that anyone can possess. The poor are sometimes quite wealthy, if we know how to look the right way. They are blessed with many children, but the thing to remember is this: these are blessings that they have bestowed on themselves.

Everyone, rich and poor, has the right to have children. Nobody, rich or poor, has the right to do so at somebody else’s expense. Love is a wonderful thing, and it’s okay to grab it when the grabbing is good, but there’s a price. Who should pay that price?

Should it be the person, like Scrooge, who didn’t allow himself to take the risk? Should he pay for somebody else’s love-making? Or should we each finance our own happiness?

Am I Scrooge? Not really. I have two children, one who is biologically mine, and one who is adopted. When I sit it in the dark and keep the heating costs down, I have them to keep me company, and we snuggle together. But I don’t have ten children. And it’s not because I wouldn’t like to have ten. I can’t afford them. And the earth can’t afford them, either. So I stick to the two I have.

Do you want to help others? By all means, do so. But don’t try to make other people feel guilty if they want to spend their money on something else. And if they don’t want to spend their money at all, then thank them kindly for the huge favor they are doing you. By failing to spend, they are enabling you to buy your Christmas pudding at a reduced cost, because the person who sells the pudding will have to lower the price, for lack of buyers.

If the moral of A Christmas Carol is anything, it is to “gather your rosebuds while ye may.” In other words: do not be risk averse, because tomorrow may never come. “Eat, drink, and make merry. Tomorrow we die.” But the moral that Scrooge urges on us is equally valid: “Make merry if you will, but don’t expect someone else to pay for your merrymaking.”


Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens Source: Wikipedia

The Dickens Bias

Every person has a bias. The Charles Dickens bias stems from his own experiences early in life and from his own choices later in life. Dickens came from a nice, loving family, but his father spent more than he earned, and consequently what should have been a happy, middle class childhood was cut short when the family was sent to debtor’s prison.

What may have made it worse is that Dickens himself was separated from the others and made to work in blacking factory, a lower class work place. And so it was that a pampered boy from the middle class got to see what life was like for those born under less fortunate circumstances. This experience was humiliating and very painful, and it was one of the formative events of Dickens’ life.

Scrooge is the Anti-Dickens!

Dickens had a warm generous nature and with it an insatiable appetite for life. Like his father, in his adult life he was a big spender, but unlike his father, he was able to make his income match his expenditures by writing long, voluminous works, for which he was paid by the word. Dickens was a hack, but a very good one.

Dickens hated the poorhouse, but he himself actually opened a home for unwed mothers, where he hoped to educate these young women to do what he considered “better”. For someone who hated institutions that looked down on people, it was odd that he would want to found a few of his own to do the same sort of thing. Why should an unwed mother be institutionalized at all?

Unlike Scrooge, Dickens had an eye for the ladies, and he didn’t keep himself from enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. When an early paramour spurned him, he did not pine away for her forever, but found a nice substitute to marry. His married life was stormy, and over time he lost interest in his wife, but not before she had borne him ten children! When tired, overweight, and too lethargic to match the vigorous Dickens’ energy level, the wife no longer suited, he replaced her with a young actress and went touring the countryside.

Dickens was a genuine family man who enjoyed children, but he left most of the details of his children’s upbringing to the many women who came to serve him: first his wife, and then her sister who came to live with them. He spent money on sumptuous feasts and cozy living arrangements, and then he tried to earn money to cover his expenditures. He was a hard worker, but he was not frugal.

I don’t mean to begrudge Dickens his pleasures, and when I write this, I don’t want to come off as a prude. Dickens was a man, like all others, and it was understandable that he had needs, which he sought to satisfy. If he had done all this in private and kept his own counsel concerning the behavior of others, then I would not even mention it. But a paragon of virtue, he was not.

The same extremism that characterizes Scrooge’s miserly behavior seems to be found in Dickens, only in the opposite direction. Where Scrooge was stingy, Dickens was generous, and not always with money he had ready at hand. Where Scrooge was chaste, Dickens was profligate. Where Scrooge kept a tight lip and did not speak ill of his father’s misdeeds, Dickens publicized his own father’s neglect of duty and insolvency. Where Scrooge strove to lead a life of quiet desperation, asking nothing of anyone, and taking only what was his, Dickens was loud and boisterous and constantly asking for sympathy and money and love. Scrooge is the anti-Dickens!

In A Christmas Carol, which is a piece of propaganda, if ever a literary work was, Dickens urges the public: don’t be like Scrooge, be like me, instead!

I think most of us would rather not be like either one of them. There is, after all, a middle ground.

George C. Scott as Scrooge

The genius of George C. Scott’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge is that he plays him as nobly as it is possible to do, within a script that is remarkably close to the original. I have seen simpering Scrooges and cowardly Scrooges, but George C. Scott’s Scrooge is a strong, brave, virtuous man, beset by the ghosts that all of us must face sooner or later. Does he have secret sorrows? Sure. Does he have regrets? Of course. Now that he is no longer young, does he maybe fear the cold, yawning grave that will swallow us all? Definitely. But he’s not spineless, and he isn’t evil. If you’re going to watch some version of A Christmas Carol this holiday season, I strongly recommend this one.

The movie came out in 1984, and has been playing on television for ages. Up until recently, this 1984 film classic was not available for purchase on videocassette or DVD, because George C. Scott held the copyright in his iron fist, and Scrooge-like would not let it go. But he died in 1999, and now you can buy a copy at Wal*Mart or on Amazon.

Our Personal Appraisal

I didn’t expect to like the movie as much as I did, but George C. Scott made a truly attractive, heroic figure of a Scrooge. He seemed so nice, that I could almost imagine being friends with him, and sitting in his dimly lit, unheated, inhospitable house, sharing a bowl of gruel and discussing the welfare state.

My daughter appreciated the movie more than I thought she would. She kept jeering at the ghosts throughout the viewing, asking why they didn’t just come in through the front door, like decent people. She also remarked early on, during the “bah humbug” sequences: “He’s just like grandma. She doesn’t like Christmas, either.” (And this is high praise for my mother, not a put down, by the way.)

The George C. Scott Scrooge obviously had Sword’s sympathy. The next evening, we watched the cartoon version. In the cartoon, Scrooge was portrayed as a mean, openly malevolent person who foreclosed on mortgages just for the pleasure of putting people out on the street, went out of his way to send the poor to debtor’s prison, and who spitefully threw things at Tiny Tim to make him sick.

Sword exclaimed: “Scrooge would never do that!” She had decided that George C. Scott was the real Scrooge, and she wasn’t buying the cartoon version at all. “Let’s not watch this,” she said. And so we turned it off.

(c) 2010 Aya Katz


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Book Toy Combo as Christmas Gifts

Book Toy Combo as Christmas Gifts

[Updated from November 27, 2010 version. First published on Hubpages.]


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Variations on “The Ash Grove”

[Last Updated on February 26, 2010. First published on Hubpages and then de-indexed.]

Folk tunes have a long shelf life. They get re-used often with different lyrics, and we can learn a lot about the values and preferences of different periods by the contrasting lyrics that are set to the same tune. Take “The Ash Grove”. The original words were in Welsh, and they told the story of a young woman’s violent death at the hands of her father, who was trying to kill the lover of whom he disapproved. But once set in English, there is no violent father. There is just a bittersweet tender parting between lovers. What does this tell us about the Welsh and the English? Or is it the period in which the different lyrics were written that determines the tenor of the song?

And then there is the filk version, written in the twentieth century, that tells the of a man incapable of falling in love. Or the filk of that filk, about how a woman selects a lover at a filk sing based on his musical performance.

Before we get into all that, let’s give the original lyrics a chance.

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Llwyn Onn lyrics

Ym mhalas Llwyn Onn gynt, fe drigai pendefig,
Efe oedd ysgweiar ac arglwydd y wlad;
Ac iddo un eneth a anwyd yn unig,
A hi nôl yr hanes oedd aeres ei thad.
Aeth cariad i’w gweled yn lân a phur lencyn,
Ond codai’r ysgweiar yn araf ac erch,
I aethu’r bachgennyn, ond gwyrodd ei linyn,
A’i ergyd yn wyrgam i fynwes ei ferch.

Rhy hwyr ydoedd galw y saeth at y llinyn
Â’r llances yn marw yn welw a gwan;
Bygythiodd ei gleddyf trwy galon y llencyn,
Ond ni redai cariad un fodfedd o’r fan.
Roedd golud, ei darpar, yn hen ac anynad,
A geiriau diwethaf yr aeres hardd hon,
Oedd, ‘Gwell gennyf farw trwy ergyd fy nghariad
Na byw gyda golud ym mhalas Llwyn Onn.’

Y lloer oedd yn codi dros gopa’r hen dderwen
A’r haul a fachludai i ddyfnder y don.
A minnau mewn cariad a’m calon yn curo,
Yn disgwyl f’anwylyd dan gysgod Llwyn Onn.
Mor wyn y bythynnod gwyngalchog ar wasgar
Hyd erchwyn cyfoethog mynyddig fy mro:
Adwaenwn bob tyddyn, pob boncyff a brigyn
Lle deuai cariadon i rodio’n eu tro.

Mor hir y bu’r disgwyl o fore hyd noswyl,
Mor gyndyn bu’r diwrnod yn dirwyn i ben:
A minnau mor hapus, ac eto mor glwyfus,
A’m meddwl a’m calon yn eiddo i Gwen:
Cysgodion yr hwyr oedd yn taenu eu cwrlid,
A hir oedd ymaros ar noson fel hon;
Ond pan ddaeth fy nghariad cyflymai pob eiliad,
Aeth awr ar amrantiad, dan gysgod Llwyn Onn.

Welsh Music and The Ash Grove website

The original words in Welsh were high drama about spontaneous feelings of love, and the despair that they can evoke when thwarted. It was about a love so strong that the lovers would rather die than be parted.

This was a song about limerence. It was right for its time and place, but when English lyrics were written to the same music, the passion was tuned down, to accomodate a society that found that much drama distasteful.

English version of the Ash Grove as used in courtship













The sedate, stately lyrics of the English version were a nice showcase piece for a young woman of marriageable age to display her musical talents,

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As The Ash Grove became associated less with spontaneous feelings between lovers and more with the manipulations and machinations of the battle of the sexes, satirical versions began to come out. The song I’ve embedded below, “When I was a Young Man” features lyrics by Peter Beagle. My favorite line, needless to say, is “I betrayed her before she had quite finished speaking so she swallowed cold poison and jumped into the sea.”

When I was a Young Man

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Suzette Haden Elgin and her songs
This masculine version of the courtship process naturally required a feminine response, and we find a more than adequate reply in the Suzette Haden Elgin classic. “When I was a Young Girl.”

Equally satirical, but much more gentle in its treatment of discarded suitors, this filk of a filk of a filched song is also a classical example of filks about filking.

Because the tune of “The Ash Grove” had by now come to be associated with selecting and discarding mates, there arose a need to explain how a musical performance can itself serve as a selective device in sorting through suitors. The words of “When I was a Young Girl” by Suzette Haden Elgin, reproduced with permission below, take this to its ultimate conclusion.

I don’t have a performance of the song to embed, but I’ve provided accompaniment by a harpist in case you’d like to sing along with the lyrics!

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When I was a Young Girl

by Suzette Haden Elgin


When I was a young girl and searching for lovers,
I found them under rocks and I found them in bars;
but now that I’m older, my taste is much better,
I find them at filksings behind their guitars.
I find them back of banjos and mandolins and autoharps,
I find them a capella and decked with kazoos!
And it gives me no trouble to make my selection,
for I know how they’ll perform by the songs that they use.

There’s the flashy guitarist with the voice of a drunken angel,
whose careful renditions are flawless as silk;
he always has mastered the very latest lyrics,
when his turn comes around you get quality filk.
But he’ll leap from your bed at the strangest of moments,
with a cry of, “I’ve got it! That chord is a B!”
Oh, beware of the lover who leaves on his thumbpick,
come all ye young maids and take warning by me!

And then there’s the filker who’s funky and mellow;
his songs have the tang of a bright autumn day.
The casual ease of this charming young fellow
might lead you to fancy he’d shine in the hay.
But he’ll ask you hard questions at the strangest of moments,
like, “If you could be an insect, which one would you be?”
Beware of the lover so laid back he’s falling over,
come all ye young maids and take warning by me!

And next is the young man whose specialty is dirges;
more ose than the dankest drizzle, he mourns and he moans…
He sings of dying chieftains in songs with thirty-seven verses
and he plays only minor notes on the instruments he owns.
You may think him romantic, poetic and frantic,
but DOWN is his preposition — he loathes levity…
Beware of the lover who weeps over his keyboard,
come all ye young maids and take warning by me!

Let’s turn now to the young man who’s tone-deaf and tuneless,
knows only one chord — and he always sings flat.
When you hear him lurch into a song that’s nearly decomposing
and ask everyone to sing along, take notice of that!
He’ll care more for your pleasure than the beats in his measure,
and he won’t be devising lyrics while stroking your knee…
Oh, give me the lover who flattens every Bardic Circle,
come all ye young maids and take warning by me!


Lyrics to a successful composition come and go, while the music remains. But the music only carries so much of the meaning, while the lyrics reflect the values of the culture as it is currently constituted. Sometimes lyrics from different periods coexist side by side, reflecting not just the prevailing culture, but also subcultures within it. This is true of many songs and most especially those that have entered the filk canon.

(c) 2010 Aya Katz

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A Happy Day at the Libertarian Convention

I finished this painting yesterday. I love to paint, but I don’t do it all that often. Every once in a while, the spirit moves me, and I do it, even though there is no particular reason. I haven’t been asked to paint this, and while it kind of looks like what I wanted it to be, it also leaves a lot to be desired. Like all my paintings, it is too messy and too unfinished looking.

But despite this fact, I feel as if I might be making progress. Because the last time I painted a group of people, back in 1995, here is how it looked. (The image is distorted below to fit the page. Click on it to see it in correct proportions.)

A Narrative Painting from the Past

The painting above was more ambitious and covered a much bigger canvas. It takes up almost an entire wall in my mother’s house. But if you look at my self-portrait, peeking out from behind the main figure, and compare it to my new self-portrait, second from the left on the much smaller canvas, I think you can see that the new me is somehow more realistic, even though it is messier.

My friend Julia told me she thought my painting was very expressive. It took me some time to realize this was a term of art and not just a general description. At first I wondered what she meant. Was it that the faces have such obvious expressions on them? Or was it just that I like to tell a story, preferring narrative to lyrical paintings? It took a while for it to sink in that she was telling me something important. So I finally looked up expressive painting, and here is what I found:

According to the article I cite above, expressive painting is a style that does not try to hide the brush strokes and the paint.

Some people regard an expressive or painterly style to be less finished, or even unfinished. But it’s not a style of painting where the end result is intended to look smooth and glossy like a photograph. It’s a style which celebrates and shows off the materials made to create it: paint and a brush. The result is something only a painter could produce.

I did not know that my style of painting was expressive. I have my friend Julia to thank for that. I think as I mature, I am less interested in hiding how I achieve the result, but I am more and more interested in getting into the heart of the representation. What makes this person look like that? I ask myself. And then I try to achieve the look with as little time spent as possible. Because, after all, I am not a painter by trade, and I am doing this in my spare time from many other pursuits, so it has to be a quick return on investment.

Some people say that practice makes perfect. I am not sure that it does. In my case, I never paint just for practice. I only ever paint when I have something to say that can be said with an image, but not with words.

Do you feel happy when you look at that painting? I do. It was a happy moment, surrounded by people who love liberty and who don’t think that fighting for it is tilting at windmills.


Posted on by Aya Katz | 2 Comments

Return to the Messy Painting

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Much earlier this year, I had an urge to paint, and so I got out my art supplies and started painting. The painting I began to paint was very messy. And the more I painted it, the messier it got. At … Continue reading

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The Good And Bad of Cell Phone Use

Cell phones like all technological advances have pros and cons. Technology enables people to stay connected 24/7, but that is also a drawback. There are literally people who will have a meltdown if you do not get back to their text message or voice mail within fifteen minutes, and this preoccupation with technological devices is not a healthy one. However, we can put boundaries on a technological device, and set limitations and when and how we use these.

Some people really seem to enjoy writing reviews about cell phones, but it is a bit disconcerting to me. Have you ever read a review written by a person that does not that even own that particular phone? Often it is easy to tell because they speak on the phone in more of a generic sense, whereas I would rather communicate the authentic user based experience. I feel a personalized writing style is crucial because it shows I am a human being interacting with the electronic device and not an automaton convincing you to buy a product in which I have no investment. Thus, I will continue to have a personalized stance when it comes to my writing, which has been helpful as a blogger. When I review future products I want these to be things I have used and not simply things the search engines are looking for. The good thing to know is the search engines can still find you when you only write about products you have personal experiences with. However, today I have decided once again I will write about some of my first-hand experiences with cell phones.

People That Use Cell Phones In Public Places

There is nothing wrong with using your mobile device in a public place if this is acceptable, but often restaurants and libraries have signs that prohibit cell phone use. Time and time again I am often in shock when people whip out their cell phone and start chatting away loudly. Personally I have always been too embarrassed to do this in certain public settings where this is discouraged. When I need to use my cell phone I go outside and far away from others so they cannot hear my conversation.

When people have their loud cell phone conversations I try to tune these out, but from time to time I cannot hear some of the personal things people are willing to reveal in public. If you ever watch the movie Loser, there is a funny scene where Paul (Jason Biggs) and Dora (Mena Suvari) joke about the deplorable cell phone etiquette some people display within earshot. A good rule of thumb when it comes to our cell phone conversations is to stay in your car or to go outside and away from people. When I am walking and there is really no one is around is my preferable time to talk on the cell phone.

The LG Env2 flips open to a keyboard.

Choosing A Cell Phone

Do research before buying your first cell phone because I discovered I ended up with a not so desirable plan when I first signed up with AT&T. I am sure there are some great plans with that provider, but I should have done more research before buying my first phone with them. After a year I decided I did not want the phone and made the boo boo of canceling my plan before the end of the two year contract. This is another big no no because I ended up paying the $179 dollar early termination fee, which could have been avoided if I had kept the phone. Last year apparently a California judge ruled that early termination fees are illegal, but it remains to be seen if this ruling will have much impact on the industry.

A few months later I signed up for a cell phone with Verizon Wireless, which has been the best company in my experience. In the mountains I always had good cell phone coverage when people with other companies could not get a signal. From the start of my plan in 2003 I had unlimited night and weekend minutes with Verizon, and I could make free calls to other wireless users with the same company. All in all most customer service representatives for Verizon Wireless have been very friendly and efficient. If I could do things again I may have just signed up for a pay as you go phone, but right now the cell phone is my main phone since I have decided to get rid of my LAN line. Big talkers such as myself enjoy plans like those offered with Verizon where we get unlimited in calling, seven hundred peak minutes, and unlimited night and weekend minutes. Also, I have become a bigger texter since I purchased the LG Env2 last summer, which is great because Verizon has several good text messaging plans. I buy the lower end one that comes with 250 text messages and 50 picture messages per month, which is great for me.

Also, I found that through my work I get a 15% discount on the Verizon wireless phone on my line, so it never hurts to inquire with if you can get similar discounts for being employees of a certain company. What I do know is that people who are city, county, and state employees often get discounts with Verizon in our area, but you would need to inquire with your local store to see if that is true for you too.

Cell Phones Are Useful Communications Devices

Back in 2003 my mom never used to think cell phones were silly, but during a time we had to stay away from home for a few days,  and then she started to see these were crucial. Cell phones allowed us to communicate with each other when we got separated and were far from home. Today some people argue that mobile phones can become an addiction and have evil components, but is that really true? Every generation has raged against technological advances of the “young people,” and often state many of the new devices were evil. Back in the 1950s, some thought television was the demise of the family, etc. A few stubborn people used to argue that cars were evil when they first came on the market, but today these are an indispensable form of transportation.

When radio first came out some thought it was evil. Later on, people were upset about movies and the advent of television. Today there are even a few that argue that the TV is an evil influence, but how is this really so? Any technological device can become an addiction, but the use in moderation is key. One thing I do know about cell phones is these are crucial communication tools when you are isolated from family and friends in times of danger and crisis. Also in calm and happy times it is good to have a cell phone and communicate with your loved one when needed. Mobile phones are not evil monsters, but useful tools that can make it easy to find a person lost from your party in a crowd. Honestly, I am glad I live in a time where I have a cell phone and it makes my life more convenient.


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How To Find Backlinks

Reliance upon one tool to find backlinks to blogs is not a good use of precious resources. Personally, I prefer because it allows the user to find links to blogs and articles. Also, it distinguishes between whether these links are “do follow” or “do not follow”.

Do not search the ocean for backlinks!
Do not search the ocean for backlinks! Pros And Cons

The best feature of is that it allows people to look up as many pages as desired. It can get pretty addicting and it is fun to see the different ways websites are linking back to you. Also, backlinkwatch shows whether is a link is “do follow” or ” do not follow”, which does not have as much meaning with search engines as it once did, but this information might be useful. For instance, I noticed Zazzle products are no-follow links when you post these to a blog or website. I am not sure how valuable this information is to the casual Zazzle user, but it is just something I noticed when embedding a Zazzle product into a blog post.

One of the drawbacks of is that you often have to reload the page for it to work correctly. Also, it often loads slowly even on a high-speed connection, so you better be patient if you are going to this site on a smartphone. Overall this is my favorite site and my go-to choice for learning about who is linking to me, or if my blog posts are registering with backlinks.

Google Analytics: Pros And Cons

I love Google Analytics and it can teach you a great deal about the traffic coming to your websites. For example, clicking on the traffic sources tab leads to a  subcategory enumerating the websites sending referral traffic to your blog. Google Analytics even allows you to search within a specific date range to see which sites are linking to a particular post. Another feature I appreciate is viewing the keyword searches that are leading to my blogs, which is very useful. However, these days the keyword search information is more sporadic because it is anonymized for people who are signed into Google. I have never done much SEO research, but I have done well with writing online because I look at my Google Analytics, which gives me an idea about which topics are more popular within my niche. On a monthly basis, I look to see which phrases are doing well, and which ones are not so popular anymore.

One of the drawbacks of Google Analytics is that you actually have to dig around it to learn how it works. For instance, there is even a feature to shows how many people are actually visiting your website in real time. If you click on the entrance sources you can see where traffic is coming from to get to a particular page. For instance, a couple of years ago I noticed people in Australia were searching for how to break up with their boyfriend, but Internet users in India seemed more interested in learning how to make American pizza dishes. This information might be valuable if you are targeting your website’s content to a particular country or demographic.

Do not let Google Analytics scare you because it provides some interesting information about where traffic comes from on the Internet. My favorite feature of Analytics is the map overlay that shows which countries and cities people are coming from. Okay, I am a geography buff and I like to look at maps, so maybe I get more of a kick out of this tool than some. Today I noticed the city that was visiting my blogs the the most was London, which tends to a city that can bring lots of traffic. London was followed by Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Pittsburg, Mumbai, and Sydney. Glossing over Google Analytics means that you could miss out on some interesting information, so why not explore it a bit?

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Sesame Seeds and Joy

Sesame Seeds and Joy

If you saw this box on a grocery shelf, would you know what it was?

If you’ve never experienced functional illiteracy, then this is how it feels. You go into the grocery store, and there are shelves upon shelves of beautifully packaged processed foods, each of them carefully labeled for content. However, you are limited to the pictures on the packages in order to determine what they must contain. My first experience of this was when I moved to Taiwan at the ripe old age of thirty-eight.

I was looking for a breakfast cereal and the Quaker label jumped out at me from a package on the shelf. I didn’t know what it was, but I figured it must be something like oatmeal. Except for the word “Quaker”, everything else on the package was in Chinese. However, there were some pictorial directions on the side. There was a picture of a boiling teapot and water being poured into a bowl that contained something gray. I’m not much of a cook, but this seemed doable. Boil water. Pour into bowl. Definitely something I could do.

So I bought the package and took it home. Inside, there were foil pouches, about the size of an instant oatmeal packet. Only it wasn’t oatmeal! It was a blackish-gray powder that smelled somehow familiar. Not knowing exactly what it was, my senses told me it was an old friend. It was safe. I could try it.

The Foil Pouch
The Foil Pouch
Porridge in the bowl
Porridge in the bowl

Once I poured the boiling water into the powder and mixed it in, I was already feeling excited. A taste confirmed it. This was good! It was a delicacy. It was not just something I could bear to eat. I would want more and more of it. This made me happy. It was pure joy! It was like going back in time to when I was a little girl. Only, oddly enough, I’d never had this black porridge before. Never! So why was it so familiar? And why was the joy mixed with nostalgia.

After about a week of this, with my enthusiam for the new food growing, I began to get a little concerned. I had started to formulate a hypothesis about what it might consist of. Something I’d had in my childhood. Something I liked that made me very, very happy. Could it be… poppy seeds?

Poppy seeds are everywhere in baked goods in Israel. Poppy seed cake is my favorite. But if these were poppy seeds, and they were ground down, and I was experiencing such euphoria everytime I had breakfast, then could it be there was some opium in there, too?

I began to get worried. Nobody should like a breakfast food this much! What if I was becoming addicted? What if in Taiwan including opium in ordinary foods was perfectly legal. It could contain anything, for all I knew. The ingredients were all carefully listed on the side of the box. Forty something, Four of something else — wait, that’s four pouches, probably, Then 177 big something, like maybe calories — or just the total of the other things listed below? Four of something in public units of measurement. Probably four grams of something. Then five grams of something else. Then 29 grams of another thing. At the bottom, once again, four pouches, (same character for a purse) — one person portion. something, something something 160 — probably grams. Okay, so four times forty would be 160. I could read the numbers, but everything else was conjecture.

I decided I would have to ask somebody at the university. I brought in one of the pouches. “I’ve been eating this for breakfast….”

“You like that? It’s so sweet,” my local colleague replied. “My grandfather likes it. But it’s too sweet for me.”

“Hmm. But what is it?”

“Black sesame seed powder…”

Aha! Not poppy seeds. But a close second. Something else from my childhood.

“So, there’s no opium in it, huh?”

My Taiwanese colleague laughed. “No, just a lot of sugar.”

 While the connection between sugar consumption and euphoria is well known (see the link to my hub on Serotonin and Carbohydrates), it wasn’t the sugar in the porridge that I was craving. It was the fat. Sesame seed oil promotes a joy all its own.

I am subject to extreme preferences. Most American cereals taste like cardboard sprinkled liberally with sugar. The added sugar in the average cereal doesn’t attract me. But the blackened sesame seed porridge smelled and tasted like home,

It was like the sesame treats of my youth, the halvah and tehina of my Israeli childhood. It confirmed to me that all Asians do share some things in common, and it was my Asiatic upbringing that made Taiwan seem so familiar, even though in most ways it was completely foreign.

Although it is said that sesame seeds were first cultivated in India, the word “sesame”, which is used in most languages for this seed, is in fact of Semitic origin. It comes from Assyrian shaman shammī and means “plant oil”.

Sesame seeds can be light or dark, and they are used in a number of delicacies across Asia, The darker seeds are used further east, while the lighter seeds are prized in the west. Sesame seeds contain important minerals and vitamins, including manganese, copper and calcium, thiamine and Vitamin E. They have antioxidant properties, which can be enjoyed directly from sesame seed oil. These nutrients are easier for us to absorb if the seeds are ground or pulverized.

If you are looking for something different — but good! — you might consider a dish made with sesame seeds. For a person with a high metabolism or one who has trouble putting on weight, halvah or black sesame seed porridge might be a good place to start, as these products offer both carbs and fat. If, however, you have a slow metabolism, are trying to lose weight, or are on a low carb diet, then I highly recommend tehina (also known as tahini) or even just pure sesame seed oil. I’ve used the oil on salads and vegetables, and it has a wonderful flavor all its own.

Make no mistake: the secret of sesame seed goodness is in the oil. Hence the name: shaman shammī.

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Make a Halloween Card Featuring A Cat

So how can you make a Halloween card? I prefer sweet Halloween themes, so a black cat with glowing eyes is right up my alley.

Make A Halloween Photo Card:

A photograph and text that I used to make my Halloween cat card.

A photograph and text that I used to make my Halloween cat card.

Step 1

Select a photograph you would like to use for your Halloween cat. The black cat sitting on the wall one late August evening in 2010 caught

Step 2

Use a photo editing program to write some text on the card, such as: “Happy Halloween”.

Step 3

Print out the card to share with family and friends.

Make A Halloween Art Card:

I used colored pencils to draw a picture of the Halloween cat sitting on the wall. Here is how I did it.

halloween cat

Step 1:

Use the reference photograph of a cat to draw the photograph for the Halloween cat pop-up card.

Step 2:

Color in the cat illustration with colored pencils.

Step 3:

Give the Halloween cat card to a person who adore felines.

Honestly, I love to draw and I used to make a lot of cards, so I am just sharing this crafting idea for Halloween.



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