How to Read My Books

You can read my books any way you like, in any order you like. It would be incredibly conceited and unrealistic of me to think I can tell you which way to read my books. But occasionally I meet a reader who has actually read one of my books and responds with a dazed: “I don’t know what to make of this.” This article is meant to help them.

Now, I am not talking about the people who just hated the book. That can’t be helped, and there’s nothing anybody can do about that. Somebody who really can’t stand a book usually puts it down long before it ends, and that’s perfectly okay. We can’t like every book we attempt to read. Some books are not for us. They are meant for a different audience, and not finishing them is the right thing to do.

But there are these other readers, who might actually be intrigued by one of my books and yet, even after finishing it, they have this feeling that the book was trying to tell them something, but they have no idea what. These are the people who I think might benefit from a little help.

Here is an order in which my books can be read that might incrementally get the reader ready to enter my world and to understand what I am trying to say.

  1. When Sword Met Bow
  2. Ping & the Snirkelly People
  3. The Few Who Count
  4. Vacuum County
  5. Theodosia and the Pirates (2 books)
  6. Our Lady of Kaifeng (2 books)

This is not the order in which I wrote them. It is not an order listing them in terms of their importance. This is an order that might enable a reader to master some basic ideas before seeing them applied in other more complex settings. It’s a developmental approach.

What we experience in an encounter with another person is not what they experience in their encounter with us. There is no mutuality of experience.

When Sword Met Bow is the story of how a little girl reacts to a new baby in her house. Yes, the baby happens to be a chimpanzee, but the story would be the same if he weren’t. What happens is universal. It happens in millions of households every day. What makes this story unique is that I address the issue of the development of consciousness directly, in ways that most do not.

There is a fiction that everyone we meet is a person, and that they must have been a person, in terms of cognition, since their moment of birth, if not before then.

But consciousness develops over time through experience. And different individuals are at different stages of that development when they meet. And in fact, we almost never meet others for the first time at the same time as they meet us. One of us  may even perceive the other while the other has yet to grasp that there is such a thing as self and other. This matters immensely!

From this follow some other very important lessons:

  • Just because you can see someone, that does not mean he can see you.
  • Just because you care for someone, that does not mean he cares for you.
  • Just because you have said something to someone, that does not mean that he has heard — much less understood — what you said.

If you do not grasp these lessons, then there is no point in reading any of the other books, because my other books build on these ideas.

 When you learn another person’s language and culture, this does not mean they learned yours.

There are many, many interactions that we can have with  people that can bring us to a better understanding of others. But it is important to remember that just because we have learned to understand another person better than we did before, that does mean that they understand us any better. It can be very lonely to experience this realization for the first time.

For some reason, the recurring fallacy among most people is that these “getting to know you” events are mutual. They are not.

When Ping acquires Olivia’s language and culture by total immersion, she is surprised to learn that Olivia has learned nothing about Ping the whole time. This creates an immense rift between the two girls, even though a “getting to know you” event has taken place. Some people will never get to know us, though we may  come to know them very well.

Not all people are the same on the inside, once you get past superficial differences. It is important not to give someone a vote who has no skin in the game and does not know what he is voting about.

The Few Who Count is the book in which I explain that limited liability for corporations is a violation of the rights of third parties and violates the principles of free enterprise. But the real crux of the matter is that if you allow stockholders who have nothing at stake but their paltry investment to vote on management of a business they know nothing about, the results will be bad, both for the business and for the economy at large.

We can talk about it as an abstract legal issue all day long, but that will not move people to change their minds about it — especially those who believe limited liability is good for business, because it gives incentive for investment.

But if we think of it in terms of consciousness — if we think of all the people we have met but who have been asleep and have never met us — then maybe it will be easier to grasp the principle that nobody should get to vote about something that is none of his business — not because people are malevolent, but because they are not even aware of what it is they are voting on, unless it directly involves them.

People in a community need each other to maintain their freedom against outside usurpers, but the contributions of each in the community are not equal and the responsibilities are not equal.

Vacuum County is my most critically acclaimed novel. People who do not see merit in any of the others have praised it. In that sense, it is possible that if you can only read one of my books, perhaps this is the one you should read.

But having read it, you might still not grasp what it is all about. You might think that it means little, outside of the story of one little lost college girl in a backwards Texas county. You might take it as a kind of “Beauty and the Beast” love story, whose plot it certainly resembles. But it you want to read it in depth, then ask yourself where it fits in with the other books, and what clashes of consciousness can be found in the story. What misunderstandings are there about who is what? How well do the people of the county really know each other? Is there a “getting to know you” event at the heart of this story? Is it mutual? Does that matter? If so, how much?

While war is necessary sometimes, those who pay for it should be allowed to wage it at their own expense. When war is publicly funded, that leads to loss of liberty for all. 

Should people who don’t pay for war — either by risking their lives or by contributing to the war machinery — get to vote about war? Should they get to vote when they literally have no skin in the game? That’s really what the two Theodosia and the Pirates books are about.

The story of Jean Laffite and his contributions to the Battle of New Orleans is a true story. The story of his founding of Galveston is also a true story. The life of Aaron Burr and his persecution by Thomas Jefferson is also history. I have linked these two true stories by a speculative thread involving Theodosia Burr Alston.

At the heart of this tale is a “getting-to-know-you” event wrapped up in a “getting-to-know-oneself” event. Is it possible sometimes that we don’t even know ourselves as well as we think we do, until we can see ourselves through someone else’s eyes? Can learning to know someone else ever help us to know ourselves?

Internally motivated people are rare. Most people conform to social reality, which is formed from their collective choices. This is why over time societies tend toward socialism.

What does it take to teach just one person a new language and culture? Total immersion. It’s what worked for Ping. She had to be separated from a social world where everybody looked and acted and thought like her and forced to live in another world, where she was the odd one out, and everybody else spoke Snirkelly. Anyone, if taken at the right age and forced through this experience, can come to understand others better, but the process is painful and not always reversible. And that’s just to get one person to change!

Most people are so immersed and assimilated into their own group that they can never stand apart and judge their culture and their norms from the outside. But into every society are born special people who don’t assimilate that easily. Those are the people who are called madmen and saints. They are the ones who don’t expect everything to be mutual. They can love without being loved in return. They can know without being known. That is the story of Marah Fallowfield.

In today’s world, if we do not assimilate well into our first language and culture, then that is called a developmental disability. If we do not assimilate well into a second language and culture, then we are just foreigners. But there are those who walk among us who are not exactly foreigners and not exactly disabled, who can see what other people can’t see, because they are not blinded by the collective consciousness.

The idea that we can vote about personal and financial matters involving other people, their bodies and their assets, presupposes that we’re all the same on the inside, and we can reason about things that are none of our business, because we are all the same. But in fact, our ability to reason is very much tied in to whether or not we have skin in the game. And we are not all the same on the inside. Each of us is very different from the others. Language and culture, when they are shared, give us the illusion of uniformity and mutual understanding. But on the inside, we are each different and very much alone.

Poetry and Song

So what about your other book?  you might be asking. What about In Case There’s a Fox? Well, that book is really just a poem. It should be read with my other poems, once I publish a book of my poetry. It also goes well with the lyrics of the songs in The Debt Collector, a musical with Daniel Carter as the composer. Here is a playlist of song demos:

Posted in Books and Authors | 2 Comments

Scrapbooking The Memories

It is enjoyable to start a scrapbook around holidays such as Christmas, but these volumes can be a great way to keep your memories year around. I like put photographs, my artwork, and cards in my scrapbook as a way to document my art journey, and to keep things organized in one place. You can always buy a more expensive scrapbook at the crafting store along with stickers and other embellishments, but I am happy with the simple one I found with heavy cardstock pages at the thrift store for around two dollars.

Awhile back I did purchase a scrapbook from the craft store, but I am kind of frugal and cannot see the point of spending almost thirty dollars on a simple book that did not even come with embellishments. As I said you can buy stickers and other decorations to dress a scrapbook up with, but I prefer to just put my own artwork in mine. Today, at the Dollar Tree I noticed they also sell stickers there, so there are many affordable places to purchase these. Also, when it comes to my website I see it as a digital scrapbook of sorts since I have decorated it with my drawings, so if I do not print out all of my pictures, I can still visit the online format. It is nice to have both a paper and digital scrapbooks to showcase your artwork and photographs.

Here I am adding black and white photos to my scrapbook. I used photo editing software to turn my color photos into black and white ones.
Here I am adding black and white photos to my scrapbook. I used photo editing software to turn my color photos into black and white ones.
Here is a print out of a tropical sunset painting I created back in the spring of 2009.
Here is a print out of a tropical sunset painting I created back in the spring of 2009.
I am gluing the print out of my painting and a print out of my cat illustration into my scrapbook. Often I scan pictures I draw and give to other people, which allows me to keep the image for future use.
I am gluing the print out of my painting and a print out of my cat illustration into my scrapbook. Often I scan pictures I draw and give to other people, which allows me to keep the image for future use.
Here I have glued my cat drawing and my flower drawing into a scrapbook. These used to be framed, but I change out my frames every so often, and decided to put these in a scrapbook.
Here I have glued my cat drawing and my flower drawing into a scrapbook. These used to be framed, but I change out my frames every so often and decided to put these in a scrapbook.

Sepia Scrapbook Images

One thing I enjoy creating for my paper based and my online scrapbooks are sepia images, which have a nostalgic old fashion look that I often crave.  There is just something lustrous about looking at old-timey images, and sepia conjures up memories of the past.  Here are a few of my colored pictures that I have turned into sepia pictures for my scrapbooks.

Sepia image of a picture I took at Waikiki Beach.
Sepia image of a picture I took at Waikiki Beach.
Sepia image of looking off the Rim of the World Highway.
Sepia image of looking off the Rim of the World Highway.
Sepia image of looking out towards the Pinnacles.
Sepia image of looking out towards the Pinnacles.
Sepia image of a large tree in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Sepia image of a large tree in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Sepia image of a sunset.
Sepia image of a sunset.
Sunset from a different angle.
Sunset from a different angle.
Sepia inspired sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Sepia inspired sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Car driving down a road near an orange field. This old fashion car and sepia imagery makes the picture look like it was taken before World War II, but it was really taken in July of 2009.
Car driving down a road near an orange field. This old fashion car and sepia imagery make the picture look like it was taken before World War II, but it was really taken in July of 2009.

Creating sepia imagery of Hawaiian vacations, sunsets, and orange fields are all quite inspiring for me.  I love to select special images that go in my paper scrapbooks.  Others go in my online scrapbook to share with the world wide web.

Brilliant sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains with snow that has not melted.
Brilliant sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains with snow that has not melted.
Sepia image out by the Pinnacles in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Sepia image out by the Pinnacles in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Sepia imagery of trees and a sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains.
The sepia imagery of trees and a sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains. | Source
Here is a sepia image I created of a few flowers.
Here is a sepia image I created of a few flowers. | Source

I especially have enjoyed creating sepia imagery of landscapes and flowers, which are some of my favorite things to take pictures of.   Give me landscapes any day!

Sepia imagery that I created of a morning glory.
The sepia imagery of morning glories.
Here is sepia imagery of sunflowers.
Here is sepia imagery of sunflowers.
Sepia imagery of a picture I took of a palm tree. I took this picture with my cell phone and cropped it, but I really love how it turned out.
The sepia imagery of a picture I took of a palm tree. I took this picture with my cell phone and cropped it, but I really love how it turned out. | Source
Here is a sepia image I created of a picture I took of Grass Valley Lake.
Here is a sepia image I created of a picture I took of Grass Valley Lake. | Source
Here is sepia imagery I created of a picture looking out towards Hesperia.
Here is sepia imagery of the view looking down on Hesperia.

I love to take spooky images for Halloween and turn these into sepia images to remember.  See what I did with a couple of my photographs below.  Oh yes, and I have also included a couple of images that I took out at the Pinnacles, which have been edited to have sepia effects.

Here is a sepia Halloween scrapbook image I created. The picture I took of the rising moon was perfect for this!
Here is a sepia Halloween scrapbook image I created. The picture of the rising moon was perfect for this!
The full moon look especially creepy in sepia, and almost like an image out of a scary black and white film.
The full moon looks especially creepy in sepia, and almost like an image out of a scary black and white film.
Here is another I took of the full moon where I used photo shop to a Halloween imagery. This would even make for a fun Halloween card to give for friends.
Here is another photo the full moon turned into a Halloween image.
Here is a picture I took in the San Bernardino Mountains facing out towards the Pinnacles.
Here is a picture I took in the San Bernardino Mountains facing out towards the Pinnacles.
Here is a picture that I took hiking out at the Pinnacles in 1988! I scanned my photo and used sepia effects to create this amazing image.
Here is a picture that I took hiking out at the Pinnacles in 1988! I scanned my photo and used sepia effects to create this amazing image.
Here is a picture I took looking out by the Pinnacles.
Looking out past the Pinnacles towards Hesperia.
Another breath taking image taken out on the desert side of the mountain, which is by the Pinnacles in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Another breath taking image taken out on the desert side of the mountain, which is by the Pinnacles in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Here is a picture I created of a sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Here is a picture I created of a sunset in the San Bernardino Mountains.

You can use photo editing software to create you own amazing sepia or colored images for your scrapbooks.  I hope you have fun playing with pictures you have taken over the years.

Posted in Arts & Crafts | Tagged | 1 Comment

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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