Monday, December 26, 2016

The Internet is like Quicksand

I'm a big believer in Immortality. No, not the kind where you go to heaven or Valhalla or Nirvana. I mean the kind where your works and your name outlive your body. I even believed for a while that the internet would help me get there. But every day now, with reminders from Facebook of things that I posted a year, three years or five years ago, I am forced to face my own mortality and the mortality of others on the web. Links that I posted lead to dead ends. Articles that I edited with care thinking they would be there for people to read long after I am gone, are full of holes where I linked to images instead of copying them into my own site. The internet is like quicksand!

Today, I was reminded by Facebook of an article about Mary Dolan that I published four years ago and then shared on social media three years ago. The images had all disappeared! Why? Because respecting the work that another person put into copying pages from Marie Dolan's passport onto the web, I linked to that site for the images, rather than copying them outright. Now that site is no longer there, and the only image I was able to save was the one I had copied onto Pinterest.

Mary Dolan's passport

Why? What ever happened to that thing that they told us on Hubpages: that we would get residual income forever off the work we did today? Was that all a scam?

I look at my books on Amazon, and whereas they were supposed to be just like any other books, now they are showing a delay of four days to order them. What will happen when Amazon goes bankrupt someday in the not so near future, after I am dead? Can I seriously expect that my books will not be permanently out of print?

By all means trust the internet for the short term, but in the long run, you want to have a hard copy of everything. Hardcopies outlive the publishers and the civilizations that spawned them. The internet is way too flimsy to trust our immortality to.

While my new year's resolution is to write and publish less and publicize more, I do plan to publish more of my articles and other minor contributions, so there is a hardcopy to refer to in the future, even as the internet fails us. If you want immortality, you do the same!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Ratio of Reviews to Books

My new year's resolution when it comes to publishing is to improve my reviews-to-books-published ratio. This means writing and publishing fewer books and expending more time and energy in getting people to review the books that are already out there,

I am actually thrilled with the reviews I did get this year, so I compiled them into a video and am sharing it here.

"You must be really disciplined," one friend told me, "to keep writing so many books year after year." No, actually it's a lack of self-discipline that makes something like that happen. It's unbridled passion that compels a person to start writing one book in the middle of writing another one. The two Theodosia and the Pirates books happened to me when I had not even finished writing the second half of Our Lady of Kaifeng. How embarrassing!

As an author,  you want to have many more readers than books to your credit, and I think that requires discipline. So in the future I will write less and work harder to recruit readers for the books I have already written.

Why just a few moments ago, I put this New Year's resolution to work when the dogs made a commotion and Bow alerted me to the fact that a car had pulled into my driveway. It was two older Jehovah's witnesses, a man and a woman, and they were lugging Bibles and pamphlets as they walked up to the door.

Lickety-split I went and fetched my own books. Three of them were easiest to get hold of: Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way, Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain, and Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain. I've written other books, of course. Those were just the ones that came readily to hand.

"Merry Christmas," I greeted the white haired man and woman opening wide the door, before they even had a chance to knock. "I see you have a lot of information to share with me," I said, eyeing their literature. "But I have a lot of information to share with you, too. I have written these books, and I want to give them to you as a Christmas present."

The man glanced down at the volumes I was proffering. The picture of Theodosia and Jean on board ship did not seem to appeal to him on the cover of the top book. "I don't think I want them right now," he said with a look of displeasure, as if I were offering him something not quite kosher.

"Oh." There was a very brief silence when I considered telling him that I did not want his literature, either, But I decided that would not be polite. So then I just said: "Well, then you have a merry Christmas, anyway." And they said merry Christmas, too, in a half-hearted way, and turned and walked back to their car, dejected.

In terms of handling solicitors, I think that went rather well. But as a seller of books, I have a long, long way to go. Like any other gospel, you just can't give it away!

The books I offered the Jehovah's Witnesses

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Role of Humor and Allusion in Literature

During the Thanksgiving Holiday Season, the Gilmore Girls special came out on Netflix: A Year in the Life. My daughter and I had been looking forward to it for quite some time.

"Do you like that show? How can anybody like it? It's so stupid!" That's what somebody we talked to said to us, as we went off to watch the Gilmore miniseries. That person was not speaking out of ignorance or spitefulness. Having watched the show and parts of it several times, this was a considered opinion for this person. But not for us.

Dealing with different tastes in literature is daunting. I remember one time, I was hurt about the poor reception of one of my own books, and after having ranted about it in private to someone I trusted, I was stunned to hear back: "Well, what is so great about your writing?" There was nothing at all that I could answer to that. The person had read my writing. If what was so great about it did not move them, then nothing I could possibly say in its defense ever could.

It's like responding to a joke. If you don't laugh, then it's not funny --  to you. But it may be hysterically funny to somebody else. It's subjective. And yet it also isn't. The joke has a punchline, and if you understand the context, then it will make you laugh. And if you don't laugh, then you don't understand the context.

So every time we judge a piece of literature as lacking, our judgment is valid, but we are also subjecting ourselves to the judgment of someone else, who will find us lacking for not getting it. Literature is very, very personal.

Now most people will just try to gloss over all that and say: "Well, it's just a matter of taste. We don't argue over taste." But others do feel the urge to argue, because when somebody rejects something you like -- maybe even love -- then it feels as if they are rejecting you.

Did we like the Gilmore Girls miniseries? Yes, but not every part of it equally well. And that, too, has to do with context. You see, Gilmore Girls is full of literary references and esoteric allusions, and to the extent that you are not in on the joke, you won't get it.

We loved the first two episodes and felt they were just as good as the original. And then we kind of got bogged down in the musical about Stars Hollow that went on and on and didn't seem to be part of the plot.  And I like musicals, mind you.

Once I realized, on a second viewing of the miniseries, that this was Sutton Foster in the lead, and that she is a Lorelai stand-in on Bunheads, and that there are a number of in-jokes in the musical numbers, all was well. I forgave the Sherman-Palladinos for the diversion. I got it.

The truth is that there have always been some allusions and some jokes on Gilmore Girls that I did not quite get, and even if I did get them, it was not on the first viewing. But I am the kind of reader and the kind of viewer who likes to be challenged, so I never resented that. It did not  make me feel stupid that I didn't understand everything on the first try. It was challenging, not annoying.

I think that is the difference between an avid reader and those who insist on always reading something at their "reading level", intended for people just like themselves. I started reading English before I could properly speak English. I had to tolerate a lot of vocabulary I had never heard before even in my basic primer. I am not the sort of person who looks up every word she does not understand. I rely heavily on context for disambiguation. But there are some modern Gilmore fans who Google everything right in the middle of watching the show. How weird is that?

But isn't it "self-indulgent" to put in jokes that only some people and not others will get? Aren't you some kind of elitist twat if you do that? And aren't you doomed to failure in the marketplace if you don't play to the lowest common denominator. Or alternatively, to a very well-defined and established niche?

Not really. Gilmore Girls is literature. Like all literature, it does have a plot, and a very good one. But the plot is character driven. And also, it's not just the story. It's the way the story is told that has us coming back for more. When I listen to Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel deliver lines written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, it's like reading those words. The words matter. The writing matters. And I know for a fact  they are not allowed to ad-lib. The words, arranged in precisely that order, are the product. And it sells!

Before Gilmore Girls, there was no niche on TV  for word-based comedy with a dramatic flare. This is totally different from situation comedy, and equally different from most dramedies. And while the idea about a mother-daughter pair who really like each other and are best friends is also novel, in the hands of other writers it would not work. This show is really about the writing, and if you are not an avid reader at heart, you won't like it.

By the same token, I am the sort of person who likes to have conversations like that. People will tell you that they hate it when other people talk like a book. Everybody should be colloquial and accessible. Gilmore Girls plays at being colloquial in the delivery of the lines, but they are actually literature. It's written English passing for conversation. I love that! That's why Gilmore Girls for me is a fantasy come true. The fantasy is not just about a mother and daughter who like each other -- a much bigger deal than loving one another, by the way. The fantasy is not just about a safe, colorful, beautiful town full of eccentrics. The fantasy is that it might be possible to meet people who talk like a book. That it might even be cool, instead of just awkward! I want to live in a town where every single person is like a character in a book! And they're all happy, deep down inside, even when they are miserable!

So, I hope that explains why I like Gilmore Girls to all my friends and family who think the show is stupid. But oddly enough, this epiphany about Gilmore Girls came at a time when some of the reviewers of my books mentioned something rarely mentioned before: my writing -- at least some of it -- is funny. Shocker, isn't it?

"But your books aren't funny, are they?" Someone who knows me and has read my books asked me that. Well, uh, yeah, but after years of feeling I was cracking jokes that only I could understand, it's nice to be validated.

It's like the old friend who once said: "But there's no sex in your books, right?" There is in some of them. There's not in others. You don't really know me, as a writer or a person, if you judge by just one book. But all my books are a little funny, if you know how to read them. It's not funny as in slapstick ha ha. It's more subtle than that. Most reviewers don't focus on the comedy, but they note it is there:

In fact, part of the comedy and tension between Theodosia and Laffite lies in her trying to dissuade him from the rosy view he has of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. (from Joe Eldred's Libertybuzz review.)
The comedy in my writing comes from conflicting world views, which is also the source of most of the comedy and tension in my life. That's why I like Gilmore Girls. And yeah, I know Amy Sherman-Palladino is a liberal. Still, it does not matter. It might as well be a libertarian who wrote about Prohibition in Stars Hollow. Taylor Doose is complaining about not being able to increase the tax base in the town. People at the town meeting tell him he could get a lot more taxes if he made it legal for bars to open in Stars Hollow. He adamantly refuses. Then ditzy Babette says: "Why don't you just tax the secret bar?" "What??" he asks. Then everybody else turns around and shushes her.

There follow several scenes in the secret bar that has to be dismantled every time Taylor passes by.

"Why do they have a secret bar?" my daughter asks.

"Because Taylor doesn't let them have a bar, but that never keeps people from having bars. It just drives them underground." And then I explain how the good thing about black markets is that they cannot be taxed.

Of course, in Stars Hollow, the government isn't scary. It's just funny. I wish real life could be like that!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Neal Auction Company Cites Historia Obscura as a Reference

Historia Obscura is my site, although I am not myself a historian.  One of my star authors is Pam Keyes, who is an expert on Jean Laffite. Today I found out that Neal Auction Company cited one of Pam Keyes' articles published on Historia Obscura as a reference in one of its auction catalogues.

Page 68 of Neal Auction Catalog references Chew article
In the Neal Company catalog for an auction in New Orleans to be held this month, there is a painting by Salazar of Daniel William Coxe, a merchant under whom Beverly Chew apprenticed, according to the article by Pam Keyes cited by the auction house in their catalog

It is very gratifying to see experts in valuable historical portraits citing articles published on Historia Obscura.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Critical Reception of Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain

A new piece by Joe Eldred in LibertyBuzz has prompted me to examine the critical reception of the first Theodosia and the Pirates novel over the years. The LibertyBuzz review is very detailed, but it can be summed up succinctly  with these lines:

But please keep in mind that, while the novel is undoubtedly a tour-de-force of Rothbardian political theory, it does not seem like it, because the lessons are delicately embedded within the narrative.
The story remains primarily that of the internal struggles of a woman of the Early Republic.
What's really exciting about this new review is that it acknowledges the libertarian perspective of the novel, while also making note of the other elements of the plot and theme, and it shows how integrated all those thing are into a seamless whole.

Other reviews have focused on different aspects of the novel. For instance, the Eye on Life piece by Jerilee Wei focused on the speculative historical fiction aspects of the story. Is it all right to invent an extramarital romance for a person who disappeared two hundred or more years ago, leaving no trace? Or is this exploitation of the memory of a departed human being? The review compares what happened when a myth was created for George Washington out of a well-intentioned work of fiction for children:

This tendency isn't anything new.  Authors have capitalized on historical characters for generations, leading to widely accepted myths about famous people doing things that never happened in real life.  A prime example of this would be the myth of George Washington as a boy, chopping down a cherry tree.  That story first circulated as a fictional children's story.  Then, it took on a life of its own 1800, in a non-fiction biography by Mason Locke, who seized upon it as a way of making our first president as a more likeable character.  The fiction was good enough to become a myth, soon to be taught to generations of American children -- and the result was somewhere along the line everyone forgot the difference between fiction and biography.

As long as we keep fact and fiction separate, there should be no problem distinguishing the two. My book has a whole section in the back dedicated to separating the made-up parts from the history. There is also a bibliography for those who want to read non-fiction on the subject.

Leslie Fish focused mostly on the politics and class issues in the review on her blog:

Equally fascinating are the political intrigues between the freewheeling settlers of the gulf coast and the woefully inept officials of the new American republic.  The story is studded with examples of actual letters from the historical characters, giving unique insights into the volatile society of early America with its shifting relationships between the sexes, the races, and the influences of the neighboring European empires.  And of course, this being a historical Romance, there's plenty of good rampant sex. 
For some reviewers, such as the one at the Historical Novel Society in the UK, the main drawback of the book is its cover:

My main criticism is the cover which is simplistic in style, giving the initial impression of a young adult book (which this definitely is not!). 
Not really sure what is wrong with the cover, but here it is.
I love the illustration by Lanie Frick.

These should be enough different perspectives on the book to start out with before deciding whether it is for you. Of course, once you get to the Amazon page to buy it, there are several more reviews to choose from.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Looking for Libertarians in All the Wrong Places

Today I learned that Florence Henderson has died. And as they were playing The Brady Bunch theme song over and over again, it reminded me of a filk of it I wrote once.

When I was a young girl and looking for lovers... No, wait, that's the wrong filk song. That one is by Suzette Haden Elgin, who is also deceased now, just like Florence Henderson. And it's to the tune of The Ash Grove. 

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.

What I meant to say was this: When I was a young girl and looking for libertarians, I didn't look for them in the Libertarian Party.  I looked for them anywhere else than in the Libertarian Party. In retrospect, that seems strange, but at the time it made perfect sense to me.

There was only one chapter of the Libertarian Party that I was aware of: the Tarrant County folk who met somewhere in Arlington, Texas. I had been to exactly one meeting, and I stayed just long enough to determine that they had the souls of accountants. They did not know that Taxation was Theft. They just wanted a "Fair Tax", and they sat and endlessly argued what percentage that tax would be. This was their only issue, as far as I could tell.

But me, I wanted to overturn everything. I wanted a revolution! And I needed fiery tempered revolutionaries -- not lily livered appeasers. So, naturally, I looked for them among the Trekkies, the Anarchists and the Neo-Conservatives and Survivalists. (In those days, there were no preppers. There were only survivalists.) And I looked for them among the filkers, because lyrics are the closest thing to poetry that could be found in the modern world.

And then I came across Blake's Seven fandom. And that's when my knowledge of Brady Bunch lore came into play.

"Here's a story of a man named Roj Blake,
"Who was plotting to overthrow the Feds,
"But was caught and charged with child molesting,
"And went to jail, instead.
"Here's a story of a bunch of outlaws
"Who had just learned that crime will never pay.
"There was not an idealist among them,
"But they were put away.
"Till the one day when this Blake guy met these outlaws,
"And it seemed like a match made in Heaven,
"And although it was not precisely how they numbered,
"They came to form Blake's Seven.
"Oh, Blake, Blake's Seven,
"For Heaven's sake,
"I mean, who's counting?
"But where the Hell is Blake?"

Today, looking at the Blake Bunch filkbook that resulted from all that, I realize most of those B7 fans were leftists -- socialists and liberals. But at the time I did not know that. I was looking for a hero to save the Republic, and I just knew I would not find him among the Libertarian Party crowd.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Compromises and their Price

Most people work at jobs that they don't really like, but find tolerable enough to sustain them. They marry individuals that they don't quite respect, but who are at least kind enough and supportive enough to get them through the day. They vote for political candidates they are deeply suspicious of, but at the same time, these are the best candidates available to vote for, from their own personal perspective.

We can't expect to change the world in one fell swoop, so we are conditioned to get along with others and work together for small improvements in our lives. Arguably, there's nothing wrong with that -- except when we turn around and see the changes wrought in the landscape of our society by all these small, seemingly innocent compromises.

I recently watched the Tim Burton movie, Big Eyes, about the artist Margaret Keane and her domineering conman of a husband, who catapulted her art into fame, before she exposed him for the fraud that he was.

In my daughter's bedroom there is a print of a  painting of a cat that looks as if it might have been painted by Margaret Keane. If it is not actually painted by her, then it must have been a conscious, intentional imitation. It looks just like her art.  I got this painting from my parents. It used to hang in their house. It is a relic from the sixties and early seventies.

When my daughter was very little, she really liked this cat painting and even identified with it deeply, thinking that if she were a cat, she would look like that. Then, later, it scared her, because of those big spooky eyes, and she took it down off the wall and hid it. Then, later still, she put it back up.

Margaret Keane's art is confusing like that. It moves us, then it scares us, and then after a while we come back to it. Or maybe we decide it is kitsch, and later still we realize that there is a history there, and no matter what base instinct within us it appeals to, it is still definitely art.

But did you know the history of the paintings? Did you know that her husband took credit for them? Or that in all probability we, the public,  would never have seen any of her paintings, if not for the false origin story he spun out of thin air, to make the emotional appeal seem to have a bigger, almost political meaning? I did not know until after I had seen the movie Big Eyes. And all this made me think of the Election of 2016, where nothing is quite as it seems. Read my LibertyBuzz article, to see how it all ties together.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

If We Stand Together, No One Can Stop Us

The real problem is that we are all so divided. Nobody dares stand up to our oppressors, because we cannot seem to agree that it would be a good thing to do. If we ever did act as one, then there would be no limit to what we could accomplish. That's why it is very important to keep talking to our neighbors, even when we belong to opposing political camps.

There is a meme going around: "I hope we can still be friends after the election, even if we are in different internment camps." And yes, there are people who see an internment camp in their future.

What would it take to fight the relentless march of government over our lives? The courage to do what you feel is right and the conviction that all your neighbors will do the same.

Excerpt from Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way

What would it take for all of us to act as one against the guards? Do they have to put us in a camp before that can happen?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sometimes the Good Wins Despite Being Good -- Or Maybe Because of It

It is becoming amply clear that Donald Trump cannot win. He cannot win because his backers are supposed to uphold the moral high ground, and even though many of them are hypocrites, he hasn't given them much choice but to reject his obvious moral lapses. But there are those who support him in the evangelical camp who think that the Bible has precedents for immoral men to be God's anointed. This is all so Vacuum County!

Read Vacuum County to see how this plays out!
For those favoring a purely opportunistic voting strategy, the tables have turned. If you were voting for Trump just to beat Hillary, voting for Trump can no longer achieve that goal. Under the principle of the wasted vote, a vote for Trump is no longer anything but waste, Which means that voting for Gary Johnson just might be less wasteful, given that his backers include those who just want to block Hillary but also a large and incorruptible base that is voting Libertarian. Suddenly the pragmatic choice is not the lesser of two evils, but actually something good. Who would have guessed it?

In a similar twist of fate, the international literati have chosen a poet whose poetry actually scans, despite the fact that it scans -- or is it because of it?

Ever since WWII, people in power have been trying to undermine meaningful literature and poetry that scans.  They've done such a great job of it, that many college professors and professional poets don't know anything about meter in poetry, anymore. And even naive readers have learned to object to the poetry of Kipling as doggerel on the grounds that it is too "sing-songy". Many don't even know that the effect they deride is meter, and that it sounds song-like for very technical reasons, having to do with the interface between music and lyrics,

The powers that be are now so tired of the poetry that is not "music" that they have chosen a musician's lyrics for the Nobel Prize of literature. Is it despite the fact that it scans that Bob Dylan's poetry was acknowledged by the poetry haters -- or because of it?

Sometimes the good is chosen, not despite the fact it is good, but because of it, and the only thing that makes that seem like such a radical choice is the people making it, with their long history of choosing evil over good.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

How Do You Know If You've Won?

Winning does not mean anything unless you are better off after victory than you were before. If you think you have won an argument, but the other side does not change its mind, then chances are you didn't actually win. You may be more brilliant, you may have better strategy and tactics, you may have beaten the enemy to a bloody pulp and gotten them to surrender in the last battle of the war. But if in the end you pay tribute to them, instead of their paying tribute to you, then you have not won. Hannibal beat Rome in every battle, and yet he did not win. Sometimes our military leaders can hand us victories on silver platters that our civil leaders and diplomats never take advantage of.

We beat the British in the Battle of New Orleans. But we did not win the war, since we had to pay the British for the Louisiana Purchase on that note they got from France, and they did not have to pay us to repair the damage they had done during the Sack of Hampton and the burning of Washington.

The British Burning Washington

Why did it turn out that way? Could there have been a different outcome? And is the shoddy treatment of Jean Laffite by the Madison administration related to this?

 A meeting between Aaron Burr and James Madison toward the end of Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain suggests an answer.

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain

Neither Madison nor Jefferson were military men. Neither had served in any of the battles of the American Revolution. But while Jefferson had succeeded in avoiding war during his administration, Madison declared war.

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain
That the line between privateers and pirates had been so blurred by the end of the War of 1812 is due to the Neutrality Act.

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain
The Embargo Act had been an attempt to avoid war by outlawing international commerce. Anybody who thinks Jefferson was the original libertarian must not have heard of the Embargo Act.

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain

Not paying taxes on goods that you sell to the American people is a service to the American people against their government. But the wool is still being pulled over the eyes of most people on this point.

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain
Why couldn't we send privateers to collect restitution from our enemies, instead of taxing citizens to pay for the military?

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain
A war is not won until the enemy pays for all the damage it has caused. Payment can come in the form or gold or of land. But if not paid for, the damage is absorbed by the people  -- and that is not a victory.

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain

No war should ever be fought at the expense of the people! Every war should be bankrolled by the enemy. That's why letters of marque are provided for in the Constitution. When was the last time we took advantage of that provision?

An Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain
The Constitution has not been just lately infringed upon. The very Founders were already in the process of unraveling its fabric as soon as they each came into office. You don't have to be an anarchist to want to reform this situation. We can restore the Constitution only by acknowledging how early on it was undermined by politicians in office -- even those who drafted it themselves.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Conversation between Dolley and Aaron

Dolley Madison in One of Her Famous Hats
It was Aaron Burr who introduced James Madison to Dolley. Madison was a painfully shy bachelor. Burr was his friend from college. And Dolley was that flirty widow lady who lived in the same boarding house with Burr. Burr was not interested in Dolley, but he thought that she would do his friend Jemmy Madison a world of good. So he set them up. He told Jemmy that Dolley was interested in him. He told Dolley that Mr. Madison had shown an interest in her. That's all it took!

In Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain, I extrapolate from these well know facts about the first lady who loved hats to create a meeting between Aaron Burr and Dolley Madison right after the end of the War of 1812.
Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates
A milliners shop would have been just the place to find Dolley, Everyone knew of her fascination with head gear.

Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates
The letter from Jean Laffite to James Madison  did not meet with much better success than the letter from Theodosia to Dolley, pleading on behalf of her exiled father.

Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates
Aaron Burr may or may not have spoken to James Madison on behalf of Jean Laffite. But this small snippet of a conversation between Aaron and Dolley rings true. What else would they have said to each other?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Our Contribution Over Time

Looking back over poetry from my twenties, I am overcome by its fluency and eloquence. I doubt I will ever write poems quite like that again.

There Can Be Gods is a poetry anthology  I  contributed to in 1989
The cover ilustration is by Linda Holt

For some people, the idea that as we mature we may lose our abilities to create, while retaining property rights to works made long ago is unacceptable. Those people believe we are not really poets, unless we write poetry all the time. They think it is all in the work and never in the works -- all labor and no product. They think people should be paid a decent wage for the work they do today,  instead of a fee for the product they made yesterday. They believe we are valuable to others only so long as we work, and the moment we stop working, we become a burden  on society.

Socialists keep saying that we owe a debt to our predecessors and that's why we have to pay taxes to the state, but when it comes to paying royalties or rents or interest on money in the bank, they are against that, because they will not acknowledge our contemporaries' debt to us. "Rent seekers" are bad. "Workers" are good. But what if today's rent seekers are yesterday's workers or their descendants? What happened to the debt to our predecessors? Where did that concept go?

We are born only once. It changes everything. We are never the same after that. And as poets we only ever  write about it once.

We are born only once. We emerge into consciousness only once. We only have one life, and as we sharpen our self-discipline, we lose a certain kind of spontaneity and fluency. It doesn't just happen to poets. I think that it happens to everyone, in  one way or another, and if we want to preserve and honor the value of what  we have created in our youth, we have to acknowledge that our riper fruit is different. And sometimes not as juicy.

When my first novel, The Few Who Count  came out, most people agreed that it was not quite a mature work. But The Few Who Count continues to sell a little each year, ever since it came out on Kindle:

The Few Who Count, though by no means a bestseller,  does appeal to a certain readership. Its message about the corporate entity is as true today as it was then.

Vacuum County is my most critically acclaimed book

I finished writing Vacuum County in 1993. It was a well-crafted novel, and for years I held out for publication by a New York publisher. Eventually, I gave up, and so it came out in 2012 in time for the 19th anniversary of the Mt. Carmel Massacre.  It has seven perfect reviews. And nobody is buying it.

I will never write a book like Vacuum County again, because there is no reason to write Vacuum County again. I said what I had to say there, and then I moved on. Vacuum County deserves a place in literature. But the idea that I should just keep repeating myself by creating equivalent novels is completely unrealistic. That's not how the creative process works. It would be just as wrong as if I got stuck in a loop  writing that same perfect poem about birth over and over again.  It can't happen. This is not how life works.

Our Lady of  Kaifeng -- Part One

Our Lady of Kaifeng is a followup to Vacuum County that readers respectfully accept. It's literary. It's deep. It's meaningful, and it does not mess with anything too sexual or raw or disturbing. It's a deep novel, but somehow it does not ruffle feathers. People write nice reviews or they write no reviews, but nobody is going to be so enraged by Our Lady of Kaifeng that they are going to write something hateful. And nobody is ever going to buy it, either. Unless, of course, my other novels take off.

Our Lady of Kaifeng -- Part Two

But in the very middle of writing Our Lady of Kaifeng -- somewhere in between writing Part One and writing Part Two -- something weird happened to me. And I lost some of my respectful readers along the way. Which is okay, because those respectful readers never helped me sell any books, anyway.

The weird thing that happened was Theodosia and the Pirates.

Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain

 Novels are not planned. They just happen. Like babies. I mean, they do, if you are lucky. And I consider myself lucky.

Theodosia and the Pirates The War Against Spain

This is not imply that any of my novels, critically acclaimed or not, is selling particularly well. But each of them is different, and each was written for a reason, and I am not planning to re-write any of them, nor will I ever write any of them again. Each is a unique experience.

Maybe The Few Who Count was a little unripe -- a little raw in terms of skill. Maybe Vacuum County represents the peak of my achievement, and maybe Theodosia and the Pirates is a bit over-ripe.  Perhaps Our Lady of Kaifeng is mature, respectable fruit that nobody will ever rave about, except those who are hopelessly intellectual and well read

I believe that even if I never write again, I have already made my contribution. My task now is to make sure that it sells, because if it doesn't sell, for society it is as if it never happened. In the same way, and for the same reason, I am not planning to have any more children, or to adopt any more chimpanzees, but I plan to see those in my care into adulthood and into a place where they can have lives of their own and make contributions of their own. I don't need to teach another ape to read and write. I just need to prove that I have already done this, so that the world may know and learn from my experiences.

There is a time to sow and there is a time to reap, and there is no shame in reaping what you have sown, even if you never plan to sow again. There is a time to work, and then there is a time to get rents and royalties and interest on the work you have already done. It would be very bad for society if we threw away every book that was written or devalued people's nest eggs the moment they retired. Honoring those who came before us includes honoring you and me for our contributions in the past even though we are still alive and not ever going to contribute in quite the same way again. And it also includes allowing us to pass our savings onto our children when our time here on earth is done. 

No, an inheritance is not a windfall to the heir. It's a contribution from the dead to the living. And it's a contribution we should be allowed to make to the heir of our choice.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

We Annexed Texas the Right Way

Davy Crockett
Yesterday was a Friday, and at The Libertarian Republic I posted a list of the top five libertarian war heroes. Even though the list format tends to promote facile generalizations, I am happy with the article I wrote, and so I want to share it here.

Even though the biographies of the five men are short and superficial, using the list format enabled me to make the following point about the Neutrality Act and about how the annexation of Texas was done the right  way:

The United States was founded on the principle that residents of a geographic area should be allowed to decide for themselves how they want to be governed. It was also founded with the help of volunteers from elsewhere, like the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought in the American Revolution, just because he liked the ideas the Americans espoused. At the very start of the Republic, it was understood that any individual American could decide for himself what foreign wars he wanted to fight in and what Empire or regime he wanted to help topple, without asking for permission from the government of the United States. That's why American privateers fought on behalf of the French against Britain at a time when the United States was at peace with Britain. But wanting to put an end to this, in the Jay Treaty negotiations, Britain lobbied for the passage of the Neutrality Act, thereby putting an end to the legal pursuit of foreign policy by individual Americans for fun and profit. But this did not mean that Americans stopped trying. Aaron Burr was one example of somebody who wanted to help Hispanic colonists to liberate themselves from Spain. Long after Jefferson had ruined Burr, there were Mexican revolutionaries still writing the former Vice President letters asking for his help in their liberation from Spain. Jean Laffite, the smuggler and privateer, founded Galveston as a stronghold against Spain. But... just as they had done when he contributed to the defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the American government drove him away from Galveston so that they could give Texas to Spain on a silver platter under the terms of the Adams-Onis treaty. The United States did not drive Laffite out because they wanted Galveston for themselves. In fact, if it had been up to the American government, Texas would never have belonged to the U.S. But men like Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, when they got fed up with the corruption in Washington D.C. and opposed President Jackson's Indian Removal Act, went to help the Mexicans in Texas liberate themselves from what was now Mexico. They formed their own government, and the Republic of Texas eventually chose willingly to be annexed by the United States.
That's the story. And by looking at the biographies of the five men on my list in close succession, I think that you can see it is a single story with a unified plot line.  The theme of the story is individuals fighting against foreign governments, whether their own government allows it or not.

The Louisiana Purchase had been unconstitutional, precisely because entry into the Union was supposed to be voluntary. You were not supposed to be able to buy new territories and new constituents at the expense of the taxpayers. Jefferson was afraid that Burr was out to steal the territories that he bought, by turning the residents in those territories against the idea of eventually being annexed into the United States. This was completely untrue. Burr was going after fresh new territory south of the border. He was doing it at his own expense, without getting the United States into debt and without conscripting a single soldier.

But let's face it: Talking to the people living in American-held territories and suggesting that they might not want to be annexed would not have been treason. So even if Burr had been plotting what Jefferson thought he was plotting, it would not have been wrong.

Lots of people today do not know that Texas independence from Mexico was achieved through the rebellion of the people who lived in Texas against Mexico, including most Hispanic residents. It was not some Anglo-led plot to hurt Hispanics. It was the exact opposite of the policy being pursued by Andrew Jackson against the Cherokee nation. The government of the new Republic of Texas was inclusive.

If Davy Crockett and Sam Houston had obeyed the Neutrality Act, Texas would never have joined the Union at no cost to the taxpayers of the United States. The Neutrality Act should be repealed, so that Americans can continue to help others abroad when they choose, without involving the rest of us against our will.

But the other side of all this is that the idea of secession is something Jefferson was afraid of as early as his second term. A lot of Southerners don't know this. Once you start behaving like a Statist, buying and selling territories and the people in them, it makes you paranoid. Andrew Jackson's martial law during the Battle of New Orleans was something that happened because he did not really trust the people of Louisiana not to betray the United States to the British. He completely misunderstood them, lumping all "foreigners" together. He could not see how the French speaking population of the territory that had newly been annexed actually hated the British. But when you try to impose yourself on others, you also tend to think the worst of them.

The Neutrality Act did more harm than just destroying the individual careers of specific privateers. It put us on the slippery slope to the loss of all our civil liberties, because there in black and white in the body of the Statute the right of people to decide for themselves what government to support and which one to fight against was abridged. It undercuts the very reason for the American Revolution. It meant that we all came under the thumb of  foreign empires, if once our government negotiated a treaty with them. Thank goodness that real patriots like Sam Houston  never paid any attention to this law.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Austin Petersen on Religion

I've been too busy writing  libertarian articles to keep up much with this blog, but I would like to share an unusual interview that Austin Petersen just gave which focuses on his religion or lack thereof. Too many people who are atheists are left wing liberals. Too many people with the right views on property rights and free trade are also very committed to Christianity and often unable to disengage from it long enough to understand the first amendment. Austin Petersen is not afraid to come out in favor of freedom, and yet admits he is not a believer.

Watching the Apologia TV interview with Austin Petersen, I noticed how very much like one of our Founding Fathers he is. No, not Washington or Jefferson or Adams. Someone more outspoken and different and the grandson of a great theologian. Of course, I'm talking about Theodosia's father, Aaron Burr.

Thomas Jefferson may have been just as much an agnostic as Burr, but he hid behind language that made him sound like a Creationist. Who again was it he said had endowed man with rights? Burr was not militantly anti-religious, but he was also no hypocrite. He was cordial to religious people, and yet he did not lie to them. Even on his deathbed.

We had one chance to have an open non-believer as president when Burr was in the running. In 2020, we may get another opportunity, if Austin Petersen runs for president again.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My New Fling with Journalism

"If he studies the news in the papers.
     "While you are preparing the tea,
"If he talks of the damps or the vapors,
      "While moonlight lies soft o'er the sea,
"If he's sleepy while you are capricious,
       "If he hasn't a musical O,
"If he doesn't think Werther delicious,
       "My own Araminta, say no!"

                                               from A Letter of Advice, by Winthrop Mackworth Praed.

I have always despised the press. And by the press, I don't mean Benjamin Franklin or any other small owner of the press. I think what I mean is what they call the mainstream media today -- MSM -- but I was born long ago and far away, and it all started with the news on the radio in Israel.  My grandparents all listened, some of them many times a day. Or they kept the radio on all day long, and it kept repeating the same dry phrases over and over again. There was more than one channel, but the news seemed to be the same, no matter which channel you were on, and it was not just that the events described were the same. The words they used were exactly the same, It was monotonous and boring,

"Why do you keep listening to that? It's so boring."

"Because we want to know what's going on in the world."

There must be a better way to find out what is going on in the world than this! I thought. My parents watched the news on TV when I was little. I had to be very quiet. I did not like it, not because it was the news, but because it used dry language that seemed to imply it was the absolute truth they were telling us, and there was no bias. It wasn't that I suspected they were lying. It's just that I wanted there to be a bias! Without a point of view, dry facts are so boring. I needed them to tell a story. Stories always have a point of view.

An Excerpt from Ping & the Snirkelly People
Buy it on Amazon
That's why when I grew up, and people knew I liked to write, I rejected out of hand the possibility of being a journalist that they suggested. I wanted to be an advocate, not a reporter. I wanted to actually say something that might make a difference. That's what I thought I was doing with my fiction, but I ran into that whole problem of genre.

Unless the reader is actually open to the possibility that a book is not going to just repeat what he already knows and expects to hear, you are never going to get through to them.  It's as if the average reader has been programmed by MSM to know what is good, what is right and what is possible, and so has a completely closed mind to any alternative possibilities. They will read fantasy or romance or adventure, but they won't reconsider anything they have already internalized about good and evil. The unbiased journalism with the unspoken, between-the-lines message about right and wrong might be exactly the thing that makes it so. And only those of us too bored by the indoctrination to actually read, listen to or watch that stuff may be immune to the propaganda.

This year, after the Libertarian National Convention, I threw myself into the Libertarian Press. I am writing for two online publications.


Do I have a  bias there? Definitely. The reason I enjoy writing for the Libertarian Press is that I am allowed to be right up front with my point of view. I don't have to be cagey and try to hide my opinions -- they are as evident as the facts that I share. What I am saying is, if you beieve X, then Y which is happening, is bad (or good), depending on what it is.

Some people have accused me of going after Gary Johnson, but nothing could be further from the truth. When Gary Johnson takes a pro-liberty stance, such as wanting to do away with Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, I am right there, reporting on this and cheering him on! When on the other hand, Gary Johnson wants to make something mandatory -- going against individual choice -- then I point out that this departs from libertarian principles.

The last time I pointed that out, Gary Johnson actually changed his position  and the Libertarian Party Chair, Nicholas Sarwark,  came out with a statement against mandating personal choice. For the first time in a long time, I feel as if my writing is having an effect.

Let's face it. We all have a bias. It's just that some people are hiding theirs and calling their opinions "facts" or "science". What I hope will happen for the future of our Republic is that more and more people will learn to read through the bias to get to the facts and decide for themselves.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A New, Bilingual Version of "In Case There's a Fox"

In Case There's a Fox is a children's book in verse. Nevertheless, I think it should be part of the canon of my more serious works, for reasons that are explained in the link below.

This week, the work was reissued in a new bilingual, full color bleed edition. 

The bilingual version of In Case There's a Fox
Order it on Amazon
A video trailer is available for the Hebrew portion of the book.

This is the second book I have published this year, the first one being  Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way. 

For a list of all my books, you can check out my Amazon Profile. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Austin Petersen on Balancing Force and Freedom

I thoroughly enjoyed the conversational style and the deep content of Austin Petersen's live stream last night, so I am going to share it here. Austin Petersen is a Minarchist, not an Anarchist. He admits that he identified much more with Darryl Perry than with Gary Johnson at the Libertarian Convention this year. But... he can't quite bring himself to subscribe to the NAP. Because, what if grandma catches a burglar on her own? Should she have to keep him imprisoned in her basement forever without anyone else's assistance?

This is a discussion not about what we are going to do in 2016. Right now Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, and we are all supporting him. There is no one better on the ballot. But in four years' time, the issue will come up again.

Gary Johnson is a Pragmatist, not an ideologue. John McAfee got the celebritarian vote. Adam Kokesh is a sincere Anarchist. Petersen would prefer not to run against Kokesh in 2020, because he does not want to tear the Libertarian Party apart.

Petersen would accept an Anarcho-Capitalist over a Statist "any day", he said.

Kokesh and Petersen have debated before. You can see the full debate in the video above. The point at which they seemed to disagree was when Petersen suggested that even a voluntary collective that makes rules such as "don't hurt anyone or take their stuff" would eventually be a government. Petersen believes that you can never entirely eliminate coercion, but he would like to minimize it. It's the enforcement mechanism to voluntary agreements that is the sticking point.

Petersen defined government as a collection of people who create a monopoly on the use of force. He seems to think that such a monopoly is necessary to some extent. He believes in freedom for everyone, he realizes that we can only enforce it at home. Abroad, he favors non-intervention.

Not everyone can consent to be governed, Children, the disabled and some Democrats are examples of such people. To which Kokesh replies:
So if you can't consent, someone else is going to govern you... So if you don't meet Austin's standard of intelligence, whether its because you're a Liberal or a Statist or a child or a disabled person then you are not entitled to those rights. If you cannot consent to be governed, we're going to govern you, anyway.
Kokesh's point  was that rights should apply equally to all people, even the mentally disabled, In this respect, Kokesh seems more of a purist and Petersen a pragmatist. However, compared to someone like Gary Johnson, Petersen is numbered among the ideologues, and Johnson is the Pragmatist.

What if Petersen and Kokesh run in 2020 for the Libertarian presidential nomination and cancel each other out -- leaving an establishment candidate like Johnson to win? Petersen is not sure that running against Kokesh is the right thing to do.

This all comes down to the NAP -- the Non-Aggression Principle. Petersen is afraid that the moment we contract out our rights to a defense agency, then that agency will be a de facto government, no matter what we choose to call it. This is true if that agency acquires an exclusive monopoly on law enforcement and judicial practices. But what if we didn't grant anyone a monopoly on justice?

The local, neighborhood policeman is our friend, as long as he has no special rights to enforce laws that the rest of us do not have. It's when police officers can carry guns and we cannot, can wear body armor and we cannot, can arrest us, but we cannot arrest them, that the police officer becomes the enemy.

I think that Austin Petersen should run on a platform of the right of all citizens to use force to uphold the law. If someone is violating our rights, we get to use deadly force to defend ourselves. We can also ask our neighborhood policeman to help us, if we can't manage the task all on our own and pay him for his help, but the policeman will not have more rights than we do. It will be just as it is today with our volunteer firefighters. It is okay to call the fire fighters for extra help in a pinch. But there is no law that says we are not allowed to put out the fire on our own, too.  Then Adam Kokesh will not be able to object that this privileges some people over others. And Petersen will still be better at representing the Libertarian position, because he understands how to talk to ordinary people and not just ideologues.

Does grandma have to imprison the burglar she caught in the basement forever? Certainly not. She can hire a warden if she wants to and pay him. The neighbors can all pitch in, too, if they feel it's a good idea. But nobody will be held at gunpoint to pay for the local prison.

Anarchists and Minarchists should all agree on this. And then Petersen will explain it to the general public without using scary words like Anarchy. It's all common sense, really.

Problem solved!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Competing Title Agencies

Darryl Perry had an unpleasant encounter with someone over personal sovereignty and title agencies. The argument was simplistic. Perry maintained that we should each be sovereign over ourselves and our property. and he was challenged to explain how he had title to his property in the first place, if not by virtue of the government now in place. You can watch the conversation in the video embedded below.

Perry  spoke about having private, competing agencies that would issue deeds. He was asked what happens when the competing agencies disagreed about arcane issues of chain of title or property boundaries. Perry, who adheres to the NAP (Non-aggression Principle), did not have a good answer, so he hung up, leaving the interviewer to feel that he had won the debate.

As funny as that clip may seem, I'm actually more on Perry's side than not. There are now  and always have been  and always will be competing title agencies -- they are called sovereign nations -- and when they cannot resolve title disputes through diplomacy, they go to war.

The following is the text of the video embedded above. If you have trouble hearing me talk in the video, you can follow along below:

The eastern boundary of my land runs through these woods. And it's not a deed, or an abstract of title, that keeps other people from invading my property. Land title has always been subject to competing title agencies. The agencies have had such names as Britain, France and Spain. Also Cherokee Nation or the United States. So, in terms of how we get our title, it's always purchased directly through blood spilt in battle or indirectly through diplomacy. Land in Missouri was acquired through the Louisiana Purchase, but let's face it, how did France get it? 
This is my abstract of title that I have. I am not going to tell you the legal description of my land, but I'm going to go far, far back in time -- back to the beginning. Back to ... It says here  in the first patent of the United States of America to this larger plot of land from which my land derives: "In testimony thereof, I, James Buchanan, President of the United States of America, have caused these letters to be made patent, and the seal of the General Land Office to be hereunto affixed, given under my hand at the City of Washington, the Friday of March [sic: should be first day of March] ,,,I don't know what date... 1859 and of the Independence of the United States the 83rd. By the President, James Buchanan, by T. J. Albright, Secretary, and recorded by J.N. Granger, Recorder of the General Land Office."
Now, I built this fence. But it's not the fence that keeps other people out.
 I'm going to tell you a story about something that happened on this land a long time ago. And it's something that didn't happen to me. And it didn't happen to Bow. But it did happen to our predecessors in title. That means the people who owned the land before we did. One day, even though they had this wonderful abstract of title that guaranteed that they owned the property, a bad man came from the other side of the woods -- and there wasn't even a fence at the time --  and he entered the house. The woman was alone. He threatened her. He notified her husband that he was going to kill her if a ransom was not paid. Well, the husband went to the bank, got a banker with him, came to the house, was shot in the head, but survived, and the woman had already been shot about twelve times and was killed. 
So what's the point of this story? The point is that it's not because we have title to the land that people don't trespass. It's not an abstract of title that guarantees us our property. It's the fact that we have good neighbors.
Now some people might object that title companies are the ones who maintain the chain of title and courts of law determine the outcome to boundary disputes, but these things are actually a very minor factor in the lives of most people. Adverse possession takes care of most inaccuracies in boundary mapping. Even if you have had your fence on the neighbors' property by mistake or they on yours,  after a certain number of years of everybody believing that the fence marks that boundary, the fence actually becomes the legal boundary. That's because title like many other social concepts is really all in the minds of people. If the neighbors all agree that you have title, then you have title. And nobody walks down the street coveting somebody else's house, thinking to himself: I wonder if they really have title. We know that the neighbor's property isn't ours, and we don't go around laying claims to it. That is how title is maintained.

Except for one thing: The local county government demands a ransom from us at the end of the year in the form of a property tax. If we don't pay it, then they will eventually come and by force of arms take our property away from us. Then they will change the deed records in their favor. Darryl Perry does not like that the government does this, and I must say that I sympathize with him.

Naturally the government tells us that if we did not pay this fee, one of our neighbors would try to steal our land, and no one would defend us. But I think that it's actually the neighbors who would come and stand up for our rights and fight right alongside us to defend our land, in the same way that we would do to defend theirs. And I think that's what Darryl Perry should have said in the interview.

Governments get their legitimacy from the consent of the governed. They are here to serve us. We are not here to serve them. That's what people sometimes forget, because after a while, the size of the government comes to eclipse any legitimizing force that each individual's consent originally granted it.  If somebody comes to claim our land, ultimately we will have to fight for it. This is true whether it's a foreign invader or a bad neighbor. And we need the help of our good neighbors to keep the bad ones at bay. That's all you really need to know about title to land.