Being Fair to Millennials

I give Millennials a hard time, no doubt. A certain segment of that generation absolutely wastes too much time and too many opportunities playing video games, trolling social media and surfing the internet for useless ephemera. Money burns a hole in their debit cards and they are often the antithesis of “savers.” In the end, however, as a recent reader very bluntly pointed out to me, us old folks have set them up to fail. Yes, needing a ‘safe place’, having extreme ‘micro aggression’ angst and playing Pókemon Go have put a royal bullseye on their arses, but that is simply a matter of immaturity. Like we all did, Millennials will eventually grow up.

The real issue is how previous generations have screwed Millennials out of their inheritance. From education and housing costs to the crippling national debt, their future is really grim. Whether you want to blame capitalist greed, or the big spending and insane policies of progressive, libtard politicians, our current Ponzi economic scheme has screwed our children. A former Millennial coworker of mine, who made the classic Millennial mistake of getting a college degree in “Useless Studies” found herself working for my company for barely above minimum wage. Setting aside her poor judgement at age 18 (mine was no better), she was quite eloquent about her generation’s hopes for the future, and they were quite without hope at all.

In our lives, the average person in industrial, first-world countries, will make four major purchases.
1. Education:
I attended Oregon State University from 1984 to 1990. The sum total of my six years, including summer lodgings was $36,000, or $78,000 in 2018 dollars. I graduated with $2,000 in loans. I paid that off real quick.
The 2018 cost for six years at OSU is about $180,000, or $82,000 in 1987 dollars. Had I paid today’s prices (time and inflation adjusted, of course), I would have graduated with a stifling $46,000 in loans. $600/month!
2. Automobiles:
In order to be flexible enough to get a good job, get married, and have a family, you need reliable transportation. In 1990 a base Ford Explorer cost about $20,000, or $38,000 in 2018 dollars. Today, a base Ford Explorer will run you about $34,000. Whew! At least cars still cost about the same.
3. Housing:
We bought our first house, a little 1100 square-foot ranch, for $67,000 in 1991. For now set aside the fact that, had I been paying student debt to the tune of $600/month, we could not have afforded a $700/month house payment. Today, that same little ranch house, according to Zillow, sells for about $360,000, or $180,000 in 1991 dollars. $180,000 would have bought us a mansion in 1991! Today it buys a cracker box. Interest rates were high back then, 9.5%, so the payment on $180,000 would have been $1,400/month. Even at today’s rates, the payment would be $800/month in 1991 dollars. That is simply not affordable.
4. Retirement:
Even my generation, GenX, cannot rely on Social Security and Medicare to provide more than token support in retirement. Millennials are going to have to foot their entire bill. They already owe a $60,000 piece of a growing national debt, inherited from their parents, so their ability to save for retirement is ham-strung from the time they graduate high school. If a married couple cannot manage to save one million or more dollars, adjusted for inflation, by age 65, their retirements will be quite spartan.

Lets do a simple Millennial vs GenX life cost comparison adjusted to 2018 dollars.
-Six years at Oregon State University, with student loans at 8% over 10 years.
-First car a base Ford Explorer with GenX loan 8% and Millennial loan 4% over 5 years.
-First house 1100 square foot ranch, Beaverton, Oregon, with GenX initial mortgage 9% and Millennial initial mortgage 4.5% over 30 years.
-Everything 100% financed.

Expense…………………….Millennial(2014-2021)….GenX (1984-1991)
OSU 6 years………………………….$180,000…………………..$78,000
Ford Explorer………………………….$35,000…………………..$35,000
Starter House……………………….$360,000………………..$122,000
Student loan/month…………………$2,184/month……………$946/month
Automobile/month………………………$645/month……………$710/month
Mortgage/month………………………$1,824/month……………$982/month
Total debt/month……………………..$4,653/month……….$2,638/month
Annual debt payment…………….$55,836………………….$31,656
Average College Grad Wage….$50,000………………….$48,800
Difference …………………………….(-$5,836)………………..$17,144

This means, for every year of our adult lives, age 24 to 64, GenXers get the equivalent of an extra $23,000 to spend or save. Unfortunately for you Millennials, the majority of us spent it. Today, 64 year-old married couples average about $170,000 saved for retirement. Take out the handful of super-savers who raised the curve, and the 64 year-old median retirement savings drops to $17,000. Most GenXers will be mostly broke when they retire. Sure, you can jiggle the numbers a bit to change the outcome a little, but the underlying issue remains. Millennials, young adults in their 20’s and early 30’s, will have to overcome unprecedented financial obstacles if they are to achieve the American dream. Their parents are broke and the Millennials are submerged in debt. It will be as great an American trial as the Great Depression was a century ago. While today we see Millennials as hypersensitive, wasteful slackers, I bet their grandchildren will see them as hard-nosed misers. Unfortunately, the Millennial road from slacker to miser will be a rough and lean path. The sooner Millennials stop whining and adopt a more ascetic lifestyle, the better.

The Definition of Hard Work

Do you want to know why President Trump is so successful? It is not his flamboyant character, nor is it being born into a wealthy family. President Trump is successful because the man has an incredible work ethic. Not only does he work smart, he works hard… all… the… time! I wrestled in high school. Wrestlers can be lazy on their own time, but there is no such thing as a lazy wrestler. We call lazy wrestlers quitters. They quit the team because they do not like hard work. Like Yoda said, “There is no try. There is only do, or do not.” Wrestlers do, quitters do not.

My wrestling career did not start out that well. As a freshman I was a lazy, half-effort sort of kid. I got pinned every time I stepped on the mat. In the middle of the season my coaches got really tired of my attitude and pulled me aside. They told me straight up, I needed to decide whether or not I wanted to be in that room, on that team. The door was right there, and I was free to quit. Or commit. It was the first adult decision of my life.

You have to understand, especially those of you in the millennial generation, that real world does not care about you, nor is the real world interested in persecuting you. The real world’s only interest is what you bring to the table. Ultimately it is a barter system. If you are lazy, the world will reward you with the lazy man’s share. If you are always a day late, a dollar short, in need a proper haircut, and constantly giving society the middle finger, you have little to offer, and the world will compensate you accordingly. If you are always on time, presentable, and bust your ass getting the job done, you chances of success are much higher.

In that moment when my coaches pulled me aside, I decided to commit. I toughened up and worked harder. In return my coaches committed to me. An awful lot of my teammates chose to quit. About 75%, in fact. Only seven wrestlers from my freshman class gutted out all four years. Our senior year, collectively we won over 150 matches and a league championship. It was the definition of hard work and its rewards.

I took the work ethic I learned in those years and I applied it to college and pharmacy school. I applied it to my marriage and raising my children. I applied it to every job I have ever worked. Sadly, today, there are a lot of people who simply do not know what hard work is. They have never experienced it, and when the opportunity for hard work appears, they are blinded by it like a deer in the headlights. They find the concept of hard work paralyzing. They close their eyes and cover their ears and pray that it is simply a hallucination that will vanish after a count of ten. These people will ultimately get left behind as life goes on. Things like owning a home and retiring in something other than poverty will forever be beyond their reach.

You know who I am talking about. The person at your job who makes you work twice as hard because they are stuck in perpetual first gear. The person who won Olympic bronze for the 100 yard mosey. The person who spends an hour in the bathroom every day avoiding hard work. The person who shows up late and calls in sick and whines about needing a “safe place.” The person who makes themselves scarce when it is time to break a sweat. The person who is all talk and little do. While they are not funny in the moment, in the long run, the joke is on them. Trust me.

Fake News!!

This video by Andrew Klavan is a brilliant, concise explanation of American and global journalism’s intellectual dishonesty. When fake journalist Mika Brzezinski mocked the size of genitalia of the duly elected President of the United States of America, equipment she has NEVER seen, the INTERNATIONAL, GLOBAL STORY was not about what a stupid, disrespectful bitch this vain, fake blond with brown eyebrows is, but about that the POTUS smacked her right back, calling her vain and old. Two real truths, since she is a FIFTY YEARS OLD WOMAN parading as a twenty-nine year old Marilyn Monroe clone. At least Trump’s tweet was truthful.

Baby Boomers and Generation X owe the Millennials an Apology

Not long ago I was talking to a Millennial friend of mine who was bemoaning his inability to get to work on time.

“I need to get you a copy of Poor Richard’s Almanack,” I laughed. All I got was a puzzled look from my friend.

“You, know, ‘Early to bed and early to rise…?” I asked, hopefully.

“Huh?” he replied.

“Ben Franklin?”

He shook his head.

“Electricity? Spectacles? The pot-bellied stove? Ben Franklin? The guy on the one hundred-dollar bill.”

“Oh yeah, he is the only non-president, right?”

“That’s the guy,” I said, “He wrote Poor Richard’s Almanack. It had lots of useful information and sayings, like ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,’ You should have learned about it in grade school.”

My friend shook his head. He did not know anything about the life and times of Ben Franklin.

There were several other Millennials in our group. Young adults educated in schools all around America. None of them had heard of Poor Richard’s Almanack, and Franklin was just the face on the $100. Why he was there, they knew not. I groaned and said something about the sad state of education in America.

When I was a kid, we learned fun facts about Ben Franklin the writer, inventor and scientist in class. When I was in high school we learned about his political life and how he was an integral part of American Revolution and the early survival of our nation. My teachers had survived the Great Depression, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. An elderly Auschwitz survivor came to my school and showed us her tattooed serial number. My teachers made sure, as poor a student as I was, that I knew my origins. Not so much, today.

Today, we live with an educational system where it is no longer politically correct to teach that our Founding Fathers were great men who wrote, and fought and died for, the Constitution of the United States of America, the greatest document of its kind ever to exist. Now that Common Core is the rule of the land, our children are no longer being taught to read and write cursive, so it is only a matter of time before Americans cannot even read the Constitution in its original form. Today’s teachers, made up primarily of Baby Boomers and GenXers, have absolutely failed to teach the Millennial generation what they need to know to survive, starting with the wisdom found in Poor Richard’s Almanack. For that, we owe them an apology.

“Sell not virtue to purchase wealth nor liberty to purchase power.”

“Meanness is the parent of insolence.”

“Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn.”

“Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that.”

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”

“Have something to do tomorrow? Do it today.”

“There are no gains without pains.”

 

Pokémon Go – Worst or Most Brilliant Game Ever – You Decide!

If I were to develop a game, a form of purposeless, recreational entertainment, with the sole purpose of having a bit of fun at the expense of others, I would start by convincing the game’s players to download an app that turned their smart-phone into a virtual beagle. Beagles are some the best hunting dogs around. They go a-sniffing and a-howling and can scare up just about any sort of quarry, dragging you along in just about any direction. Then I would encourage the players to take their virtual beagle for a walk, so it could sniff out thousands of little, invisible digital cartoons. I would tell the players the little cartoon drawings were TERRIFYING DIGITAL MONSTERS capable of doing battle to make them feel better about themselves, but they would still be nothing more than poorly drawn cartoon characters. Each virtual beagle would then drag their owner around a virtual map overlaying the real world, as they sought out the exact locations of all the little, invisible, digital cartoon characters. Once the beagle found its quarry, the smart-phone would suck the invisible cartoon out of the air and display it for everyone to see. It would be an endless digital treasure hunt. Call it a form of instant-gratification geo-caching for the lazy.

I would then hide my invisible cartoon characters all over the world in all sorts of unexpected, humorous and dangerous locations. I would put them on private property to make sure the players broke the law and trespassed. I would put them in the middle of busy intersections, homeless camps, abandoned warehouses, mines and wells. I would put them in the middle of swamps and lakes, off the edges of cliffs, near dead bodies, in government buildings and restricted areas of airports. The players would become my own personal zombie army, blindly following their virtual beagle in search of brains… oops, I mean TERRIFYING DIGITAL MONSTERS!!! I would then send my newly created young, urban zombie army into the midst of Black Lives Matter protests as well as to the Democratic National Convention where they would be rewarded with the ultimate fighting edition of a cartoon Bernie Sanders with kung-fu grip. I would make other little cartoons available at only certain times of the day, certain days of the week, as well as seasonal special characters, making sure players who played 24/7 were well rewarded. Every city and every country would have their own special character, encouraging the players to spend money traveling all over in search of rare and TERRIFYING DIGITAL MONSTERS.

I would then give players the ability to gather in groups, say at transit centers, shopping malls and public parks, so their smart phones could take the little cartoon characters and do battle with other smart phones’ characters. It would be like taking the virtual beagle to the virtual dog park for virtual play. It would be a great twist on live action role-playing, or LARPing. We could call it Virtual LARP or V-LARP. The players would simply mill around fiddling with their phones in awkward groups while passers-by wondered what the hell they were doing. If some gutsy onlooker were bold enough to actually ask what all the weirdness was about, sum yung guy could condescendingly say, “We are V-LARPing. There is an epic battle of TERRIFYING DIGITAL MONSTERS going on as we speak. You have heard of V-LARPing, haven’t you?” and then giggle maniacally.

But the joke, the real joke, the super double-secret inside joke, would actually be on the players themselves. I would be watching them and keeping a scrapbook of all the stupid things they do and all the trouble they get into while questing for invisible cartoon characters, and laughing until my sides split open. The trip to the hospital would be oh-so-worth it! I would be sending out camera crews to monster hotspots and secretly film everything. Then I would get a good writer and film a prequel to the great American satire, Idiocracy, called Pokie Man’s Zombie Horde. If I were to develop that game.

April 16th, 2015: Time Magazine Anoints Kanye West and Kim Kardashian Planet Earth’s Most Influential Married Couple

Twitch, snort, LOL. Planet Earth is home to 7,251,940 ,000 people and counting. Of the nearly 7.3 billion global citizens, the intellectual juggernaut that is Time Magazine, just claimed that a hip-hop rap artist and a woman whose multi-million dollar job is to do nothing useful are among the globe’s 100 most influential people. Time had over seven billion people to choose from, and this is the best they could do.

West is definitely the more productive member of the marriage. Like Billy Mays, he is a master of marketing and self-promotion. I am no fan of rap music, but I am willing to withhold my judgment that West is not a musician of the caliber of B.B. King, Paul McCartney or Gordon Lightfoot. If he can pick up a 12-string guitar and sing Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” without auto-tuning and not sound like an amorous feline, I will give him credit for talent. Otherwise, in my mind, regardless of his awards he remains a 2nd class musician. West is a great entertainer for his fans, for sure, and a tremendous force of ego, but not a great musician.

West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, has turned being wealthy, beautiful and popular into a career. She has little education and few skills, yet earns millions every year by merely existing. I applaud her success, as well as her husband’s. Well done, Kanye and Kim. You have turned ego and vanity into extraordinary wealth and success.

What I do not understand is how they positioned themselves to be the most influential married couple on Earth. According to Time Magazine, they are more influential than Bill and Hillary Clinton, and could hold their own against the combined forces of Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin. They have the power of the Titans of old, with great strength, intellect and importance. Billions of people hang on their every word and are subject to their wisdom. Whether loved or despised, their great power is always respected. According to Time Magazine.

This means that world leaders and entertainment moguls are lining up to hear Kim Kardashian’s sage thoughts, while bluegrass, country and folk musicians are begging Kanye West for ideas. Really? Dear Time Magazine, are you sure? While Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton have significant influence on my life as well as the lives of billions of people, I do not know anyone who gives a rip what Kanye West and Kim Kardashian think, say or do. No one at all. To the vast majority of people on Earth, Kanye and Kim are the punch-line of the Fish-stick joke. They make most folk roll their eyes and snort with a mixture of laughter and disgust. Kanye West is simply a spoiled little boy who throws temper tantrums when he does not get what he wants. Not even the 9th Circuit Court would dare equate West to influential. As for Kim Kardashian, there isn’t anyone who can even explain why she is famous in the first place, let alone name anything productive she brings to the table.

What if Time Magazine is right? What if Kanye and Kim really do sway the masses? That is a good question, and it’s answer lies the movie Idiocracy. That is the only world where these two are really important.

Understanding “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain”

Growing up Catholic, I could not help but understand many religious factoids with all the worldliness of an eight-year-old kid. For the most part, the rules about murder, stealing and lying were easy to grasp, but the stuff about bopping my friend’s mom or loving the neighborhood bully were a bit baffling. When the Nuns told me that sins put black marks on my soul, I immediately conjured a mental image of smoker’s lungs. I had to grow up before I figured that stuff out. The last rule I figured out, pretty late in the game considering the simplicity of it all, was the Second Commandment, the one about taking the Lord’s name in vain.

I have a suspicion that most folks out there still see the Second Commandment through the eyes of their Sunday school classes, and believe it is pretty much limited to dropping a GD or a JC as an explicative when they get excited. You can divide those folks into two rough groups, the atheists and the monotheists. I have to say that both groups sound equally ridiculous when they drop God’s name on a whim, like he is their drinking buddy or something.

Atheists sound positively stupid. Let me get this straight. You are not convinced that God exists and you are certain that, if Jesus existed at all, he was just a religious zealot who got lucky and founded the dominant religion on planet Earth. Yet you constantly demand that a God you have no faith in damn all sorts of petty stuff, and you beg a dead rabbi to witness all the incredulous crap that occurs in your life. That’s clever.

Religious folks are even worse, though. We actually believe in God, and most of us believe that Jesus is God become man. When we drop a GD, we are actually calling on what we believe is the most powerful being in the universe to bring his full weight and fury down on whatever is irritating us. Can you imagine if God actually paid the least bit of attention to all our blather and cursed every little thing we asked him to? That would make global thermonuclear warfare look like a crisp walk on a pleasant autumn morning. Please! And to have the vanity to believe that JC actually wants to listen to all our petty criticisms of the world around us is pure idiocy. We are like a global cloud of mosquitoes swirling around God’s ear whining “GD this,” and “JC that.” We are lucky he largely tunes us out.

Still, that is only the Second Commandment for beginners. I believe that the Bible directs the real truth of the Second Commandment at those people who use God’s bully pulpit to violate God’s law. People who don the authority of God and then commit evil in the name of God. The Bible is replete with warning about these false prophets and false teachers. These are the people who use their position of religious authority to rape and abuse children, to enrich themselves, to start wars, to commit murder, terrorist acts, genocide, and the like. From Jim Jones to David Koresh to Bernard Law to Jimmy Swaggart, these sort of folks take the Lord’s name in vain with extreme gusto. The Lord will not hold any of these people guiltless. It is better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than to harm a child. Call it the Ratzinger Conundrum. No cloak of faith or title will protect a single person. No Imam, rabbi, priest, pastor, nun or witch will be exempt. One and all, their best hope is that the atheists are right and all religion is make-believe.

Call Brian Williams’ “Mistake” What it is – A Big, Whopping, Attention Getting Lie

Brian Williams’ future uncertain as NBC News launches investigation – LA Times.

NBC’s Brian Williams is a liar. Plain and simple. He did not make a mistake. He did not misremember. He lied. When you lie, you are, by definition, a liar. If you do not like that title, don’t lie. I do not know whether he did it for ratings or if he has all the insecurities of an adolescent girl, and I really do not care. That is not the story here. The real story is how other journalists respond to Williams lie. You see, journalists have a moral obligation to tell the whole painful truth, even if they do not like it. Too many of them, like the LA Times’ Stephen Battaglio, too easily abandon that mandate. They pull punches. They let things slide. They promote their personal political agendas instead of reporting the truth. Battaglio cannot bring himself to use the one most accurate word to describe Williams in his article. Battaglio says Brian Williams made a mistake. He says Williams issued a false statement, told a tale, a version of a story, a conflation, an erroneous version, and strayed from the facts, but he refuses to call Williams a liar. That is bad journalism, folks, and it makes me wonder why Battaglio abandons his journalistic integrity and pulls that punch.

My Friend, Tom Kozlowski

My friend Tom Koslowski died Monday, January 12th 2015 from complications secondary to cancer. He died in his tiny, one bedroom apartment, a man alone, forgotten by most of the world. There was no hospice or visiting nurse at his side. His elderly mother found his body on Thursday. She called me on Friday. You will not see his obituary in the newspaper, nor will there be a memorial service, because Tom was a member of America’s invisible population of mentally ill citizens. He did not have two nickels to rub together, few friends, and no family besides his mother. He was sixty-one years old.

Tom was a paranoid schizophrenic who bore a marked resemblance to Tolkien’s character, Gollum. People instinctively recoiled from him, as though he were a ghoul. I will tell you right now, he was one of the kindest, most honest souls I have ever met, and as much as the ill-mannered stares and rude whispers from “normal” people hurt him, he never held a grudge or wished anyone ill.

In a life where he very heavily relied on government agencies, caseworkers, and healthcare providers, Tom came to hate being a burden to other people. He did not drive, was terrified of public transportation, and did not have the stamina to walk any sort of distance. Going to the store or doctor or pharmacy always required the reluctant help of someone else. Sometimes it was a government-funded taxi or the TriMet Lift, and sometimes it was a friend or neighbor. Regardless, Tom always had to work the phones and beg for the transportation that you and I take for granted. It embarrassed him and he hated it. Sometimes, if he were in a bind, I would stop by his apartment and drop off his prescriptions on my way home. I would always stay for an hour or so to talk and, most importantly, to listen.

When Tom was as a little boy he wanted to grow up to be a doctor. He wanted to help people. His symptoms emerged when he was nine years old and, instead of being the doctor, he became the patient. He suffered a lifetime of cruel tricks at the hands of the voices in his head, not to mention those wounds inflicted by the world around him. While Tom was often reluctant to talk about his adventures in life – most of our conversations revolved around his medical needs – once in a while, if he was in the mood, he would tell me a tale or two from his past. Sometimes the stories were painful, but sometimes they were downright funny. The pragmatic, self-effacing humor he spun into his recollections made Tom a good storyteller. His tales were good enough that I offered to write his biography. It would have been a best seller, and I am confident it would have been an honest accounting of his life. Tom declined the offer for fear of the pain of dredging up a continuous history, much to my regret but with my understanding. While he considered himself a worthless human being, his story would have been more interesting than 99% of the biographies ever written. He was a good man and he survived a life in a world we little understand and greatly fear. He was anything but worthless.

In deference to Tom’s wishes, I am not going to commit those stories he gave me to writing. There is but one story of his that I feel a need to tell and that is his last one. Last autumn, Tom had to make a decision to fight his cancer or let nature take its course. He was physically quite frail, and odds of him surviving the procedures and treatments were not in his favor. His oncologist and GP were pushing him towards treatment, so he came to me for advice. Medically, oncology is far out of the scope of my practice, so I left the clinical question alone. Instead, I asked Tom, “If you go through the treatments and survive, then what?” Tom knew what I was asking. We all die. Life is the leading cause of death. Did he want to be comfortable for six months? Or did he want to be miserable for eighteen months? At his age with his health, no matter what, death was relatively imminent and inescapable.

Tom took this final decision very seriously. He made it with a clearer mind and a braver heart than most of my sane patients. In the eight years I had known him, he had spent every minute of every day managing his health. Despite his mental illness and other health problems, Tom had learned to enjoy life and did not want to die in the least bit. If he had any fight left in his body, he would have fought. He simply didn’t, and he knew it. He opted to let the disease take its course.

As much as he could be, Tom was a good son and very much loved his mother. This is why he protected her as long as he could from news of his cancer, not wanting her to worry over him. Besides him, she had little in the world, and he knew there was time enough for her to have sleepless nights. The gift of ignorance was the only gift he had the ability to give, and he did it out of love. She found out a matter of weeks before he passed. She was likely a bit angry with Tom for keeping the secret as long as he did. I hope she understands it was an act of love on his part. He carried her part of his burden as long as he could.

Tom Kozlowski was more than my patient. Over the years we had become friends. Friendship is an odd thing, and is often found in the most unsuspecting places. I am a richer man for having known him, and that is no small thing. I hope that now, free of disease and pain, Tom’s soul can look down from Heaven and see how he touched my life. The little boy who wanted to grow up to be a doctor is finally free. As long as I live, I will not forget him.

My Number One Rule(s) for Writing

  • The First No. 1 Rule of Writing: Write because you love to write for the sake of writing.
  • The Second No. 1 Rule of Writing: Don’t quit your day job.

The Rest of the stuff, agents, editors, publishing houses, marketing and the like, all comes later.

There are an estimated 130 million books written in modern history. Amazon gives readers access to more than 12 million titles. Around two thousand books are published in the United States every day, more books than the most voracious reader could consume in a lifetime. A book that sells 1,000 copies in this environment is a real success. Congratulations, your huge effort might just pay a month’s rent every few years. If you like sleeping indoors, you best get yourself a day job. An average journalist makes about $34,000 a year. A great journalist might pull in $70,000 a year. As you can see, even for the college educated, professional writers, writing is not about the money. You have better odds of getting rich by playing the lottery.

So what is writing about? It is about that endless quest to thread a needle in the dark… on the first try. It is about trying to compose that perfect sentence of that perfect paragraph of that perfect chapter of that perfect book. It is about expressing your thoughts with such extraordinary eloquence that, no matter the reader’s attitude, you impress them and leave them to ponder. I did it once. Oddly enough, it was neither a happy or satisfying moment. It simply was.

Writing is a form of art, no different from music or painting. I know quite a few talented musicians, professionals at the top of their trade. Some are actual headliners. The one thing they all have in common is day jobs. The lucky ones teach their trade, while the others work mundane jobs, all so they can perform in some bar or small venue on Friday and Saturday night. I have published two books, both of which are an intrinsic part of my family history and very much labors of love. Getting rich was never part of the equation. To me, writing this blog, one of more than 150 million blogs globally, is the same as picking at the guitar alone at night or sitting at an easel painting the mountains in the distance. I simply love words, language and writing. When someone else occasionally appreciates it, for good or ill, is just icing on the cake.

Celebrating Three Years

Three years ago I started this blog to coincide with the publication of my first novel, The Knight and the Serpent: A Legend of Medieval Normandy (free on Kindle through 12/26/14 – a Christmas promotion). It did not take long for the blog to take on a life of its own and it has proven to be a rewarding experience. It has been fascinating to see what readers are and are not interested in! The following three articles are the most viewed of the more than fifty posts since December, 2011.

In an Ethical Lapse, New York Times Journalist, Sabrina Tavernise, Falsely Reports That Guns Cause Suicides

Valley Catholic Girls Win OSAA 3A Basketball Championship

Vote No On Oregon Measure 91: The Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act

The next three articles are the least viewed in that same time period.

Taking Off The Training Wheels – first published in Goal Lines Magazine April, 2008

Oregon’s Democratic Congressmen Attempt to Deny all of America the Benefit of the Rule of Law

THE DEATH OF RULE OF LAW – Part I of VI: The Balance of Power

It is very interesting as to what strikes a chord in people and what does not.

Slackers: Both Alien and Domestic

My great-grandfather, John C. Gabourel, was one of the more colorful characters in my family tree. He served with the British army during the Boer War, and with the American army during WWI in France. I have the good fortune of having original copies of a series of letters to the editor he wrote in the years following WWI. While the letters are a snapshot of events long ago, his concerns mirror the concerns of many Americans today.

For some time past articles have been appearing in the newspapers advocating the deportation of all alien slackers. This presupposes that being a slacker is a crime. If this be so, then how much more of a criminal is the genuine American slacker, the man who willfully and deliberately evaded the service of the country in her need?

We have heard of many such cases being disposed of with absolutely inadequate punishment, and today many of these “yellow dogs” are walking on our streets and holding their heads as high as though they had gone through the Hell overseas. Is there not some way in which these men can be made to feel the contempt in which they must be held by every patriotic minded citizen? Surely (the American slackers are) more guilty than these alien slackers, just as a professional thief is morally more guilty than a man who steals a pair of shoes when his feet are bare.

Thousands of names are said to have been turned into our Department of Justice for investigation as to presumptive evasion of military service. With what result? A few men have been hauled into court and then either the cases against them dismissed or totally insufficient punishment to fit the crime meted out. The poor aliens are thrown into prison, there to wait until the deportation question is decided, while the more culpable offender, the real genuine native slacker laughs in his sleeve and considers that he has been real smart. The Country seems to be asleep on this question which doubtless suits the policy of some people, but the ex-service men are beginning to ask “WHY?” and perhaps before long they will demand an answer.

JCG 1919

Back in the day, a slacker was a person who shirked their duties to society, especially their military duties. Today, right around 50% of Americans are tapping social services of some sort. Instead of taking the job they can get, they abuse unemployment while they wait for the job they want. They make themselves as unappealing as possible to employers with piercings, tattoos, ear gauges, and a generally slovenly appearance, and they cry foul when their jobs are lousy and their pay is low.

Much of America’s work force regularly call out sick to get extra vacation days, refuse to work hard when they are on the job, and do little to improve their lot in life because food stamps and other social services are such low hanging fruit. They spend a lot of time bemoaning it all, but if you suggest they take a bath, get a decent hair cut, clean up their language, work hard, and stop dressing like a 1978 Soho Punk, they will rip into you, screaming, “Don’t you dare judge me!” It is like Honey Boo Boo has become America’s norm.

Anyway, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The existence of slackers, both alien and domestic, is nothing new. That the government caters to slackers is also nothing new, as is proven by a ninety-five year old letter to the editor.

The Ugly Secret Behind Retail Receipt Surveys

I took my truck in for routine service the other day. As the young kid at the service desk went to hand me my keys he asked me to fill out an online survey grading his performance.

“You did just fine,” I offered.

“Well, if you fill out the survey, make sure to give me a perfect score. If I get anything lower than a perfect score, it goes against my performance review,” he explained, “I need a 10 out of 10. If you give me a 9 out of 10, I might not get a raise.”

“No shit?” I asked, “So you are either Bo Derek or the ugliest girl at the dance? No in between?”

“Yup,” he smiled, though I am not sure he really knows who Bo Derek is.

“How does that make you feel?”

He laughed softly and gave me my keys without answering.

If this were the first time I had heard this story, I would think he was pulling my leg, just trying to game his score. He was a nice kid, and he did his job competently with a smile on his face, but it was an ordinary transaction. Average. Just like every other transaction I have had at the dealership over the last fifteen years, and the very reason I keep coming back. Consistent competence. A 10 out 10, a perfect score, is like seeing a woman who is so beautiful or a man who is so handsome, that you actually give yourself whiplash when you snap your head around for a second look. That is 10 out of 10. On a scale of 1 to 10, the average person is a 5.5. I would give this kid a 6 out of 10, and feel good about it. To have this kid tell me that, if I generously give him a 9 out 10, his boss will put a bag over his head because he is just too damn ugly seems a little wacky. Nobody is that big a dick, are they? The kid has to be lying, right?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard this story. As a matter of fact, just about every shop I do business with has the same sort of survey request on the bottom of the receipt. Whenever a cashier mentions the survey, the story is always the same. Their scores have to be beauty-pageant perfect, or they will suffer some sort of consequence. A bad review. A demotion. No raise. Get fired. That sort of stuff. As a matter of fact, some poor sap begs me to give them a “review” almost every day. If I log into some web account or another, they are always wringing their hands, asking me to “take a minute to rate their performance.” I get these desperate, attention seeking requests in my e-mail all the time (one just popped into my inbox as I am typing. I cannot even write in peace without some drama queen CEO shopping for compliments). I get literally hundreds of survey requests every year. It is as pervasive as garlic and heavy perfume at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Get me some fresh air, please! And if I applaud the employee, but criticize company policy in my review, it is the employee who gets hurt because the score is not perfect. So when this poor kid at the auto repair shop begged me to give him a good review, he really meant it. His livelihood will be on the line if I do not tell his boss that this $11.95-an-hour kid could star on Broadway and that the boss is the most handsome devil west of the Mississippi. Crazy, huh?

I have a lot of empathy for that poor kid. Sympathy and pity, too. It is hard to have someone with whom you have such a close, personal relationship put such unrealistic expectations on your performance every minute of every day, then berate you on a daily basis when you are not cover-girl beautiful (those photos are always airbrushed and photo-shopped, by the way). It is even harder when the person telling you that you are ugly is in a position of authority over you, and threatens your future as a punishment for failure. So now I have to make a decision. Do I lie and help this poor kid with the cooking and the chores, and get him cleaned up for dinner… making him out to be better than he is… so that when the Old Man comes home drunk the kid does not get a beating? Or do I tell the truth, and screw the kid? Do I punish the boss by taking my business somewhere else on principle? Or do I walk away and say nothing, refusing to play the game at all?

Well, I am no liar, so any review I give will be an honest review. Unfortunately, an honest review will result in a good kid getting punished for treating me decently. I cannot be a party to someone being punished for basic decency, therefore I cannot, in good conscience, give any sort of feedback whatsoever. If I take my business to the dealership down the street, their boss is also using the same review process to browbeat his employees (true fact! I know guys at both shops), so that would be like robbing Judas to pay Pilate. The only choice I have left is to not play the game at all. That poor kid is on his own. I am not going to hurt him, but I cannot save him. Nor can I save any of the other millions upon millions of $10 an hour employees just like him.

What I have noticed in recent years is that corporate America has become obsessed with being told they are beautiful.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful of them all?

If you say ‘tis other than me, I will punish my employee!”

It is as though these companies know they have a history of not being good citizens and are so desperate to put lipstick on the pig that they are attempting to coerce our compliments so they can report to the world that they are truly loved. It is a sort of Wonderland madness, really. Instead of them worrying about getting 10 out 10 on their surveys, perhaps they could start doing right by their employees and their customers instead of treating them like property. (Hey, stop laughing! I am being serious here!)

As for me, I am everyman. I do not complain. I do not fill out surveys even if you offer me free tacos, coffee, or car washes. If I come through your door, you have already passed the test. If I don’t come backif I am spending my time at your competition… I guarantee you it has more to do with your culture at the top than with some poor kid at the bottom, so stop being “that guy.” Your employees might actually learn to like you, instead of being terrified that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

 

ps. I just have to add this – I was just driving home a few minutes ago and my phone rings. Luckily I was not in Beaverton city limits yet, so was able to use my hand-free system and answer the call. It was a robo-call asking me to rate the service of business I had recently used, “Were you satisfied with our service? Please answer YES or NO,” so I roll my eyes and say loudly, “YES!” The robot computer (think free labor and zero personal touch) responded, “I am sorry, I did not understand your response,” so I hung up. Sorry there, boss man, the service was fine, but I am only going to give you a 1 out of 10 for being so flipping needy and annoying, and, according to loads of researchers and investigative journalists, the vast majority of your customers feel the same as I do.

Americans Need To Lose

We need to lose. We need to experience loss and failure… and take personal ownership of our trials. We need to know what suffering is so that we can appreciate success and comfort… without falling into the trap of believing a comfortable life is an entitlement. I am not saying everyone who loses will appreciate success, only that without facing real loss most people cannot appreciate success. Without real trials, most people are simply going to feel entitled to a life of security and comfort, even when they make consistently poor choices.

The Greatest Generation (Simply Doing What Needs Doing)

A century ago my great-grandfather, August Reitz, was the patriarch of his Wisconsin family farm. He lived and worked in a time when not only did he have to take care of himself and his family, he had to take care of his neighbors. All of the local farmers cooperatively joined forces at harvest time to bring in all the crops to ensure their mutual success. A farmer who did not work hard and did not give and receive help would fail. The very real possibility of losing everything was ever threatening.  When the Great Depression rolled across the United States in the late 1920s and early 1930s, combined with the Oklahoma and Texas Dust Bowl, America’s citizenry suffered huge losses. The U.S. Government responded to the crisis with the creation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a federal social safety net. In essence, FDR created social insurance so that Americans no longer had to suffer the full brunt of losses and failures. It only took one generation for the work ethic of August Reitz to began to crumble. The president who made the bold claim, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” was laying the very foundation of a society that would soon become consumed with fear of fear.

The Advent of Hedonism (It’s a Free Country, I Can Do What I Want)

In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy made this plea to America, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The New Deal was enabling Americans to indulge in selfish behavior, and President Kennedy’s January 20th inaugural address was a carefully worded chastisement of the newly emerging American culture, a culture that has since come into its fullness. President Kennedy saw that America’s safety net was increasingly being used as a crutch, an entitlement. Our survival no longer depended on making wise choices or helping and receiving help from our neighbors. We would just pay our taxes and leave the rest to Uncle Sam. That generation of the 1960s and the 1970s became the generation of hedonism. Our government and industry were gradually removing the risks from risky behavior. Welfare, birth control, antibiotics, drug rehab centers, abortion clinics, FEMA and the FDIC removed the risk of losing, creating a generation of hedonistic gamblers. Suddenly people could take the personal risks of princes and kings and have someone else pick up the pieces if they got called out.

The Advent of Greed (I’ve Got Mine and to Hell With Everyone Else)

This generation of self-seekers went on to have children who one-upped their parents, taking hedonism for granted. They wanted more. They became the generation of greed in the 1980s and 1990s, with their shameless manipulations of banking and financial markets. They took huge risks that finally ended with an American economic meltdown in the early 21st Century. Once again, instead of allowing the players to actually lose, Uncle Sam stepped in and bailed out the generation of greed with no real consequence whatsoever.

The Advent of Complete Entitlement (The World Owes Me an Effortless Life)

Sadly, the generation of greed now has children. Sadly, the prevailing attitude of the generation of greed is that their children must be protected from losing at all costs. Stupid parents, men and women raised in a false culture where losing is considered inhumane… men and women terrified of loss, and horrified that their children might ever lose at anything. So a bunch of soccer moms and sports dads got together and did away with keeping score and declared everyone a winner. Participation trophies for everyone! Last place is equal to first place! This generation of parents is also doing away with academic competitiveness, first by grade inflation in the public schools, and now by doing away with grades altogether. In essence, today’s emerging young adults live with the expectation that success should be redistributed evenly among winners and losers, among the industrious and the lazy. We have reached a point in our society where all the spiritually necessary lessons that hardships teach have been removed from the curriculum. A huge portion of American society now holds the firm belief that they have no obligation to help themselves, let alone help their neighbor. A majority of Americans believe they are entitled to be, at least somewhat, a burden to someone else, and are aghast at the thought of being responsible for themselves. We have become like children who expect sweets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and grow very angry when occasionally the food provided is healthy.

For instance, I recently had two insulin-dependant diabetic patients come to my pharmacy to get their insulin. The first, I will call him Dr. Dumas, had lost his vial of insulin and was terribly upset his insurance would not give him a replacement for free. Grudgingly, Dr. Dumas paid out-of-pocket, but moaned and groaned about the unfairness of it all. The second, I shall call him Mr. Sour, in a similar circumstance, actually went without his insulin for four days because he would rather die than pay an extra $50. Both Dumas and Sour are well-off, upper middleclass men. Both patients believe, on principle, they are entitled to have someone else take care of them. They both believe they are, in fact, entitled to be free of any responsibility for their own life, and become impatient and irritated when they find the rest of the world lacks sympathy for them. All sweets and no vegetables. All winning, and no losing. All reward and no risk. Security with no effort. Rights without responsibility. Tantrums when told otherwise.

This is an immensely false philosophy, and the Republic of the United States of America is crumbling beneath its weight. The majority of our political leaders are proclaimed believers in this philosophy because it gives them control over the masses. They know that in a society defined by entitlement folks will sell their very souls in order to maintain the illusion that they can be insulated from all risk and all loss. Illusion it remains, though. In reality, we are responsible to ourselves, for ourselves, and for our neighbors. Our souls, or psyches if you prefer, need to struggle and earn success in order to live a full life. Our losses, self-inflicted or not, belong to us, and only a fool fails to use the experience of loss for their own betterment. Every loss, every failure, and every trial represents a crossroads in our life where we have a chance to pick a better path. To hold the belief we are entitled to never experience any pains or frustrations, and that when things do go badly the fault and responsibility always lies elsewhere, retards our collective maturity, leaving us a society dominated by an adolescent mentality.

Unfortunately, making note of it here will not change the road we are traveling.

A Matter of Greed

‘Surrounding myself with possessions

I surely have more than I need

I don’t know if this is justice, hard earned

Or simply a matter of greed’

Dan Fogelberg, Loose Ends

LUKE 16: 16-21 – THE PARABLE OF GREED

“There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, ‘What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops. Then he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time’. But God said to him, ‘Fool, This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?’ So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.”

Greed is like pornography; it is a corrupted reflection of human virtue, it titillates most people whether they are rich or poor, and despite its obvious existence, it is hard to define and pin down in a legal sense. The pursuit of wealth, just like the sexual conquest, is wholly glorified in nearly every society on Earth. That is why the wealthy hire the sweat of honest men and take the lion’s share, while the poor purchase lottery tickets in hopes of changing their caste. The idea of extreme wealth, especially the sort of wealth that is attained instead of earned, has a hypnotic grip on much of society.

$4,000,000 IS ENOUGH

Where does “enough” end and “too much” begin? That is both an easy and a hard question to answer. I believe a person should try to get the best job possible and negotiate the best pay possible. Whether you are a kid looking for summer work or a CEO, you should always aim for the moon, for the pursuit of a secure life is a rational endeavor. About 1% of us, meaning those who annually earn over $350,000, through hard work, good fortune, and perhaps a bit of dishonesty, actually hit the moon and afford themselves a luxurious life. Instead of feeling envy, the rest of us should applaud their hard work, for the vast majority of them truly earned their success and eventual comfort in retirement.

However, there is only so much a man’s stomach can hold, so to speak. There comes a point where wealth becomes so extreme it simply cannot be rationally spent on security and material goods. For instance, $10 million will get you the world’s most expensive sports car… and Scotland’s Brixwold Castle as a driveway. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, earned that much in 9&½  days last year. He has so much money he will never be able to spend it all… at least not on himself and his family… and money certainly can no longer hold any real meaning for the man. He has a vast treasure chest. A massive hoard. There is nothing, no luxury on Earth, that he cannot afford in an offhand fashion. When he joined Apple in 1998 the company stock was worth about $7 a share. Now it is worth about $500 a share. His hoard is well earned. Now that Steve Jobs is dead, what Tim Cook does with the hoard, well, that determines whether he is ruled by greed.

Fifty percent of Americans make less than $27,000 per year. The average wage in America, an average heavily skewed by the top 1% of income earners, is about $43,000. That means the average, hardworking Joe on the street can expect to earn between $1.3 million and $2.1 million between the ages of 15 and 65 years, adjusted for inflation of course. That means, in round numbers, the average American’s lifetime of work is worth about $2 million to the rest of American society. It is enough to independently afford the basic necessities in life, and perhaps support a small, frugal family.

In 2010 the IRS processed about 143 million individual tax returns (apparently less than fifty percent of Americans have taxable income). Of those tax returns, about 1% or 1.43 million earned more than $350,000. Of the 1.43 Million “one-percenters” just over 100,000, or 7%, of individual tax returns showed a gross income in excess of $2 million dollars. That means out of approximately 143 million working Americans roughly 1 in 1430, or 0.07%, claimed to have done a lifetime’s worth of work in a one year or less. These are the people who, having hit the moon, negotiated for and received the stars.

To be comfortable in retirement, many financial experts are going to guess that a married couple will need about $2 million or so of today’s dollars. So if a frugal man earns $2 million this year, that could conceivably last him until retirement. If he earns $2 million again next year, that could, the Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, last him for the rest of his life as long as he invests it conservatively. $4 million, adjusted for inflation, is enough for a secure life. EVERYTHING he earns after that first $4 million is pure luxury. The exclusive mansion, the vacation home, the luxury automobile, and the international ski vacation all come from his luxury earnings. He may absolutely, fully earn and deserve every last penny, but it does not change the fact that to earn a lifetime’s worth of income in one year or less is a luxury. Regardless of his deserving, if he is not in absolute awe that he has managed to garner such extraordinary riches through his efforts and good fortune, then greed is dulling his senses. If he lied, cheated, bent or broke the law, or caused another person harm on the way to his glorious earnings, greed defines everything that he is.

GREED IS NOT NECESSARILY DEFINED BY WEALTH AND PROFIT

Justin Bieber ($57 million in 2012), Ben Roethlisberger ($13.6 million in 2013), Elvis Presley ($55 million in 2011), and the Kardashians ($65 million in 2010) are good examples of fabulously wealthy, yet peculiarly controversial entertainers who have honestly earned every penny of their income from their fans. Their wealth is not a reflection of greed so much as a reflection of the value society places on crude entertainment. I love a good football game (especially when the Steelers lose… extra especially if they lose to the Packers), and it is a treat many people are willing to spend money to see! You might find fault with these entertainers’ character, but do not fault them their good fortune.

Ruthless entrepreneurs, such as Phil Knight and Bill Gates, have amassed great fortunes making and selling stuff that has improved the quality of our lives. As a society we love their talent and ingenuity, and voluntarily contribute to their extraordinary wealth by purchasing their products, therefore most every penny they have is well earned. As a matter of fact, most Americans do direct business with most of America’s Fortune 100 companies. These companies, excepting the conglomerates like Berkshire Hathaway, directly provide the products and services we need and want. They earn their wealth directly from consumers. Even if you eschew these mega-companies for their smaller competitors, a bit of profit is built into every dollar you spend, no matter where.

Profit is not the problem. How a person or company generates profits, and how they utilize those profits are the spiritually defining actions. For instance, Warren Buffett, a very congenial, grandfatherly fellow, does not really create any goods or services. Unlike Bill Gates and Phil Knight, his job is to simply generate money for the sake of money. For instance, I own a nice pair of Tony Lama boots. Mr. Buffett does not know the first thing about boots, but he did buy the Tony Lama name in 2000, so a portion of the money I paid for those boots went to Mr. Buffett. He makes his money by buying low and selling high. He buys other men’s creations, tries to make them more efficient and then skims the profits. Rather than earning money, he acquires it, and that tends to lean towards falling under the auspices of avarice. While he seems a pleasant, amenable fellow, his character – what he takes to the grave – will ultimately be determined by what good he does the world with the fathomless mass of wealth he has very cleverly acquired over the course of his life. It is a state of being I do not envy. Will he build bigger barns or will he see fit to make the world a better place for humanity? It is entirely up to him. What ever he decides, when he dies he takes only his character with him. Do not get me wrong. I know nothing about Warren Buffett the man or his intentions. He simply and eloquently demonstrates the fork in the road that every man and woman of his stature faces every day when they wake up in the morning. Do they bring succor to the lowly, or do they keep for themselves what they can never use? The very reason I mention Warren Buffett, Phil Knight, and Bill Gates here is that, regardless of what they have done along the way, they have become generous men who charitably give a substantial portion of their success to help improve the conditions of their fellow man. Of the 100,000 or so Americans who possess luxurious wealth, these men are now setting the good example when it comes to sustained philanthropy, and they make a difference.

GREED IS A STATE OF MIND, NOT A NUMBER

Ultimately, greed is an unbridled, unrestrained, and insatiable state of mind. It is the main gateway to the Seven Deadly Sins. Greed suffers no logic or rational mind, therefore cannot be debated. It will never admit defeat and cannot be killed, for it lives in us all. It revels in the violation of God’s commandments. Greed promises euphoric contentment, yet only delivers a debased, sadistic misery to those who embrace it tenets. First it is callous, then it is autocratic, and then it grows cruel as it tries to rob others of the one thing it can never attain – peace of mind. Its only weakness is that everyone is free to reject it. Every person, rich or poor, who is beholden to greed, does so voluntarily. Thankfully, many of America’s wealthiest eventually see past the false promise of greed and begin to give of their largess in hopes of making the world a better place. Shamefully, some do not… at least not yet… but there is always tomorrow.

The Best Gift Ever

Just as I enjoy listening to the radio for news, sports, and music, I also take an interest in the advertising. Radio advertising has far more explicit language than other advertising mediums because it lacks any visual aids. I find a unique social commentary in the language and music advertisers use to create these products whose singular purpose is to get the listener to take some sort of action that usually includes spending money.

Currently Mercedes-Benz is running a Christmastime advertising campaign touting their vehicles as “The Best Gift Ever!” The ads feature what we assume to be a man between the ages of thirty-five and fifty years blathering on about lame gifts, then sharing with the listener that what he really wants is a Mercedes, because that would be a gift unparalleled in his entire life.

After rolling my eyes at the utter ridiculousness of Mercedes’ claim, I began thinking about our middle-age man’s claim, and what sort of man he must be to consider a new Mercedes, which are very fine automobiles, the best gift he had ever received. Who is this man, let’s call him Mr. Mercedes, where such a gift would be so extraordinary, and how does he compare to me? This led me to make some very basic assumptions about this man’s life, and the gifts he never received.

Whether or not Mr. Mercedes parents are divorced, he grew up in a dysfunctional household. His relationship to his parents was painful and he had little love as a child except what he earned by attempting to live up to an overbearing father’s irrational expectations. If he ever won any athletic contests or sports championships, it was a gift for his father instead of a personal achievement. Mr. Mercedes also discounts his academic achievements in a similar fashion. While he is intelligent, well-educated and successful, he does not see all the opportunities of his life as gifts per se. He is simply living up to expectations.

Mr. Mercedes is likely married, but is more in love with his image than his own wife. He may dabble in the occasional infidelity, or the occasional prostitute while traveling, because it truly means nothing to him. While he is surrounded with associates, he does not have any real friends, men outside his class with which he shares a bond of love and brotherhood.

While he may have a bit of spirituality, Mr. Mercedes scoffs at the weakness of Christians, and does not feel any sense of universal obligation to his fellow-man. Instead, he believes the man with the most toys wins the day.

He has children, but little understands them and certainly does not consider them gifts from God or anywhere else. He may either mimic his own parents’ failings, or spoil them with material goods and indulge them with permissiveness. Either way, he will fail to give them the firm, but loving guidance a good father provides.

All this wondering about what sort of man Mr. Mercedes is, a man who believes the best gifts are bought and sold, actually made me a bit sad. It is a sad thing that the target demographic for Mercedes-Benz’s advertisement is a very real, very large group of consumers. Mercedes-Benz knows from the get-go that I am not their target audience. I buy used Subarus and keep them until they die. All the greatest gifts I have ever received exist in the depth of the relationships I have with my faith, my family and my friends. Mercedes knows who their consumers are, and they also know who their consumers are not (ie. me). As much as I am not swayed by their advertisements, I came to understand the practical theory behind them. It they want to sell, they have to target those who really believe Mercedes-Benz might be the best gift ever.

 

A Brief Origin of Chivalry

Chivalry, a derivation of the French word, cavalier, and similar to the Jersiais word, c’valyi, both of which translate to ‘horseman’, may ultimately find its origins in the collapse of the Carolingian empire in the ninth century. Following the death of Charles the Bald in 877AD, the remains of the empire crumbled beneath waves of Norse attacks and internal strife. The feudal society existing in the region degraded into chaotic violence as lords and knights waged merciless private wars amongst themselves.

To the Catholic Church’s credit, in the name of God they attempted to persuade violent and lawless lords to temper their brutality. In 989AD Archbishop Gunald of Bordeaux brought his bishops together in a synod at Charroux where they crafted the ‘Peace of God’ decree. The decree essentially stated that any person who robs the church, robs or makes war on the poor, or attacks clergy will be excommunicated and cursed until the offender makes amends. Excommunication was a substantial loss of status for lordly men, especially during a time when Europe was becoming heavily Christianized. The clergy would promote great gatherings of nobles where they were bid to swear oaths of peace on the relics of saints. The knight now had a Christian code of conduct he was under some pressure to follow.

In 1010AD King Robert the Pious of France, descendant of Rollo and cousin to Duke Richard the Good of Normandy, proclaimed the ‘Peace of God’, giving the heavenly decree an earthly enforcer. To break with God was to break with the king. France would be the birthplace of chivalry, and its reigning generation of French nobles would be the men who spread it to the rest of the world where it would be refined and expanded into the stuff of legend.

In writing the Night and the Serpent, I spent a great deal of time mulling over what era between the 11th and 14th centuries to place my characters. The days of Robert the Devil were the most natural fit so, to coincide with the advent of chivalry, I gave my anti-hero, Gaspard, the birth year of 1010AD.

Independent Writing

When I explain to people I published The Knight and the Serpent independently, that I did not peddle my manuscript to a single agent or publisher, they often become suspicious of the book’s quality. Despite having a rapidly growing market with an extensive library of well-composed works, I will admit the stigma attached to the independent literature industry is fairly earned. Many independent books are fringe topics and/or are poorly researched, poorly written, and minimally edited. In a market where thousands of books are published every month, and a publishing house has to sell about 10,000 copies of an average book to break even, the average independent author is likely to sell one hundred or less copies. By and large, independent writers themselves do not turn a profit. While part of this dismally poor showing often is due to a small topic audience or lack of effective marketing, oft-times an independent book fails simply because it is a miserable bit of writing that no sane agent or publisher would touch.

That is only half of the story. Today’s literary industry is in disarray, leaving many good authors with no choice but to go the route of independent writing if they ever want their work to see the light of day. Literary agents, the self-proclaimed conduit to success for a writer and the experts who supposedly separate the wheat from the chaff, are completely unregulated, overly abundant, and often incompetent. There are far too many cases where agents have rejected award-winning, best-selling work, while at the same time accepting poorly written trash. In today’s market, the sheer volume of books being written continues to dilute the market, forcing publishing houses to focus on a few block-buster manuscripts rather than accepting good, but less marketable work. Rapidly changing technology, the introduction of new ways to reach potential readers, print-on-demand services, and the rise of electronic books is wrestling away significant market share from the big publishing houses, stunting growth, and stealing profits. The existing turmoil in a once aloof industry puts off many ordinary citizen writers… writers like myself who are not necessarily in it for the money.

Writers are supposed to follow scads of rules and guidelines on the road to successful publishing. Some rules, such as ‘Don’t quit your day job’, ‘know your audience’, and adhering to the Chicago Manual of Style are quite sensible. Some, such as submission page format requirements and other agent idiosyncrasies, get a bit pedantic. Since I already have to lots of rules in my day job, I found I really was not interested learning and following lots of industry guidelines in my writing… especially when it came to pursuing an agent and a publishing house. In writing The Knight and the Serpent, I wanted to write a story I would want to read without getting caught up in all the rigmarole that is the literary industry. Besides, I am not sure I have the time to rise to the level of commitment an agent or publisher would demand of me.

While The Knight and the Serpent is popularly categorized as fantasy, it is really historical fiction/adventure interwoven with a Christian morality play. Stylistically I wanted the story to have the same flavor as late Victorian era young men’s adventures, such as H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. This means my target audience, born between 1870 and 1940, are for the most part dead and gone.  I am not sure it is a profitable genre and target audience, but the story is the way I want it, and that is important to me. It does appear as though I do have some fans, as The Knight and the Serpent Kindle Edition has been downloaded over eight hundred times in less than six months, and most of the reviews have been generously positive.

Hopefully this gives my readers some insight as to why I chose to independently publish The Knight and the Serpent instead of peddling it to an agent or publisher.

Good Reading, John

From there to here

The last time I spoke with my grandfather, John Richard Price Gabourel, was Thanksgiving of 1987. He lay in a hospital bed in San Francisco, his body wracked with cancer, and my father placed the call from our Portland home. My wife and I had just announced our engagement and I wanted to give him the news. Although he was barely able to communicate, I do like to believe he could still understand. He passed away a few days later to go on what he called “The greatest adventure of them all.”

He was a wonderful memory keeper and a king of tall tales. Despite his lack of education, his friends referred to him as “the expert on everything” for he could talk like he kissed the Blarney stone. With his passing a tremendous treasure of family artifacts passed on to my father, who was already an avid genealogist. Among the collection was an 1879 book penned by my great-great grandaunt, Harriet Gabourel, titled The Knight and the Dragon: A Legend of the Hougue Bie De Hambie, in the Island of Jersey.

After I moved home from university, my father showed me the book just after he had finished reading it. It was my great grandfather’s copy, a gift from his Auntie Harriet. I thought it an absolutely brilliant title and imagined it was some adventurous tale where the climax was a battle between a brave knight and a dangerous fire-breathing dragon. “Not so,” said my father, who then went on to describe a story of jealousy, betrayal and murder. At the time I figured sometime someday I would read Harriet’s story, but for the time being I had to work, get my wife through graduate school and raise my newborn son, Joshua Dustan.

Then it happened… a parent’s worst possible nightmare… my son died of SIDS at age three months eight days. Unless you have been through it, you cannot and do not want to know such pain. Every day I thank God for the strength of my extended family. Their support allowed us to survive the ensuing year.

That is when writing became an outlet for me. Pen, paper, and keyboard allowed me to escape into a daydream world of my creation. I found I had a small gift for poetry, I enjoyed writing essays (something I completely eschewed as a student), and the dream of writing a novel distracted me from my daily pain. Eventually I found an idea I liked and wrote my first manuscript. It was a short, satirical story, and I thought it quite clever. However, the literary industry did not find it so clever, so it remains an unfinished, unpublished project.

My own father passed away early in 2002, and the increasing demands of my family pushed aside my thoughts of being a novelist. I promised my father I would take up the mantle of the family historian, I was coaching my daughter’s soccer team, and my wife and I were active sports parents. My literary focus turned to the researching and writing my family history, and that culminated in the 2009 publication of The House of Gabourel.

Part of my research was to read both of Harriet Gabourel’s 19th century novels, Suzanne de L’Orme (later published as True to Her Faith) and The Knight and the Dragon. I immediately saw the tremendous potential of the legend of La Hougue Bie, but was unhappy with Harriet’s title, a title I had been enamored with for two decades. It had little to do with the heart of the story, that being the arc of the widow, the treacherous servant, and his conscience. Ultimately, as the story came together, I settled on the title The Knight and the Serpent, for it implies a dual meaning and is better suited to the overall story, yet still tips its hat to its inspiration.

Remembering the sting of literary rejection from years past and happy with the process of self-publishing The House of Gabourel, I decided to publish The Knight and the Serpent on my own. So far so good…

Happy Reading,

John