Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Life's paradoxes and musings on current events

I received news today that my book, When Towns Had Teams, will be on the presses on Friday morning. My printer, JS McCarthy, informed me to be at the plant at 7am to take a look at the first run of my cover and the first signature.

This brings me tremendous joy, having been through the ringer the past 6 weeks, or so, doing my pre-press duties and performing a myriad of other tasks that are associated with independent publishing. The book has been a tremendous project and knowing its going to be in bookstores and available via my website is gratifying.

The past week, things have started to slow down and my mood has been tempered with cautious optimism. There’s also a side of me that feels somewhat guilty—I’m concerned about marketing my book, when thousands upon thousands of residents of the Gulf Coast have lost everything they own—I don’t know how to juxtapose these two things. I didn’t cause this event, I know, but I still empathize and sympathize with what so many must be feeling and experiencing.

In addition to that, I’ve had to do a considerable amount of driving of late, particularly yesterday and today. Yesterday, I drove to Bangor and back and then today, I had an appointment in Westbrook this morning, and had to have my final proofs back to the printer this afternoon, in Augusta. Recently, I was forced to purchase another automobile, due to my son’s return to college and the fact that his 1993 Toyota Camry wagon died; actually, it didn’t die, but it won’t pass inspection without major repairs. Just around the corner from where I live, a sweet old lady was selling her beloved Pontiac Parisienne, a vintage 1985 model. If anyone knows this model, it’s a hulking mass of automobile, equipped with a V-8, 305cc engine. They don’t call these babies “land yachts” for nothing. At the same time, the car is in great shape and has been meticulously cared for, particularly on the mechanical side. With limited funds to invest in an auto, I had few options but to invest my meager resources in a 20-year-old vehicle. Actually, the car gets about 22 or 23 mpg on the highway and boy, does she ride nice.

Having to fill the 30 gallon tank the past week, however, has driven home the reality of the escalating gas prices. With gas having risen from $2.62/regular on Monday night, to $2.81/regular today, I’m concerned where it will all go.

Then, on top of all of this, I read the following on the Oil Drum site and recognize that we could be in for an interesting next few months, if not much longer. Gas prices will continue to rise, as our refining capacity cannot match our demand, not with the destruction to the Gulf Coast oil operations from Katrina.

I’ve been following all of the events pertaining to peak oil since early in the summer. I don’t bring these types of pronouncements to you lightly. While some might think I derive some measure of schadenfreude from this, I would vehemently disagree.

I’m not sure what all of this means? It seems like we are facing some defining moments as a country in the coming days. I think we’ve had too much prosperity, foisted primarily on the availability of cheap oil. Our bloated materialism and quest to consume might finally be catching up with us. Along those same lines, Richard, over at Commie Curmudgeon, has an interesting post on a book written in the 1970’s, by Andre Gorz, Ecology as Politics.

As usual, Richard chimes in with an erudite analysis uniquely his own, prompted by a comment I had left regarding James Kunstler’s book, The Long Emergency and cheap oil.

Richard posts several provocative quotes from Gorz’ book, all particularly interesting and I’d argue, relevant, in regard to this post and the issues that are facing our society and maybe, our current way of life.

All of us who aren’t well-heeled are going to have to make tough choices this winter. We may have to curtail our driving. For those of us in states like Maine, which lack any significant public transportation infrastructure, it could be particularly challenging. I'm afraid that we may be reaching a point where we may have to downsize our expectations in the coming days, months, and most assuredly, years. This doesn’t necessarily have to be thought of as a bad thing. Maybe, the blight of development and sprawl might be finally checked and even ended. With the possibility of multiple trips to Wal-Mart losing their feasibility, maybe the local hardware store might be a more attractive option. What would happen if we suddenly recognize that our big box, retail-based economy, isn’t sustainable and we begin to focus on our own local economies and rebuilding our communities?

Obviously, I’m throwing a lot of information out there tonight, but in light of recent developments, I think we all should begin having conversations and dialogue about them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bangor-bound and ill-prepared

I’m off to Bangor at an ungodly hour to set up for a job fair. This is part of my semi-regular part time gig to help pay some bills and aid me in getting my independent publishing venture off the ground. I’m not in a great frame of mind, primarily because of the lack of support that I’m receiving from my so-called boss.

Granted, I’m a contract employee. While this company pays a decent hourly wage, covers my driving expenses and provides other incidentals, my new 20-something overseer is not impressing me at all. With her London design school pedigree, you would think she’d understand that our trade show materials sucks! Our table top display was ragged at best when I did our last trade event. Apparently, little miss prissy must have broken it during her previous set up, as she was the last person who had the materials. When I met her last evening, in order to receive her handoff, she was late, rude and provided me with little or no directive as to why I had so few materials for today’s event. I don’t understand what it is about recent college graduates? Are our colleges so dumbed-down that they aren’t preparing graduates for the real world? Does my boss not understand at trade fairs, more is always better?

Personally, based on my previous track record, I can see that a clash of cultures looms on the horizon. I may be a contract employee, but I believe in doing an honest day’s work. I also would appreciate having some type of support, particularly if this person is being paid to provide it. I never was a believer in generation gaps, but now that I’m 40-something, I can really appreciate the reservations that the older set usually has about young people.

I could go on about my situation, but I’ll end by saying that if I was doing the event as RiverVision Press, I would have made sure that I had a display that smacked of professionalism. The employer I’m representing is considered a leader in its field. Yet, with the materials I was given and the trade booth I’ve had to piece together, it will tell all in attendance that this company is not a real player, but a poseur.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Musical interlude

Monday's peak oil song for the day:


And now, back to reality.

Pat Robertson's god

Periodically, I enjoy humoring myself by sending out a rash of queries for articles that I think would make a tad more interesting reading than the usual warmed-over fare. Today, I’m performing my two-or-three-times-a-year exercise in futility by sending off posts to Downeast, Yankee and similar publications, about an article idea I came up with while biking past my local volunteer fire department the other day. I’m sure, in about three months, I’ll be receiving my polite, but firm rejection letter from those publications, as they tell me that my article is just not “the right fit” for their publication. In between letters, I've been catching up on some of my reading that I've been missing the past few months.

Since my recent posts about music garnered about as much interest as a fart in the frozen food section, I’ll move on to crazy Pat Robertson and his recent Xian response to Hugo Chavez. It seems the god that Pat prays to is only interested in free-market capitalism, the bloodier and more exploitive, the better. Since Chavez represents a populist movement that threatens the power structure and economic system that is Pat’s true god, in his theology of guns and military might, it’s ok to take him out.

Zbignew Zingh weighs in with his two cents about Robertson’s “Fatwah”, as he calls it.

What I like about Zingh’s article, is his accurate assessment of Robertson and his brand of Elmer Gantry’s, that predominantly reside on the right side of the governmental aisle. As he writes, “Robertson sees himself as a prophet with a direct line to God. All medieval witch-burners do. He is a fool because he could not resist opening his mouth and blabbing to the whole world that he had foreknowledge about America's black bag operations to assassinate yet another democratically elected foreign leader. By speaking so brazenly -- and prematurely -- Robertson caused two immediate effects: First, he provoked sanctimonious denials from other political witch-burners like Minnesota's Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld. Second, Mr. Robertson's intemperate prattling has, in essence, spilled the beans about the all-too-real US plan to kill President Chavez. Thus has Pat Robertson unwittingly spared Hugo Chavez from the death that was, indeed, prepared for him -- at least for the time being -- and earned Mr. Robertson a public scolding from those liars whose dark secret he has disclosed.”

If you are interested in the rest of Zingh’s take, you can view it over at Dissident Voice, a mighty fine place to cut through the mainstream media’s apologetic spinning for the powers that be.

Mo' music

Craig Finn has one of those voices and lyrical styles that is immediately recognizable. Finn, is the former front man for Minneapolis underground rock legends, Lifter Puller.

Lifter Puller are one of those incredible bands that when you hear them, you immediately are at a loss to explain their relative obscurity outside of their small circle of fans. Finn’s encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop culture, as well as an obsession with the seamy underside of life, makes for some intensely literate songwriting. On reflection, this is probably the issue with the band’s lack of popularity. What sells is shit (and stupid, to boot), just check out the Billboard charts and the wannabes currently in vogue, such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and the latest flavor-of-the-month.

Finn is now fronting a new band, The Hold Steady that’s actually popping up on some critic’s radar screens. In NYC, the band has created some buzz. Earlier this year, they landed on the cover of The Village Voice and NPR just ran a feature on Finn and Co. Additionally, the band’s newest record, Seperation Sunday is getting favorable reviews across the music spectrum. While the NPR piece was somewhat lame, it was better than their average pop culture pap.

What kind of pissed me off about the NPR piece, however, was how little reporter Jacob Ganz seemed to know about Finn’s past with Lifter Puller. Like so many journalists getting primo gigs today, they often get by with shoddy preparation and rarely, if ever, seem prepared for their subject. As a result, the overall scope of most reporting seems watered-down and often irrelevant.

Despite my quibbles with the NPR spot on Finn and the boys, I’m pleased that it brought him back to my attention. I’ve often wondered what became of the immensely talented musician and songwriter and maybe, just maybe, he might finally be receiving his due, albeit belatedly.

Here’s an older interview with Finn from Indie Workshop.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


I hate advertising! Granted, since I have a product (my book) that is forced to compete with thousands of other products (other books), I am forced to find creative ways to position what I have and cut through the ever-increasing clutter of the marketplace.

I find most advertising insults my intelligence. I also understand that I don’t fit the demographic or the IQ level of who most ad creators are aiming to reach. That being said, I’d love to be able to watch what little television I do without being pitched to incessantly. Lately, rather than channel surf, I’ve been paying attention to some of the commercials (as painful as that sometimes can be), trying to figure out what and who the demographic is and what exactly the strategy is behind the pitch.

Take for instance the new Chrysler ad pairing hip-hop icon (and Girls Gone Wild pitchman) Snoop Dogg and the elderly business tycoon, Lee Iacocca. Set on a golf course and featuring a modified Chrysler-styled golf cart, the 70-something Iacocca obviously seems confused by Snoop’s slangalese, such as “Fo’shizzle, I-ka-zizzle,” replies S’Dogg to his geriatric golf partner.

Iacocca, who has regularly starred in his company’s commercials promoting Chrysler products, is known for his famous pitch, “If you can find a better car, buy it”. Apparently, the ad is designed to reach a younger audience, as Snoop ads his own spin to the phrase, modifying it to, "If the ride is more fly, then you must buy," Snoop Dog says.

I find it interesting that probably many of the courses that wealthy white seniors, such as the kind where Iacocca might play, are probably closed to many blacks, other than to caddy or perform other menial tasks. Granted, Snoop Dogg has now attained a measure of status (read, a fat bank roll), which makes that point moot for him.

I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I see the commercial somewhat in the vein of the old vaudeville acts, where the blacks were exploited and provided a prop for white audiences to laugh at and have fun with. While a number of African-Americans have risen to positions of leadership running record labels in the hip hop and rap music world, most of the top spots and positions of power are strangely held by white males?

Despite all the angst-filled rants of gangsta rappers, it isn't long before they manage to accumulate the accoutrements deemed appropriate by their white handlers. It’s like Thomas Frank and a handful of social critics write about in the pages of his books and publications like The Baffler; there will always be a certain measure of market-driven rebellion, outfitted and marketed by Madison Avenue. Real rebellion and god-forbid, true revolution, however, will never be tolerated by the puppet masters, moving the strings. As they say in the capitalist biz, the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Mark Edwards/MDID is alive!

Seeing that I wrote a music-related post yesterday, I thought, hell, why not do it again? I spent most of yesterday in a sleep-deprived haze of work. Of late, I find myself listening to music again. For much of the difficult production and pre-press phase of When Towns Had Teams, I didn’t pay much attention to music in my life.

Before my son left for college, he uploaded most of my CD catalog onto his hard drive. In the process of doing that over his final few days of being home, I was aware of a lot of stuff I hadn’t listened to for awhile. Yesterday, with Mark off at college, my wife on the road and having the house to myself, I started digging out some of my old vinyl. I have a bunch of albums from my mid-90’s musical phase, the most cognizant I’ve ever been of new music. It was during that time that I was doing a radio show at Bowdoin’s WBOR and I accumulated some great stuff.

While a lot of the music from that period no longer interests and captivates me like it once did, a handful of bands and artists still seem as fresh today as they did a decade prior. One such musician is former Cleveland rocker, Mark Edwards, better known to his fans as My Dad Is Dead. Certainly, this moniker sealed all inclinations for any commercial success that Edwards might have envisioned. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t his own way of ensuring that he never joined the ranks of lame play lists on so-called “modern rock” stations.

Years ago, before blogging took hold, Edwards used to post his thoughts and and “rants” for fans to read on his website. I enjoyed reading his thoughts, opinions and views about life, music and other topics and looked forward to his irregular postings.

Listening to Edwards’ MDID album, Out of Sight, Out of Mind yesterday, I made a mental note to look up Edwards on the web. I thought he might have a blog, based on his previous penchant at posting his thoughts. As is common of late, my intentions often get sidetracked by my avalanche of pending duties, related to running an independent press and trying to work part-time to keep myself afloat, financially.

This morning, three hours into my morning, which began at 3:55 A.M., I found an interview done with Edwards by a blogger with similar musical tastes. Frequency Squared is a neat music-related blog and the writer is obviously a fan of Edwards. He conducted an interview, which led me to Edwards’ own site and blog. A reward of my search is that I am now aware of a new record coming out by Edwards, as well as finding out that he’s put his entire catalog up on his website.

He’s also got some tracks up from the new record, which sound might fine. Not a huge departure from his prior work, which I’m happy about. I always liked his distinctive vocal style, as well as his own unique guitar playing.

Stumbling across Edwards and his new record feels a lot like running into an old friend. For the uninitiated, I’d urge you to check out some of his stuff. If you like it, don’t hesitate to pick up a CD or two—the investment will reward you with hours of listening pleasure, plus you’ll be supporting an independent artist operating in the finest DIY tradition.

Here's a Pitchfork review of Edwards' previous record, Engine of Commerce, as well as an Eric Davidson (New Bomb Turks' frontman) snippet on Edwards from a Cleveland online publication, Clevescene.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Space for music

The old adage claims that “all work and no play, makes Jimmy (?) a dull boy”. For what it’s worth, I’ve been working my ass off for longer than I can remember. Work is not bad—it seems to be the lot handed to anyone daring to wear the uniform of an entrepreneur, or DIY aficionado.

I’ve mentioned my friend, Jose Ayerve, on these pages before. For the uninitiated, Jose is a great musician and fronts the immensely talented and soothingly melodic, Spouse. He is also someone who I admire for his work ethic, entrepreneurial skills and ability to keep going, despite receiving insufficient attention from record labels. In some small way, my foray into publishing via RiverVision Press, is in part fueled by music predecessors such as Jose.

Of late, he’s been managing the tour of friend and fellow musician, Joe Pernice, of Pernice Brothers fame. The Pernice Brothers tour wagon rolled into Portland’s Space Gallery last night, on the second leg of their U.S. (and Canada) tour. Sparing readers the details, Jose’s continuance in running the show hinged on receiving some opening slots on this second part of the tour through October.

Obviously, having him open the Portland show was a wise move, as Jose and band used to be based in Portland. Space was more crowded than I ever recall for an opening act, when Jose walked on stage with just his new custom electric that he picked up for $75.

A number of recognizable scenesters and fellow musicians were in the audience for Jose’s set of about 8 or 9 songs, many of them, solo treatments of Spouse numbers from their latest record. If you have an appreciation for melodic rock, with solid songwriting and a penchant for pop sensibilities, then you need to add Are You Gonna’ Kiss or Wave Goodbye to your collection.

It was tough to talk much, but Jose was his usual gracious self, between all his responsibilities of making sure that everything was taken care of, on top of performing ably.

The second band on the bill, The Cloud Room, hailed from New York City and were much better than I anticipated. I might even say they impressed the hell out of me and I’m usually not that easy to impress when seeing bands for the first time.

Here’s a bit of the buzz about the band, that I was blissfully unaware of until I looked them up this morning:

"NYC buzz band the Cloud Room has a winner with this euphoric song, which has a perfect summer singalong chorus and recalls the glammery glittery goodness of Ziggy-era Bowie." - (on "Hey Now Now")

"[Hey Now Now] is a genuinely brilliant single, up there with the Killers' "Mr. Brightside," the Kaiser Chiefs' "I Predict A Riot" and the Decemberists' "16 Military Wives" as one of the great alterna-pop singles of the first half of 2005."- All Music Guide

"Catchy." - National Public Radio, "All Songs Considered"

"[Hey Now Now's] fit-for-iPod-commercial groove thankfully isn't the only thing working in the band's favor."- CMJ

It’s always nice to see a band for the first time and have your initial impression validated.

If you like reading about new bands, here’s one last link to check out, in addition to their website.

Let me say that the lateness of the hour and the stiffness in my back was taxing my will to hang around for the Pernice Brothers. Not that I was unaware of their headline status, as well as incredible street cred preceding them; it’s just that at my advanced age, a midweek gig with a band arriving on stage at 11:15 is tough on my constitution.

The wait and aching lower back were well worth the wait. Joe Pernice is one of indie rock’s top troubadours. His literate songwriting, genuineness and incredibly lush pop (where pop is a term of endearment), made the lateness of the hour well worth it.

It was gratifying to see a midweek crowd approaching 100 people turn out in Portland, to catch some underappreciated musicians, all of whom are firmly entrenched in the independent, to-hell-with-the-fickle-winds-of-corporate-rock world, camp.

Was it just me, or does Pernice do a dead-ring impression of early era (Devil Between My Toes, An Earful O’Wax) Guided By Voices, and the songwriting duo of Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout? Not being a hardcore fan and having merely a surface knowledge of Pernice’s music with his latest incarnation, I couldn’t help but be swept away with the infectious, hum-along qualities of tune after tune.

If you like music that leans to the independent, and even experimental side, then do yourself a favor and check out Space’s monthly calendar. You’ll be happily rewarded by catching some great bands making their way to our isolated corner of rockdom.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

When our oil supplies are cut off

I continue to follow the news and reports regarding peak oil, quite closely. This morning, there was an interesting story on the front page of my daily newspaper, by Jim Krane of the Associated Press.

Apparently, saboteurs triggered a cascade of power blackouts that dramatically curtailed oil exports from Iraq. This brief disruption cost the country nearly $60 million in lost exports and consequently rattled world commodity markets.

The recent dramatic increases in gasoline and oil prices have made many Americans sit up and question what is driving the price of petroleum. Our dependence on foreign oil has made America increasingly vulnerable to any variations of scenarios similar to what happened in Iraq.

A mock exercise called Oil Shockwave was recently conducted to simulate various global events that could dramatically impact and curtail American supplies of oil. This bipartisan exercise involving members of America’s energy, military and intelligence communities revealed some shocking possibilities should major disruptions impact our access to foreign oil.

In this exercise, by removing only 3.5 million barrels of oil, from a global total of 83 million barrels resulted in:
  • Gasoline prices of $5.74 per gallon;
  • Global oil price of $161 per barrel;
  • Heating oil prices of $5.14 per gallon;
  • Fall of gross domestic product for two consecutive quarters;
  • Drop in consumer confidence by 30 percent;
  • Spike in the consumer price index to 12.6 percent;
  • Ballooning of the current accounts deficit to $1.087 trillion;
  • Decline of 28 percent in the S&P 500;
  • Aggressive pressure on the U.S. from China to end arm sales to Taiwan, and;
  • Demands from Saudi Arabia for changes to U.S. policy regarding the Mid-East peace process.

Obviously, our dependence on foreign supplies of oil, as well as our administration's continued lack of an energy policy that addresses this, imperils all Americans and our futures.

With the very real possibility of a future that could be dramatically different than our current auto-centric daily lives, Americans continue to sleepwalk through their daily trips to the mall, Wal-Mart and lengthy commutes, oblivious to what the future may hold for them.

FMI about the Oil Shockwave exercise, you can read about it here:

You can also visit the site for Securing America's Future Energy to learn more.

NPR also carried a program that I was less impressed with, particularly due to some of the "players", particularly oil company shill, Daniel Yergin. Still, the program gives an overview of the issue, albeit with few if any real solutions.

For slightly more provocative views regarding peak oil, might I suggest the Oil Empire site.

The proof is in the pudding

Yesterday, I drove to Augusta, to pick up my proofs from the printer. It was a strange, but exhilarating feeling, holding that which will be my book.

The proof is basically the actual cover, which is loose, and sections of the book, in page order, stapled together in sections (in my case, 10 seperate ones). It really helps the author to see how the final product will look.

I had a few concerns about how my actual font was going to look and about my photos. Other than two, which are a little dark (the original resolution wasn't high enough), they reproduced very well. The text looks great and other than a few minor typos that I'm finding, things are shaping up for the book's release.

I haven't received my printing date as of yet, but the target for me to return the proofs is Friday and I know that I'll have it back to J.S. McCarthy (my printer) before that. The folks at JSM have been absolutely fantastic! I could have gone with a cheaper printer (although their estimate was in the ballpark with some of the bargain printers), but I would have ended up with a book that was inferior. Their customer service and attention to detail has been reassuring. Being that When Towns Had Teams is my first go-round at publishing, having the extra support was beneficial.

I think it's safe to say that I'll have books in early September and those who have placed orders should be receiving books in about 3-4 weeks, if not before that.

Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty stoked right now!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

American disconnect

Now that When Towns Had Teams is finished, waiting to roll off the press at some point between now and the first of September, I’ve been able to step back and take a breath. There is still much to do on the marketing front, to make sure enough people buy the book, or at least allow RiverVision to break even. I have no illusions of growing rich off my publishing venture, but I would like to be able to bring out another book next year and possibly a book by another non fiction writer doing something unique, and Maine-related.

With a few days of “normalcy” under my belt, I’ve been slowly reintroducing myself to the happenings outside of my writer’s cocoon. Like a diver coming up slowly to avoid the bends, I’ve been reading some news articles, a bit of commentary and perusing some blogs, all with an eye to reacquaint with the American dystopia.

Maybe it’s the post-production letdown that’s inevitable after weeks of 16 hour days, readying my book for press. Then again, maybe it’s the reality that I see making me as cynical and lacking in any form of optimism as I’ve ever been.

For instance, a mother who lost her son in this debacle we call a war in Iraq, has been protesting outside President Bush’s Crawford home, where he’s been on a month-long vacation. I don’t even want to get into the propriety of taking a vacation while Americans are dying in the desert so Americans can have access to cheap oil.

Every summer since this spoiled little rich kid has been president, he’s had to retire to Crawford for his annual month of two-hour bike rides (with secret service detail riding along the back roads near Bush’s ranch), brush clearing, Little League baseball games and a GOP fundraiser or two—all the while, refusing to meet with Cindy Sheehan, conducting her vigil, protesting the war.

Apparently, the president believes he needs his vacations because he thinks the American people “want the president to be in a position to make good, crisp decisions and to stay healthy”. Interestingly, he’s not been able to make one decision that benefited working class people in this country, healthy or not!

We have a president who struts around and acts more like an emperor, or a king, than a president of a country that claims democracy for its citizens. It’s not surprising that we have a man lacking in basic human decency and empathy for ordinary Americans. From the time he was born, he’s occupied a world of privilege and perks that most Americans will never come close to obtaining.

In writing my book, set in a period just after World War II, and moving through the 1950’s and 1960’s, I was able to reflect on a time when there was still hope for better lives, and opportunity characterized the lives of most Americans. This was a period when a high school graduate like my Dad, could raise and support a family and send two kids to college, on his salary from the paper mill. When the mill where he worked was in its heyday, my Dad used to work overtime regularly, which allowed my Mom to stay home. I don’t want to get into the pros and cons of stay-at-home-mothers, but my life growing up during the 60’s was idyllic compared to that of children today. With drive-thru daycare, mother’s working long hours and children being tired and cranky whenever they’re in public, I don’t think things are better off today.

While our president can take month-long vacations on the dime of the American taxpayer, many of those taxpayers can’t afford to take vacations of their own. Many small business people haven’t taken a vacation in years. The person who I buy wood from, works two jobs (his wood business and a hunting lodge he owns up north) and works seven days a week, 52 weeks each year. I would have loved to take a week or two to unwind after working so hard to get my book to market, but my wife and I can’t afford to spend the money, or do we have the time needed to get away.

Recently, while driving home from Portland, I happened to catch someone on Air America Radio talking about retirement in the U.S. With corporations shifting the burden of retirement onto the backs of their workers, retirement income is now a product of the investment strategies inherent in 401K plans, as well as the whims of the stock market. Just to have $12,000 to $18,000 salted away in a 401K, a worker would need about $150,000 saved in an account when he retires. Since I just liquidated my retirement to finance my publishing venture, the odds aren’t too good that I’ll be retiring any time soon. Thank god for bottles on the side of the road! I’m not complaining, as anyone who goes the small business route, knows perfectly well the paucity of finance options available for capitalizing any small, or micro business venture.

Once again, we have a president and his party that blathers on ad nauseum about small business and how it is an important engine of our economy. Yet, neither he, nor his party (or the Democrats for that matter, those so-called champions of the working class) enact anything in the way of policies to benefit small businesses. Everything is about corporate tax breaks for big business and the ruling class, the well-heeled benefactors bankrolling our oligarchy.

Granted, much of what American presidents do is symbolic, but it might be beneficial if our current president tossed a bone to those of us who actually work hard and care about our communities. Instead, we are forced to watch the hijacking of place by corporate raiders, with their box stores, boat launches, and high-priced condos, raping and pillaging what little connection we have with who we used to be.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

American's need for war

I’ve spent much of the past three weeks working feverishly on When Towns Had Teams. Yesterday, at 2:15 pm, I sent my pre-press materials via file transfer to my printer. Now, I can finally exhale, as a large weight feels like it’s been lifted from me.

Over this period of 16 to 18 hour days, it was hard to focus on much of anything not directly related to the book. Making lists, checking off items, and creating new lists of things that had to be done, occupied most of my waking hours. I’ve read very little in the newspaper, other than a cursory glance through the front page, on most days. This enforced period of work had me tunneled deeply into my project.

Occasionally, I’d allow myself a brief respite from my labor. One of the few sites I’d bother to check out was Jim Kunstler’s site. If you read my blog, you’ll know that I’ve mentioned him numerous times, of late. The reason why, is that he seems to have an ability to cut through the fog of narcissism and self-interest that envelopes American culture.

Last night, I had to return some software that I had purchased over the weekend, thinking I would need it to complete my file transfer. Happily, I didn’t need to use my $300 Adobe Acrobat, instead, finding the ScanSoft PDF-Professional adequate for my needs, at 1/3rd the price. On my way home, I stopped at a eating (and of course, drinking) establishment in Yarmouth, Grill 233. In the mood to celebrate a bit, I had dinner at the bar and enjoyed a couple of Bluepaw Wheats, courtesy of Sea Dog Brewing Company.

While sitting at the bar, I was able to catch the evening news on CBS. As someone who rarely watches mainstream news programs, I still was drawn to the screen, like a moth is to flame. Listening and watching the shallow analysis that passes for news, particularly on a story involving rising fuel prices, was maddening. When I asked the bartender if he knew much about peak oil, he got that glazed over look that I see often when I speak to people about the subject. He obviously didn’t know about it, and was looking to blame oil companies for the rise in prices. While Exxon, Mobil, Shell and others aren’t without blame, the issue is more complex than the talking head with the nice head of hair was able to articulate in his staccato soundbite pops of information.

Back to Kunstler and his recent post on the war. If you don’t know it, I’m a registered Independent. While I succumbed to some degree to the insipid “Anybody but Bush” thinking during the last presidential debacle, I recognize that both parties are leading us over the cliff with their policies that continue to enrich the wealthiest, at everyone else’s expense. Liberals are death merchants in their own ways, with their flawed thinking and morally-superior attitudes. As a matter of fact, I can’t say that I’ve met too many true liberals that I liked much better than the most rabid members of the right-wing.

Kunstler, riffing about Harry Shearer, he of Le Show fame (on NPR), hits some of the issues that I have with liberals, squarely on the head. Take for instance their opposition of the war. While there are those who deplore war in any form, for many, I think it’s about their antipathy for George Bush. If their man (Kerry, Clinton, or whoever) were occupying the West Wing, they probably wouldn’t be offering a peep of opposition.

As Kunstler writes, regarding Shearer’s recent program, where he was speaking about his opposition to the war in Iraq.

“This, of course, is the predicament of the Democrats, my own party. They have no interest in modifying the nation's suicidal suburban sprawl lifestyle either, only in the easy pretenses of political correctness. Instead of twanging on WMDs and the depravity of the war in Iraq, I'd like to hear someone like Harry Shearer (or John Kerry, or Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid) stand up and pitch for restoring the US passenger rail system. I'd like to hear some of these assholes propose some meaningful changes that Americans can make in behavior so we won't be so desperate to engage in military contests over the oil we need to drive for sushi in Los Angeles."

Despite rising gas prices, hardships and difficulties facing the poor and elderly this winter heating their homes, and the continued escalation in consumption of petroleum in places like China and India, Americans refuse to consider modifying any of their “drive everywhere we go” behavior. Even if some of us would like public transportation options, in a state like Maine, there are virtually none. I’m afraid we’re in for some difficult days ahead.

While getting the hell out of Iraq would be nice (and I’m certainly for it), I also recognize why we’re there, as does Kunstler, as well as a few others. You can’t allow destabilization of a region that controls much of the world’s oil, particularly when you need so much of it to fuel one’s multiple car trips to Wal-Mart (and Staples, in my case).

War certainly isn’t the answer, but until we find some way around having to drive everywhere we go, it will continue to be part of the equation.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Preview chapter available for When Towns Had Teams

I know that many of you have pre-ordered When Towns Had Teams. From my perspective, this has been extremely gratifying. Knowing that people have faith that I'll deliver on my promises breeds confidence, as well as some anxiety.

In order to reward readers, as well as give you a brief sneak preview of what you'll be holding in your hands in about four weeks, my webmaster and design guru, Jonathan Braden, has put a sample chapter up on the website.

Keep in mind that the formatting is a bit different than the book (the book will be 6 X 9), but this is a representative section of the kind of stories and flavor of the book.

This weekend has been a blur, finalizing many details, preparing to transmit files to the printer on Monday. I wouldn't be where I am right now without two immensely helpful people. As a designer, Jonathan Braden has gone above and beyond what I've asked him to do. Additionally, he's been encouraging at a time that has been trying, to say the least. That kind of diligence is hard to find, and it has allowed me to get to the point where I can start to get excited about my finished product. My wife, Mary, has spent much of the past two days reading through the manuscript, checking for formatting bugs, words that got pushed together during changes, and a few odds-and-ends that inevitably sneak through, even after the most thorough editing. It hasn't been easy to be Mrs. R'Vision Press the past two weeks.

A publisher is only as good as his support network and mine has been top-notch!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

I want a president!

If anyone with half a brain (even one tied tied behind their back) needed any more evidence that we no longer have a president, but an emperor, the Cindy Sheehan protest in Crawford should just about seal it.

Rather than express himself as a human being, and meet with a mother who has legitimate issues regarding the war in Iraq, the emperor (formerly known as president) chose to issue statements in the press.

The real kicker was yesterday, when the Emperor's motorcade drove by the growing group of protestors on their way to a fundraiser. It's as if the president is incapable of seeing the Cindy Sheehans of this country.

I fully recognize that I no longer live in a democracy (yes, save your t-crossing and i-dotting for someone else; I know we technically don't live in one) and that all of the rhetoric and blathering about freedom and liberty is much ado and hot air about nothing.

Only my Monday deadline for getting my book to the printer prevents me from giving this story with legs the time it deserves.

Look for something at some point next week, as I'll have more to say about Bush, the right-wing, and political pandering that is beyond the pale.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The independent saga

[I wrote this last evening, but I was too fried, and lacked the energy to post it then.]

Today was truly a good day in the life of RiverVision Press and the saga of its first book, When Towns Had Teams. While the day consisted of its usual early start (around 5 A.M.) and I’m still banging away at the keyboard some 14 or more hours later, a lot was accomplished, today.

Needing a photo for my back cover, but as usual, waiting until the last minute, I wasn’t sure I could secure a professional photo. I needn’t have worried. Having a good friend and portrait photographer extraordinaire, I was able to call her, and we did a photo shoot at the baseball field at Deering Oaks. This was all arranged the day before. In about 20 minutes, my photographer had filled a roll of film and I’ll see the photos tomorrow. I’m excited about several that we took that I think are going to be great.

Once more, my cover design has been pushed to the foreground as I’ve tarried completing my manuscript edits, proofs, and formatting. Once again, a phone call and conversation has brought me close to having a book cover that will complement my manuscript.

While RiverVision Press might be small, don’t count us out. Having a support network of photographers, web designers (and I haven’t even touched on the marketing arm of the operation) gives us the ability to do things that earlier seemed daunting, if not impossible.

I can only imagine what the future will bring, once I really get the knack of independent publishing.

I’ve had another full day, and I know sleep will be sweet and deep.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Dad's new musical upgrade

For the past year, I’ve had to forego listening to music on my fifteen-year-old stereo system, in lieu of a crappy $100 boom box. The reason? My original Boston Acoustics speakers were blown—both woofers need to be reconed. I looked into having it done about six months ago and the cost would have been about what a pair of medium level speakers might be.

I’ve been convincing myself that when I finally made a little money, I’d buy a decent pair of speakers. My stereo, given as a surprise gift by my wife, almost two decades ago, is still in top-notch shape. With a Harmon Kardon receiver, decent Sony cassette deck, Sony CD changer (purchased at Marden’s, btw) and yes, my fave piece of audio gear, my trusty Technics turntable, for when I get the urge to spin some vinyl.

Needless to say, I periodically find myself jonesing to crank up the sound system in a way that a boom box just won’t do justice.

Sunday, my 21-year-old son comes down to the living room with a large box under each arm. I was spending yet another morning frantically trying to get my manuscript formatted and not having much fun at it. Stopping to see what the heck Mark had dragged into the room, I realized they were speaker boxes. Recognizing that his pathetic father wouldn’t break down and spend the cash for some speakers, he had returned an ill-functioning iPod, taken the cash, kicked in some of his Good Humor Ice Cream Truck cashish from his summer route and made his Dad a very happy man!

Despite my protestations that he shouldn’t have done this, he was insistent that it was the least he could do. Apparently, he felt that it was a small gesture for whatever it is that I do as a father. I’m still in shock today. Just now, I’m listening to my Rory Gallagher album, Calling Card, on my turntable, marveling at the crisp clear and bass heavy sound coming from my new Infinity speakers.

While the stress of my final push towards getting When Towns Had Teams printed hasn’t abated, today, it was at least tolerable, finally being able to hear music as it should sound.

Thanks, Mark!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Oil's dwindling supply

From London's Financial Times, regarding Big Oil's recognition of peak oil and a possible crisis of global proportions.

Big Oil warns of coming energy crunch
By Carola Hoyos/Financial Times
Published: August 4 2005

International oil companies have advertising campaigns warning that the world is running out of oil and calling on the public to help the industry do something about it.
Most of the executives ofThe world's five largest energy groups generally maintain that oil projects are viable with the price at which they test a project’s viability is within the around $20 a barrel. range. But their advertising and some of their companies' own statistics appear to tell a different story.

ExxonMobil, the world's largest energy group, said in a recent advertisement: “The world faces enormous energy challenges. There are no easy answers.” And the companies' statistics back up the sentiment. In The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View, the Irving, Texas-based company forecasts that oil production outside the Organisation ofthe Petroleum Exporting Countries, the cartel that controls three-quarters of the world's oil reserves, will reach its peak in just five years.

Chevron, the US's second-largest energy group, sends a similar message, but goes two steps further. “One thing is clear: The era of easy oil is over. We call upon scientists and educators, politicians and policy-makers, environmentalists, leaders of industry and each one of you to be part of reshaping the next era of energy. Inaction is not an option,” was the message in a recent advertising campaign. The company has even set up a website, warning of the pressures of high demand and fewer fields and offering a forum of discussion.

One senior executive at an oil company not involved in the advertising campaigns speculated that his counterparts were attempting to buy themselves some slack to go after the messier, more expensive, dirty oil. Another executive said it may buy some sympathy for the difficulty many companies are having in growing developing their production and reserves.
Total, the French oil company, this week made the latest acquisition in theCanada's vast Athabasca oil sands, where companies are extracting extra tar-like bitumen from sand in an expensive and environmentally tricky mining operation.

Yves-Marie Dilibard, Total's director of communications, explaining the logic behind its campaign, said: “Tomorrow's energy needs mean developing new energy techniques, going further and deeper in the search of oil and gas. That's at the heart of Total's work today.”
Royal Dutch Shell and BP, Europe's biggest energy groups, have recently felt the effects of venturing into more difficult frontiers. Shell was forced by environmentalists to reroute a pipeline that threatened rare whales in Russia's arctic and last month warned of a $10bn (€8bn, £5.6bn) cost overrun at its Sakhalin project there. Meanwhile, BP battled with a platform in the deep waters of the US Gulf of Mexico that was severely bent by hurricane Dennis.

In its advertisements BP touts new energy alternatives, while ExxonMobil, which has unapologetically abandoned alternatives that have not been profitable, says in one advertisement: “Wishful thinking must not cloud real thinking.”

But answering the concerns of the consumer, even about the possible shortage of oil, is not the primary job of an oil company. Its most important stakeholders are its stock shareholders, some of whom have been left perplexed by the advertisements after hearing a very n altogether different message at last week's earnings conferences.

Neil McMahon, analyst at Sanford Bernstein, said: “We think these messages are at odds with the comments normally made to investors regarding future oil prices and the ability of producers to meet demand, and we wonder if perhaps those messages are actually a better indicator of the companies' thinking.”

Consumers are also not the primary concern of an even more important group: the national oil companies of producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has as its first priority its growing population and the stability of the regime. This – together with the increased difficulty of finding new oil – is part of the reason for the capacity crunch, analysts and executives agree.
No amount of advertising is likely to change that dynamic.

**A recent simulation shows the very real possibilities of terrorism interrupting oil supplies and what it could do to world markets. This all-too-real scenario would wreak economic disaster in the U.S. and certainly end American's multiple daily trips to the local Wal-Mart or Target store.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


I apologize for the paucity of posts of late. One of the things I think is essential in blogging, is regular updates, or at least something bordering on the semi-regular variety. Having said that however, I also recognize that having content merely for the sake of saying, “hey, I’ve updated my blog” rings hollow very quickly.

I find that much of what I’m focused on of late is very local, personal and close to home. Hence, I’ve been more diligent and faithful at updating my content at my WriteforYou site of late. I like the Greymatter platform for pictures much better, although I’ve not really utilized that feature in Blogger.

Ultimately, my time has been divided, between the book, baseball responsibilities to the Twilight League, as well as having more responsibilities on the part-time job front. Needless to say, my creative energy that I’ve often focused on this blog has been flagging for much of the summer.

There are days when I look at my investment of time that I have in When Towns Had Teams and the work I’ve put into trying to get RiverVision Press off the ground and I question my vision and even my sanity. Having to do every aspect save a few is overwhelming and often leaves me discouraged and exhausted at the end of each day. I find that my interpersonal relationships have suffered due to the stress, as well as being unable to enjoy many things that at one time gave me pleasure.

With the end of my own team’s season in the Twilight League (my club failed to qualify for the playoffs), I’ll have a bit more time than I’ve had since May. I also have been able to finalize the fundraising yearbook that I had dumped in my lap, which required selling ads, bartering my writing services with a designer for layout, as well as having to secure a printer at rock-bottom rates. It has been a crazy summer up to this point.

I honestly don’t see myself devoting as much focus and energy to Words Matter for at least another three to four weeks. With final edits, layout and then, marketing When Towns Had Teams, my energies are once again going to be taxed over the next few weeks.

I wanted to end on a positive note, as the overall tone of this post has been more negative than I originally intended. Yesterday, I went to my PO Box in Freeport, where I have my box for RiverVision Press. I pulled out 11 orders for my book! I’ve had a steady stream of people pre-ordering the book via mail order, or online at the site. Needless to say, these orders encourage me, validate what I’m doing and give me some hope. I still have a tough row to hoe in generating enough of a buzz about the book to at least break even and dare I say it, make a slight profit. Once the edits are done and it goes to the printer, then I’ll have to ramp up the PR machine and see what I can do in the way of a media onslaught.