Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rage against the machine

My new life as a lowly cashier proceeds apace and today I learned about The Numbers. Specially, the numbers that I am being judged by, which are the IPM (items per minute) that I'm scanning through the machine, the CPH (customers per hour) and the TTPC (tender time per customer).

To be successful in my new career as a minimum-wage worker bee at a grocery store, I must meet certain acceptable standards for these numbers.

I am currently scanning 20.86 items per minute. That number needs to be 26 or higher, I've been informed. And my "tender time per customer" - the amount of time I spend scanning your purchases and taking your payment - must be decreased to 60 seconds or less. I'm currently at 61 seconds.

What this means in the real world is that if you show up at my check-out stand with 100 items in your cart, I need to scan all of those items and have your payment in my hot little hand in less than a minute. Failure to do so will result in a lower TTPC score!


As I tried to digest this information, it occurred to me that each time a customer waits until all the items are scanned before starting to dig into their wallet or purse for payment, I'm being punished for their lack of foresight. If they spend 30 seconds digging around for change in the bottom of a purse, my numbers are going south. If they present a handful of coupons, woe is me.

What the machine doesn't measure is whether you smile, and whether you're polite, whether you make eye contact, whether you seem genuinely interested in your customers - or not. It doesn't measure personality, or whether you're in a good mood and treat customers right. All it measures are the raw facts of the transaction, as if the cashier was also a machine and not a human being.

The machine doesn't measure accuracy when giving change and handling payments, though it records each and every split second you have the till drawer open. The longer it's open, the worse your numbers are. Does the company not want me to be careful when I give change?

(An interesting aside: I was taught a cashier trick today to get around this: You let the drawer pop open, then immediately slam it shut, fooling the machine into thinking that your transaction is complete. Then you can go back and make change without fear of being punished.)

My supervisor informed me today quite gravely that if I don't improve The Numbers, the company will have to let me go. Apparently they're not getting their $7.35 cents an hour's worth.

My life has been reduced to a set of three numbers.

Four numbers, actually. The other number is that $7.35.

How much can a company rightfully expect out an employee for so little money? I'm currently serving about 31 customers per hour. How much higher could that number possibly be? Many of those customers have a hundred items or more in their cart. I'm not sure it's physically possible to move much faster than I already am. There are some areas where I could improve my time (learning produce numbers by heart would help). Even so, those items will only go through the scanner just so fast.

It's not the mechanics that bother me. It's the fact that I'm being judged by an impersonal machine. Yet, we're all being judged by these impersonal machines in one way or another as companies seek to extract increasing amounts of labor out of smaller parcels of time, all in the name of efficiency and higher profits. If the employees could share in those profits, perhaps that would motivate them to care more about The Numbers. But they don't share in the profits.

If it should turn out that I'm incapable of moving faster, there's plenty of others standing in line, waiting to get their foot in the door, waiting to do my job better and more efficiently and give the company what it wants.

It's a brave new world - and not for the faint at heart.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sisters are doing it for themselves

SISTER SUICIDE is available at
CRIME WAVE PRESS has just re-released the second book in my murder-mystery series featuring a Buddhist monk.

In SISTER SUICIDE, Father Ananda travels to a monastery/temple complex in the Thai countryside to investigate the strange case of a nun who allegedly commits suicide by throwing herself into a crocodile enclosure.

Gruesome? Well, yes. The story is based on a report in the Thai press about a woman who committed suicide in this fashion at the Samut Prakarm Crocodile Farm just outside of Bangkok, which I once visited.

After I read the story in the newspaper, my mind began to swirl with possibilities. What if the woman had been pushed? Why would someone do such a thing? Was it a spur of the moment crime of passion, or had it been premeditated?

I suppose the American equivalent would be pushing someone into the path of an oncoming subway train, which happens from time to time in places like New York City.

What sort of person would commit a crime in that fashion?

As I considered these possibilities, the outline of SISTER SUICIDE emerged.

Another feature of this book is the issue of female ordination, or the lack thereof in Thailand, a rather controversial topic.

While any boy or man in Thailand can become ordained as a Buddhist novice or monk and hope for the enlightenment that the Buddha achieved, girls and women do not have this opportunity because it is assumed, by the male Buddhist hierarchy there, that women are incapable of enlightenment. Consequently, there is no point in allowing them to become ordained and take to the Buddhist robes as they are simply wasting their time. They are, however, allowed a sort of second class status as mae chi, or nuns.

Catholics have some experience with this. Why are women not allowed to become Catholic priests? Why is the priesthood an exclusively male preserve? The traditional answer is that Jesus chose only males to be his "official" disciples (the Twelve). Consequently, Jesus would not approve of females as priests in his service.

Catholics don't go so far as to claim that women cannot be saved, or "enlightened" as the Buddhists say. But still ... women, in the Catholic church, are not good enough to become priests. Their gender disqualifies them out of hand. Never mind the fact that female priests might well be much better at their jobs than male priests. Never mind the spiritual attainments of Catholic women over the centuries. In the patriarchal world of Catholicism, there is no room for women at the top.

Thai Buddhists go a step further. Not only is there no room for woman in the top echelons of the ecclesiastical society, women, just by being women, cannot even hope for enlightenment. They are doomed, because of their gender, to take rebirth and future lives of suffering until they are fortunate to take a male body. Only then can they hope to be "saved."

Obviously, not everyone in Thailand agrees with this assessment of female spiritual potential. Not even Buddhists, in general, agree with this restrictive thinking. Some Buddhist countries in Asia, like Sri Lanka, allow female ordination. Thai women wishing to become ordained frequently travel to such countries seeking and receiving ordination.

When SISTER SUICIDE was originally written, the focus was squarely on the issue of female ordination, and the unfairness of women being denied a rightful place at the spiritual table. My original publisher, based in Thailand, asked me to soften the emphasis and tone, which I did, yet the issue of female ordination is there, between the lines, on many of the pages.

Needless to say, I believe women are just as capable as men when it comes to spiritual endeavors. The idea that gender controls your spiritual ability is offensive and nonsensical.

SISTER SUICIDE is currently available in ebook format, with the print version to follow in February.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The silence in Mississippi

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to the Magnolia state a year ago and took a job as a news editor at a small newspaper was the silence -- the deep, profound silence -- about things that matter. Silence in the media. Silence among the people I met. Silence among my new Facebook friends and co-workers. Politics and religion were strictly off-limits, it seemed, what to speak of Mississippi's past. There was no talk of issues. No debate. No discussion. No exchange of views. All very polite, safe, non-offensive, let's-talk-about-the-weather because we don't want anyone to be offended.

At first, I attributed this to the fact that I was a Yankee outsider. I wasn't from the South. I couldn't possibly understand what was going on. I had no right to offer any criticism. Or perhaps my involvement in the media made people skittish and fearful. Perhaps they were afraid to tell me what they really thought for fear they might find themselves quoted in the newspaper.

Whatever the reason, there was a profound, noticeable silence.

This type of silence is not unknown to members of a dysfunctional family. Anyone who talks to outsiders about the truth on the ground in such a family is automatically a traitor. I've had a fair bit of experience with that, too. And, as I began to live in Mississippi and meet folks, I was often reminded of that feeling because, let's face it, Mississippi is a dysfunctional state. It's the poorest, fattest, least educated, with the highest number of teen pregnancies, a lot of shameful historical baggage -- everyone knows the deal. Reminding Mississippians of these facts of life is quick way to become highly unpopular.

So, the silence.

In the media. In the newspapers. On the local television news.

During the height of a presidential election, with fierce debates among Democrats and Republicans on all kinds of issues, during the Trayvon Martin shooting, during any number of crises and controversies, there was barely a peep from any Mississippian of my acquaintance about anything at all.


And fear.

In Mississippi, it's assumed that everyone is firmly on board with the God, Guns and Gays thing. It's a solidly Red state. One doesn't dare talk about gay rights, or abortion rights, or restricting access to machine guns. One doesn't walk around thinking that Obamacare might be good for Mississippi. Our political leaders have set the tone; our job is apparently to follow and not question.

When you browse the local media, you will find mostly conservative, religious voices. You'll find editorial pages padded with press releases from Republican congressmen. You'll even find sermons from preachers in some of the back pages. What you won't find are many dissenting voices or alternative points of view, at least not in the northern part of the state where I live. You won't find Sunya Walls on the WTVA evening news talking about abortion rights. You won't find editorials or columns in the Daily Journal calling for gay rights. What you do find is lots of talk about the weather -- literally -- with healthy doses of crime and high school sports and any possible bit of business news that makes the state of Mississippi look good.

With regard to politics and the issues of the day, there seem to be only one set of "answers" in Mississippi, one set of "truths," and there is little coloring outside the lines, and very few voices willing to speak up and go against the grain. In many ways, it's a Fascist state whose citizens have been frightened into silence, who fear the reprisals that might come of being different or expressing opinions that stray from the party line. I've heard stories about business people with liberal leanings who keep their mouths shut lest they lose their customers or their jobs.

Mississippi is paying the price for this silence. It routinely sends officials down to Jackson and over to Washington who don't seem to have the best interests of the people of the state in mind. There's a reason why Mississippi is the poorest and least educated and whatnot -- and that reason has a lot to do with the elected officials who make decisions that consistently lead to poverty and backwardness.

Case in point: Governor Phil Bryant has made it a priority to shut down the state's one remaining abortion clinic. One of his stated goals is to make abortion a thing of the past in the state of Mississippi. How that will help poor women here escapes most intelligent people.

Bryant has also been publicly musing about not following any new regulations on weapons that might come down from Washington and Congress. How the governor arrived at the conclusion that he is free to disobey federal law also escapes most intelligent people.

Bryant presides over a state that only last year began to require sex education among students. Chew on that for a while, if you will. The state with the highest number of teen pregnancies has just now gotten around to thinking about sex-ed classes for its kids. And because of the conservative, religious voices in the state, the sex-ed that is now provided is either Abstinence Only or Abstinence Plus. These two programs have shown themselves to be all but useless when it comes to driving down the number of teen pregnancies, but there you are.

The Mississippi legislature is currently drafting a "sovereignty law" (House Bill 490) to ensure that the federal government does not infringe on the rights of Mississippians. The last such law was enacted in the 1950s to stop the tide of civil rights. It ended very badly for Mississippi. This new attempt has virtually no hope of succeeding, but there you are.

The state is also determined to block expansion of Medicaid, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, and which would bring in billions of federal dollars to help insure all Mississippians. We are told again and again by the governor on down that Mississippi can't afford it. One suspects the real reason behind this foolishness is the desire by politicians in this state to thumb their noses at Obamacare, the consequences to the people of Mississippi be damned. The governor even told a reporter that "no American" lacks health care insurance.

But there's not much talk in the media here about such things. Occasionally a newspaper will get bold and print a fiery letter to the editor. That's about it.

It's not that all Mississippians are Republican or even religious. Far from it. About 40 percent of the state voted for President Obama in this past election. And 58 percent of voters here rejected the personhood amendment to the state constitution, a stunning defeat for what was considered a done deal.

I have been finding an increasing number of pockets of resistance. The Jackson Free Press does good work. MPB (Mississippi Public Broadcasting) offers much thoughtful commentary, as does the Clarion-Ledger. One can find "left leaning" pages on Facebook where like-minded souls can hang out. I have met many progressive Mississippians on such pages, many activists, many thoughtful commentators.

What's needed, it seems to me, is for the average Mississippian to find his or her voice - and start speaking up. Democracy depends on a healthy exchange of ideas. Issues ought to be debated. Decisions that affect all our lives shouldn't be left to politicians who have their own agendas and who are far too busy thumping their chests and their bibles to much care about what happens on the ground.

Mississippi needs to shrug off the plantation mentality and get with the spirit of the times. We don't need to sit around waiting for word from the Big House about what we can believe and what we can do and how we ought to vote.

In the past, Mississippi politicians valued "strong backs and weak minds," which kept voters right where the politicians wanted them. If Mississippi wants to move ahead, that dynamic has to change.

Yet, in a state where those holding liberal views can be -- and indeed are -- punished if they express those views too loudly, the silence here is not surprising. I've heard of elected officials who lost re-election because they had an extra-marital affair. I heard of a woman serving as alderman for a small town who was voted out after it became known that she was gay. I've heard of businessmen who have lost customers and/or their business because of their support for abortion rights.

In this deeply religious state, with a large church on every corner, one does not question religious belief too openly. One does not campaign for gay rights, or abortion rights. One does not discuss gun control. One does not even, as I discovered for myself, talk too openly about supporting President Obama. You either get with the Gods, Guns and Gays thing, or you keep your trap shut.

That's how Mississippi rolls, apparently. Conformity -- or else. To which I would say: It didn't work in the past, and it won't work now. Not forever. What with Facebook and blogs and instant communication, trying to silence differing points of view is ultimately futile.

Until Mississippi learns that lesson, its talented sons and daughters, including Elvis, Oprah, Jimmy Buffet, Morgan Freeman and so many others, will continue to chase their dreams elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

If you work hard, will you get ahead?

I've just finished my third day as a cashier at a very busy grocery store in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis. My legs are killing me, the pay is lousy, but I have a curious feeling of gratitude to finally have a job.

Any job.

It's an interesting bit of psychology. After applying for numerous jobs and being overqualified, or lacking the right experience, after searching a job market that relies heavily on the good old boy network to find workers, after being too liberal and uncomfortable with in-your-face religion in a firmly Red State where people have signs in their yards declaring that Jesus is King, after indicating my willingness to work any shift, any day, anytime, for any wage at all, desperation had me grasping at straws.

When an offer came along for a part-time job offering $7.35 an hour, it was like winning the lottery.

But isn't that exactly the way Big Business wants us to feel? Never mind my thirty years of work experience. Never mind my college degree. Never mind my management and supervisory stints. Never mind the maturity that comes with age, that doesn't have to be told to show up on time, to dress cleanly and properly, to treat customers with respect. Never mind all that. Just be glad someone offered you a chance to make $7.35 an hour.

So, even as I'm quite happy to rejoin the workforce, even as I tell myself that I work for a large corporation and there will be opportunities for advancement after my pay my dues, I'm still left with the reality that I won't make enough money to pay the bills. I still have to contend with the fact that Big Business has me over a barrel -- has so many of us over that same barrel. And while they take home tremendous profits, the workers don't share in those profits. The workers are anonymous, faceless worker bees who are used up and all too easily replaced with a never-ending stream of desperate job-seekers to choose from.

Like many of my co-workers, I will now have to look for a second minimum-wage job in the hopes that two of them will be enough to pay for a small apartment. Until then, I'm still at 130 percent of poverty level, so I can continue to use food stamps to supplement my income.

I'm not ashamed of my new job. I believe very much in the dignity of both work and workers, and like so many of society's cast-offs and those who have been left behind in America's brutal form of Capitalism, I would much prefer to work -- any sort of work -- than to remain idle.

That I've fallen on hard times does not anger me. Look at the numbers. About half of Americans are either living in poverty or very close to it. I'm just one more, just another casualty of economic policies that are "business friendly" and not worker-friendly, policies that ensure vast profits for the elite at the expense of the poor.

My books are full of the riff-raff of society -- the poor, the marginalized, hookers, murderers, drug addicts, folks who have been washed out by life because they can't keep up, or don't fit in, or can't find a place at the table.

The writer part of me looks very carefully at my current situation, trying to piece it together, puzzle it out, connect the dots. How did I arrive at this juncture in my life? Should I remain at a job that I don't like just for the security of it? Was a wrong to "follow my dreams" and try for something better? And if this current situation in my life simply preparing me for something much better? Will it open doors to opportunities I have never considered?

How do any of us arrive at this situation? Why do we support, with our votes, economic policies that make this a reality? Why is it that so few people know that minimum wage in France is $11 an hour, and $15 an hour in Australia? Why is it so difficult to persuade American workers that we deserve better? Why have we allowed Big Business to convince us that minimum wage cannot and must not be raised? Why do we so willingly participate in a system that is so obviously not in our best interests?

I am getting glimpses of the answers in the faces of some of my co-workers and customers. Tired. So many people look so tired. Like the woman who came late in the evening to shop for groceries, kids trailing behind her, looking frazzled and harried, shyly swiping her EBT card, exhausted on her feet no doubt from working all day and now coping with kids and food and dinner and the whole business of life. She asked me to total her order item by item because she only had $63 left on her card. She was tired. Too tired to care about what goes on in Jackson or Washington.

I also see a lot of grandparents taking care of their grand kids. Where's mom and dad? Who knows? Perhaps living at home because they can't afford anything else. Perhaps they've run off and left the kids behind. Perhaps they're working two or three jobs and don't have time for their kids.

Some of my younger co-workers stand at the register all day then leave for evening classes at the community college.


Restless, busy, on your feet all day, running from one thing to the next, pinching pennies, using coupons, relying on mom and dad, or food stamps, forcing a smile for customers -- it's a strange world that I've landed in.

I've said it often: I've never seen people work as hard as they do in Mississippi. Say what you want about Mississippi being a redneck Red State, the fattest, the least educated, the poorest - say what you want, but the people work hard. The politicians they send down to Jackson or over to Washington have failed them miserably, over and over, decade after decade. Mississippians are fiercely independent and proud. They don't want food stamps. They want jobs. They want a governor who will bring jobs, not spend all his time trying to close down the one remaining abortion clinic.

As a writer, I want to know all about this world. I want to explain it to myself, and to my readers. And although I worry a great deal about my future - what sort of future can I have working at a minimum wage job? - I remain an optimist.

There is a basic promise in America: If you work hard, you will get ahead.

Are those just words?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It was just a dream ... the American Dream

Well the world crashed down and the music died
and the man who had a dream got crucified
the children men sat around and cried
while Mother Jones sang a lullaby
and for everyone whose heart got broke
a hundred more sipped Jack and Coke
laughing at their private jokes
and choking on their cigarette smoke

And the man in the mirror has no choice
he can't speak when he's got no voice
and the man of the future
is the man of the past
and oh
ain't it funny how it works out like that?
cause it was just a dream
the American Dream ...

And I look around, it's no mystery
the lives of pain and poverty
of those who have and those who have not
and those whose dreams were left to rot
and the rich man smiles as he throws a bone
and says son, leave well enough alone

Cause the man in the mirror has no choice
he can't speak when he's got no voice
and the man of the future
is the man of the past
and oh
ain't it funny how it works out like that?
it was just a dream
the American Dream ...

Words & Music by Nick Wilgus
(c) 2011

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cause cheap is how I feel

Recently I came to a crossroads in my life. Pushing 50, I was out of a job, out of money, out of options. A college graduate, I found myself competing with other college graduates for minimum wage jobs in the great state of Mississippi - a "right to work" state.

With a fast-dwindling bank account, I applied for, and received, food stamps.

Never in my life did I think I would come to such a crossroads. Never have I relied on the government for anything. Never have I accepted hand-outs or charity.

But ...

As a single man with a household of one (me), I'm eligible for $189 in food stamps each month. Roughly $50 a week. How I'm supposed to be flopping down T-bone steaks in the check-out line, I'm not sure, but apparently, like other "young bucks" before me, that's what I'm doing. Sucking on the government's tits. Living the high life.

Serves me right for voting for the "food stamp president," I suppose.

I have no health care, no savings, nothing to fall back on except a cardboard box under a bridge. That's my reward for working my whole life and suddenly falling on hard times.

I know, as Americans, we can do better. But there are elements in our society that won't stand for it. A lot of those elements are planted firmly in front of Fox News and are convinced that people like me sucking up food stamps are what's wrong with this country, not the fact that the vast majority of tax dollars go straight into the military. They'd probably tell me to sign up if I weren't so old. And they have little to say about how huge corporations receive twice as much "welfare" as Americans citizens do. No, don't go there, the world of high finance and lobbyist shenanigans is too complicated. Blame the idiotic schmucks with their food stamps.And for Christ's sake, don't ever suggest that raising minimum wage is the answer. Are there no poor houses? Are all the prisons full?

I used my EBT card today for the first time. I bought pasta, spaghetti sauce, cans of soup, coffee, butter, crackers. Afterward, in my beat-up car that's 15 years old and has more than 200,000 miles on it, I cried.  I was ashamed.

Speaking of my car, if it breaks down, I don't know what I'll do since I live in the country and there's no other way to get around. That car is all that stands between me and oblivion - a busted radiator, a spent battery, some little problem that's just beyond what my budget can accommodate, and I'm finished.

I've published several books, even wrote a movie and was nominated for best screenplay. I spent twenty years as a media professional. I've worked every day of my life. But none of that matters in this brave new world the Republicans and rich folks and their lobbyists have created, which is increasingly impoverishing the majority of Americans. We don't talk about the American Dream anymore, because it no longer exists - if it ever did. We obsess about how the rich will fare if their taxes go up, but never a thought for the increasing numbers of Americans who are at the poverty level, or almost there.

What can the future possibly hold for me? What kind of life is this that I'm living? Is this the best Americans can do?

We're desperate to put guns in classrooms, but try to offer health care to everyone and suddenly we're talking about a civil war. We throw away billions in corporate welfare - they're the real welfare queens, if you want to know - but try to help people like me and suddenly we'll be slip sliding into the horrors of socialism. 

Mississippi is a proud right-to-work state, solidly red, more Republican than Mitt Romney. So, Mississippi, where are the jobs you were supposed to attract by throwing your workers under the bus? Why is it that right to work states are also the poorest?

It's painfully obvious to me where the Republican party wants to take America. It wants to take America to Mississippi. It wants every American to live like we do in Mississippi - scraping by, barely surviving, college graduates fighting over minimum wage jobs while the boss hog rich fucks laugh all the way to the bank. It's a world of economic brutality, a social Darwinistic struggle for the survival of the fittest, like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.

But that's not enough. When folks get poor, like me, well, we must be blamed for it, and not society, and not the politicians who made it happen, who took all that money from those rich corporations and spent all their time in Washington licking those rich folks' boots. Don't blame them. Blame the poor. Poverty is a crime. Even Christians hate the poor now because their rich masters told them to.

Christ knows I'm trying. I've applied for every job I can think of, and then some. I've mailed out all kinds of resumes. Funny: Employers ain't much interested in older workers these days.

I've also spent a lot of time trying to finish some of my book projects and get them in the mail in the hopes that I might make a sale. I've all but begged friends and acquaintances to head over to and purchase one of my books, telling them flat out that they would be helping a "starving artist." No doubt they thought I was kidding. I was not.

Since I'm a writer, I have decided to write about this brave new world of brutality that I'm entering, this world of poverty and scraping by, this world where folks look down their noses on the down and out, this world where some of us pray we get hit by a bus and die instantly because we can't afford anything else. You can take away my dignity as I stand in line at the welfare office. You can shame me at the check-out counter with your greedy eyes looking at my EBT card and my purchases and judging me. But you can't stop me from telling the truth about it. That's all I got left now.

The society that I live in today is the result of choices and decisions Americans have made. Or, perhaps more accurately, decisions its political leaders have made. Most every one of those decisions are made in favor of Big Money and huge corporations, always at the expense of workers. They get away with it because there are media organizations like Fox News who gleefully and willingly flood the airwaves with myth and misinformation about what's going on, who never miss a chance to demonize the poor and provide endless column inches on why it's in our best interests to destroy unions, to pamper the rich (those hallowed job creators!), to bow down in reverent awe at the feet of huge corporations, who are now the only "people" in this country who seem to have any rights.

Case in point: My neighbor down the road lives in a trailer and has a Romney sign still sitting in his front yard. He's convinced that Romney would have ushered in a golden era of jobs, jobs, jobs. In many ways, he's what's wrong with this country. He doesn't connect the dots between what politicians are actually doing (as opposed to their rhetoric) and the fact that he lives in a trailer and drives a beat-up truck. And no doubt he watches Fox News.

Mississippi is the poorest, fattest, least educated state in the Union. It didn't get that way because of enlightened political leadership.

Let me finish with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate today:

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

Would that there were moral leaders like Dr. King in today's world, not the prosperity Gospel shills and culture warriors like Mike Huckabee and James Dobsen. Would that the pope cared more about the poor than stem cells, zygotes and gay marriage. Would that we had political leaders willing to fight for decent wages for workers just as hard as they fight for tax cuts for the rich.

To all intents and purposes, those days are long gone.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A hunting we will go

by ARM (Anti-Republican Movement)
While the national conversation on gun violence is long overdue, the language involved has become deeply problematic. Too many people are talking about too many different things. Too many people with nothing intelligent to say are being heard while sane voices are drowned out.

As a writer of murder mysteries, who knows a thing or two about gun violence, I would like to offer a few observations.

Any hint of "gun control" smacks some as an effort by the government to confiscate all guns (and among the lunatic fringe, to institute a one-world government dictatorship and grind Americans under the Socialist heel. Or whatever). To others, "gun control" means trampling their 2nd Amendment Rights, which they interpret broadly to include owning any and all sort of weaponry whatsoever with absolutely no restrictions and completely without regard to public safety. According to their thinking, they also have the right to own nuclear weapons and SKUD missiles.

The 2nd Amendment itself is not very well understood, and you won't find much talk about a "well-regulated militia," the original intent of the amendment. But everyone "knows" they have a right to "keep are bear arms" (or "keep and bare arms"as the case may be).

And, despite all the heated rhetoric coming from every side, very little is said concerning the way that the NRA's policies are dictated mostly by gun manufacturers who want to make a profit and don't seem to care what the cost might be to human life. The notion that the NRA speaks for the average gun owner is becoming increasingly hard to credit, given the huge piles of money that gun-makers dump on the organization. 

While gun lovers speak often about their rights, they say little about the responsibilities that come with those rights. 

A few common themes have emerged from the conversation. 

Firstly, Americans don't seem to have a problem with responsible gun ownership. Most Americans, it seems, are perfectly happy if their neighbors want to go hunting. 

When the subject of gun violence comes up, it's not about Uncle Bob going deer hunting, or cousin Susie bagging a few ducks. It's about whether or not private citizens need to be walking around with assault weapons. This is an important point. Too many conversations about gun violence degenerate into nonsense because the ill-informed aren't making this distinction. They see any attempt to restrict gun rights as infringing on their right to own a shotgun, which is not at all what's it about. 

Some will admit this, but they fight any effort to control guns because of the fabled slippery slope: Today they're taking away our machine guns, tomorrow they will be coming for our shotguns. Rubbish, of course, but the flames of this paranoid delusion are endlessly fanned. 

While there are some advocates who would be quite happy to outlaw all guns, they do not speak for the majority, not even among the most ardent liberals. 

Mostly, the conversation is about assault weapons, and instituting a ban on such. When explained properly, most folks, even gun lovers, will agree that average private citizen of the United States does not need to be walking around with a machine gun to hunt deer. It's a no-brainer. But trying to have a decent conversation on this point is too often derailed by crazies who simply don't know what they're talking about. 

Myself, liberal that I am, I support the gun rights of hunters. I grew up among people who hunted. The hunters I know are responsible individuals who are very careful about their guns, and very mindful of their responsibility to keep them out of the hands of the wrong people. I don't know a single one of these folks who are losing sleep over the prospect of not being able to buy a machine gun. In fact, none of these folks have ever wanted to buy a machine gun and have no use for one.

While I support gun rights, I also support my right not to have my child shot at his grade school. I support public safety measures. I will willingly give up my right to an assault weapon if that means a decrease in the number of horrific shootings that occur in this country way too often. 

Again, no brainer. But you'd never know that from the way some folks carry on. 

Some advice: If you're convinced that the government is going to confiscate all weapons and institute a UN-led one world dictatorship, and if you're convinced that your ownership of assault weapons is the only thing that stands between you and this pending tragedy, you need to see a psychiatrist and have your paranoid delusions checked, and perhaps medicated.

If you're of the ludicrous opinion it's pointless to enact gun restrictions because criminals will still get guns anyway, you seem to be suggesting any law is pointless because someone somewhere will break it. If you honestly believe that a lawless society is best for you, move to Somalia. The rest of us understand that the law is the basis for a civilized society.

Can America get a handle on gun violence? Of course. Those who throw their hands up in despair seem to be forgetting that when we set our minds on something, we get it done. We don't have to accept the status quo, and we certainly don't have to allow the NRA to set gun policy for this country. We can easily get assault weapons off the market. 

I'll close with this:

“In response to a horrific series of shootings that has sown terror in our communities, victimized tens of thousands of Americans, and left one of its own bleeding and near death in a Tucson parking lot, Congress has done something quite extraordinary - nothing at all." - Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New life for Father Ananda murder-mystery series!

Crime Wave Press is breathing new life into my Father Ananda novels. They are bringing out new editions of the first three in both ebook and print formats. Once that is accomplished, you can look forward to a brand new Father Ananda book called The Monk Who Was Defeated, which will be out later in the year. 

Crime Wave Press is based in Hong Kong and they specialize in Asian crime fiction. Their tagline says it all: It always too late for someone ... 

Mindfulness and Murder was released in December. Garden of Hell will be re-released this month under the name Sister Suicide. Killer Karma will follow shortly. 

I hope you enjoy the new editions! Your reviews, here on Goodreads and over at, are most appreciated.