Monday, February 28, 2005

ShevaCon Post Mortem

ShevaCon, for those of you not in the SF&F world, is an annual convention in Roanoke, VA. Never been to Roanoke before and where I didn't get to see that much of the town, the delightful drive through the mountains to get there was quite nice. It's rather brown this time as year as spring hasn't taken hold, but on the whole, it was a pleasant trip.

ShevaCon offered a number of delights; reconnecting with friends such as authors Laura Underwood, David Coe, Steve Miller & Sharon Lee. All of these folks are just really high on the 'neat' meter. Also spent some time shooting the breeze with Stephe Pagel, head honcho at Meisha Merlin (an Atlanta publisher.) Stephe's always got good war stories. And I made the acquaintance of Tee Morris, noted scoundrel and author. Tee's a thespian and hence, lives large. Not in frame, mind you, but in cracking jokes and generally carrying on. Never dull. I interviewed Tee for a DIY Author Show in my makeshift hotel room studio so our general silliness has been immortalized. In general, the company at ShevaCon was some of the best I've encountered in a long time.

The panels were nifty, as well. Lots of senior folks around with decades of good wisdom to share. And Nth Degree's party was well worth the time to drop by, mix up a Rum & Diet Coke (I know, I should be shot) and nosh on their Oreos. Always a good combination - rum and Oreos.

In a couple of weeks, I'm off to Greensboro for StellarCon and then over April Fool's weekend, it's MidSouthCon in Memphis. Yup, the con season is in full swing which means my suitcase never really gets unpacked. Oh well, it beats staying home and stripping old wallpaper. But that's another story...

For those dying to check out the authors and others mentioned above:

Laura J. Underwood --
David B. Coe --
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller --
Tee Morris --
Meisha Merlin Publishing --
Nth Degree - The Fiction & Fandom 'Zine --


Friday, February 11, 2005

Fairy Tale Come True: Charles and Camilla

I am extremely pleased to see that Prince Charles and Camilla will be marrying in April. Despite all the hoopla about Charles and Diana's supposedly 'fairytale' wedding, the truth is life doesn't always end 'happily ever after.' A real marriage is based on the ability to adjust to each other over the decades, not in the short term. Both Charles and Diana came to their wedding day with entirely different goals, neither entirely realistic. Both had internal issues that the other only aggravated. Did Camilla drive them apart? No. They were apart to start with, the marriage doomed the moment Diana said 'yes.'

I wish Charles and Camilla the best. They're run the course and deserve some happiness in their future.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Stiffing the Vets -- Again

Just in time for our service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, our government (mostly Mr. Bush) is hunting ways to 'trim' the federal deficit and the Vets are about to get nailed. Though a few loyalists in the Vet's Administration say the president has been very generous in the past 4 years, the onslaught of services needed by the mentally and physically wounded from our Operation Freedom will tax the V.A. System beyond its capacity.

For the V.A.'s current situation, check out some of the Vet boards. They'll let you know about the hospitals being closed and the long waiting lists for services.

For those of you who have never stepped inside a V.A. Hospital and think it might be like your private hospital, let me set you straight. I can tell you what the V.A. was like in 1976-1977 so you judge how 'generous' out government has been in the past.

As part of my practical 'in hospital' training as a student nurse, I rotated through the V.A. Hospital in Iowa City while also providing care in private hospitals. I spent six weeks in the 'Locked Ward' - the psychiatric facility - and six weeks doing floor duty on their regular medical floors.

Mercy Hospital (a private hospital) had semi-private rooms and was clean, cheery and bustled with staff. The V.A. hospital had 16 bed wards, a throwback to an earlier time. The needles were the kind you sterilized and reused, sharpening the tips if they became dull. The hospital was busy dealing with Vietnam Vets as the war had just ended in 1975. The whole situation was depressing as hell. It was a tremendous eye-opener for me. I had always thought our country would give our Vets the best and I couldn't understand why my dad said he didn't want to go into a V.A. Hospital. Thankfully, he never did.

Do I blame the Vet's Administration? Not really. You can't improve the quality of your facilities and services without $$$. They do wonders with what they're given.

The fault lies at the government's feet and at present, on Mr. Bush's desk. Cutting services, increasing the fees we charge our Vets for the 'privilege' of using the services and long waiting lists are an insult to the men and women who've risked everything for us. The ultimate insult. It tells them they're mere cannon fodder, easily replaced by a new crop of eager recruits. Well, the recruits aren't so eager any more as the Iraq mess drags out. Meanwhile, we're creating a new generation of war-damaged soldiers who will need assistance for decades to come.

Lest you think this isn't a problem for society as a whole, according to the NY Times, 25% of the homeless on the streets of L.A. are veterans. Alcohol or drug addictions pull them down and often there is no way back up. Crime rates rise and our streets become increasingly dangerous. More police are needed as charitable organizations struggle to feed and aid those without a safety net. A recent article on AOL highlights the issue --

Our country had a cash reserve when Mr. Bush took office. He's spent it unwisely and now he wants to stiff the Vets for their work on his behalf and on behalf of our country. It's time to retrench, reverse those tax benefits for his rich friends and put the money into our armed forces.

To do any less is criminal...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

What, Another Crisis? So Soon?

Ah yes, another crisis -- this time it's Social Security. The solution sounds so soothing -- why not let folks put some of their $$ in a private account for retirement? If not, hey, the whole system is bankrupt by 2042.

Wrong. We already have the option of investing money in private accounts (like an IRA) and the system won't be bust by 2042. It'll be hurting, but not defunct.

And now the fine print (and something Mr. Bush isn't mentioning): When you retire, you will be required to use part of your 'private' account to buy a lifetime annuity FROM THE GOVERNMENT. Okay, you say, what does that mean? It means that you will receive a certain set amount each month until you die. Your children will not inherit what's left in the annuity (unlike a traditional savings account). That's contrary to what Mr. Bush is touting. So if this truly is a private account, why is it you can't use the money at your own pace, drawing it lump sum or passing it on to your family once you no longer need it?

And another kicker -- (and I cite this example from an MSNBC article)

If you put away $1,000 a year for 40 years and that bundle of cash earns 4 percent annually, your 'nest egg' would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars. Unfortunately, the government would keep $78,700 (approx 80%) of the account. The remainder ($21,100) would be yours.

That's like asking for change for a ten and only getting two bucks back. Just how does this make you better off?

And just to hammer the point home, check out what happened when Britain privatized retirement accounts for their OAP's (Old Age Pensioners) and you'll find the whole plan was a disaster. Their retired folks suffered and the country ended up having to spend more money to keep their aged from starving.

For Americans, there are two ways to solve the Social Security 'crisis' -- have folks who earn up to $200K pay into the program and increase the percentage we have to pay a wee bit. Both will go a long way toward alleviating the problem and neither will add trillions to our otherwise bloated debt.

The returns from Social Security may not be grand, but so far they're 'guaranteed.' Nothing about the stock market is a sure thing. Just ask those folks who got caught in the Tech Wreck or the aftershocks of Enron/WorldCom, etc. For future generations it could mean the difference between a stable retirement or a bleak existence.