The Big Yellow Book

Seeing the World from Both Oculars-- a Bananaslug's Journal


New Slideshare on Digital Publishing for Authors by Kathy Gill
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Kathy Gill is an old friend who has been digital since JC was a small boy. She has taught digital and new media at the University of Washington, and designed websites for years. When Kathy speaks, I listen.

She's now posted on Slideshare a great presentation, "Introduction to Digital Publishing for Authors" which I recommend you all read.

I've embedded a link to it here so you don't have to waste time going to Slideshare and looking for it.


Joy Ward's Latest Story! In Hero's Best Friend anthology
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Joy's latest published short story, "Toby and Steve Save the World" is out from Seventh Star Press in the anthology, Hero's Best Friend, edited by Scott M. Sandridge.

FInal-HerosBestFriend

Featuring 20 tales, from 21 authors, the new anthology features a spectrum of sub-genres in speculative fiction, but all of them contain the common element of a focus upon animal companions. Hero's Best Friend will be available in eBook format at the end of the first week of February, with the print version to follow one week afterward. The authors contained in Hero's Best Friend, and the stories they contributed, are as follows: - See more at: http://seventhstarpress.blogspot.com/2014/01/heros-best-friend-anthology-cover-art.html#sthash.j5BcUpmF.dpuf

Joy Ward: “Toby and Steve Save the World”
Frank Creed: “Dusk”
Cassie Schau: “The Hunter’s Boy”
Steven Donahue: “Grit”
Jason Cordova: “Hill 142”
Herika R. Raymer: “Dook”
Essel Pratt: “Brothers”
Lisa Hawkridge: “Ezra’s Girl”
S. H. Roddey: “Look What the Cat Dragged In”
Steven S. Long: “The Wolf Sentinel”
Laura Anne Ewald: “Memorandum”
Cindy Koepp: “The Hat”
Ian Hunter: “Scarheid in the Glisting”
Steven Grassie: “The Masterless”
David Wright: “Wind of Change”
Renee Carter Hall: “The Emerald Mage”
Nick Bryan: “The Violet Curse”
Lillian Csernica and; Kevin Andrew Murphy: “The Restless Armadillo”
Douglas J. Ogurek: “Stuck on the Squigglybounce”
Sheila Deeth: “Passage”


Hero's Best Friend Synopsis: How far would Gandalf have gotten without Shadowfax? Where would the Vault Dweller be without Dogmeat? And could the Beastmaster been the Beastmaster without his fuzzy allies? Animal companions are more than just sidekicks. Animals can be heroes, too!

Found within are twenty stories of heroic action that focuses on the furries and scalies who have long been the unsung heroes pulling their foolish human buddies out of the fire, and often at great sacrifice—from authors both established and new, including Frank Creed, S. H. Roddey, and Steven S. Long.

Whether you’re a fan of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Science Fiction, or just animal stories in general, this is the anthology for you!

So sit back, kick your feet up, and find out what it truly means to be the Hero’s Best Friend. - See more at: http://seventhstarpress.blogspot.com/2014/01/heros-best-friend-anthology-cover-art.html#sthash.j5BcUpmF.dpuf

Review: @Sharon Lee's Carousel Sun
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Like its prequel, Carousel Tides, this latest solo effort by award winning author Sharon Lee, co-creator with her husband Steve Miller of the acclaimed Liaden Universe series, Carousel Sun is a jewel.

Carousel SunOnce again, reluctant Guardian of the land, Kate Archer, rises to the defense of the land of Archer's Beach in the fabulous country of Maine against the forces from away. Kate is a damaged soul, after being captive and being assaulted by an evil Ozali (wizard, sort of) in the Land of Flowers, one of the six worlds that touch on ours. Having escaped, she ran all the way to the magic land of Silicon Valley and became a computer programmer-- about as far as you can get from tree spirits, water spirits, and her Guardianship. But when her grandmother disappeared, in Carousel Tides, she returned to Archer's Beach to take up her burden.

Kate is funny, smart, and reluctantly powerful. She seems to stumble from one adventure to another, all centered around Archer's Wood and the century-old carousel she runs at the beach. But Sharon Lee's excellent plotting and great dialog draw the reader in, and make it possible to believe in a world where trenvay live in trees and work on the Midway and where a thousands of years old selkie named Borgan is the Guardian of the Sea around Maine's coast and Kate's opposite number as Guardian.

Kate, recovering from her abuse as a child seems destined to fall in love with Borgan and unite the Land and Sea, but we will have to see how it plays out in the last volume of the trilogy, Carousel Seas forthcoming next year from Baen Books.

Buy this book for a refreshing change from typical paranormal romance or urban fantasy. Great story, inventive world-building, and excellent writing make this a serious contender for awards.

Buy the book at Baen Books or at Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.

Review: Churchill's First War by Con Coughlin
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Winston Churchill was one of the great figures of the first half of the 20th century. Winston Churchill fought in Afghanistan and wrote his first book, "The Story of the Malakand Field Force," about the campaign. Churchill did poorly in school, and barely graduated from Sandhurst, the Royal military academy. His famous father, Lord Randolph Churchill had just died from syphilis and his mother, American belle Jenny, was enmeshed in love affairs and London society. In the hope of getting some experience in war, Churchill and his mother find him a posting to a cavalry regiment in Southern India. Once there, he wangled an appointment as an aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the Malakand Field Force in the tribal area known as Pashtunistan, now the modern border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pashtun tribesmen sound disturbingly familiar. Reading his book, one wonders desperately why we were ever stupid enough to go into Afghanistan in 2001. Churchill wrote about the Talib-ul-ani, who are literally the ancestors of the modern Taliban. These were the mad mullahs that the British Raj fought in the 19th century, and their great grandchildren are the mad mullahs that NATO is fighting in 2013. The tactics are the same, allowing for the fact that we have drones and high powered aerial bombardment...and the results are the same too. First NATO (or the British) takes a village. Then the Talib take it back. Lather, rinse and repeat. Coughlin explains why the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, had no choice but to defend his guest, Osama bin Laden, because of the custom of sanctuary in Pashtunistan.

This is also a fascinating look at the very young Winston, who, chronically short of funds, tries to wheedle his way into every action because he believes that medals, commendations and being mentioned in dispatches is the way to a high flying political career, such as his father had before syphilis killed him. Winston, very much his mother's son, uses her influence and contacts to become friendly with senior officers, usually with some benefit to his career. He is brave, and willing to be shot at. He understands the military virtues, as he showed when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and later Prime Minister, because he had personally lived those virtues.

Winston was affected by the deaths of his friends, his comrades and the Indian soldiers that he witnessed. His attitudes toward India-- which caused him to be an inverterate foe of Gandhi and Nehru as they fought for Indian independence-- hardened during his time as a cavalryman in Southern India.

This is an excellent look at the maturing Winston Churchill, and a chilling preview of what will happen in Afghanistan as the NATO forces withdraw.

All in all, a terrific book. Churchill's First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans

Review: 47 Ronin -- excellent but deeply flawed film
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Although advertised as a science fiction film, 47 Ronin is really a history with some fantasy troweled over the reality to make it seem more like live action anime.

I have always been fascinated by the Chushingura-- the stories of the 47 masterless samurai (ronin) of Ako.

The true story
In April of 1701, the young lord of Ako, Asano Naganori, after suffering many months of ridicule and shaming by the relatively elderly Kira Yoshinaka, lost his temper and, drawing his sword in the Shogun's palace, attempted to murder Kira. Although wounded, Kira lived.

The bureaucracy of the Shogunate recommended to the Shogun, Togukawa Tsunayoshi, that both daimyo (feudal lords) be punished, but the Shogun for some reason sentenced only Asano, and did not punish Kira at all. This was an unpopular decision at court, But Asano committed seppuku anyway, as ordered.

The fief of Ako, which was fairly large-- 50,000 koku (a koku was the amount of rice needed to feed one man for one year)-- was seized by the Bafuku (the shogunate) and the Asanos were imprisoned.

Many of Asano's 350 samurai retainers also committed suicide, while some fled as ronin (masterless men). 47 of Asano's samurai, under the lead of Oishi Yoshio, even though they knew that taking revenge was against the law of the bafuku, decided on a long and well planned revenge against Kira.

To put Kira at ease, they went separate ways. Oishi spent a year roistering in taverns and geisha houses, prompting one samurai from Satsuma to spit on him in the street, saying, "You are no samurai!"

Another of the 47 married into the family that had designed and built Kira's Edo (Tokyo) mansion, so they could gain the plans.

On the night of December 14, 1702, Oishi and 45 other ronin attacked Kira's house, after sending one of their number to Ako to tell their story. Kira was given the chance to commit seppuku with the same knife that had cut Asano's belly, but he was a coward and refused. Oishi used the knife to strike off Kira's head.

In the morning the 46 ronin marched from Kira's house to Sengakuji Temple, where they presented Kira's head to the grave of Asano, and then waited to be arrested.

It became a deeply dividing cause in Japan. Many who had been upset that Kira had not also been punished now felt that justice had been served, and even the Shogun felt that he should pardon the 47. His advisors convinced him that to pardon Oishi and his men would lead to civil unrest and possibly shake the foundations of the bafuku government.

But since it was clear that the 46 had conducted themselves in the highest spirit of bushido (the way of the warrior), they were allowed to commit seppuku.

The ronin were divided into four groups and taken into custody by four high ranking daimyo, all of whom were sympathetic to their cause. Unfortunately, no pardon was forthcoming. In the late evening of February 4, 1703, the four groups of ronin honorably committed seppuku, and were all buried in the Sengakuji Temple graveyard near their master.

About the movie

It has already been decided that this was a huge box office bomb. That's too bad, because it really did a good job cinematically. It showed early 18th century Japan incredibly well. The only costuming malfunction was the wedding dress of Lord Asano's daughter, which was white. Even though it could have been a voiceless protest against her forced marriage, I don't think so. Traditionally, Japanese wedding garments are red.

The big problem is that there wasn't enough explanation about the fantastical scenes. If they'd just have played it straight they'd have made a beautifully photographed and reasonably well acted historical drama. As it was, you really have to know some Japanese phantasmagoria to know what is going on. In the first act, Lord Asano and his men are chasing a Japanese demon-- if it quacks like a demon, etc. That's pretty understandable, but where it goes wildly off the rails is the white fox with the brown eye and blue eye. This is pretty clearly supposed to be a kitsune or fox spirit. But unless you know that you are left with a big "say whut?" and you are scrambling to understand what is happening.

Eventually, the kitsune transfers to her human form, with some very weird hair,which you would understand if you know that the fox spirits have multiple tails, and the more powerful they are, the more tails they have.

Kai (not a Japanese name) is played by Keanu Reeves, who plays Keanu Reeves better than anyone else can or will. In this case he plays a very fictional half-breed of an English father and Japanese mother, whose mother exposes him in the Forest of the Tengu. He is taken in and raised by the Tengu, but leaves and runs away to Ako and Lord Asano. In order to understand this, you need to know what the Japanese attitude to half-breeds is, as well as who the Tengu are, and why he would want to run away as a young boy. Tengu are the Japanese equivalent of dark elves, a part avian race that lives apart from the ordinary Japanese world. They are kami, or Shinto gods.

In order to get swords for the 47 ronin, in the movie, Kai and Oishi go to beg them of the Tengu, who put them through an extended magical sequence to test their resolve and their ability to obey orders. Kai reveals that he still remembers how to use the powers that the Tengu taught him as a boy.

Kai uses those powers to kill the Kitsune, and the 46 ronin kill Kira and then commit suicide.

I loved it, but I understood exactly what was going on. I know the story, I have read the accounts and the Japanese novels in translation and seen the three or four films made in Japan that recount the story of the 47 Ronin. I thought it was great.

Joy, however, didn't know the story and didn't much like the film, because they didn't explain what was going on and she was lost a lot of the time.

And, too, she hated the fact that the Bafuku made Oishi and his men kill themselves. I think that's another reason why the movie didn't do well. Westerners just don't understand why they did, and what it means, and why this incident is one of the most important incidents in Japanese history and culture.

So I am late to the party. I have fallen in love with the BBC show "Sherlock"
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I just revived my Netflix account since I have a tv I can stream to, and one of the first things I rented was the first season of Sherlock with Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Both are better known in the US from their performances in The Hobbit, where Freeman wears a weskit and has very large hairy feet, and Cumberbatch wears a dragon suit and chews scenery.sherlock

Steve Moffitt took the original Conan Doyle series and simply updated it to the 21st century. This, of course, is not as difficult as it may sound, because Dr Watson served in the British Army which was engaged in the age-old business of thrashing Afghans and Pashtuns just as the British Army and NATO are today. In fact, the enemy in the 19th century was the Talib-ul-alm. Sounds like? You betcha-- the ancestors of the Taliban.

Sherlock Holmes' character as Cumberbatch portrays it is very much the same as the Conan Doyle original. He is clearly seen in the light of modern psychiatric understanding, as a sociopath of the Asbergers persuasion. Cumberbatch does a fantastic job of being both amazing and insufferable.

This is a terrific and very well-written show, and I don't think it could be written as well in the US. One of the best things about the first episode is how Moffitt cleverly confuses us into thinking that the skinny, slightly menacing individual is Moriarty when he is actually Mycroft, Sherlock's older brother. Nicely done.

If by some stretch of the imagination you, too, are late to the Sherlock party, get with the program. You'll be amazed as I was.

St. Louis' Bach Society has a wicked sense of humor
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The finale for their Christmas concert at Powell Hall last night was worth the price of admission all by itself:

"A Musicological Journey through the 12 Days of Christmas" (by Craig Courtney)

1. A Partridge from 6th century Rome
2. Two Turtle Doves from 15th century France
3. Three French Hens from 16th century Italy
4. Four Calling Birds from 17th century Italy
5. Five Gold Rings from 18th century Germany
6. Six Geese a-Laying from 18th century Austria
7. Seven Swans a-Swimming from 19th century France
8. Eight Maids a-Milking from 19th century Germany
9. Nine Ladies Dancing from 19th century Austria
10. Ten Lords a-Leaping from 19th century Italy
11. Eleven Pipers Piping from 19th century Russia
12. Twelve Drummers Drumming from 19th century USA

Although this isn't the Bach Society's performance, here's a YouTube Video of another performance of the piece. I was laughing my head off at the end. David Carrico should enjoy this!


The Desolation of Bad Movies: Joy and I encounter Tolkien Fan Fic
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The Desolation of Bad Movies

Joy and I went to see the second installment in the Hobbit series, The Desolation of Smaug. We saw it in flat mode, and we could easily tell that many scenes were designed natively for 3D. Flattening them, especially in the combat scenes, made them very hard to follow for some reason.

Look, here’s the blunt truth. This is a terrible movie and a travesty of Tolkienesque proportions. Yes, I meant to say that.

It is clear that there were two parts to The Hobbit as originally designed, and then somebody with the money decided that there should be three. So it was left to the directors and editors to somehow shoehorn more content into the movies.

I could have forgiven the female elf, who does not appear in the book. I could have forgiven the appearances of LOTR characters who do not appear in the book. But I cannot forgive the idea of a love interest between an elf and a dwarf. It would never happen, and I am certain Tolkien is rotating at 3600 rpm at least.

The direction is awful. The movie scans like The Hobbit meets Dungeons and Dragons or some other RPG. The cast has to get from one challenge to another. At each challenge they have to do something to win through to the next challenge, all the time pursued by orcs (who also never appeared in the book).

In fact, every time the movie started to drag, you could depend on the orcs showing up and standing in line to be killed a lot. The fight scenes reminded me of Quentin Tarantino meets Sam Pekinpah. Highly gratuitous violence, beheadings done for the benefit of 3D and really bad intercutting, especially in the Erebor scenes.

Now help me out here. Why on earth would the dwarves want to gold plate a dragon? It can’t be to kill him, because the dragon IS fire. What I think is that it is a plot twisting device (wringing our necks, rather) to keep the movie going into watchable length.

And then there’s the incredibly bad overacting by Benedict Cumberbatch, who should have insisted on a George Spelvin credit for his work inanimating the dragon. Yes, I meant to say that.

And the orcs who never read the Evil Overlord rules.

And again the gratuitous violence. The beheaded orc whose eyes still blink on the sword for example.

If you take a child under 12 to this movie, you should be shot and your brain displayed in the Darwin Award museum. Joy says she may not go to see the third installment in a theater, and wait to see it on HBO.

I agree with Christopher Orr in his review in The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/12/-em-the-hobbit-2-em-is-bad-fan-fiction/282316/ that this is really very bad fanfic.

Well, we're back! And a good thing too!
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We promise to post more regularly here at the Bigbananaslug blog, honest we do. We'll post on politics, science fiction, fantasy, writing, and all the things that are not related to automation and manufacturing. For that, we refer you to Soundoff!! (http://waltboyes.livejournal.com).

Unemployed or Unprepared? The Unemployment News Not Being Reported
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The stock markets have been raising Cain about the rise in, or lack of reduction of, the unemployment rate in the USA. We are sitting at roughly 8.5% unemployment. Most analysts agree that if you add in the people who are underemployed or just plain not looking anymore for various reasons, the true unemployment rate is closer to 10%. In some places, especially California, and most inner city areas it is closer to 20%.

Bad, Obama. Bad President.

Well, maybe and yet again, maybe not.

(Remember, before you jump on me-- and you know who you are-- I just was sharply critical of the Obama Administration for unleashing cyberwar in a whole new way never before done by anybody, friend or foe-- so I am not necessarily an Obama lover...)

What the news media, left right and center (if any centrist or moderate media still exist, which I doubt) have NOT been reporting is that there are 600,000 or more (!!!) jobs that are not being filled, that could be filled tomorrow, in the USA.

These jobs aren't in the service sector. They aren't in law, finance, or other soft sectors. These jobs are in manufacturing.

Yes, manufacturing. You know, that sector that supposedly doesn't exist anymore because all the jobs were outsourced to China, India and Vietnam.

And those jobs aren't white collar jobs, by and large. They are the good old blue collar jobs many of our parents had...and they pay awfully well-- up to $30 an hour in some areas.

So why are they going unfilled?

It isn't because the President isn't trying hard to fill them. It isn't because the companies won't hire because of the European Euro crisis, or the debt crisis in the US, or elsewhere. These are the jobs companies are currently hiring for RIGHT-EFFING-NOW and cannot fill.

I repeat, cannot fill. Not waiting until after the election to fill, not waiting until the recession is over to fill. These are jobs that are OPEN right now.

The reason...it's the dirty little secret of American education. Nobody is teaching young people to be ready to work in manufacturing. Nobody wants to teach people to work blue collar. Blue collar work is demeaning, nasty, dirty, brutish and every other pejorative descriptor you can lay on it.

The number of people who are between the ages of 12 and 25 who watch the Discover Channel shows about how things are made, like "Modern Marvels" and the like is a very large number. When they go to school, however, they get taught that they should go to college and get an advanced degree. In most school districts, the "shop" facilities are old beyond belief, and the teachers aren't very modern either. This area of education just isn't one school boards have wanted to invest in.

Too bad. I have a friend who lives in Wisconsin. He never went to college. When he was in high school, he fell in love with engines, and racing. As he got older, collected a wife and children, he became a heavy diesel engine mechanic and a member of the Operating Engineers Union. He has been offered job after job to get him away from his employer and some of the offers have been ridiculously high. He is a virtuoso in his field, and makes considerably more than I do...but so do the merely talented mechanics who work with and for him.

In Houston, chemical plant operators and engineers are making six figure wages, and overtime in a lot of cases. There are, on average, 800 jobs vacant in the Houston area every day. Can't find qualified people.

Every President since Reagan has paid lip service to the idea of revitalizing American manufacturing. The Democrats want to put tariffs on imported goods, like that's going to happen. The Republicans want to tax corporations even less than they are, like that's going to keep them from offshoring when they can't find qualified people.

Nobody wants to step on the third rail: we aren't training people to work in factories.

Nobody, at least, until this administration. I have worked since 2010 with the administration on a project called the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, and peripherally, with the Manufacturing Institute. Here's part of a press release the Manufacturing Institute just sent out:

Last June 8, President Obama announced key steps to getting unemployed Americans back to work and maintaining the competitiveness of the US manufacturing economy. With 600,000 manufacturing jobs going unfilled, President Obama called on The Manufacturing Institute (the Institute) of the National Association of Manufacturers and its partners, including the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), to help build the educated and skilled workforce US manufacturers need to successfully compete in a global economy.

Last month, the Institute announced significant progress towards achieving a five-year goal to award 500,000 industry-based credentials to individuals, positioning them for employment and advancement in manufacturing jobs. The certification bodies endorsed by the Institute delivered over 84,000 credentials in 2011.

"This joint action between industry, education and the public sector will grow a skilled manufacturing workforce and strengthen the U.S. economy," stated Leo Reddy, CEO, MSSC. "In the year since the President's announcement, MSSC is pleased to have been a major contributor to meeting the President's goal. Given the MSSC's focus on front-line workforce populations with the greatest number of jobs, it is able to certify a large number of individuals for employment and advancement among the 8.3 million front-line manufacturing jobs and the 5.8 million front-line material handling and distribution jobs in the U.S."

"The Institute remains committed to building the educated and skilled workforce our nation's manufacturers need to stay competitive," said Jennifer McNelly, President, The Manufacturing Institute. "The Institute works with community colleges and employers to deliver world-class certification programs like the MSSC Certified Production Technician (CPT) and Certified Logistics Technician (CLT)."


This takes money, which the Republicans specifically have been unwilling to see appropriated. They appear to believe that American manufacturing will be revitalized by giving that money to the Pentagon instead of to the education and training of American workers for the jobs that are open right now.

Frankly, we aren't going to see our economy start to grow until people have jobs. This is the only job-creating activity that I know of right now. Reducing taxes does NOT grow jobs, if there are no qualified workers to fill those jobs.

Companies are beginning to realize they need to grow their own workers. Air Products in Allentown PA has been working with their high schools and community colleges to try to get workers trained for their factories.

So have other major corporations, in many different industries. Even McDonalds has Hamburger University (it is about 20 miles from here, in Oak Brook IL).

There is a danger there, of course. If we permit corporations to grow their own education systems, we have the chance of returning to the "separate but equal" schools that were anything but. This time, it won't always be about race-- it will be about class.

We need to provide top flight education and education opportunities to all of our citizens. That's one of the reasons I squirt steam out my ears and blood out my eyes when somebody proposes cutting programs like "Head Start" and similar HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL programs.

We need to start looking holistically at the costs of things. We aren't willing to do that, because doing that doesn't play in a 15 second sound bite. Some people seem to dispute that there are anything like societal costs for policies we do or do not support.

We should NOT be making people do anything, but we SHOULD be providing decent opportunities for people to acquire the skills they need to make a living. Cutting welfare while cutting schools may make people feel good, but it is the silliest thing since barber surgeons bled people to reduce fever.

Don't want to pay for good schools, good training, fair opportunity? That's fine. TANSTAAFL. You get to pay on the back side to provide health care in emergency rooms for the indigent, for police to catch gangbangers and drug dealers, for social workers to deal with pregnant mothers who can't work because they don't know how, for prisons to hold the largest incarcerated population outside of China, and all those other things. Or we could all agree that the desperately poor people in the inner cities and in places like Appalachia (remember that this is NOT a racial issue-- about 56% of people who live in great poverty are white) aren't worth a pot to pee in, and aren't worth saving.

And don't give me any wheeze about "there are no poor in America." Poverty is relative. Costs are relative. People who have to choose between paying to be feeding their children and themselves and affording day care so they can go to work or cannot afford medicine for their children or themselves-- these people are poor. Period. Dot.

If you consider yourself a Christian, you might remember Matthew 25, verses 35-40.

If you aren't a Christian, consider the Law of Unintended Consequences and the real cost of things over any real baseline.

Let's elect us some leaders who are willing to do hard things we know we need to do to make life better for all of us, not just the wealthy who can afford health care, food, medicine, education and a real start for their children. I don't know where those leaders are going to come from. They surely aren't going to be from either the majority of Democrats or Republicans.

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