Don't be fooled by the title of this blog. I don't discuss herbs very much here. This blog is general-purpose, although I do like ranting about politics and religion.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Positive Reactions!

I wrote in my last post that I had finished the first publishable version of the book (the title is "Yesterday's Sandhills" by the way), and that I had sent a copy to my co-author for her impressions. Well, today I have gotten some encouragement about the book and other good news from a friend of my wife's and from my sister-in-law.

Let me tell you that during the course of working on the book, I put many hours into restructuring and rewording the story, researching historical facts to enhance the story with, and so on, but I was never quite sure I was doing a good enough job. My wife, Val, was of little help, unfortunately, because she is so close to the story, her taste in reading material is quite different from mine, and she was resisting getting very involved anyway because while I have been working on the book she has been spending the past year and half attending training and studying to be certified as a nutritional therapist (which she quite recently attained, so that is cool!). So I wasn't getting a lot of usable feedback from her, except for one notion (also independently suggested by our daughter in law), which was to take a more action-oriented part of the later story and put it at the beginning as a "flash-forward", and that seems to have made a crucial difference.

But I was quite unsure I had done anything useful after all this time and effort, until the wife took my manuscript to show to a lady she works with, Jane. This woman and her husband are actually publishers (though not of this kind of book), so Val had shown her the original manuscript months ago, and Jane had said it was a great story, but that it desperately needed someone who knew what they were doing to rewrite it for publication. After I finished my second rewrite two weeks ago, my wife took one of the copies to Jane to show her. This is part of her report:

"Val, I think this book is great and it is very well written. I had time to read only the prologue, first chapter, last chapter and epilogue ... [she then wrote some comments about some word usage which I will not reproduce here, and ends with:] ... The writing style is excellent and I surely think this is worthy of publication. Your husband has really done a good job and is quite a good editor. There will always be a few grammatical errors and/or questionable punctuation marks, but the important components are the story itself and it being told in an interesting manner."

I can't tell you how much of a relief this was! Someone who works in the publishing field actually thinks that it is worthy of publication! All this time I had been wondering if I was turning a poorly-written but fascinating and compelling story into a grammatically-correct but boring documentary, and now at last a ray of sunshine! I mean, I myself thought I had done a decent job of it, but how objective could I really be? Jane said to Val that we should get the manuscript out to potential publishers as soon as possible, since there is a lot of current interest in stories related to World War 2.

The book still needs some work. I am starting to go through it again to try to "tighten up" the writing, and also correct a few mistakes I found upon re-reading it (how do these things creep in like that?). I also need to add some material to the Epilog (that tells about what happened to everybody in the end), but even better is that a few days ago my sister-in-law, Rita, rediscovered a 20-page typewritten manuscript she had written from her mother's dictation over twenty years ago, which I will be integrating into the book when I get a copy. This manuscript tells about her mother's experience in the Soviet prison camp, and Rita says it is tragic, suspenseful and a "real tear jerker." I am wondering how I can integrate it into the existing manuscript; maybe Tom Clancy style, you know, jump from one point of view to the other. Anyway, there are fun and games ahead, that's for certain.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Book Finished! Mostly...

I haven't yet mentioned this in this blog, but I have been working on my wife's sister's book for the past year and a half, rewriting it from her original manuscript which, despite its very interesting and compelling story, was quite unpublishable.

She originally wrote the book back in 1980. I saw a copy of the manuscript shortly thereafter, but never read the manuscript until many years later. Anyway, she was never able to get a publisher interested in it. The book is about their family's experiences in World War 2 in Germany. Her family was living in the eastern part of Germany, called East Prussia, when the Soviet Army invaded towards the end of the war. They tried to flee (along with hundreds of thousands of others), but weren't quick enough. My wife was 4 years old when her family left their hometown, and they only got about 60 kilometers away when the Russians caught up. They were stuck in a town called Prussian Holland for a few weeks before the Russians got around to taking prisoner nearly all the able-bodied adults left in the town and shipping them eastwards into Siberia and other places. The four sisters (ages 4 to 10) were left in a bombed-out town with no parents or any other adults to look after them for about seven months, and only managed to survive by scavenging for food in bombed out and burned houses and other buildings. After seven months of this, all the remaining Germans in the town were put on a train and shipped west to Berlin, and the area became part of Poland. The four little girls were in orphanages and foster homes in and around Berlin or three years until their mother returned from slavery in the Ural mountains. Like many other Germans taken prisoner by the Russians, their father never returned. Their mother was extremely lucky to have lived through Communist slavery, because most of those went with her from Prussian Holland did not. The whole thing is quite a story.

Anyway, the reason this is exciting is because I have finally finished the first version that I think is in good enough shape to offer to a publisher. I have some tightening up of the writing and some error correcting to do, but now the main task is to make a good list of likely publishers and get ready to send off copies of the manuscript!

I have sent a copy of the reworked manuscript to my sister-in-law, as she has not seen any of my work up to this point.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lies and Statistics: Phil Donohue

Something I heard today really ticked me off.

On the O'Reilly Radio Factor show, which I listen to only occasionally if I happen to be driving in my car when it is on (Seattle's KTTH broadcasts it from 6 pm, which is a delayed broadcast), and O'Reilly rebroadcast an audio segment from his TV show last night, in which him and Phil Donohue went at it about Iraq. Donohue's opinion is Donohue's opinion, and he was doing a lot of "When did you stop beating your wife?" type questions and assertions. Well, in the midst of this back-and-forth debate (more like hissy-fit), Donohue made a "damning" assertion, about how Halliburton's stock had doubled since the war in Iraq started. O'Reilly didn't respond to this, but it was a late assertion so he had little time left to do so.

It's a fact that Halliburton supplies oil-field equipment and supplies. So it profits even if oil prices are flat or declining -- oil companies still need equipment and supplies regardless of the oil demand/price. First of all, if Halliburton's stock price had doubled, well, I wish I had gotten in on it, but I didn't. I just knew Donohue had to be screwing with the facts in some way, so I thought I would have a look at their stock chart. And since I was pretty sure that crude oil prices had been going up over the past two years, I thought I would chart that too and see what kind of correlation I'd get. Because Halliburton's stock price and the price of oil per barrel are fortunately in the same range (that's interesting in and of itself), I superimposed the oil price history (extracted from a chart at over Halliburton's stock price history (from eTrade).

Check this one out:

It is entirely clear from HAL's stock price that it got a rise of about $5 per share after getting the contract to fix Iraq's oil infrastructure. This was only natural, as getting any good contract would have done the same. But then what happened? Stayed more-or-less flat for half of 2004. After that it started trending with the price of oil.

In other words, Halliburton's stock price isn't pegged to Iraq, it is pegged to the price of oil! And that, dear friends, has to do with the increasing worldwide demand for oil that is outpacing production increases. Halliburton makes more money when the oil industry is expanding exploration and production, and that happens naturally when oil prices trend upwards.

Simple economics.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bill O'Reilly Ticks Me Off

I was listening yesterday as Bill O'Reilly raked one caller across the coals for the claim that The Market was determining the oil prices, as he put it, "upstream." Bill said that The Market doesn't call up and set prices, and that the mysterious stuff behind the scenes (implication being something immoral like price-fixing) was setting the prices in order to gouge consumers and raise oil company profits to an unconscionable level. And that Something needed to be done about it.

To put it kindly: Bull Puckey.

Did he ever take Econ 101 in college? He might have -- lots of people do -- but he might have forgotten about some of things taught there.

When somebody says The Market sets prices, people ought to know that the term "the market" is just a euphemism for all the various market factors working in a semi-random manner. And one of the most important market factors is the relative scarcity or abundance of a commodity, in relation to the demand for the item. To make the matter clear, imagine you are a farmer who is growing rutabagas. It sells OK and you devote one-third of your acreable to it. Over the last few seasons you have been getting about $1 per pound for rutabagas.

Harvest time comes. Your crop for the year is ready for harvest but not yet sold, and now it comes to selling it. But just before this happens, an article appears in a prestigious scientific journal, and in that article the authors show that rutabagas, if eaten regularly by someone, will increase their lifespan by 10 - 20%. Suddenly, people want more rutabagas, but your harvest (and the harvest of all the other rutabaga farmers) is fixed, for this year at least. What happens next is the same thing that happens in any auction where the item being sold is very popular: the various buyers try to get as much of the product as they can, and the only way to do so is to be willing to pay more for it than the next guy. When it gets to the bottom line, some buyers will go rutabaga-less, and others will not, and the price you get is suddenly triple what you are accustomed to. But did your expenses in producing the rutabagas go up? No, they didn't, they remain the same. So your normally modest profit has gone way up -- and there's Bill O'Reilly having a fit saying somebody ought to do something about it. O'Reilly may want the government to step in and price-control rutabagas, but you have a better idea. You like the profitability of rutabagas, so the next season you plant ALL of your acreage in rutabagas. And with your increased profits, you buy some more land and plant it in rutabagas. So when the next season rolls around, you will have more rutabagas to sell, and will be making money hand over fist. In fact, all the rutabaga farmers get the same message, and they all do similarly -- on top of that, some other farmers who have never grown rutabagas will be getting into the act. But next harvest what happens? Since the supply of rutabagas has increased considerably, suddenly the price goes down, perhaps dramatically, because now the supply is getting closer to fulfilling the demand. Eventually, things even out to a higher production of rutabagas that meets the demand and the price stabilizes.

The same is with the oil! Hugely increased demand in China and India and other places is causing the demand for oil to go much higher, and the "market forces" due to the more or less flat supply (the production is somewhat elastic, but not THAT elastic) and the resultant increased relative scarcity is causing prices at the oilfield to go up. Who's pumping that oil? Exxon, for one. But Exxon's expense in producing the oil isn't going up, so its profits go up dramatically (and so does other companies in the industry). The prices at the consumer level rise too. But eventually, when they ramp up to meet demand, the prices will return to a more reasonable level and will stabilize. That is how the market works, and that is how it MUST work.