What to do in the Middle East

What do you think about President Obama’s decision to start a new round of bombing in Syria and Iraq?


Most US citizens support the President, but there are a few quavery hands raised, a few voices saying, wait a minute. Scribbler’s hand is waving.

Every military intervention since 9/11 has failed. Not one Jihadist group has been wiped out. That at least should cool everyone’s jets. No doubt about it, a new, bigger-than-ever iteration of extremist jihadists is scary. Something must be done. But by whom? And how? Here’s Scribbler’s admittedly superficial summary of how we got here.


Photo credit: Vice News

IS is a shaky coalition, and it is facing a lot of pressure. What IS needs is a badass from somewhere else to threaten them, a David vs. Goliath template to unify their barely-holding coalition.


IS needs US to intervene, and with thirteen years of lessons, IS leaders have a pretty good idea of how to push our buttons. Beheadings! Makes us look like wusses. Bombs away.

Once IS starts posting videos of dead babies next to US shells, there will be a lot, they hope, more than 15,000 fighters for their cause.

And look what’s coming in the US in November? Elections. Politicians who start wars go up in the polls. All aboard! Finally, something the Democrats and Republicans can shake hands on.

But wait. The countries that are threatened by IS, Iran and Saudi Arabia — are refusing to help. Worse, they funded the extremists that are causing the crisis (Iran backed the Shia and Saudi Arabia the Sunnis). Won’t it muck things up if we take the lead? Aren’t we going at this backwards? Shouldn’t our beheading-happy friends the Saudis be begging us for assistance, not the other way around?


Photo credit: Headline Politics

OK, OK, it looks like a done deal.

Given what looks like the inevitability of war, Scribbler reluctantly agrees that parceling out bombs to “moderate” Syrian rebels, forcing them to YouTube the use of those bombs and return the empty cannisters; pretending to set up another Iraqi army — is better than sending more US soldiers to Iraq for another goose egg war.

Hopefully though, the quavery hands will keep waving.



When was the last time you visited a public library?


Stairway of our library, looking up. Photo source: WBDG

Fifteen years ago, ours was packed to the gills and falling apart. For every new book purchased, one had to be discarded because the storage area was full.

People fought for years over whether to build a new library. No one reads. Waste of taxpayer’s money. The Internet will make libraries obsolete. Boondoggle.

Finally, voters approved a bond. A new library was completed in 2002.


Photo source: WBDG

People line up at the door every morning before it opens. Kids fill the teen and children’s wings after school, on weekends and during vacations. The 100 computers are in constant use.

The Internet has made libraries better. Librarians spend less time doing chores and more time helping people.


Poetry reading by Billy Collins at the Eugene Public Library. Photo source: Poetry Loft

The only braille printer in town is at the library.

Book groups can check out sets of books.


There are DVDs, puppets, music CDs, community classes, concerts, resources for job hunters, electronically searchable microfiche, tax forms. The library provides online access to to e-books, audiobooks, consumer reports, magazines, homework help, genealogy websites. It puts on over 1000 programs a year.

Bummed out about the state of human kind?

Support the library.


The library stairs, looking down. Photo credit: Eckert Photography

How is your library doing? 

Wise Ones Correspond About Monsanto and GMO’s

Where do you stand in the GMO debates?

Oregon (my home state) and Colorado, will vote this fall on whether or not genetically modified foods should be labeled.



The vote is not, of course, about labeling, but about how easy it should be for people to opt out of the grand GMO experiment.

In 2012 and 2013, Pepsi, Monsanto, DuPont, General Mills, Kellogg, Dow, BASF, Cargill, ConAgra, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Hormel, Syngenta, Bayer, and other corporations donated $68 million to defeat similar labeling measures in California and Washington.

It’s no wonder. Eighty percent of the foods produced by these companies contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Also, these companies no doubt would like to keep the focus on whether or not to label, rather than on whether or not messing with the gene pool and saturating the soil and water with glyphosate is a good idea.

The issues aren’t simple. Genetic engineering is credited with saving the papaya industry, and almost all of the sugar beets in the US are genetically engineered — how that happened is a whole other story.

Scribbler relies heavily on friends and family to help untangle sticky wickets like this. Professor M and Judge A, who are in their mid 80’s (and request anonymity), agreed to share part of their e-mail discussion on the subject.


Aug. 22

M –

I feel hornswoggled, bamboozled, deceived. Monsanto, in its latest reincarnation, proposes to become a universal ag. extension agent, advising its customers how to cash in on carbon credits.

They will do this by farming with new GM products while using carefully selected, superficial, organic methods; methods to reduce but not significantly eliminate environmental, biological and soil degradation. Run-off, water pollution and erosion caused by glyphosate, pesticides and manufactured fertilizers will be less troublesome. Promise! A little improvement will be better than none, I guess, but hardly worth further experimentation on us by bio-fuel manufacturers, junk food producers and cattle feeders.

As before, Monsanto has produced zero science that proves its products (as distinguished from sound agronomy), will benefit yields or crop quality beyond a few years. Soil improvements it promises are likely to be near the surface rather than deeper down where needed. Great PR though.

Most countries outside the US are not buying this latest, cynical ploy and there has been vigorous opposition here also. But Monsanto is now too big in the US to fail? Right?

Have a pastry made with GM flour. Protect yourself against agent orange.


August 23 2014. 8:35 PM

A –
We agree the world is going to the dogs. They made the catastrophic error of not letting you and me run it when we were younger.

Monsanto has indeed significantly replaced the ag. schools in dealing with the farmers. Not quite sure why. They cost much more, but maybe they also more often deliver what the farmer wants?

Data on CO2 impact of deforestation in today’s Economist. Not as bad as I thought. Comparable to international flying, such as we do next week. Much less than auto use.



August 23, 2014,. 10:04 PM

M –

I expect you will enjoy your flight even more now that Monsanto will take care of your plane’s CO2.
What a brilliant marketing tool: use faux extension agents to sell product! Much better than writing mortgages for people with no money.


Monsanto at Oregon State University? Using organic methods? Hiring themselves out as — expensive — extension agents?

Clearly more investigation is called for.

Where have your inquiries on GMOs led you?



Who’s Who in the ISIL War?

Who and what is ISIL?

Here is Scribbler’s armchair analysis, researched exclusively on the Internet (so it must be true). Opinions are omitted as much as possible. I have them, but there are more than enough opinions on the subject. The aim here is to untangle the religious conflicts.


Yazidis fleeing from ISIL. Photo credit: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/GETTY IMAGES, “Yazidi under attack again”

There are followers of every religion in the Middle East, plus factions, splinters, sects and denominations, but this war is primarily between two branches of Islam, the Sunnis and the Shiites.

ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is a group of hard-line Sunnis who want to create an Islamic caliphate, that is, a Muslim state, to rival the ancient Muslim empires.

Previous name: ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Previous name: AQI, or Al Qa’ida in Iraq

85% of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, and ISIL is Sunni. About 15% of Muslims are Shi’a.  Here is a breakdown showing which branches hold the majority in the Greater Middle Eastern countries:

SUNNI majority             SHIITE majority  (Lebanon – mix of Sunni, Shi’a & others)

Saudi Arabia                        Iraq

Jordan                                  Iran



Saudi Arabia and Iran are the largest powers in the region. Saudi Arabia provides support for Sunnis, and Iran for Shiites. Photo Credit: Vice News

IRAQ: Saddam Hussein, a Sunni President in a country with a Shiite majority, was deposed and his government dismantled when the US invaded Iraq. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, was installed. Sunnis aligned with Al Qa’ida of Iraq (AQI), which took control of Sunni areas of Iraq. AQI, however, was cruel and extremist, so moderate Sunnis allied with the Iraqi government and the US, and ran the AQI out of Iraq. AQI joined other fundamentalist groups and became ISIS.

SYRIA. In 2011, Sunni groups rebelled against the Syrian government and Shiite President Bashar al-Assad. The US and Saudi Arabia, among others, sided with rebels. Lebanon, Russia, China and Iran, among others, supported the Assad government. The rebels weren’t very well organized or trained. As the conflict dragged on, Sunni hard liners got more involved, and the fighting devolved into conflicts between competing Islamist groups, as well as between rebels and the government. ISIL emerged as the dominant rebel group, acquired a lot of the supplies and weapons that poured into the region, and took over part of Syria.

IRAQ. From it’s new base in Syria, ISIL attacked and took over part of Iraq, killing minorities, journalists and other heretics along the way.

ISIL’s tactics were too brutal even for Al Qa’ida, who broke off from the group in Feb. 2014.


ISIL and allies gain control of Fallujah. Photo credit: BBC news

What a stew.

Saudi Arabia’s support of Sunni rebels in Syria helped fund ISIL. Now ISIL presents a threat to Saudi Arabia.

Iran, loyal supporter of Syria, the Shiites and Assad, and not so long ago deemed part of the “Axis of Evil,” is now working with the Iraqis, Kurds, the US and allied forces to fight ISIL.


Photo Credit: Vox, “Twenty Seven Maps that Explain the Crisis in Iraq” This is roughly how things stand. The Iraqi government controls the red part, Kurds beige, ISIL light brown and Syria dark brown

The Assad government has probably become the lesser of two evils as far as the US is concerned, which is fine with Assad who reportedly hopes the US will attack ISIL in Syria, in effect supporting Assad.  Hezbollah Shiites from Lebanon who sided with Assad in the Syrian rebellion, now find themselves aligned against ISIL, too.

On it goes.

In sum, a war between Sunni & Shi’a, and between religious moderates and extremists, with fighters and countries changing sides, depending on how the wind blows.

Now to tackle the influence of oil money, climate change, politics, economics?

Maybe not.

What do you think? What are the chances that the US, by joining this fight, will help bring about a happy outcome?



Writing to Sell

Are you a novelist, short story writer or essayist? Do you do it for love or money? Both?

The bar for publishing is lower than ever. All you need is internet access and a few instructions from WordPress or Blogspot. But making a living at writing? Not so easy. Nowadays even J.K. Rowling would have a hard time breaking into the business.

It isn’t enough to write. Writers who want to get paid need to produce work that people are willing to pay for, and, usually, to be willing to advertise themselves, their work, and their publisher, be it indie or traditional big name companies.  See this cautionary tale by best selling author Claire Cook, Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (for now), featured this week in Jane Friedman’s blog for writers.

Marketing isn’t for everyone. Ken Kesey found writing to advertise so demeaning that after publishing two epic novels, Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he quit.


Ken Kesey, photo by Ken Lanker. Source: Further Down The Road Foundation

“Look at Esquire or look at PlayboyYou can read the ads and see that they are aimed at a certain audience, at a certain people, to sell a certain product. You can read the short stories in [these] magazines the same way. Those things are designed to fit a certain length, to hit a certain audience and to push a certain philosophy. And although it isn’t soap or Mennen Skin Bracer, it’s still an ad man writing a very complex commercial to sell you something.”                                                               –Lecture by Ken Kesey in 1965. Source: Oregon Quarterly


Not deterred? Do you write because you can’t help yourself, even if it means marketing yourself or a publisher?

OK then. How to improve the chances of making money?


I’m guessing this guy won’t mind if I post a photo of his van.


This week’s edition of Wattpad offers an entertaining set of guidelines from Hugh Howey, whose indie sci-fi book Wool made it to the best seller list. Here’s a summary:

1. Write well. You produce a sloppy novel, you’re toast.

2. Help readers find you by writing within a genre. Ideally it is a genre you enjoy writing in.

3. Set up Twitter and Facebook accounts, or other social media of your choice, and start a blog, if you haven’t already.

4. Learn to write blurbs. Engage people with just a few words. E-mails, blog posts, twitter and Facebook are the venues for this. Be able to summarize your plot line or subject matter in a pithy sentence or two.

5. As soon as you finish writing one book, start the next one, even if the first one is the most amazing piece of authorship ever. The next one will be better.

6. Focus on getting published. Don’t worry about being discovered — not until you have a dozen works of whatever, articles, novellas, short fiction. Readers who like one thing you write will move to other things you’ve written. This is much better than brow beating people to read your latest creation.

7. Give your stuff away for free. Don’t ask people to buy it. Invite them to read it. If you’re good, they’ll want more.

8. Exhaust potential formats for your completed masterpiece. Release an audio version. Use CreateSpace. Publish printed copies.

9. Be nice. Support other authors, bloggers, Twitter feeders and Facebookers. Promote them. Thank them. No cheating. Being nice just because you want to be rewarded for it won’t work. You will be rewarded, if you are genuine.

10. Work hard. Keep writing, tweeting, blogging, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you have no followers, even when you’ve gotten a hundred rejections. Edit several times, then have someone else edit.

11. Have fun.


What’s your advice for writing to sell? Who inspires you? 

Lake Break

How was your week? Any milestones?


Visiting Desolation Wilderness, which is much prettier than it’s name implies.

Reached two summits: (1) Mt. Tallac — and didn’t die of a heart attack or get eaten by bears — and (2) the 100th blog follower. Yay.

Blog experts warn that sites without a focus or brand don’t get followers, so am sending virtual chocolate to anyone who has clicked my follow button, and promise to follow you back if I haven’t already.

Photo: dantada at Morguefile

Photo: dantada at Morguefile

What was the subject of your best posts? What attracts the most followers? Do the two coincide?

Open Call for Writers Writing

What are you working on/writing?

How does your writing/work differ from others in its genre?

Why do you write what you do?

How does your writing process work? 

– Blog hop questions

Audrey Kalman was kind enough to invite me to join a blog hop. Thank you Audrey. 


Audrey’s blog, “Writing of Many Kinds

While I generally shy away from this kind of thing, the questions are estimable. How does my writing differ from others’ in the same genre? Would I really want to ‘fess up about my process (best described as scattershot)? How do other people go about writing?

Checked back to see how past participants handled this meme.  Here is bestselling author Laura Munson in an introduction to her answers:

Writing is just what I do—it’s how I’m wired. I’m no good at getting to the gym or balancing my checkbook, but I know what it is to sit at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is the writing life, and I’ve done it with all my might for a long time.

Turns out…this is an uncommon way to live. Not a lot of people know how to climb into that uncomfortable but enchanted playground and play, skin their knee, fall off the merry-go-round, pump so hard on the swing they swear their sneakers touch the sky.

Here’s esssayist, editor and memoirist Ana Hayes:

When I am beginning a new chapter or essay, I start by writing with pen and paper. Then I type my pages into my MacBook Air. This is my first step in rewriting. And then I rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite until I feel like there’s nothing else to rewrite.

It was inspiring.

So, I wrote back to Audrey to say — Sure. Let’s do this. She gave me a date to post. When her week came, she previewed the next featured writers — Darlene Frank and yours truly, and posted her answers, which are awesome and funny.

I write every day. I floss regularly, exercise 40 minutes 4 times a week, and get at least 8 hours of sleep.

One of those statements is true. Ask my dentist.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, it was time to pass the baton to other writers. First on my list was Kristin Ohlson, whose book The Soil Will Save Us, shook up my thinking.


Too late. Kristin had already been tapped:  “Some Thoughts on Writing.”

Checked in with essayist and novelist Anna Willman, who is blogging about walking across the country, three miles at a time, and has published a series of Regency romances as well as literary fiction.


Sorry, Anna wrote. Too busy writing and walking.

How about my friend Valerie, who co-chairs the Mid-Valley Willamette Writers and recently released a memoir, Smell the Blue Sky?


Nope, no time either. How about Tess of “How the Cookie Crumbles,” currently entertaining her 1000+ followers with tales of her visit to China?


Cookie Crumbles header with Gingko for those of us whose cookies are crumbling

Already tapped. See Writing Process Blog Meme

You get the picture. As nominees politely declined, my week to post — expired!

But a strange thing happened along the way. I got into reading about why and how others write, and want to read more.

Let’s open this meme.

Have you already participated? Leave your link in the comments and I’ll stop by and read about how, why and what your write.

Want to participate for the first time? Answer the questions on your blog or website, then leave a link. I’ll visit. While you’re here, check out two or more writers who leave links. Keep the ball rolling by inviting more writers, and feature your nominees on your blog. It’s fun to see who is putting up great posts.

Again, the questions are:

1. What are you working on/writing?

2. How does your writing/work differ from others in its genre?

3. Why do you write what you do?

4. How does your writing process work?


For some of us, the publish and preview buttons are too dang close together.

Have you ever accidentally pushed Publish instead of Preview?

Sorry if you got an e-mail saying Scribbler put up a blog post about visiting Cozumel. It was not supposed to be posted yet. This is why easy publishing should be kept out of the hands of people in a delirious state of summer-itis, and in a rush to post something! Anything!

Here are my excuses, I mean reasons. It’s graduation season.



It’s travel season, and a time to have friends for dinner, pick blueberries, hike, bicycle, play music, visit friends recovering from surgery, celebrate a niece’s engagement, mourn a death in the family, and worry about, I mean applaud, a kid, I mean young adult, who insists on swimming across the San Francisco bay.


It would be better if the writing bug took a vacation, but alas, it keeps biting.

So, if you’ll just excuse me while I duck out of sight and fry, fry a hen.


Please share your bloopers. Am in need of company. 


Sun Reflector and Summer Blog-Fog

How are you spending summer (assuming you are north of the equator)? Hope you’re managing to both warm up and chill out.

For blog-laggards such as myself, check out Blogdramedy‘s June 4 post, How to pull a post out of your bum. One of her recommendations is to post a few words and a picture of yourself, even if it’s not very flattering, and at least let people know you are alive.


Here I am, alive and in shorts, tentatively sampling coconut water. Those babies are heavy! Oddly, no one took me up on my offer to share.

In this neck of the woods, summer not only gives bloggers an excuse to be lazy, it also provides nature an opportunity to remedy the vitamin D deficiency that 99.9% of us Pacific Northwesterners suffer from. The Mister says my skin reflects sunlight, so it’s probably better to just keep taking supplements, but hope for a little color persists, and every year, out come the shorts.

Feel free to send photos of your own summer bronze. Maybe some of it will rub off on me.

What are your tips for keeping up the blog-flow in summer?