Learning New Words

I pay attention to words, but I haven’t always. While my literary friends were tossing around vocabulary in high school, I was tossing around baseballs, footballs, and hockey pucks. My time would have been better invested in reading and writing, but what do kids know?

We learn many words in our day to day lives. Media mostly but also interacting with people. Or we used to, back when people used larger vocabularies. I cannot remember the last time I learned a new word from a person, or from television, or radio. I now learn my words from reading and studying.

Yes, I study words. It is not easy learning something you know nothing about. Yeah, we’ll just plunge into this forest and find our way through. Nope. To study words, chance does play a part. Read Mordecai Richler or John Cheever, and I can almost guarantee you’ll learn a new word.  Cheever throws words that don’t seem to belong, at least he did in his first story, Goodbye, My Brother: That beach is a vast and preternaturally clean and simple landscape. I have seen preternaturally before, but I couldn’t define it. I was not sure what the sentence meant. So, as a lover of words, I looked it up.
Preternaturally

Definition of preternatural
1 : existing outside of nature
2 : exceeding what is natural or regular : extraordinary
wits trained to preternatural acuteness by the debates—G. L. Dickinson
3 : inexplicable by ordinary means; especially : psychic
preternatural phenomena

I take Cheever’s intention to be exceeding what is natural, as in no ordinary beach is as vast and clean, no driftwood, no people, no garbage, now beach paraphernalia. The trouble with harvesting words from other sources like reading and television is you will never build your vocabulary unless you read vast amounts. I am lucky if I learn a new word in a story, and those stupid Facebook tests all say I know some 40,000 words. Sounds like a lot, but is it? Estimates are as high as 300,000 distinct English words. Sources say that fiction readers know more words than non-fiction readers – yeah! – but it is still too slow.

My primary means of study in at Vocabulary.com.  Great, you might think. Just run through the tests and learn. That’s the theory. Inculcate yourself with various forms of questions, make your mind sort through meanings and possibilities, even force yourself to investigate further. I always have a dictionary handy, and I often search for new words in media. If I can read them in a real story, I have a much better chance of remembering them. At my age, my brain’s first order of business is forgetting, not remembering. Half the words I’ve learned — I have about 1.5 million points there — have drifted away.

Preternaturally won’t. I can almost guarantee that. There’s no better way to learn a word than to write about it. The same with inculcate. You can look that one up yourself, but recently learned it.I wrote a poem this morning called Learning New Words. I wanted to use this word, but I couldn’t remember what it was. I did write its meaning in my notebook, but I failed to write the word. Another sign of a slipping mind. But now that I’ve used it in a poem and a blog, I’ll not likely ever lose it. Enjoy!

Learning New Words

You cannot learn a new word by rote.
If all you had to do was inculcate,
an auto-play dictionary is all you’d need.
Your vocabulary would grow at incredible speed.

You need to live a word to understand it,
or you’ll end up a master of sublimate.
New words are fresh paint too easy to abrade.
You need to work them, feel them, tie them in a braid.

 

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The fateful moment Walter Pidgeon and Louis B. Mayer both realized they were from the same far-flung town in Canada

Where I live.

The Film Colony ♛

Walter-Pidgeon-with-child-actor-Christopher-Severn A sweet moment between Walter Pidgeon and child actor Charles Severn on the set of Mrs. Miniver (1942).

Happy heavenly birthday to Walter Pidgeon who was born 120 years ago in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. The same city my great-great grandparents, Sarah and Jacob Mayer, settled in after leaving Ukraine in the late 1880s, and where they raised their children, Yetta, Ida, Louis, Ruben, and Gershon.

It is amazing to me how one far-flung Canadian community would create these two towering talents. Walter would go on to appear in well over one hundred films and Louis B. Mayer would, of course, head Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Both held industry leadership positions too and were recognised by their peers. Pidgeon was on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild for 33 years and served five as president. In 1974, the Guild gave him their…

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The Ray Bradbury Challenge

 

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So we decided to try this challenge. Write a short story a week for 52 weeks.

It’s hard.

It’s very hard.

I don’t know how it can be done.

Sure, I can write a short story in a day, but we all know it won’t be finished. I have written several this year within a week. None of them were complete. Pick them upa  week or two later, a month later, and three months later and you discover how unfinished they are. I honestly don’t know how Ray did it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say people of Ray’s ilk, writers in the 1920s, 1930s, and up to the 1960s were not inundated by television, computers, smartphones, the internet, and the global village. Their life was books, books, and more books. They read and wrote and read and wrote. Their skills at as writers 18 were light years beyond ours at the same age.

I work at my writing. I claim to understand most grammar. Yet, as I edit a piece for the fiftieth time, I still find issues. If was spelled of and I never saw it. Generalizations. Inconsistencies. Neoplasms. Weak verbs. Echoed starting sentences. Loss of agency. You name it, I do it.

I don’t know if this year’s efforts will yield publication credits, but I sure have grown. Not only am I writing short stories [all the time] but I am reading them too. My current collection is Joyce Carol Oates’ Telling Stories, an anthology for writers. The two biggest activities writers can do to improve their skills is write and read. That’s what 2018 is for me — the year of the short story.

And I have grown. It’s hard to explain how. A sense of agency in a story might be the biggest thing. And I don’t recall anyone or any book ever teaching it. This year I discovered the concept in Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story and then later at a writing workshop. Maybe I just missed it before; maybe it has been worded differently; but it’s now something I try to feel in every story I read and write.

The second thing is this nebulous concept of imagery. I have written a story called Grandpa’s Hat. It’s about my grandfather cheating on my grandmother. Complete fiction, no real names. “The end isn’t logical; the middle doesn’t lead up to your ending.” Interesting; because in my mind it did. Oh, those mid-west, small town values I included but barely showed. Oh, those things I see but nobody else did. Oh … I see now. I can’t explain any better than that, but now when I read it I feel the ending and say, “Oh my!”

So I am busy writing. I am getting there. I can feel it. I am writing stories — I wrote a new one this morning — at the rate of about one every ten days. I have returned to 750words.com and find myself writing down a new story idea about once every three days. And I have a collection started. I have a theme and many of my stories are falling in line. Need maybe six more, depending on a decision. This is a collection I never would have dreamed of writing two years ago. Thanks to keeping one’s eyes and min open. Thanks to social media. Thanks to Ray Bradbury.

Going to try to write more blog posts, but it’s hard. I’m scared of what I might write about the political scene.

 

 

 

National Poetry Month, PAD #7.

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This is my seventh year of writing a poem a day (PAD) during National Poetry Month, April. I wrote a poem every day; though I think a couple times I didn’t post until the next day. I participate at Writers Digest Poetic Asides blog run by Robert Lee Brewer, the poetry editor for the magazine.

Robert usually gives a one-word prompt every morning. Often they will be posted at 6AM or earlier; though some days he obviously sleeps in until noon. As poetry editor, he certainly has the right. He at least has my permission. Robert likes us to name our titles after the prompt: pick a bug, title your poem with its name, and write the poem. I of course ignore such direction. For me a prompt is a trigger. I let it trigger a memory, an image, or a vague sensation, and once a word, a phrase, or an entire line takes hold, I write. It usually takes me about ten minutes to write my poems.

This was not a productive year. This is my year of the short story; which is largely why I haven’t posted in a while.. Also it’s because of #45, for I am afraid of what I might write. But back to important things: poetry. I wrote maybe 33 poems, and I did write every day. The thing is, my wife and I bought a new home in late March. We hadn’t planned to, but a house we had our eyes on dropped significantly in price. We said what the hell and bought it. We closed within two weeks, before our rent was up, and we took most of April to move. Our furniture arrived April 20. The house is a mess, and it may be years before we’re settled. It’s 29 years old and needs work. The electricians have been in and will be again. Plumbers replace all the copper tomorrow. New dishwasher, washer, and dryer have been ordered. A new Fridge might be ordered. We painted the entire place. We floored the basement (was cement). We ripped the basement steps carpet up and the steps still reek. The NB Power inspector comes this week to see if we qualify for rebates on improvements — the air exchanger is shot, the ducts need cleaning, and we want a heat pump. Not much time available for reading and writing. Not like I want.

here is a poem I wrote from two prompts. The first was the senses (one or all six) and the second prompt was write a response poem (to an earlier poem if possible). This poem is about a non-believer (in God/Jesus) who tries this nonsense and ends up staring at the ceiling lights while convulsing; the response is the pastor’s version (who we are led to believe in part one has no faith himself) who paints the person as a hopeless case as only the faithful can be slain (and evidence suggests that being slain is nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy). But God has other plans, and both are humbled. Enjoy!

Slain
*if you don’t know what Slain in the Spirit is, watch this

You can feel it inside you
The command of God to fall and flail

You can smell his cologne wafting
Strong enough to knock you over

You can taste the after-service sandwiches
Eggs whipped to a frenzy, held together with mayo

You can see the fear in his eyes
For he knows neither of you believe

You feel his push and you laugh
Was he expecting miracles?

You stare at convulsing lights
In that fashion that says you missed something

A Gentle Touch

You stroll up here full of doubt
Want to see what it’s all about

No expectations to fall or speak
Slinking through life with no left cheek

All you really want is to turn and leave
To mingle with the women on this summer eve

Your eyes are empty distant shells
Your fingers caress your Samsung cell

I touch you gently for your fear is real
You fall and flail, and I bow and kneel

 

 

NAFTA – Financial Services Excluded

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International financial services need an overhaul. The first North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did diddley for competition in this area — any restriction already in place was to remain in place. Fine. Makes sense to some degree. Nations should have control over their own tax systems, retirement programs, and investment incentives. Unless of course it is deemed as an unfair restriction of U.S. sales, then it’s evil.

Some examples.

  • Americans cannot buy Canadian mutual funds.
  • Americans cannot buy Canadian Life Insurance
  • Americans cannot buy Canadian stocks
  • Americans cannot participate in Canadian private pensions
  • Canadians cannot buy American stocks unless protected by a registered plan
  • I am not sure if Canadians can buy American mutual funds. I think we can, but generally such investments are hidden from us as those of us who purchase such things tend to bury them in registered plans and buy them through management companies. My financial advisor is Sun Life, and I have no idea which funds I own. Some of everything. But as they live in an RRSP, the IRS cannot touch them.

These might seem abstract concepts and do not affect you as a Canadian or American. After all, why would an American want to buy life insurance from London Life or participate in a provincial government pension plan?

In reality, these policies do not affect the everyday Joe or Jane, but they do affect at least one million American Persons living in Canada, maybe more, maybe double that. We do not have an accurate count of active Canadian citizen green card holders (those people who were resident in America but returned without cancelling their card. And why would you cancel it as they are so hard to get in the first place, especially if you have any hints of non-white or non-Christian ancestry.) now resident in Canada.

It affects us because the U.S. taxes its citizens and green card holders no matter where they reside. A cash value on a whole life insurance policy that is not registered in America is treated as a savings account, and it does not grow tax free. That private pension plan we may participate in (often we are required to as a condition of employment) is nothing but a savings account, It does not grow tax-free in the eyes of the IRS. Investments into non-American mutual funds are subject to harsh PFIC taxation rules making them prohibitive. Dividends of American stocks by Canadians and Canadian stocks by Americans are exempt from favourable dividend tax credits*; so if you want to invest your millions in foreign dividend generating companies for whatever reason, you won’t because there’s no way to benefit as much as even a marginal company of your own country, For Americans in Canada who are subject to both the CRA and the IRS laws, what one grants the other takes away. We cannot benefit from any dividends. Again, RRSPs grow tax-free, so as long as your money is buried in one (not a private pension plan) these laws don’t matter much. *I won’t get into the mechanics of dividend tax credits.

What this all means is

  • the majority of people do not have a full range of choices. These are protectionist policies and only the major corporations benefit. Individuals do not.
  • Americans living in Canada are severely restricted when it comes to investing, protecting their families, and saving for retirement.
  • The major financials are in no way impacted.

Let me rant about the banks. Canadian charted banks operate in the U.S. They are major financial players. The services they offer in Canada are offered in America. They can sell American things to Americans and Canadian things to Canadians. They are happy and are not raising a stink.

The real people impacted here are Americans living in Canada, and we are being hurt by the U.S. policies.

Does this rant matter? Not int he least. President Obama was the American Expat’s worst enemy; Trump is too stupid to understand the problems (and he has other, more important problems); Prime Minister Trudeau is a two-faced ******* who promised to help us fix these problems but now brushes us off; and because the financial institutions are not really impacted, they couldn’t care less. After all, it’s all about their money, not ours,

 

 

Trump and Climate Change

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So the Donald has pulled out of the Paris agreement and the world is doomed. At least that’s the initial reaction I see from many. If you believe in science — how anyone can not believe in science baffles me — then you already realize this hardly makes any difference. Climate change will happen regardless of how we try to stall it. Say goodbye to the east coast of North America.

Before we all drown, we will become poorer. At least Americans will, the populace anyway. The rich will keep on getting richer. I am talking about oil. Trump is committed to maintaining fossil fuels as America’s fuel: oil, coal, and gas. No need for all these windmills and solar farms. No need for more dams. No need for new alternative fuels like algae oil. No need for clean, safe nuclear power.

The world is moving to new fuels. I now see wind farms in my remote corner of the continent, and “net-zero” solar homes are making the news here. Some countries, like Germany, are targeting 60% of their energy from renewables in the very near future. One day in 2016 they achieved 95% and even hit a point of negative cost where they paid people to use electricity. Current estimates have the USA meeting their energy demands from only 19% renewable energy sources.

What’s amazing is that the economics are so clear. It costs a hell of a lot of money to extract fossil fuels, and it’s only going to get more expensive. New coal is deeper than old coal was, and new oil is in more hostile environments. Can you imagine drilling in the arctic where the oil runs as thick as tar? Can you imagine American workers revelling in -40c conditions to ensure their muscle cars run cheaply? While the rest of the world moves to alternative fuels, the economies of scale will make it cheaper. In summary, economic growth is in renewable fuels, whether America gets on board or not. I can see a future in the not too distant where the only major oil production is in the middle east and the American arctic. And of course Russia. They sail the same model of idiot boat that America’s alt-right does.

But corporations understand this. Oil companies are all engaged in algae research: algae oil can theoretically plug into much existing infrastructure like pipelines and refineries. It is a direct replacement for fossil fuels, a renewable fossil fuel. We are all moving forward to combat climate change anyway, regardless of anything President Trump does. And it’s because that is where the money is now focused.

So why all the opposition to the new money-making machine? Can the alt-right not bear to engage in change? Change is what made America supposedly great. My answer is, in part, American exceptionalism. I fight for tax freedom from American extra-territorial taxation, a practice completely at odds with its raison d’être — taxation without representation. But there are other areas America refuses to change. It sticks to its backward imperial measurement system; because, you know, it was devised by Americans. The USA refuses to consider changes to food guidance, despite the overwhelming evidence that sugar kills, not fat; because, you know, that will mean less money in their pockets. The country refuses to control guns, yet every other advanced country does. It refuses to supply universal healthcare, despite it making economic sense; because, well, it’s socialist, and we can’t have socialism. Fascism is fine, but fuck socialism.

What this decision comes down to, in my opinion, is power. The religious, alternative right thrive on slanting reality, and the only purpose is to achieve and maintain power. The attacks against the press, against the judiciary, the dismantling of institutions (like education), is nothing but megalomania. And this walking away from the Paris Agreement feeds into the alt-right propaganda machine. All the little Trumpian rednecks out there are ejaculating wildly over this victory, over the proof they are right and the lowly libtards are once again proven wrong. It’s a propaganda dance, and it’s dangerous. The danger here is not the planet being wiped out by the climate but being wiped out by our loss of freedoms. Donald Trump, the alt-right, the religious right, and any group who tries to impose their ideals on humanity is our real enemy. Anyone who cannot think, assess alternatives, and make decisions based on fact rather than stupid ideals (and yes, this includes much of the left wing, but they don’t hold the dice right now) is our real enemy.

Wake up and smell the real threats.

 

The SAD month of MAY

April was poetry month, and now May is short story month. That’s a short story a day, every day, for 31 days. I’ve done seven NaNoWriMos and eight NaPoWriMos or equivalents. I don’t want to try to name this month. NaSsWriMo?

I sat at my desk on Monday, May 1, 2017, having written 54 poems and a blog post about it, wondering what to write next. Do I pull out 2012 and commit three or four months to fixing it? Do I continue salvaging parts of 2016 to make a short story collection? Maybe I should pull out 2010 or 2014 and have a second go at those unfinished novels. 2016 called the hardest and I’d all but settled on it. That would mean skimming the 50,000 words looking for nuggets. I have pulled the first three scenes as stories already, but where to next? Always the question.

So I did what any good writer would do: I opened Facebook. Almost immediately I found a post by my friend Andrea about a contest in May to write a short story a day. We talked about this in the past on our Sunday morning write-ins, I’ve participated in 15 other x-a-day events, so I didn’t need to think about the implications very much. I went to the Story-A-Day site, signed up, took the first prompt, and wrote a 1489 word story.

Bang. #1 done. It felt great.

\The story had nothing to do with anything I’ve written before, but it was based on reality. For that reason alone, I will not share it. Especially where fiction is weaved in, and some of that fiction is not nice. Sorry I had to kill you off, X.

May 2’s prompt fit almost perfectly a scene/story for 2016 I had been pondering. I sat and wrote. I took a break at 500 words to think, ponder, and write nasty political tweets — Even though I gave up my U.S. Citizenship, I still fight for Americans living abroad. And I’ve been quite acerbic lately towards the liberal shills out there supporting #FATCA and calling people like me tax cheaters.

I could not fit today’s prompt into any existing project, which is no concern, but I could fit it into a potential 2017 NaNoWriMo story. I’ve been pondering writing Science Fiction instead of my social conscious urban literary stuff.  I only invested 313 words in it, but I think it is full of theme, conflict, and potential. The conflict is implied: we’re all becoming the same, and what does that mean for humanity. Could be my backbone theme for my seen-book series *grin* It is a very thin piece, trite, but I actually love it. I will try to write more around this piece and other ideas this month and through the busy summer ahead of me. NaSsWriMo might just make NaNoWriMo very productive.

Enjoy

Prompt: People called him The Doll Maker. Nobody ever wondered aloud why every doll had the same face.

“Did you guys see Doctor Davis’ new robots?”

The lunch table paid no attention to him. Jared set down his tray and pulled in his chair.

“He can choose any face he wants with a few clicks but he picks the same face, the same physical features for every one of them. You guys don’t find that odd?”

“Jarrod,” Emily says. “You had a busy morning? You’re late.” She stuffs a roll of California Gold into her mouth.

“You haven’t heard a word I said.”

“Sorry,” she says as she crunches on the crusty, green roll of processed unknowns the government has certified as optimally nutritious for young scientists. She chases it with a glass of fortified water the color of the noon sky as displayed in the wall monitors. “We were just discussing Doc Davis’ new robots. Did you know he ordered them to all look identical? Why would he do that?”

Jarrod picked the gray New Jersey Jets roll up from his gray plate. “It makes no sense. You’d think he was building an army or something.”

Emily inspects her mint-green plate for crumbs but finds none. “I know. It’s so creepy. We’re not going to be able to tell which is which.”

“They’re all fucking robots,” William chimes in with his usual cheer. “Who cares what they look like? You ask for a Solar Coffee, they get you a Solar Coffee. It’s not like you’d have sex with one of them.”

“Speak for yourself,” Emily says.

“They’re all male,” Jarrod says.

“So?” says William.

“They’re all so…unremarkable,” Emily says and smiles.

“He could have selected at least some variety,” Jarrod says.

“They’re robots,” William says.

“What does he have planned?” they all say simultaneously. They stop but don’t laugh.

William picks up his blue Florida Fish Roll from his light-blue plate and looks at it. “Why are they all the same?”

 

2017 Poem A Day (PAD)

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This post is about my experiences at the Writer’s Digest blog Poetic Asides; where each April Robert Lee Brewer runs a poem a day (PAD) event. In 2016 I posted every day with my poem and thoughts. It was too much, and I didn’t want to invest that effort this time. It becomes pretty dull after only a few days of mediocre poetry. Sorry bloggers, but reading our unedited, off-the-cuff poetry is too often a painful exercise.

This season I want to write about what I have learned, with examples. I don’t know how many of the 54 poems I wrote this month I will post, but it will not be double digits.

April is National Poetry Month, and for me, it has become a month to focus on poetry. Not entirely. I met with an editor this month about my novel. In my mind it is finished and ready to go, but what does ready to go mean? I am not sending it off in queries, yet, as the forces are telling me to self-publish, and do it NOW! Including my wife who has finally read my work. More on that later.

I read one complete book of poetry this month and about 30 pages of another. I picked up a copy of Alden Nowlan’s Early Poems for $8. A steal as other shops are charging $30-$40 for this 1983, posthumous publication by UNB’s Fiddlehead Press.

Nowlan writes earthy poems of simple life-events and often adds a dramatic twist. His rhyming can be forced, and he willingly strays into the dirty areas of life. You will not find a light, airy, emotional Alden Nowlan poem. I sympathize with the style and it has influenced my poetry this month. Here is one example of his work.

Down River by Alden Nowlan

In cities the embittered ones are cunning;
anguish sharpens their wits, I’ve seen the eye
glint in whoresons and beggars, its approach
quick and malicious as a common fly.

But here persistent misery endures;
growing thick-headed like a cow, it chews
thistles in mute protest against the rain
of innocence it cannot lose or use.

This poem I wrote is about a man in a funeral procession carrying a casket, upset at others, his tailor who screwed up his pants is sitting in the back of the church and the guy in front of him wearing jeans, yet he cannot see the irony of himself wearing boots. Most definitely Nowlan-influenced.

Untitled

It is so disappointing when people don’t show respect,
forty dollar dress pants too long, and the haberdasher knew Tom;
he sits at the back of the church, head bowed, embarrassed
as I step on the cuffs with the heels of my boots
afraid I’ll fall while hauling this casket
the weight of Tom’s miserable life on my shoulder,
and the guy in front of me who pretended to cry
while buddy spoke of friendship and sadness and told lies
is only wearing jeans.

Nowlan uses simple rhyming but more complex and subtle alliteration: In, cities, embittered, wits, glint in, its, quick, malicious, persistent, misery, thick, it, thistles in mute, innocence, it, cannot. Fantastic when you look for it and read it a few times. And as I sit in this down-river city with the painting of Nowlan on a brick wall along Canterbury St., look at the persistent fog and drizzle outside my office window, and walk among the thick-headed denizens, oh, do I feel this Nowlan poem beating!

I attribute the following to Nowlan Influence, especially the simple rhyming scheme.

Platinum 3776 Century SF

The sound of this fine gold nib
an this smooth, heavy paper
is the sound of a clean sheet of ice
being etched by a smooth figure skater

It traces ornate twirls as it glides
through the jungle of imagined words
jumps and spins as it writes attacking
the loudest clashing of swords

The following is in many ways concrete and earthy but the conceit is abstract: sitting in a coffee shop wondering if you fit in.

The Sound of Youth

I try to sit in silence
sip my coffee
read my book
the pages won’t lay flat
but keep closing
my eyes wander the rows
tables full of chatter
incessant social banter
not looking at faces
straining to decipher
the deafening sound of youth

I also worked through In The Palm of your Hand by the late Steve Kowit out of San Diego. I read this with some trepidation as Steve called a friend of mine illiterate after she submitted poetry using Canadian spelling. American exceptionalism? Myopia? I can’t comment, but she was not pleased. Anyway, while this book has issues with generalization, examples you have to track down in back pages, and editing snafus, this is actually a stunning read. I highly recommend it.

I am also working through the book Studying Poetry by Matterson and Jones. This is another stunning book. It is advanced and assumes you understand the basics of poetry. These authors dig deeper and discuss how poetry actually works. This month, some of this text has led me into exploring alliteration and forms of metaphor deeper, such as in the following poems.

Haiku 17417

Clothes hang from the line
strung-out lives, histories dancing
in the cold, spring wind

And this poem combines Nowlan subject matter and twist with alliteration.

Untitled

Their 54 Plymouth, festooned
with Green Giant corn cans
and full Cracker Jack boxes
rambled down county road one
scaring the deer and raccoons.

I tried not to, but I also strayed into politics again. I have often made statements such as, “America will never be able to change its ways; it can’t even adopt the metric system.” And when Robert gave a prompt of ‘metric’, I knew what I had to write.

Untitled

When hicks talk in klicks
you can bet they’ll accuse
the country of Bolshevik
influence and interference
calling the president a lunatic
and march on Capital Hill
with night sticks and booze.

The following poem hurt to write. When you write a poem, the emotional impact is many times that when you read it. I spent half a day reading about Syria; because I didn’t understand it. I stumble across this article in Al Jazeera and decide I needed to write a poem about it. It put me in the darkest mood I have ever been in. Ever! After dinner my wife and son went out and I was home alone. I couldn’t take it, so I went to my favorite pub and played trivia a night early with friends. Oh the beer went down fast!

Hamza al-Khateeb

You loved it when the rains came
filled a simple irrigation ditch
a makeshift swimming hole; you weren’t to blame
for giving your family’s money to a boy without a stitch

The Arab spring promised freedom
a loner, you joined the protest
an easy target, young and without wisdom
al’aman, security; we all assume it protects

They whipped you with steel cable
shocked your knees, elbows, hands, and face
left your tortured body on a table
a bullet in your belly, they cut off your penis

Hamza al-Khateeb, what have you seen?
you were an innocent boy; you were only thirteen

Yeah, a tough one.

Of course I also had some fun this month. Some of my poetry was light and airy and even made me smile 😉

This aphoristic poem in response to ‘in <blank> of love’

Laws of Love

There are no laws of love
no rules or conditions.
There is no bad love
to avoid
and there is no good love
to prefer,
no rolling of the dice
no depending on tossed rice.
The only love that matters
is the love you live to make.

And another metric poem.

Untitled

I waited for you
until the parking meter
ate all of my coins

It was a very good month for me. I wrote 54 poems in 30 days, learned a lot, and I explored much. I took another baby step towards learning my poetic voice and becoming a confident poet, if there even is such an animal.

#FATCA Hearings (4/26/2017) – a very brief introduction

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The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (#FATCA) is a law requiring all foreign financial institutions (FFI) to provide the United States’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with financial account details of any American Persons who has accounts with it. If a FFI does not comply, then it is subject to a 30% withholding tax on all its American transactions.

There are arguments for and against #FATCA, and even though I am fully against it, I will try to present both arguments.

Argument For

  • The United States has suffered from tax evasion where its citizens and residents park their nest eggs abroad tax free. FATCA forces other countries to report these monies to the IRS. Estimates of taxes that will be recovered vary from $250 million a year to $792 million per year. The actual amounts received in taxes to date is only about $400 million.
  • Since implementation in 2010, the Treasury Department has received about $8 billion from FBAR penalties — fines for not reporting overseas accounts; which are not tax revenues but reporting violations.
  • More American Persons living abroad have become tax compliant. I cannot find figures on this, but I know it is true because it is true for me and many I know (online).
  • There is no cost to American taxpayers. *At least this is argued. There is an indirect cost via increased compliance costs of US banks and the associated lost tax revenue.
  • FATCA adds a layer of transparency — money cannot be squirrelled away anonymously.

Summary: the positives are compelling. FATCA is bringing home lost tax dollars, is preventing at least some tax evasion, and this is the argument commonly made.

Argument Against

  • FATCA infringes on the right to be free of unwarranted searches as described in the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

    4thamendment

  • It imposes costs on foreign financial institutions whose only ties are American customers. #CBT
  • It imposes burdens on non-American persons. #FATCA & #CBT
  • It infringes on the sovereignty of foreign nations (by applying American tax law on foreign soil). #FATCA & #CBT
  • It helps capital from foreign economies into the American economy. #FATCA & #CBT
  • Americans are being denied basic banking services.
  • American small businesses abroad are less competitive through higher taxes and compliance costs. #CBT
  • Threatens $2.2 trillion in American exports.
  • Increases the impetus for the world to move away from the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency.
  • American livelihoods are impacted and threatened. #CBT
  • In some cases violates attorney client privilege (when an attorney living abroad has foreign clients whom he or she has authority over their financial accounts).
  • Exposes personal financial information to hacking.
  • American citizens are renouncing their citizenship in record numbers.
  • Americans living abroad are becoming disenfranchised and may be acting as a negative force on the global opinion of the USA.
  • It exacerbates the world’s existing image of America as a bully.
  • The US refuses to comply with its promise of reciprocity.
  • There is no tax revenue gain.

Summary:

Most of these negatives are real. Others such as loss of trade are as yet undocumented. I take the individual citizen living abroad as the canary in the coal mine. Americans have lost all financial accounts and have even had mortgages cancelled, small businesses have suffered through loss of financing, and some individuals have lost jobs (existing and potential) due to their signing authority on foreign commercial accounts. And over 4,000 of us are now renouncing annually with no signs of letup.

Discussion

Some of these negatives are inextricably linked with citizen-based taxation (CBT). CBT was not as much an issue before FATCA as most Americans ignored their American income tax obligations. Actually most did not know they had tax obligations, and many today still don’t know they do. Others simply refuse to comply, and while I don’t know the compliance rates, all discussion I’ve seen says they are still far below 50%.

Most of us who live abroad think CBT should be abolished and replaced with residence-based taxation. This is how the majority of the world taxes its citizens: you are taxed if you live in a country, but if you move away, you are not. Why the US continues with this practice boggles our minds. It is virtually the same practice King George imposed on American colonists which is commonly known as taxation without representation. We get zero American services, so why should we be taxed?

One way to look at these issues is to reverse the roles. Suppose all other countries taxed their citizens in the US. Some 40 million foreign nationals would then have to file taxes abroad, and because of all the flimsy tax treaties the US has, the estimated $400 per head would leave the US ($16 billion annually versus the $3.6 billion the US extracts from foreign lands.) Plus, every American bank would have to supply financial information on every foreign person they had as a customer; which would mean verifying each customer’s nationality. The American financial services industry would not go for it; the American people would not go for it; and the American government would not go for it (as evidenced by the existing refusal to comply with its own law).

This is a bi-partisan issue. CBT was first created by President Lincoln, a Republican, and these laws have been supported and added to by both parties. Many of the Republicans are now understanding the complete immorality of CBT and FATCA, but most Democrats are clinging to their need to control.

There are better ways to catch tax cheaters. Recruit some business schools. Consult countries like Canada who have logical processes to protect taxes. tax money as it leaves, not the people. But Americans don’t want to do things the best way; they have to do things their way; because American way is always the best.

 

 

Citizenship-based Taxation is Absurd

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A Stupid Story

Larry worked for a great company, Universal Solution Associates. He worked on the highest end projects, led his industry in quality and quantity of projects completed. He was a shining star for this industry leader.

Larry was required to submit timesheets. His time was billed, and the company needed to know how many hours he worked on each project. It was a condition of employment. Larry could have refused to submit timesheets, but he would be fired. It was also a requirement to receive overtime. The company rightly paid Larry for every hour he worked, but they would not pay undocumented overtime; because they could not bill customers for it.

Larry was happy, USA was happy, and much money was made.

One day Larry met Lucy at a café. She was eating a foreign looking dish; while he munched a cheeseburger. He asked her what she was eating, and before long, he was in love with her dishes. Lucy worked for a competitor of USA, Enriched Universal.

EU successfully recruited Larry to work for them. Larry gave his two-week notice, got thoroughly drunk at his going away party, and left on friendly terms with all his coworkers. Larry loved USA but EU offered extra benefits such as wine instead of beer, food he couldn’t pronounce that tasted awesome on Friday mornings instead of donuts, and he did not have to submit timesheets, that pain-in-the-ass, no value-add inconvenience.

Life was good for Larry. He grew to love Lucy, the new foods he couldn’t pronounce, and the freedom of working on whatever he wished to work on. But there was one problem. EU would not pay him any overtime. It did not matter if he worked thirty or eighty hours a week, his pay was always the same. Before too long, his love of Lucy waned, and he began to crave cheeseburgers and beer. He decided to return to USA.

USA was grateful to have Larry back. Their business was not the same without him. They even gave him a raise. But there was one problem.

“Larry, you have not completed your timesheets for the last year.”

“I worked for EU.”

“Because you are delinquent, we will be taking the money that would have been paid to you off your future earnings.”

“I didn’t work for USA, I worked for EU.”

“Because of the administrative burden on us, we are also imposing a fine of 50% of those earnings you didn’t submit timesheets for.”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t work for you. I had no employment contract.”

“But you did, Larry. The original contract you signed was for life, and you agreed to all of these terms.”

That’s crazy. You can’t do this.”

“We can Larry. The courts have already backed us in other cases. Lew went to work for United Kickassers and he never reported his time. We just sold his house last week.”

“His house?”

“Your house too, Larry. We’ve put a lien on it, and if you do not come clean within the year, your house is ours.”

“Everything I own is in that house. I have no retirement funds. You can’t do this. This is stupid.”

“This is the way USA works, Larry”

“Well I am leaving USA!”

“You can leave, Larry, but every competitor will garnish your wages for us.”


Discussion

Of course this is a stupid story. Anybody reading this can plainly see the injustice of this situation. In fact, it is completely implausible. This is not a scenario any person smarter than a grapefruit would even consider as realistic.

Yet.

Yet this is how the United States treats its citizens living outside the country. Once we leave the country, we are still obliged to fill in our timesheets (taxes, FBAR reports, and loads more paperwork) or be penalized, even though we live in, physically and under the laws of, foreign nations. All I did was replace the word country with company and tax with timesheet.

Yet.

Yet because President Lincoln first created this practice in 1861, all Americans think it is legal and just. Because the Supreme Court backed these laws in 1924, our elected representatives think it is just. Modern day taxation gurus and champions go to war defending these laws and accuse those of us who don’t believe in them as tax cheaters.

What Americans cannot do with these laws is think about them logically. They cannot sit back and examine how the rest of the world taxes citizens and fights tax cheating. Americans, even though this is supposedly what makes American great, cannot find an better (at least acceptable by all) way of doing things. Americans cannot even understand that this situation is taxation without representation (we get zero American services) and is the reason colonists went to war with Britain. Only when Americans decide to move abroad — which by the way is a universal right of all people of this world — do they come to realize the absurdity of these laws.

I don’t care who you are (@POTUS, Obama, or Rand Paul) or what you believe (Left, Right, or anywhere in between, religious or secular), the bottom line is, if you think the existing citizenship taxation laws are just, then frankly, you are an idiot.

Think America. Please think!