Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stand Up 2 Cancer - No Thanks

American Cancer Society
Stand Up 2 Cancer
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Breast Cancer Research Foundation
The Skin Cancer Foundation
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer
Love Hope Strength - The Worlds Leading Rock and Roll Cancer Foundation
National Foundation for Cancer Research
American Childhood Cancer Organization
Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation
Prostate Cancer Foundation
Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation
John Wayne Cancer Foundation
Have a Ball Golf Foundation
The Children’s Tumor Foundation
Commonwealth Foundation for Cancer Research
Startup for a Cure: Pediatric Cancer Foundation
Pancreatic Cancer Foundation
Foundation for Women’s Cancer
Elsa Pataky: Cancer Research Foundation
The Skin Cancer Foundation
CURE Childhood Cancer
Avon Foundation Breast Center
Susan G. Komen 3-Day
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 
Relay For Life
Cure Canine Cancer: K9 Cancer Walks
Avon Walk for Breast Cancer
Before reading further, be warned - this is an angry, most probably unjustified, rant against cancer research, the health sector, and the foundations that support them. I have lost so many friends and loved ones to cancer that I can’t even count them anymore, and I know that most of us are in the same boat. 
I lost my mother and step-father to cancer. My step-father suffered for almost a year after he was diagnosed, enduring treatments while hoping for a cure, but which did nothing more than ruin what little quality of life he had remaining. My mother went in a matter of a few short months, going from diagnosis direct to hospice, the doctors telling her that treatment at her late stage was pointless. I remember taking my mother and step-father from Arizona to Washington state, his home, so he could live out his final days and be buried there. We were all pretty destitute from the cancer treatments, doctor’s and hospital bills. We stopped at an American Cancer Society office in Portland, Oregon during the trip in the hopes of getting some assistance. They were very kind people there and gave us a small amount of cash to help us finish the trip. I will always think kindly of them (despite my growing distaste for cancer foundations).
That’s what cancer has done to us: made us alternately thankful and bitter. The most recent death of an acquaintance of many years brings all the anger to the surface again.  This woman died of breast cancer as have so many others. She lived with the disease for more than three years, braving all the stone-age treatments including radical surgery and chemotherapy. She went in and out of remission only to have the disease come back more aggressively than ever and take her life from her family and friends long before her time. For me, the anger returns.
How many times have we turned on the news to hear of promising new treatments that hold out the promise of a cure? But has anything changed over the years - over the decades? No. Hopes are raised by the promise of an imminent new discovery and then dashed when nothing changes. When afflicted, we continue to endure barbaric treatment at the hands of the medical establishment who are so inured to cancer that they have little sympathy anymore. And those who are cured are often driven to bankruptcy - even if we are fortunate enough to be covered by health insurance - because of the astronomical costs that none but the very rich can afford. 
This chronic disease is exacerbated by the despicable medical insurance industry. Complicit are the public health establishment and federal government who sit idly by and let a populace suffer at the hands of the medical and drug industries. Depending on the reports you refer to, there are over 1.5 million new cases of cancer every year. Of those almost 600,000 will die every year. How is this possible with so many cancer research institutions and scientists being supported by hundreds of foundations and government?
I started this post with a list of cancer foundations, charities and walks; this is a small handful of the hundreds out there. I am increasingly beginning to believe corporations and individuals are slapping the cancer label on, establishing a 501c3 nonprofit, and raking in the dollars. I want to believe that these people have good intentions, but I don’t see anything changing. Where are all these dollars going? How many walks and bike runs must we endure before real change happens? Is this just a way to get a name out there and look like you’re doing something good while really doing little? How can Avon and Susan B. Komen spend so much money on TV and radio advertising months before a walkathon? Does a walk for cancer that gives walkers a feel-good moment really change anything? Are the dollars raised in these walks creating change, or paying for massive advertising budgets and salaries? Am I bitter? Am I becoming cynical? Yes, probably. But Chemotherapy has been in use since the 1950s. In all that time nothing better has been found? 
Look at how much money is being funneled into these foundations and charities while our loved ones are sitting in crowded little chemo rooms getting poison pumped into their veins - or their breasts and upper torsos’ radically removed - or testicles, colons and prostates - or radiated beyond reason. Stand Up 2 Cancer? Really? I’m sick of catch phrases when my loved ones are dying. I give to charities all year long and have been a supporter of The American Cancer Society, but I have to question future support.  
I’m tired of us pouring millions of dollars into foundations and charities while the drug and medical establishments treat us with barbaric practices and drive us into bankruptcy in the process. If somebody has a real reason to be optimistic about cancer treatment I’d like to know about it. Otherwise, I’m not walking for the cure, standing up, or contributing anymore.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pure Genius

I’ve been typing my stories on a MacBook Pro for more than 2 years - ever since I took the plunge and finally got exasperated enough to leave the Microsoft sphere of bloated software built on sub-par hardware. It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to leave for years; it was that I was afraid to learn a new system. Even hard-drive crashes, DVD-drive failures, and virus’s that decimated my Windows machines weren’t enough to convince me it was past time to break up (it’s not me - it’s you).
What convinced me? A donation of a Mac Mini to my office. The transition was incredibly easy because the way the software works is so intuitive. And it’s a complete package - hardware and software designed by Apple that operates together seamlessly. No bloatware. No going to the Internet to find obscure drivers for peripherals because Windows can’t install the new hardware. No buying software (or finding crappy free software on the Internet) to edit my home movies or put together picture albums or play my music. No virus software that bogs down my operating system and couldn’t stop a cold, no less a computer virus. Working on the Mac was like I died and went to computer heaven.
Within a year I had rid myself of everything from Redmond, WA. My underpowered desktop tower - replaced by a sleek iMac; Gateway laptop with never ending battery problems - replaced by a Macbook Pro; add a first generation iPad for eBook reading, watching movies, Internet surfing, and easy email; and I’m looking forward to an iPhone when my contract with Sprint allows it. Some say I’ve gone over to the dark side. I say I finally saw the light. 
This past week I decided to bump up my MacBook’s memory and bought a couple chips to more than double it. It was an easy procedure, but when I turned on my beloved laptop it simply beeped at me. It had never done that before. PANIC!
After calming down I decided it would be best to go the Genius Bar at the local San Francisco Apple Store. I’d bought a 3-year warranty and I figured calling the helpline wouldn’t probably help since I couldn’t get the computer to turn on. I’d been to the Genius Bar before and it is one of the things I love about Apple. Easy, same-day appointments, T-shirted people greet you when you come in, check you in and point you to the Genius Bar. Unlike the idiots at Geek Squad where they won’t even look at your problem without forking over a small fortune (even with a warranty)--then they keep it for a week and tell you you need a new computer--the guys and gals at the Genius Bar really know what they’re doing. 
I handed over my beloved MacBook explaining what I’d done. The nice young guy looked at it, turned it on and told me I’d need to buy a new computer...pause for my reaction...then a big smile...“just kidding,” he says. “I think I know what it is. I’ll check it out and be right back.” In ten minutes he was back, had my computer working perfectly, handed me the bad chip in a Faraday bag that was causing the problem, advised me how to get a refund from the vendor, and escorted me away from the Genius Bar after making sure I didn’t need any more help. Oh--no charge. Thank you very much.
I get this type of treatment in Apple stores whether I’m there purchasing something or getting software troubleshooting/advice/training, or whatever I’m there for. This alone is worth the price of the products they sell. No fuss, no hassle, people who know what they’re doing and value their customers. That’s what I call Pure Genius.  
Thank you, Steve Jobs for instilling this kind of culture at Apple into an otherwise bleak corporate world everywhere else. We will miss you and hope that what you started will continue without you. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two Out of Three Dentists Are Impressed

It never ceases to amaze me how impressed people are that I am a published author. I had my dentist appointment last week and at the end of the appointment my dentist, the administrative assistant, and my dental hygienist were gathered around as I scheduled my next appointment. My dentist looked at me and asked me if I had a book published recently. I looked up from my calendar and as our eyes met he smiled at me--something that would scare most people in a dentist's office.

I asked how he knew that. He said that the dental hygienist at his other office read the article in the newspaper about my book signing at the local bookstore. Everybody at the desk was looking at me as if I'd just won a Pulitzer.  Then the questions came at almost machine-gun speed. Is it fiction or nonfiction? Where can I find it? How long did it take you to write it? Can I get it on my Kindle? Is it in paperback?

I answered all the questions as I tried to avoid blushing from embarrassment. I get this every once in a while and I don't think I'll ever get used to it. People approach me in the grocery store, the post office, at work and once, even in the parking lot. I really am surprised at how impressed people are that I wrote a book. And even when I tell them that it is self-pulished, they don't seem to care. Somehow, the stigma of being self (or indie) - published, as we say these days, is disappearing. I don't know if it's permanent; if indie-books begin getting a reputation for being poorly edited with weak stories, then we may be relegated to the virtual slush pile. But for now, I like the fact that people recognize how hard it is to get a book written and marketed. Even an indie-book.

Here is a link to the newspaper article in the Pacifica Tribune.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Support Your Local Bookstore

Florey's Book Co., Pacifica, CA
The advent of eBooks has been a boon to independent authors. Sites like Smashwords have made ePublishing virtually goofproof. Writers can get finished manuscripts from their computers to all the major online retail outlets within minutes. We have control over price, distribution, and marketing. Amazon has embraced the model to the degree that they have an entire division devoted to independent publishing and marketing: CreateSpace. But if local bookstores struggled with the advent of big-box bookstores, how is this new paradigm shift affecting them?

It depends. Florey's Book Co., Pacifica, California's own local bookstore has survived and thrived over the years. Owner, Aaron Schlieve has built a store that caters to the needs of the local community. He offers readers a wide selection of current titles, specializes in teacher supplies, and has a nice selection of used books. He also has a good location easy to access and offers a comfortable lounge area where people can relax quietly while browsing. He also accommodates people with computers and tablets with free wifi. And he features local writers.

Florey's is often lively and full with small groups discussing their favorite books, doing poetry reads or having author book signings. And the local paper, The Pacifica Tribune, supports authors with stories when having a signing at the store. So is all well with local bookstores? No, not necessarily. Despite all the great work that local bookstores are doing to try and stay relevant, it is increasingly difficult to do so in the sea-change of ePublishing. The brick and mortar bookstore is simply not necessary when instant access to millions of titles is available anywhere, anytime. So how does a local community bookstore adapt? I asked Aaron this question; he simply isn't sure. Staying relevant in a virtual world is even harder than competing with the big-box stores when they sprung up around the country. Just look around you and see what happened to the local music retailer. Music store? No More - they are rarer than a Chicago Cubs World Series Championship.

Yet Florey's Books is still there, still relevant and still serving local readers and writers. My most recent book signing was there. Aaron helped market the event, the Pacifica Tribune did a nice piece on me because of Florey's (thank you Jean Bartlett), and the turnout was great. We had a terrific two-hour event. That's something that just can't happen in a virtual world. So even as I embrace the new paradigm, I hold back the occasional cold chill when I sometimes picture a world without our local bookstores and their dedicated owners.