Monday, December 29, 2008

The Underground Economy

Kevin Coolidge

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”—The IRS

“I have seen taxes more than double during my relatively short time on Earth. A corresponding doubling of civility has not occurred.” – Ragnar

I was watching the news today, and just when I think I’ve seen it all, there’s a millionaire in a nice three piece suit begging for a handout. Yep, the CEO of Ford was asking for a couple billion dollars to just get by. Of course, he arrived in Washington D.C. via a company jet that cost $20,000 to operate roundtrip from Detroit. I didn’t even make $20,000 last year, and I’ve never flown first class. I’m just a guy who works hard to make ends meet, wishing my disposable income wasn’t so disposable.

So, just what is required to comfortably get by in our society? The experts seem to agree it’s around $50,000. This should cover the purchase of a house, a bit of land, a new car every few years, and some recreation and travel. Don’t forget to add some funds for food, clothing, and utilities. You should have some money left over for the occasional splurge on a nice dinner out. This makes for a comfortable lifestyle.

Federal and state income taxes account for about 42% of our personal income. Take 42% of fifty grand and you end up with $29,000. No wonder that Ragnar’s Guide to the Underground Economy by Ragnar Benson and published by Paladin Press provides a plan for joining the underground economy. We could earn $30,000 and accomplish the same standard of living if the government would stop being so generous with our money. I’ve done the math and $30,000 is definitely easier to earn than $50,000.

Does this mean becoming a public tax protestor? The thousands of people currently working in the underground economy don’t advertise their displeasure or call attention to themselves. Working in the underground economy is not about proving a point. It’s about taking care of your family. Benson goes into the details of how to make a living without having a job.

Making a living without a job does not mean making a living without working. Ragnar Benson gives solid samples of people who are already doing this in small, inexpensive, easy steps. Ever have a garden and trade those tax-free tomatoes for some cash? Or do some engine work or some welding in trade for some firewood? Then you are a member of the underground economy.

The underground economy has its perks and its perils, and Ragnar covers both. If your only source of income is from the underground, there won’t be any social security checks. Of course, at lot of us don’t expect to collect from this government-run scam designed to crumble in the near future. Paying cash for every purchase is also a quick, painful method of calling the attention of a drug enforcement agent.

So, why not wait for a government bail-out? Why labor in the underground? Why seek independence from government programs that seek to keep you quiet and dependent? It’s tempting to take that free money, but the startling truth is that people working in their own field for their own contentment are happier, more relaxed, and more productive than people working for no one in particular. People generally like to compete in the free marketplace as long as they are allowed to keep and enjoy the wealth they create...

Hobo was already bailed out. He says, “Cats have it all figured out. Working would interfere with his 20 hours of sleep time.” Miss a column? Snooze, but don’t lose. Go to and catch up on your cat naps. Hobo will write for food. You can see him sing for his supper in “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about friendship, fun, and fat cats named Gonzo. No government funds were hurt in the making of “Hobo Finds A Home”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oops! A review from October that never got posted here! (or) If Janet Evanovich can publish "Plum Spooky" in January, why can't I do Halloween now?

Kasey Cox

Boo! Ooooooooooo! Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! Sound effects from stories best told around a campfire, or with a flashlight at the slumber party. No matter how much adults may roll their eyes, or try to steer their kids away from the “Goosebumps” books, most kids like scary stories. What’s the attraction? There’s a lot of deep psychology behind that answer, as well as theories from many other fields of study, but suffice it to say here that what kids seem to like best is a story or song with equal parts of scary, gross, and funny mixed in. Do you know the old story about the voice chanting, “When I get you, I’m going to eat you!” and what the chanter was really after? If you can’t remember it from your childhood, ask a ‘tween. Be prepared: the story itself is creepy in the telling, but “ew!” in the ending.

“The Ugly Pumpkin” by Dave Horowitz. Retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling”. Bright drawings in leap-out-at-you Halloween and fall colors of orange, yellow, blue, and black. It’s autumn, and all the pumpkins are lined up, waiting to be chosen to become Jack-O-Lanterns. The Ugly Pumpkin gets passed over, again and again, but even more hurtful than this rejection is the scorn and teasing he endures, as other pumpkins, kids in Halloween costumes, skeletons, and even trees make jokes at his expense and say cruel things. In despair, he rolls down into a ragged garden to hide and be alone, and accidentally, joyfully, discovers the truth of his identity, that which should have been obvious: he is not a pumpkin after all. Perhaps my favorite part of this hilarious and touching story are the enormous letters of the words as he shouts first his misery than his jubilation to the sky: first, that he is the Ugly Pumpkin; finally, “Oh My Gosh! I’m a ……!” Far be it for me to ruin the end for you and the delighted children you’ll share this with. Besides, you’ve got to see these illustrations for yourself! I believe old Hans would get a big chuckle out of this rendition of the story he told people was autobiographical.

“Sipping Spiders Through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters” – lyrics by Kelly DiPucchio, pictures by Gris Grimly. Grimly, whose style and work is now celebrated in its own right, cites his early influences from H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and artist Edward Gorey. As for the lyrics, for those of you who have lived through “Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts” and/or “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”, as a kid yourself or as an adult now, this collection is fine. Most of the words do not evoke anything too disgusting, and many are quite giggling-ly clever. Skip over any songs you don’t want your kids singing, enjoy the ones you all get a laugh from, and enjoy the whimsical, strange drawings. The images and the words may be a little too much for those younger than 5 years old, I think – with my kindergarten-going nephew in mind. He would enjoy them, but his younger sister might be a little scared, or just not quite language-ready to keep up with the words. I would gleefully share this with my friends ages 5 and up, and find it especially useful to fill time entertaining kids at upcoming Halloween events.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Please, No Fruitcakes or Avian Flu

Kevin Coolidge

A book is longer lasting than a fruitcake, cheaper than a flat screen, and more fun than a partridge in a pear tree. I’ve always thought books were the perfect gift. They are affordable, portable, memorable, and easy to wrap. I love matching the right gift for the right person, but I hate wrapping presents. It’s so frustrating: I never seem to be able to cover the entire package. No matter how huge a sheet of paper I start with. Instead, I’m sticking with what I know best and help you choose the right book for the right person, and best of all every one of my suggestions can be purchased for less than $20.00.

Does your reader appreciate stories of the great outdoors? If your guy loves to fish, then you can’t go wrong with John Gierach. It’s fly-fishing and philosophy. He manages to explain the peculiarities of the fishing life in a way that will amuse novices and seasoned fly fishers alike. If he’s already stocked up on Gierach, then aim for some local flavor-such as Poacher Wars by William Wasserman, Of A Predatory Heart by Joe Parry, or Of Woods and Wild Things by Don Knaus.

Does your girl love romance and vampires? She can sink her teeth into the Twilight series. There’s a nice mix of romance, suspense with a paranormal twist that will leave you hungry for more, and the first book is available in mass-market paperback for $7.99. If your reader has already devoured the series, hunt down the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, The Morganville Vampires by Rachel Caine, or the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris.

Does your reader adore animals? Fetch Marley & Me. It’s a memoir, with dog, and recounts the years the author and his family spent with his Labrador Retriever. Marley isn’t a bad dog. In fact, he’s loyal and playful-a wiggly, yellow, fur ball of a puppy that grew into a barreling bulldozer of a dog. If anything, Marley is too energetic, too playful, and sometimes just too, too much, but you don’t have to pay too much. It’s now available for $7.99. If your reader has already ripped into this funny book, then check out Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron, A Dickens of a Cat and other Stories of the Cats We Love edited by Callie Smith Grant, or From Baghdad with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava by Jay Kopelman and Melinda Roth.

My Christmas shopping is finished, and it’s all books, because they are inexpensive, recyclable, transferable, and inspirational, and besides, a scented candle never changed anyone’s life. Let’s see--bags, bows, boxes, paper and ribbon, and where did I put the tape? Maybe I can just get these gift-wrapped???

What do you put out for Santa? Milk? Cookies? A shot of bourbon? A good book? If you are looking for ghosts of columns past, then haunt Hobo already has a tuna sandwich and a cold beer waiting for the big guy in red, along with an autographed edition of his book, “Hobo Finds A Home” great for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years and Kwanzaa.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Right to Arm Bears?

Kevin Coolidge

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

You remember the election America held last month? Firearm enthusiasts sure do and are paying strict attention to Obama’s campaign pledge of “common sense” gun control. Gun owners aren't waiting until January to find out Obama’s definition or how he plans to honor this campaign promise.

Excuse me for a moment. Anytime I start my column with Amendments to the Constitution, a little buzzer goes off in the legal department. Yes, here comes the memo now. “Objection, leading the witness” Ooops, wrong side. Appears Frank has been moonlighting. Ahem, “The author, publisher, and distributor of this column disclaims any liability from damage or injuries of any nature that a reader or user of the information may incur. Moreover, it is the reader’s responsibility to research and comply with all pertinent local, state, and federal firearm laws. This column is for academic study only” Now, that is out of the way--on to the fun stuff.

Homemade Guns and Homemade Ammo by Ronald B. Brown: This book will tell you how to make guns, gunpowder, and primers from common material. No knowledge of chemistry or fancy tools is needed. Just ordinary hand tools. When technology is in the hands of a few, an army of thousands can control a population of millions. What if this information was available to the Native Americans? The Incas? The Jews in Nazi Germany? Would oppression have tread more lightly? Contains five yummy gunpowder and two primer recipes, and you thought shake ‘n bake was fun.

Guerilla Gunsmithing, Quick and Dirty Methods for Fixing Firearms in Desperate Times by Ragnar Benson: Free people need guns, and they need them to work. Ragnar Benson has experience fixing “junk” guns in some tough places. This is not a book for someone interested in gunsmithing, but rather a book with practical techniques for removing stuck rounds, straightening bent barrels, and replacing lost parts. Yes, he does mention using duct tape to “repair” a stock, but also a practical test using common paraffin to determine caliber. These quick fixes should be good enough for government work, or at least good enough to put together guns and ammo to work on the government.

The Do-It-Yourself Gunpowder Cookbook by Don McLean: Have you ever wanted to make your own gunpowder from such items as roadkill, whiskey, manure, “fool’s gold”, and maple syrup? And do it all with simple hand tools and techniques that have been around for centuries? Sure you have. Remember guns don’t kill people. Bullets kill people, and for bullets, you need gunpowder.

Modern Weapons Caching by Ragnar Benson: A down-to-earth approach to beating the government gun grab. Sometimes you have to realize you may be fighting a losing battle and literally take your weapons underground, or be prepared to have them confiscated. Ragnar borrows techniques used by both the French Resistance in World War II and the Vietcong in Vietnam, and improves upon them with modern technology. Remember--just because “they” call you paranoid, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out to get you.

Hunting and guns are an important part of our culture here in Tioga County, and there’s something about the smell of gun oil and the searing heat of a woodstove that reminds me of home. If you were raised hunting, you know there’s just something about a gun...

“Don’t just huddle with that gun,” Hobo says, “but praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.” Miss a past column? Mosey over to for a cache of the past. Hobo has had enough of small game; look for Hobo and his new line of designer clothing now available in Blaze Orange, just in time for hunting season.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Of ceiling wax, clipper ships, and dragons....

Kasey Cox

For this week’s book column, I could tell you that Wally Lamb, author of bestsellers “She’s Come Undone” and “I Know This Much Is True”, early Oprah Book Club discovery, has a new novel out this week, for the first time in ten years. I could tell you that there’s a “Complete Movie Guide” book for all the fans of the young adult romance “Twilight” series, whose first movie will be released on November 21st. Perhaps I could answer the FAQ about J.K. Rowling’s wizard fable book, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”, to be released at the beginning of December.

Although all of these announcements are news in the book world, and perhaps worthy of a column inch or two here in the Gazette, I’m going to take us in a slightly different direction, for several reasons. Because you can read these headline events in book and entertainment news anywhere. Because I enjoy letting you know a little bit about other choices you and yours have. Because after you’ve read Harry Potter, or Twilight, or the newest J.D. Robb, or the latest Jodi Picoult on the market, there are still others to enjoy. Little gems who don’t get the same flashing neon ads, who aren’t featured on NPR or the cover of the New York Times book review, but who are, nevertheless, great reads just waiting for you to discover them!

My latest discovery – (as I claim any credit for this, I can hear my friends Jen, and Justin, saying, “but we told you about this author months ago!!”; in my defense, if I tried to read every book that either of these two recommended to me, I’d never come out of my room) – is Naomi Novik. Novik debuted in the fantasy scene less than three years ago, but she obviously brings a great deal of skill and thought to the writing profession. And, thank goodness, Novik presents an original angle to the – dare I say it? – seemingly endless series of books about dragons. Though for some fans what I here declare will be blasphemy, Novik’s “Temeraire” series runs circles around Christopher Paolini’s more popular, more well-known, more financially successful “Eragon” series.

What’s so cool about the “Temeraire” series? Well, for starters, Temeraire brings to life the Napoleanic Era of Patrick O’Brien’s “Master and Commander” series. Although I like history, I find this era too often written about in terms as dry as the powder on the wigs the gentrified class wore. Novik creates characters and situations with page-turning life, instructing and exciting all at once.

For those of you who could care less about science fiction, fantasy, dragons, or any combination thereof, chances are you know someone who does like to read this kind of book. Since gift-giving season is upon us, I also suggest the “Temeraire” series because it’s something different, a series your loved one may not have read yet, and it’s available in inexpensive mass-market paperbacks, so everyone wins. For parents and kids, grandparents and grandchildren, teachers and students, Novik also provides a wonderful opportunity for discussion, books where many different interests can be met and shared.

Hobo was considering being the cat on a ship, but he’s not much of a mouser. He says he’s a lover, not a fighter. He likes some dragons, though – look at his relationship with occasional fire-breather, Kevin. He also sympathizes with David and Goliath stories, like England vs. the Napoleanic Empire, and indie stores vs. big, impersonal corporations. You can follow his battles at