Tuesday, July 10, 2012 / 6:59 am

A Beat L.A. Kickstarter Requiem

$6,000, and how we got it.

by Tony Chavira

Beat L.A.

I pressed the "Submit" button on Kickstarter's project page with no sense of responsibility to it as a matter of course. Roughly two and a half weeks later, I realized what an idiot I was to ignore it so utterly.

But backtracking, I thought our video would get us there on based on its own merit, and that it was awesome for no other reason than that I made it myself in Adobe Premiere, in the same way that a hunter most enjoys the cooked meat of his own hunt. Just look at it.

Pretty good for someone whose mind grasps concepts descriptively and not visually, right?

Well, anyway, I thought so.

So like I was saying, our Kickstarter began with no fanfare whatsoever, except for a shameful plug on my own Facebook page and another, less shameful one on the FourStory Facebook page, which you should visit right now and befriend (or whatever verb one uses when they connect to non-persons on Facebook). Here's the link: Right here.

Immediately our video and project received a resounding round of generous donation by the likes of such noir-enthusiasts/good pals as Justin Ching, Katrina Chan, Kyle Covino, Jordan Harper, Dr. Chaosisorder Esq., and Mr. Charles Eldridge, whose unambiguous support for the good work/comics that FourStory executes warmed even the coldest and darkest region of our site's frigid internet heart.

Then, because of my immense good fortune in marketing through the internet, the donations completely stopped for 10 days. Gary, ever-connected to the Los Angeles non-profit underworld, quickly noticed our little problem and set me straight, to a fantastic lady by the name of Beverly, who was kind enough to sit down with me over a tea latte and slap the entitlement off my face.

"You think this is easy?" she asked rhetorically, smiling.

"I clearly think that I have no idea what to think," I responded plainly, the first of my many confused responses throughout that conversation.

"How much time to you still have left?"

"Ten days. More or less."

"Oh... that's okay," she dismissed, then took a sip or two to make me wait, "You can do it."

Finally, she proceeded to seize the javelin of reality and hurl it through the center of my brain with the simplest, most obvious advice anyone had ever given me about raising money for anything, which I will provide for you/everyone on the internet now:

"Don't be afraid to ask and don't stop asking."

Not sure if you knew this, but most fundraising, for any project, depends on how much you can depend on your personal references and network for help. Just so you get a better sense, let me explain this point's importance more explicitly: The day after Beverly and I met, I sat in front of a computer and emailed the closest 30 people I knew, begging for their help to spread the word. To my surprise, a great many of them actually helped too.

But to my shock, they even wanted to order the book!

And with that, our first surge of cash burst forth from the webicopia... ushered in by the kindly Beverly herself, then by equally kindly friends Blake Barrett, Christopher Mortimer, DWKIV, Joe Mandia, Dave Smith, Cynthia Lozano, Farah Dakhlallah, Jason Joseph, Dawn Pace, Zachary Rees, Johnson Kwong, Reid Isaki, D'Artagnan Heath, and S.A. Johnson. Nine days left and we were well on our way to 1/6 of the money we needed to get this thing funded.

A quick aside, there are actually two pretty well-known funding avenues for creative projects (for those out of the know/unwilling to google/who do not care). First, obviously, there's KickStarter, the avenue we chose because we, at FourStory, figured it was the most well-known. But second, as it turns out, there is also IndieGogo, which hosts other massively successful creative projects throughout this and other suchs webs.

The key difference, from what I've seen, is that IndieGogo lets you keep whatever money you raise, whatever the the amount, and Kickstarter will not give you anything unless you hit your pre-determined cash goal by the time you specify. So if we had raised, for example, $2,000, on IndieGogo, we would still owe our funders the published books that we promised them. Our problem, which made Kickstarter our only option in the end, was that we simply could not afford to publish the books unless we ordered them in bulk to the tune of $6,000.

So either we raised it all, or our comic Beat L.A. died trying.

On day 17 of our 30-day Kickstarter campaign, as we rounded the $1,000 mark, I posted this, "Update #1: HUGE Thanks to our supporters so far!" and thanked the amazing people, mentioned above, that threw down their hard-earned money without reservation or waiting for pay day at the end of the month. Finally, this project--they possibly believed--was the reason credit cards had come to be invented.

And they were soon joined, and their assumptions were completely validated, by the addition of such stalwart sirens of good taste as Fernando Miceli, Victoria Bernal, Danny Louie, Doug Burch, Bill Crider, Rodney James Mallari, Veronica Jauriqui, our friends at Over The Edge Books, Jasmine, John Shannon, Bruce McRae, David Walker, and Alvin Oei.

With that, and now that Update #1 was armed with two--yes friends, two--Facebook likes, Gary and I knew that the time had come to begin addressing the internetworld with more than mere written words of encouragement: They had to be spoken, possibly shouted, from the high hills of high-tech! In this case, Youtube. From the comfort of Gary's armchair, again, as a matter of course, to pump up the e-crowd while explaining exactly how he came up with the idea of Bicycle Cop Dave, the first story in Beat L.A., which you can begin to read here:

Eight days remaining and I knew that I would soon sit in front of the camera, explain myself and my own reasons for writing the story of Brand & Reese, Gary Phillips's throwaway side characters cum my downtrodden, relectant hero-cops which you can begin reading here.

But Gary being who he is, another surge took place, led by the valliant button-clicking, FourStory-supporting, credit card-submitting efforts of Jason Wood, Jason, Ryan Fazulak, Axel, Winnie Swalley, Jon Lieberberg, Trevor Yang, Tracy Mallette, Norma Chavira, Herve Fumberi, Shan Wickramasinghe, Per Gunnarsson, Jean Miller, Aaron Steinfeld, Michael Plough, ArchVicar Stavromulla, Klaudia Aresti, Kevin Maginnis, and Ayira Khan!

Just as impressive, the Facebook "like" count beneath our project had bloated to an amazing number over 400, which I can't remember now because the final number ended up being 505! Were I some kind of mathematician, or--possibly--wizard, then only could I fathom just how many eyes had received the opportunity to see our project scroll down the ever-oppressive Facebook front wall of however many people happened to be using Facebook whilst that overwhelming degree of "liking" took place.

Now I knew, unequivocally, that something must be said, and so a day before June's final hour, I posted a video of myself, sitting in my office, where I meant to discuss how the idea of Brand and Reese came to be, though ultimately rambled on about things related--mostly-- to my comic:

An instant flop on youtube, with a unjust 99 viewers out of billions (potentially), I could see our progress moving upward, but with no clear sign of cash tsunami on the horizon, how could one ever be certain?

So, despite my better judgement, my incessant sense of optimism, our passion for the subject matter, and sage advice from Beverly that "most donors give in the last five days", my sadder animal instincts overwhelmed me and I did nothing for three, whole, days.

But lo... I logged into Kickstarter on July third, in the year of our lord, two thousand and twelve, and what did my eyes see? Support, my friends and colleagues, of all shapes and sizes, from the likes of such donors as will live in the halls of legend! Mark Woods! Michael Kurland! Amar Vidyarthi! Stacey Inza! Andrea Hanstein! Mike Plunkett! Shahla Rahimzadeh! Alistair Russell! Andrea Gibbons! Mimosa! Giora! Erin E.P. Morris! Jonathan MacFarlane! Jerome Aguesse! Dina Bahgat! Launa Eddy! Emily Lam-My! Priya! Julianne Yamamoto! Harrel Carman! Stan! Gerard Raiti! Robert Nakano! Hossein Khajoo! Bhanu B! And a fantastical contribution increase from the ever-generous DWKIV!!

Enlivened, emboldened and endeared to the recent showing of internet love, I posted another, frantic and furious video near our 75% mark...

...and then, with only four days remaining, the cavalry arrived, waving banners and firing into Beat L.A. a wave of hope not felt since the darkest hours of the American Revolution. It was, after all, July 2nd, and we are, after all, doing this for freedom.

To those cavalarymen and women, I and Gary Phillips salute you! Richard McHam! Scott! Pat! Ann Karaim! Solmaz Sharif! Bermina Jackson! Suzanne Epstein! Ruth Valadez! Forrest Sutton! Herman Choi! Helena Smelena! David Ricky Almada! Judith Teitelman! Celine! David Whitfield! Leslie Wong! Veronica! Melodi Brown! Robert Valley! Erik Tạ! Nick Ahlhelm! And, to top it off, a cherry-sized increase from our ever-supportive piller, our friend Beverly.

Thus you have all been named for your generousity, friendship and conviction, to bring Beat L.A. to life and help FourStory to fight another battle, another day, with-possibly--another comic in the future.

To your doorsteps will come your respective perks and to you, now, a thanks from the bottom of my heart. We could not have done this without you.

And to those out there whose spines tingle for noir and souls ache from a world of injustice, your $25 signed copy of Beat L.A. can yet still be secured from our Kickstarter page, which is right here. Do it for America, for justice, for the homeless, for the city of Los Angeles, for good cops everywhere, for what is right and true, and--most of all--for yourself who knows, deep down, that the good guys must win in the end.

That, I believe, is the story arc of our comic, Beat L.A., on Kickstarter.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012 / 6:15 pm

Levitated Mass: Some Thoughts on the Rock

I do not care for this megalith about which I bitch.

by Jim Washburn

I haven’t seen “Levitated Mass” in person. I live in Orange County, and, hence, do not need to experience or know anything to form an opinion.

My opinion is that I do not care for this big rock. I care even less for the critics who care for it, which is probably only fair, since some of them care even less for my ilk, the great unwashed.

First, why do I not care for this rock? I suppose it is because I have seen a great many rocks, large and small, generally in their natural habitat, where one is perhaps predisposed to like them since you’ve gone to such a lot of frigging effort over hill and dale to get to where they reside.

I have stood atop huge blocks of marble in the quarries of Carrara. I have beheld the mystical rock formations of New Mexico. I have seen the gaily artificially colored pebbles in a child’s aquarium, and I say to you, this “Levitated Mass” rock is just a damn rock. You would not have gone trekking to Riverside County to see it, not even if Jesus’ face had manifested on its surface.  I do not know that this damn rock has gained a thing by being transported to downtown Los Angeles to sit atop an equally damned ditch.

You can walk under this rock, see, to experience what only lichen and James Franco have experienced before. And then you can walk sideways through the Haunted Shack, pan for gold and take a log flume ride through the Calico mine.

I’m just revealing my bumpkin-ness here, because “Levitated Mass” isn’t some crass attraction; it’s art.  I mean, would Times art critic Christopher Knight have written “quiet dynamism inflects a decidedly sepulchral scene” about the boulder rolling down a manmade slot in Raiders of the Lost Ark, even if the jungle crypt setting was ultra-decidedly sepulchral?

Read more ...

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012 / 10:30 am

Beat L.A. Kickstarter - $1,000 Update from Gary Phillips

We're getting there slowly but surely, but with only a few days left, kick in a few bucks and help us publish our comic!

by Tony Chavira

Brand, Reese and Dave

There are a lot of thanks due to our first 38 backers who believe in this project enought o put some money where their mouths happen to be.

Namely, Katrina Chan, Kyle Covino, DWKIV, Dawn Pace & Ryan Fazulak for purchasing full PDFs of Beat L.A. for $10; Justin Ching, Chaosisorder, Charles Eldridge, Beverly Keefe, Joe Mandia, David Smith, Cynthia Lozano, Jason Joseph, Zachary Rees, Johnson Kwong, Reid Isaki, D'artagnan Heath, S.A. Johnson, Fernando Micheli, Victoria Bernal, Danny Louie, Doug Burch, Bill Crider, Rodney James Mallari, Veronica Jauriqui, Over The Edge Books, Jasmine, John Shannon, Bruce McRae, David Walker, Alvin Oei, Jason Wood and Jason for purchasing $25 Beat L.A. books; and Blake Barrett, Chris Mortimer, Farah Dakhlallah and Gary for digging deep and buying our Beat L.A. $55 book and script combos! And finally, huge swathes of thanks also go out to Jordan Harper for simply donating $25!

Thanks for kickin' in, everyone... it means the world and beyond to us. And for everyone else out there, if you enjoy the stuff we do here on FourStory, buy yourself a copy and contribute to our Kickstarter campaign here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/753506845/beat-la/

Beat L.A., as you may or may not know, sprouted from Gary Phillip's original idea to follow the day-to-day dealings of a once-detective-now-bike cop named Dave Richter and--in the process--unravel some of the seedier over- and underworld interactions in probably the only currently-blossoming landscape in Southern California: Downtown Los Angeles.

Over the course of the story, Gary introduced us to Markus Brand and John Paul Reese, two beat cops that back Dave at every turn. When I sat down and thought about them, the lives they led in order to stay on the streets, the reasons they chose not to move upward through the ranks, their personal and professional tragedies and triumphs, and the insecurities that plagued them (as they plague us all), I came to realize that Gary had provided a rich and wild lens for me to view this city, and I couldn't wait to expand the graphic novel's already-epic scope.

Gary, charming as we all know he is, sat down and did a little proselytizing for the camera, fleshing out how he came up with the idea of Bike Cop Dave and how the idea was informed by his experiences working and living in Los Angeles.


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Friday, June 22, 2012 / 5:26 pm

It’s Stake Time!

Can Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter be the coolest summer movie?

by Gary Phillips

Blade the bad, bad slayer

I didn’t read the book but I fully intend to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  As I’ve previously written here on FourStory, I’m fascinated with our presidents getting retconed as adventurers and superheroes in pop culture.  In that regard, I’m not dismayed that some of the reviews have been as Gina McIntyre and John Horn wrote in their review in the L.A. Times, “mixed to positive.”  Among the downright negative was my man Tim Cogshell on KPCC’s Film Week who called the flick ludicrously awful.  That perhaps if it wasn’t so bad it would be slightly offensive the way in which it reconceived the meat grinder that was the Civil War, fought, primarily, over the issue of slavery.

Apparently there’s a scene in the movie where the so-called President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis signs a pact with the head vampire to wage the War Between the States.  That the Confederate Army is a bunch of vampires and slaves are potential food for the vamps.  Too there’s a nod to Eric Brooks, aka Blade, Marvel’s vampire slayer created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon.  Blade’s mama was a prostitute who was having complications when she was giving birth to him.  But the doctor turned out to be a vampire named deacon Frost who feasted on mom as baby Blade was born.  This gave Blade vampire-like abilities of increased strength, reflexes and lifespan, but could go out in the daylight.

In the Abraham Lincoln flick a damn dirty vampire kills Abe’s mom when he’s a young man.  Like Blade, he vows to hunt down and destroy each and every one of the red-eyed, pointy toothed bloodsuckers – building, I’m betting, to a showdown with the ghoul who killed his mother.  What with him swinging a big ax and all, heads loped off in 3D coming at you.  Sweet.  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is my kind of popcorn movie.  Though it doesn’t look like it’s going to burn up the box office, so this might be the first and last of the presidential mash-up genre becoming a trend.

Too bad as I was hoping to pitch Ulysses Grant, Secret Agent.  Set before the Civil War, Lieutenant Grant is sent to the border disguised as a cowpoke to look into a robbery of a shipment of rifles and Gatling guns.  What he uncovers is a plot by a madman to take over the Southwest with the aid of the stolen weapons and his army of reptile men who live underground.

Then there’s our first president, George Washington?  He was quite wealthy and what if he knew once the new country was founded there were still enemies who would do us harm operating in the shadows?  He uses his money to buy the right horses for stud to produce fast and string offspring.  He has his buddy Ben Franklin devise gadgets like a mini-flintlock that can shot smoke bombs, and an invisible ink set and special opera glasses than can see the ink.  He even travels to the Far East as he’s hear tales of a way of fighting with your hands and feet unheard of in the Americas.  He returns and becomes the masked Scarlet Patriot, doing battle with the dreaded King Redcoat.

Take that you critics.

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Friday, June 15, 2012 / 3:29 pm

You Say Vagina…

The ā€˜Vā€™ Word is too much for the delicate ears of Michigan GOPers.

by Gary Phillips

All vigans, all the time.

"I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs, why are you asking me to adopt yours? And finally Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina but no means no," said Representative Lisa Brown, a Dem from West Bloomfield in Michigan.

When fellow rep Barb Byrum of Onodaga tried to speak to her vasectomy amendment coming up for a vote during this session, she was told to hush up.  The following day thje two were banned from speaking today their by the Republican controlled state house for daring to speak up or use the anatomically correct term ‘vagina.’ 

Passed was a new set of harsher regulations regarding abortions.  Including doctors would have to make funeral arrangement for a fetus if the abortion was done after ten weeks. Further, the bill would increase insurance and regulations on abortion clinics, regulate the disposal of fetal remains, prohibit the use of teleconferences to prescribe abortion medication and make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion.  Another bill that would restrict abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, was not considered.

Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit called on woman across Michigan to boycott men until this foolishness stopped of men invading women’s bodies.  “We’re launching a war on women,” she said. “Stop having sex with us, gentlemen, and I ask women to boycott men until they stop moving this through the House.”  Interestingly she didn’t get banned.

As a public service then the next time such a debate comes up on one of these hideous anti-choice bills, I implore brave women legislators and hopefully a few men with backbone use one of the time-worn euphemisms for ladies’ nether regions such as hoo-ha, the Big V, quim, the nappy dugout, snapper, the pink canoe, Lady Jane,  ya-ya, yum-yum or the vadge.

I thank you. 

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Monday, June 11, 2012 / 8:37 pm

Something Bitchen This Way Comes

How I spent my summer before it happened.

by Jim Washburn

Gosh, Jim, where have you been lately? Where is that bon vivant boulevardier who for so long seemed to grace every event with his bright wit and dingy smile? What’s with the Fortress of Solitude bit?

Well, I’ve been busy, on one front doing a spot of film feature writing for the Boston Globe newspaper, on another I’ve been selling guitars and sundry stuff on eBay, on yet another I’ve been trying to organize a museum exhibit I’m curating for the Fullerton Museum Center about Orange County in the 1970s, opening July 21 and titled, “Lay Down the Boogie: OC in the Disco Era,” and all the while I’ve been thinking about what I should be writing for FourStory, as, for example, the Lloyd Sippie saga nears its thrilling conclusion. A new chapter’s coming soon, really, and it’s chock full of death and Beatle boots.

Read more ...

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012 / 1:17 pm

Fahrenheit Crazy

Tuesday night was a humdinger.

by Gary Phillips

The Birther Queen

Among the topics of conversation I was having with my learned friend Harry this morning, ranging from the second season finale of Game of Thrones to the son of a departed ex-Black Panther friend of ours completing law school, he and I got to chatting about Ray Bradbury’s passing on Tuesday night.  I mentioned that despite his success in portraying worlds beyond ours, he’d remained a pretty down-to-earth guy.  It wasn’t too long ago, after a stroke, the non-car driving sci-fi master getting around in a wheelchair, that he would still go over to the Rancho-Palms library on Overland, near his home in the Cheviot Hills, and give a talk.

I was happy that he’d signed a 50th anniversary copy of his classic tale of books and ideas Fahrenheit 451 to my daughter and my paperback Tomorrow Midnight, a collection of eight of the EC adaptations of his short stories in comics form from the ‘50s.  Wally Wood’s art on  “There Will Come Soft Rains,” in the book knocked me out then and still does now.  In the story an automated house continues putting on the stove, the climate control in various rooms and on and on after a nuclear strike; the family is just a shaped charred shadow on one of the walls.  

My buddy mentioned that while Bradbury, who not unlike fellow visionary writer Robert A. Heinlein was a conservative (I was mildly shocked years ago when Bradbury was on the first incarnation of Bill Mahr’s show on ABC that the writer who penned The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit film set in East L.A., and he railed about shutting down the borders to the undocumented), would be remembered for the aforementioned Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man or Something Wicked This Way Comes, for him it was his October County collection of short stories.  That “The Emissary” and “The Small Assassin,” wherein a new mother becomes convinced her baby is out to kill her, were, like the Rains one for me, were stories that had stayed with him all these years later.

About 15 years ago, Harry who is an industrial air conditioning technician, was entering a large mall on a service call.  He sees Bradbury coming out of some store in his shorts and stops him to say hello and tell him the stories in October County scared the shit out of him.  Bradbury smiled and thanked him.

As this past Tuesday marked Bradbury’s passing, and that’s a sad thing, this past Tuesday the low numbers of voters who turned out at the polls in California rejected the batshit crazy, paranoid, dentist-lawyer, Queen of the Birthers, Orly Taitz for senate.  And that’s a good thing.  Talking about something wicked, I didn’t realize Taitz had thrown her tin foil hat in the ring until I looked though my sample ballot to mark it up as few days ago. I guess she figured that among all the 23 others seeking to unseat incumbent senator Diane Feinstein, she had name recognition, for good and mostly ill to my way of thinking, and that might carry her to a runoff.

It didn’t and apparently she’d already posted how the corrupt California Republican party board members had been part of a sham endorsement process in favor of Elizabeth Emkin, who got the nod.  I almost voted for her just to have her on the stump going on about Obama’s birth certificate, taxes and the loss of our precious body fluids.

As Ray Bradbury said, apropos of the limited mind of Taitz, “There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them in not reading them.”

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012 / 2:38 pm

BEAT L.A. - A FourStory Comic Kickstarter

Bike Cop Dave and Brand & Reese, in all their tradeback glory.

by Tony Chavira

No doubt you've noticed Gary Phillips's and my respective ongoing comic series. Bicycle Cop Dave, Gary's hard-boiled rollercoaster of misdeeds unfolding from the darkest corners of Downtown Los Angeles has been published in full here at FourStory and can be read from page one right here.

Tony's downward-spiraling, desperately-trying, incessantly-complying beat cops, Brand & Reese, are still just barely holding their heads above water up to Page 55, which published today right here. The cloudburst of cold and calculated anarchy that unravels the haphazardly-woven political and economic fabric of downtown Los Angeles begins with page one, right here.

Given that we all love holding well-bound books in our pretty little hands (and that its a little more difficult to lick-and-flick pages on a website than an honest-to-goodness book), Gary, Nathan and I decided that it would be exciting to put together a Kickstarter campaign together to print out 1,000 tradepaper copies of Gary's, Tony's, and our kickass artist pal Manoel Magalhães's full, interconnected supercomic, which we've titled Beat L.A.

Obviously, we'd love to see our baby in print, we've love for you to have a copy of your own (especially if you've been following along), and we'd love even more to see your support! So tell your friends, tell your parents, tell your local politicians and even tell their shady, anonymous contributors to click on this link, and help us fund our little printing project by picking up your own copy of Beat L.A.! Your support means the world to us and we can't wait to see your happy faces when you open that package and tear through your own Beat L.A. tradeback.

I mean, how can you say no to these smiling faces?

So click here to head straight on over to our Kickstarter page and join in on the madness!

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Friday, June 1, 2012 / 9:00 am

Hooray, it’s National Donut Day

All is right with the world.

by Gary Phillips

The basic donut in all its glory.

Today June 1 is National Donut Day.  Praise the Lord.  Of course as yet another of my birthdays approaches, and indeed as you get older they sure seem to come closer together, I have been curtailing my donut intake. Still one must pause and give thanks to the food gods for the wondrous sweet ring of sugar and useless calories.  Though I did have a sound rationalization yesterday morning when I stopped at one of the donut shops I frequent to buy two for me and two for my aunt on my way to her house.  I’ve been hacking away with pickaxe and electric trimmer at a wide thatch of bamboo threatening to take over her yard. 

Turns out bamboo is a mutha of a plant to kill.  I have been reading up on the bamboo and found many posts devoted to how best eradicate this pest.  I’ve learned there running versus clumping bamboo, its tangled roots are called rhizomes and that if you use herbicide, you only kill the shoot, not the roots – which have crept over from a neighbor’s yard.   The best solutions short of excavation, according to the American Bamboo Society, seems to get the stuff down as low as possible, then overwater the area, and cut down the new shoots as soon as possible.  The absence of green leaves to photosynthesize eventually starves the roots.  The other plan is to spread fertilizer over the location.  After that stake plastic tarp in place to essentially overfeed and “burn” the roots.  As compared to renting a backhoe and digging down about 16 inches.

I needed those two donuts for the energy to hack away at the shoots and roots.  National Donut Day also recognizes the “Doughnut Lassies” the women of the Salvation Army led by Helen Purviance who served donuts and coffee to the doughboys in France during World War I.  The origin of the donut is properly vague and various legends exist as to how the donut came to be as we know it today.  A persistent story s that Captain Hanson Crockett Gregory loved him this fried cake sweet from Holland.  But holding onto the treat while piloting his ship was awkward so he took to impaling the cake on the spokes of the boat’s wheel and thus the donut hole was born.

This and more can be found in several books on the glorious food from The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg (granddaughter of the man who invented a donut making machine), Donuts by John T. Edge, Doughnuts by Lara Ferroni, Glazed America by Paul R. Mullins, and The Donut: A Canadian History by Steven Penfold.

Eat hardy.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012 / 6:22 am

Letter From Botswana

How Susan got computers at the library in her village.

by Donna Schoenkopf

Susan in Botswana

Meet Susan, Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana.  She's sent this latest letter about the computers Bill and Melinda Gates sent to the village FIVE YEARS AGO.

You will love her!


*   *   *


Sent: Thursday, May 31, 2012 4:11 AM
Subject: ONE YEAR TO GO!

A Couple of Good Days

Maggie, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer came to visit me over a week-end and a holiday.  On Monday, I had to work so Maggie went with me.  We went to visit a girl I had been told about who is in a wheelchair.  The girl actually has spinabifada  sp? And club feet and she needs special shoes AND she has not been going to school!  She wants to go to school so this is a good thing.  She can read and write some in Setswana but cannot speak or understand English.  She had not been to the clinic in awhile and not seen the Doctors here at the clinic.  We told the girl and her mother to get her into see the Doctor and then things could start to happen. We reported all this to the clinic staff.  After our Tuesday Holiday on Wednesday I had to go back to work at the clinic but several chores were supposed to be done by other people so I had prepared myself for some disappointment as follow through here is sometimes non-existent.

I was walking Maggie to the bus stop when we saw the little girl (Masego) and her mother on the way to the clinic.  This was a great site as Maggie and I had just visited the family the day before and had encouraged the mother to get Masego in to see the doctor.  They were all cleaned and dressed up which made us both feel good.  Later, I get to the clinic and the mother and child are waiting to see the doctor.  The doctor arrives at the clinic and he is someone I know and like which is a very positive thing.   He had worked with helping me with Kato, the boy who got the wheelchair.  His presence is good because he is very nice, is a good doctor, cares about the patients AND speaks English.  Then, Edwin – the Head Nurse – tells me that they have gone to get Kato and he is being taken to the Occupational Therapist in Mahalapye.  This is something I have pushed for  - for about 3 months.  I am so happy for the follow through so it is good day for follow through so far!  

I decide to sit with Masego while she and her mother wait to see the doctor.  Masego is extremely shy and she looks scared, so I am hoping this makes her feel better.  She is so shy if you talk to her she puts her paper in front of her face and she won’t look at you and she is very hesitant to speak.    She is 13.  I guess this is because she has just been kept at home for years.  None of the family speaks English so it is hard to know what is going on.

Since I know the doctor I can go in with her and make sure everything is done and I can ask some stupid questions.  I know nothing about Spinabifida – I can’t even spell it!    The Doctor is helpful and orders her to be fitted for shoes in Gabs so I think this means the clinic will have to take her.  He also tells her not ever to walk on the tops of her feet!  And is aghast at her not being in school.  Yeah!   He says  “get her in school” . 

So, we have waited for the doctor a long time, we see the doctor, miss lunch and I have to be at a meeting at the library in fifteen minutes.  I have been told the meeting is supposed to be about the computers and the craft group.  As usual, I do not know much of anything about the meeting but I am assuming that it is the Library Council coming and telling us about the computers they should have already placed in the library.  I am afraid they are coming to tell us the computers aren’t coming!   The official people who are coming are late and I am sitting at the table waiting for people to show up.  Cars drive up a bit later and I see white people getting out of the cars!  This is very unusual to see a white person in my village. I am the only white person living in the village and rarely do you see white people in Kalamare.  Of course, I jump up to greet them and they speak English and are from America.  It was such a shock and pleasant surprise!  I ask a woman with the group where she is from and she says ‘California’!   The best news is one of them was from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!  Yeah!   The others are from some kind of consulting organization but obviously here on the invitation of the foundation. From what I could gather from the conversation, I think they were here to assess the impact that the computers and internet have had on libraries in Botswana.  Gates Foundation gave Botswana $4,750,000 in 2009 to establish internet in every library in Botswana.  Well, that is fine but Kalamare hasn’t received computers or internet so this meeting was a very good thing for the Library and the village.  I think the group from America were surprised the Library had neither.  Another positive thing was that a good number of villagers actually showed up to the meeting including the Kgosi and the Chairman of the VDC (Village Development Committee)  along with several VDC members.  They asked the villagers how they thought computers and internet would impact the village and they received plenty of answers from everyone including myself.  The people from America could hardly believe that the village did not have internet.

I have high hopes that this little meeting will hasten things up and we will see computers and internet in the near future.  Word has it that the Government of Botswana has been slow to get internet connections to all libraries and the Gates Foundation told them if they didn’t do it ASAP, they would take the money back.

Obviously, we didn’t talk much about crafts but the Librarian had taken a bit of effort and cleaned and displayed the crafts which included the bead jewelry, pottery, paper mache and the macramé I had just taught her to do.

A few days later:

So, I go to a meeting which I have been asked to attend.  It is a meeting of the Kalamare Economic Development Trust and we are there to talk about a request I can make to the US Embassy in Botswana for a Self Help Grant.  The Trust has a Garden and Orchard Project they have been working on for some time.  The problem is there is no water source for the land in which the project is located.  There really is no way a project like this can succeed without water.  I want to apply to the Self Help Fund to obtain the money to drill a bore hole.  (water well)   I attend the meeting in order to gain input into the vision of the project so I can complete the application with accurate information and to get the Trust’s permission to submit the request.

At the end of the meeting, I tell the Chairman that I have two other items.  One is yet another announcement regarding the Craft Group which is still meeting and trying to gain steam.  The other is about the computers for the Library.  I encourage the members to speak up and ask for the computers from the Library Council and point at the Chairman of the Trust and the VDC Chairman (Village Development Committee) and ask them please to make a call to the Library Council contact and ask for our computers.  It seems people in Botswana have a hard time speaking up for themselves and asking for what they really deserve.  I am trying to encourage them to speak up because I have no trouble doing so as you well know.

So, I leave the meeting and go home to have lunch so I can go to the Library in the afternoon.  As I am sitting there having lunch I get a text from the Librarian which says for me to come to the Kgotla immediately.   I quickly get ready and fast track down to the Kgotla.(the central meeting place)  When I arrive, I see the representatives from the Library Council and immediately greet them.  I say hello to the head honcho who I have been calling every other week for the last 5 months.  I asked him if he has brought the computers.  He tells me then that he has not brought the computers and that we need to go and have a meeting in the Kgosi’s (chief of village) office.  My heart drops.  I think – they have not brought the computers and there is some reason and he is going to tell us this sad story at this meeting.  I sit in the meeting and my heart is beating.  I don’t want to get angry but I am afraid I might.  I want these computers for the village.  Everyday someone asks me if I will teach them to type or when are the computers coming.  The head of the Library Council makes a long speech telling the problems they had with one of the computers and with finding a serial number for the printer  ----  and blah, blah, blah   -   and then smiles and looks at me and tells me he has indeed brought the computers for the library.  Most Motswana DO NOT  have a sense of humor so it took awhile for this to sink in for me.  He had been teasing me before the meeting and wanted it to be a big surprise!  He actually took my hand and held it for a long time while we talked of our accomplishments.

I don’t know how much impact the meeting with the Gates Foundation has had on us finally getting the computers but I think it might have.   The whole troop of us drove the computers down to the Library and spent the rest of the day unpacking and hooking them up as best we could.  The VDC Chair and the Trust Chair and the Kgosi stayed with us and assisted us in installing the computers while other villagers came in and watched the process.  Everyone was very happy with the new additions to the Library.  You must remember that these computers sat in a box in the trust office for FIVE Years! 

Sometimes it seems it takes a “Bitch” to make a village.

There are some days when I feel like a broken record and I do harp at people trying to get them to get things done!   -  to really do things for themselves.  Some of you know me as the Campaign Bitch and now I feel like the Village Bitch.

Anyway, it was a good couple of days which are rare here and I just wanted to share the stories with you.
I asked the VDC Chairman if I could go home to America now that the computers were in the Library.  He quickly replied “no Neo”.

Love and miss all of you,  Susie.

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