Monday, June 30, 2014

How to lessen government fraud


Chico-based consultant William Sims Curry specializes in creating clear and equitable processes for government grant acquisition. He’s seen too many cases of a dysfunctional system, where, for example, those in Congress favor certain defense contractors not because those contractors are offering the best deal, but the best deal for them.

The sad story is laid out in “Government Abuse: Fraud, Waste, And Incompetence In Awarding Contracts In The United States” ($54.95 in hardcover from Transaction Publishers; also for Amazon Kindle). In 11 chapters Curry focuses on contracting-gone-bad (think of Hurricane Katrina); one chapter is entitled “Government of the Corporations, by the Unions, and for the Special Interests.”

Yet the book is not to be taken as a breezy denunciation of government corruption; rather, it is a careful, technical analysis of the flaws in the contracting process, especially relating to the Department of Defense (DOD), and, more importantly, how that process could be fixed. In the midst of all the outrageous examples of FIWA (“fraud, incompetence, waste and abuse”) Curry shows it doesn’t have to be this way.

He singles out two contractor selection rules used by DOD and other agencies as problematic. One is the “prohibition against using numerical scoring to rate contractor proposals.” The other “requires government agencies to assign the relative importance of factor and subfactors used in the evaluation of contractor proposals ….”

If two contractors are color-coded “good,” not scored numerically (say, from 70-100), the award may go to the one that makes the most campaign contributions. And if factors such as timeliness and quality of service are merely relative, that leaves it open for the unscrupulous to “adjust” factor weights to favor a certain contractor. If factors are given numerical weights ahead of time, the process is transparent.

Curry singles out the good work of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), that, while not perfect, has sustained numerous protests from losing contractors. Many of these issues could be resolved using a scoring formula yielding a single number.

May this book be widely read in high places.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deep “ditties” from Hannie Voyles


Professor emeritus of English and linguistics, beloved Butte College instructor, Hannie Voyles seems to be more active in retirement than most folks are in their day jobs. She has shepherded many aspiring writers to publication and now, with a new book of poetry, offers her own take on a crazy world.

“These are thumbnail word sketches,” she writes, “intended to be/ short, easy, and immediate/ about—our best and worst selves:/ our moments,/ our moment in the mirror…/ May they encourage introspection.” Don’t call them “literature.” Rather, she writes in a “Disclaimer,” focus on the message. “These pieces aim to bring a smile, a frown, a fury… or perhaps an eyebrow raised. They are for fun because ‘fun’ is also serious stuff.”

“Moments In The Mirror” ($16.95 in paperback, self-published; available locally at Lyon Books in Chico), by Hannie J. Voyles, is divided into three sections. “The Whimsical” is a “collection of itty-bitty ditties that let us have it in the face.” There’s a bit of salty language here, so be prepared. And be prepared to think. In “Conundrum,” for example, Voyles writes: “I am no longer what I was/ yet what I was remains./ But each day my ‘what’ will change/ so the what will add/ to what remains/ for the who that I become.”

The second section gets “Serious.” In “Vapor, “Words are disappearing/ I don’t know where they go—/ Yesterday I had a word/ but today that is not so—/ Words are disappearing/ filling me with fear/ that they go into hiding/ and may not reappear….”

Finally, the third section, “Deadly,” about her wartime experiences and the children lost, always the children. “She was not the only one,” Voyles says in “Anne Frank,” “although it seems that way….” The others must be remembered, too. In “Children: 1940-1945,” she writes: “Searching through the earth and sky/ the universe and firmament./ Why did so many have to die?….”

Join Hannie Voyles for a book signing and reading at Lyon Books in Chico, Wednesday, June 25 at 7:00 p.m.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Romantic suspense from an Oroville novelist


Pippa Scott’s start in life was not auspicious, she tells Shade Avalon. “A cook found me right after I was born in the dumpster behind the restaurant where he worked.” Police and Child Protective services came; the cook “told them when he found me I was covered in garbage, including strips of green pepper. The social worker took pepper and turned it into Pippa.”

Raised in foster care, Pippa grew up “never feeling like I belonged. But I grabbed every fleeting moment of happiness I could. I also used my imagination to keep me company. …”

Most of Shade’s family perished in the crash of a private plane but now the handsome 33-year-old is running the family business. Pippa, a beautiful, naive, but scrappy 23, has taken a job with Shade’s grandmother, wealthy Lila Avalon, to help her write a series of children’s stories about animals. When Pippa meets Shade at Wolfhaven, the family estate deep in the Northern California woods, things do not go well. Shade is aloof and mysterious, and Pippa is sure her sarcastic barbs will get her fired.

“Fired up” is more what happens in Olivia Claire High’s new novel, “The Wolf Deception” ($13.95 in paperback from Fireside Publications; also for Amazon Kindle). Pippa is certain that she has seen a wolf on the property, and hears piercing wolf-sounds at night, but the residents of the house dismiss the reports. Pippa’s fears are stoked when Shade, on his late-night walks, seems altogether too wolf-like.

There’s indeed a family secret; also a female rival; Pippa’s abduction by some ne’er-do-wells; hints that Shade is something more than he claims to be; and a growing, passionate connection between them.

Pippa finds it hard to trust Shade (why won’t he answer her questions about the wolf sightings?) and, as she tells a friend, “My malady is being born poor. I’ll never fit in with someone like Shade Avalon.” But the reader knows, in this fun and fast-paced suspense story, that this is not the last word.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Tooth brushing made fun


It started when Chico writer Stacy Piper began telling her two youngsters about the “sugar bugs” on their teeth, and how brushing and flossing would send those critters packing. She and her husband, Sam, noticed that the silly story encouraged dental hygiene. So Stacy teamed with another Chicoan, illustrator Lori Escobar, to bring the tale to a larger audience.

What resulted was a big, full-color children’s book called “Sugar Bugz: They Live On Your Teeth” ($16.50 in hardcover from Bliss Bless Press; available at and locally at Lyon Books in Chico). Pediatric dentist Erik H. Roos writes in the foreword that “this book effectively shows children the link between cavities and poor dietary habits. Combining this link with the importance of brushing and flossing, along with regular visits to the dentist, this book is an excellent resource. …”

It’s night and the little green creatures waking up on a beautiful set of teeth. “Sugar Bugz, Sugar Bugz/ live on your teeth/ They do the most damage/ while you sleep.// They even play hide and seek/ in between your teeth.”

How did they get there? “Well, I’ll tell you their trick./ They hide in your food, thin or thick./ They sneak aboard/ what you eat and drink./ When they get in your mouth/ they make your breath stink, stink, stink!”

What to do? They don’t like fruits and vegetables, so eat those. And “brush up and down and back and forth./ In a circle and do it again./ Brush up and down and back and forth./ In a circle, and do it again!// Floss between those pearly white teeth,/ because those Bugz are way down deep./ Rinse them away,/ down, down the sink./ They will be gone/ before you blink!”

Finally, “You must visit the dentist/ a few times a year/ for good reminders/ that you need to hear.” The Sugar Bugz try to erase the appointment, but to no avail. The dentist sends ‘em on their way.

The pictures and the included Sugar Bugz stickers will have kids laughing, and that’s the tooth.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Oroville novelist transports 7 women and a dog to Suriname


“I was born in New York,” writes Pamela Saraga. “My early life consisted of going into the Army, (my big sister was an Army recruiter), getting married, and having a son and realizing marriage is the third level of hell.”

Then “my son and I moved to my mother’s home in Oroville when she became legally blind. She helped us more than we helped her. I worked and went to Butte College until I got a job offer from the Post Office. A son is very expensive. Thirty seven years later I find myself retired with enough suppressed creativity to develop cold fusion, a space elevator and a nifty invention involving a reclining toilet seat, plus my book.”

The book is “Amazon Diet” ($13.95 in paperback from; also for Amazon Kindle) and though it’s on Amazon it’s sort of about that other Amazon (in South America) and it’s not really a diet book unless spending several weeks in the Suriname jungle being stalked by hired killers is one’s preferred way of shedding pounds.

It all starts with Stella’s mother, whose unkind comment about Stella’s weight goads her to cajole six friends into the “big adventure.” Stella “and her overweight friends would fly down to this primitive area and set up a wilderness camp with sparse provisions. Roughing it for four weeks, they would have to lose the weight.” Ann’s dog comes along, too. Otto is a “Chiweenie, part Dachshund and part Chihuahua.” Otto, says Ann, “is all I have left after the divorce except for the alimony and maintenance.”

It turns out Ann’s ex is not pleased at the expense, and he hires some ne’er-do-well guys to get rid of Ann and the rest, but (wouldn’t you know it) things don’t go so well for the men.

The women find themselves in a small village and soon the journey is underway to get back home. The villagers prove most helpful, and love is in the air. This fast-paced first novel is a fun read.