Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Government Contracting: Promises And Perils"

In order for the President of the United States to pick up a pen and sign a bill, presumably someone else in government had to sign a procurement order to buy that pen from a private company. What could go wrong?

That's where "Government Contracting: Promises And Perils" ($89.95 in hardcover; also for Amazon Kindle) by William Sims Curry comes in. Now in the second edition, the book is a companion to Curry's "Contracting For Services In State And Local Government Agencies." Together, the books detail not only what can too easily go awry, but provide model documents and procedures to help things go right.

Bill Curry is President of WSC Consulting in Chico; he is a Certified Professional Contracts Manager and, according to an author's note, "served as an Air Force systems procurement officer and was formerly employed in purchasing management for prime contractors on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope … and numerous DOD programs."

"Government Contracting" focuses on the Federal and international levels (especially the UN), but Curry's guidance on creating ethical and transparent processes has wide application. He begins with the "wall of shame," noting the factors that often lead to corruption: abuse of power, greed, incompetence, escort services, slovenly conduct, fraud--the list goes on.

There are many examples throughout the book. Not only was former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich removed from office for trying to sell the "Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama … the wiretap evidence also revealed attempts to obtain contributions to Governor Blagojevich's campaign in exchange for action on government contracts."

Most government workers and contractors are honest, Curry says, but sometimes an agency's loose policies (on gratuities, for example) mean individuals have to adhere to higher personal ethical standards.

"A transparent system," Curry writes, "has clear rules and mechanisms to ensure compliance with those rules (objective evaluation criteria, … equal information to all parties). Records are open, as appropriate, to inspection by auditors…."

Curry's book is intended for working professionals, but lay readers will marvel at the complexities of the government/business interaction (what if the lowest price supplier can't deliver in time?). As a manual for how things (ought to) work, it is indispensable.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"A Nation Of Mystics, Book One: Intentions"

Pamela Johnson lives in Oregon House, a small community in Yuba County, but lived through the late Sixties in Berkeley, the center of a spreading counterculture.

Woodstock in 1969 was the high point, so to speak, "when," she writes, "those present became one person in mind, in large part because of shared psychedelic experience."

How this came about, how life in the Haight-Ashbury area turned from the idealism of the Summer of Love to something darker and more repressive after, is told in Johnson's "A Nation Of Mystics" trilogy of novels, beginning with "Intentions" ($4.99 for Amazon Kindle from Stone Harbour Press; also from

The story begins 1965 with Christian Brooks, eighteen, the son of a missionary, raised in India and now attending UC Berkeley, haunted by something in his past. How to move beyond anger?

Some of the characters, like Amy, Christian's old lady ("a female partner and lover in common law living or marriage," according to the glossary at the end), fall head over heels for messianic religious figures.

Many others, though, meld political action with LSD. (Johnson's description of the sheer sexual energy of tripping is mesmerizing.) As Richard, one of innumerable dealers in the Haight, tells his old lady, Marcie: "Acid teaches, reveals the fragile soul-ego of each person. … I'm here to join with my brothers and sisters to make spiritual revolution, using acid as our weapon."

Dealing becomes a business. There's pot and LSD, then cocaine, heroin, PCP, meth. Later in the novel the "pigs" recruit informants and there's a hint of violence to come as the lives of the characters are taken into book two, "The Tribe," and book three, "Journeys."

But the Movement didn't die. It "grew, swelling the ranks of civil rights workers, antiwar protestors, disarmament organizations, and the new environmental groups. For many, the essence of the experience in the Haight was spiritual. They had lived with love and communalism and passed the acid test. They had stood before the White Light and touched the face of God."

Pamela Johnson is the scheduled interview guest on Nancy's Bookshelf, hosted by Nancy Wiegman, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"The Dunsmuir Horror"

Long ago, at a science-fiction convention, I attended a screening of an episode of Star Trek (The Original Series) called The Trouble With Tribbles.

The episode's writer, David Gerrold, sits down next to me. At some point I turn to him and say, "good show!" He says, and I'm pretty sure I have the quotation correct, "thank you." This anecdote is not reported in any of the official histories of what has become a cultural phenomenon, with Trek celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month.

Gerrold, no doubt encouraged by my comment, continued to write SF and, now in his seventies, is still an active scribe. In fact, the September/October 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (available at newsstands and online) is a special issue devoted to Gerrold. It features two new stories by him, one framed as a 20,000-word letter to his former editor. It's called "The Dunsmuir Horror."

It's a rollicking descent into a bizarre experience the author insists he had, driving through Dunsmuir late at night, surprised by four teenagers who maybe resembled vampires. "I'm not crazy," he insists to his editor, and to his psychiatrist, who will also be reading the letter.

The "letter" is a glorious, hilarious concatenation of jokes ("glittering doc-billed platitudes") and riffs on everything from fast food establishments to why green is alien.

But something sinister is hiding in Dunsmuir. One night, traveling from LA to Portland, Gerrold sees the Dunsmuir off-ramp and, looking for a local burger joint, takes it. "A sense of emptiness pervades everything. It's as if I've slipped out of time and I'm driving through an illusion of a town, a memory of something that used to live here."

Later he tells his friends Jay and Dennis about driving through Dunsmuir. They assure him he couldn't have. "It's not there anymore," gone for sixty years. The "town is cursed." It only appears when the land is … hungry. He is lucky to have escaped with his life (and an off-handed reference to Red Bluff).

Somehow, the blurring of reality and fantasy in the story (and it gets worse by the end) is almost a parable for our own time.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

"Kate And Ruby"

In "Venice Beach," Chico novelist Emily Gallo ( created a host of characters connected through the Southern California town's boardwalk and the mysterious denizen named Jed, an escapee from the Jonestown massacre.

In "Kate and Ruby" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), the author picks up the story of Kate McGee, whose father Jed had helped. Kate is "a thin, fit, spry fifty-five year-old who looked like she hadn't aged in fifteen years. It also helped that she made sure there wasn't a gray strand anywhere in her pixie hairstyle."

Kate had married Martin, whose mother, Ruby, was a blues singer. Ruby had taken great offense at the interracial couple, and "Kate had never forgiven her for shunning her as a daughter-in-law just for being white." Though their love ran deep, the marriage ended in divorce when Martin eventually came out to Kate.

For Ruby, it was the last straw; she "practically disowned Martin for being gay" and didn't speak to him for three decades. Kate as well had moved on with her life, cultivating a desire to join the Peace Corps.

Then Martin dies of HIV AIDS, and Ruby, in her mid-eighties and unwell, is in San Francisco to tend to Martin's effects. When Kate gets a call from one of Martin's friends, she arrives and there is Ruby, who soon after has the first in a series of heart attacks. Kate and Ruby find their lives intertwined as Kate becomes the care-giver (and eventually the supplier of medical marijuana).

The story, told mostly in dialogue, shows how time's dailyness can bring change, as Ruby teaches Kate how to garden and Kate teaches Ruby how to use a computer--which Ruby uses to find Lawrence, Martin's fraternal twin. Then Kate must choose between a growing love for Lawrence and her Peace Corps commitment.

This is not the life Kate imagined for herself but, as Lawrence puts it (though neither are religious), "Man plans and God laughs."

The author is a scheduled guest on Nancy's Bookshelf, with Nancy Wiegman, on, Friday at 10:00 a.m., and will be doing a signing during the Thursday Night Market in Chico on September 15th.