Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Fae.

by Louis Shalako

Blanchard slept all afternoon and spent the evening preparing his gear. He left town in his old blue pickup in the wee hours of the morning, when most other people were asleep.

He mentally rehearsed what he had to do in order to avoid spooking the subjects. By prior arrangement with a gentleman named Stan Fuller, a farmer near the village of Rosedale, all he had to do was pull up the lane and park by the barn. Fuller had a regular quad-runner trail going back into the sugar-bush, although Blanchard was on foot. Fuller had a small creek crossing his land and the cataract plunged over a dozen ledges of various heights. At low water the flat ledges along the right bank should be mostly exposed. Blanchard had been all up and down this valley and this was one of his favorite spots. He’d known about it forever.

Over the hills and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.

It was a full moon and the faint trail along Fuller’s side-creek would hopefully be visible. In amongst the trees it would be all dry leaves and dead twigs. He’d make a lot of noise. The night was warm and foggy in the valleys, which tended to muffle sound, but he would be making his way into a slightly gusting breeze. Walking with care, it might mask the sounds of his approach. Anything he had that could rattle, accidentally beep, or clunk was wrapped in cotton rags, bagged separately, or safely stowed in pockets and pouches.

The subjects knew what vehicles and roads and buildings were, and could probably track him by sound alone.

He closed the truck door in a natural fashion as Fuller’s dogs barked inside of the house. Sound travelled for miles, at night, out in the country. A shape appeared at a lit window, the curtains parted and a portion of Fuller’s face appeared in silhouette. He sure was up late. Blanchard waved awkwardly in the rancid yellow glare of the light over the pole barn’s side door and Fuller went away again. As agreed, he didn’t come outside. He just wanted to reassure himself who it was. Blanchard dragged his heavy bag from the passenger side floor and left the keys in the ignition rather than lose them in the woods. The left strap of the pack-sack snagged on his watch and then the weight settled on him.

Three-quarter inch granular limestone grated underfoot. He used a pocket flash to pick his way through tractors, abandoned implements rusting in the long grass, and a couple of good used cars, according to Stan. The thought brought a small grin. Behind the barn it was much darker.

He paused and adjusted the straps of the knapsack, settling it properly on shoulders and across his upper hips. The knees felt good. He had toilet paper with him, but didn’t think he’d need it. He had plenty of water and juice. He blinked in the darkness, listening. A dog down the road barked a while, and then settled down again. Darting, fluttering black shapes in the glare of the moon revealed that the night was still warm enough for bats. The woods dripped, and trickled, and snapped a little, the anonymous noises of the night coming from here and there, nearby and far away.

He was used to it by now. He was more predator than prey. Still, there was an odd flutter in his guts.

Blanchard looked at his watch. The moon was up and it was three-seventeen a.m. The well of silence all around was gone again as the crickets decided collectively that he was all right. Somewhere off in the eastern blackness an owl screeched, raising the hair on the back of his neck momentarily. It was an eerie sound and the sort of thing that had originally attracted him here in the first place. That and the waterfalls, their sound muffled to just a background hiss with a couple of intervening ridges in the way. He’d spent half his life taking pictures of animals, but this was different. He’d always wanted to buy this land. Stan didn’t know that and Blanchard would never tell him. In some strange way, it was his refuge—a home away from home.

His heart settled down. The key thing was to take his time and avoid tripping hazards. Blanchard’s mind dropped into gear. He could see well enough now. The way in was a good two and a half kilometres. If he saw nothing or otherwise blew it, there were other photographs he could take in the area. Sunrise was always good in this kind of terrain.

 Its remoteness was what saved it from commercialization, that and the fact that the valley was so small. It was tucked away in the back of beyond, just one small tributary in a much larger river system. It was a rural part of the county where the really big hills took over and brooding dark firs cloaked the hillsides along the highway, the monotony broken only by crossroads, or the occasional peeling billboards advertising this or that fishing-camp.


He would never know how good of a job he was doing, unless he saw something.

As a boy, when he read about wild Indians and woodsmen stalking through the forest as silent as wraiths, he had always taken it for granted that the author knew what he was talking about.

It wasn’t so easy, but the centre of the trail was clear and he had learned to walk by now, a curious rolling off the toes and heels that was pretty quiet in the damp forest after three full days of soaking rain. His clothing rubbed against itself, making small noises, but hopefully the sound was lost in the bigger picture as there wasn’t much he could do about it. It was the pack and the jacket mostly.

Having found his perch, previously scouted and mapped, marked in red pencil on a bigger topographical sheet of the area, he pushed four steel rods into the ground and erected his blind. The collapsible chair had been selected for light weight but with an eye to quietness as well. The tripod was in its own soft bag, and he took care not to let the legs clank together as he set it up.

Blanchard screwed his camera into place. Marvelling at his own efficiency, he hadn’t even used a light yet. The moon was almost due south, high in the sky over his right shoulder, and sunrise in late June came early. He was surprised how well he could see, as he ever so slowly zipped up the fabric. He had an old juice can in the corner and the fly sheet closed over his head. There was just room enough to kneel if he had to relieve himself and it was light enough inside to move around a bit in there.

With the beeper turned off and the camera warmed up, Blanchard settled in for a wait, savouring the tang of cedar in the air, watching the ford and the only really sandy beach along this stretch of the Sapphire River. He listened to the crows and the blue-jays. There were a half a dozen or so species of bird identifiable by their calls, notably the robins and their cheerful morning song. Not even a squirrel moved about. There was only the sighing of the breeze in the tops of the trees and the sound of rushing water.

There was a glimmer of that indescribable creamy, golden incandescence along the eastern horizon and the world was waking up. The crowing of a rooster back at Stan’s place was faintly heard off behind him and there was a solitary tractor making its way along the highway which suddenly changed pitch and then faded away somewhere beyond the northern ridges.


It was them. At first, he didn’t believe it. He didn’t even comprehend what he was looking at.

Heart in his throat, he put his eye up to the viewfinder and focused carefully. He pulled in on the telephoto lens and gently panned the tripod to centralize the largest group for study.

They leapt into focus. He’d only glimpsed them twice before, although he had found their footprints on a few occasions.

Well, well, well. What have we here?

The white faces, the unaffected walk of youth, the big, dark almond eyes, the pale, attenuated, well-formed limbs, their manes of long and uncombed hair hanging down their backs, all combined to give them an air of otherworldliness. Their shapeless, off-white linen shifts, bare feet and general lassitude set them apart from any other race and he wondered how they had gotten here, how they remained yet undiscovered, even in this forgotten part of the state. There were twelve or fourteen of them, but he didn’t have much time to count.

He watched as they came down out of the gorge just downstream. There were trails on both sides of the river, and more side-creeks along each bank. They bunched up and crossed from his side of the river. They paused in the middle and drank from cupped hands, some filling up leathern bags from the crystalline waters. The light was growing stronger and they wouldn’t stay long. He’d never seen them in the broad light of day, only at dusk and dawn. This was his first night foray.

Blanchard breathed as quietly as he could. A few had crossed to the other side and stood looking back at the group. The rest began moving again, as the last one tied off the top of her water bag.

Who in the hell were these people? The sight of all those young girls, none of them much over twelve or thirteen years of age by his guess, was bizarre in the extreme. They were so pallid of feature, with those big dark circles under their eyes, and the pathetically vulnerable feet, considering the terrain and the brush. They were all one of a kind.

He’d had a hawthorn come right up through the bottom of his shoe once. It came all the way up through his big toe as well, until it hit the inner side of his toenail and stopped.

They lived like hermits. That was all he could figure. It seemed unlikely on so many levels. Simple poverty didn’t look like this.

Blanchard framed a shot while he still had some of them in the water and a sufficient number of them facing more or less into the camera.

He locked the tripod, and pulled his eye away, satisfied with what he had, and found the remote switch hanging by his right hand.

The camera tripped with its faint click and then light appeared in the viewfinder again. He took another look.

They were all staring straight back at him.

Hurriedly, heart racing in guilt and shock, for they were all staring straight at him with that God-awful look on their faces, he re-focused and zoomed in even tighter on one of the taller ones.

His trembling hand found the switch and he hit it again. The camera snapped.

The young lady was frozen in the frame, almost filling it, with a pair of smaller girls in front and mostly in the frame. The faces were thin but clean, and their hair wild and ragged. Their eyes were blue, not black as he’d originally thought. The linen was shapeless and fringed, unfinished or roughly sewn. It was the expressionless eyes that got him. Three pairs of them were locked right on his position. It was uncanny.

By the time the camera was ready again they were gone and Blanchard sat there with his mouth open and a strange look on his face.

Thoughtfully, he reached down and pulled out a bag of trail mix. All of that effort and he had gotten just two pictures. It was exciting—that was all that he could think. It was exciting.

He’d have a little snack and then go up to the house and show old Stan what he had found, no—what he had proven after all. Still observing silence or at least being as quiet as possible, he unscrewed the cap from a small bottle of apple juice.

He’d first glimpsed the strange girls last spring, hundreds of metres away in the evening gloom. The second time, he thought, but could never be sure, that he had caught sight of an arm, just an arm but full length, and a bit of the dress through a gap in the brush, last autumn before the rains came.

They were real after all. The question was what to do about it. The truth was, he had no idea.

It’s not like anyone would really care. It's not like anyone would ever believe it...

Feeling slightly foolish about the whole thing, he abruptly drained the juice and put the garbage away.

It was time to get out of there and go home.


Here is Shape-Shifters, a fantasy novel on iTunes.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

35 Again.

by Louis Shalako

“Ah. He wiggled his toes.” Doctor Horace Brooks nodded in satisfaction.

The nurses guided the gurney through busy hospital corridors, arriving at a private room on the third floor.

“I’ll take over now.”

The nurses made sure the patient was still securely strapped in, although the trip from the operating theatre had been a short one. They padded silently out while Horace checked his patient’s vital signs using a good old finger on the wrist vein, and another quick check of fifteen seconds, spent listening through the stethoscope to the strong and rhythmic pulse of the heart.

Ed was going to be fine. He peeled back an eyelid.


No response. He straightened up. Michelle Newell was in the waiting room. She would like to be here for her husband’s recovery.


They stood, with Doctor Brooks at the foot of the bed, and Michelle at Ed’s side, holding his hand. She blinked back tears.

“As you can see, the gene therapy is already well advanced.”

Michelle gulped, unable to look away from her husband’s swollen features, especially florid-looking around the rims of the eyes. His lips were puffy and the neck lacked all distinction, for Ed was a tall, rangy individual. Even his rather prominent Adam’s apple was gone.

“It’s all temporary. He’ll make a full recovery. I give you my word, Michelle. Ed will be back to normal, better than normal in no time.”

Ed snored lightly in the bed.

He had opened his eyes, looked up at wife and smiled sleepily.

“Is the coffee ready?” Then Ed’s eyelids drooped as she murmured sweet nothings and he was gone again.

Horace beckoned at a slope-backed chair in yellow leather.

“By all means, sit with him for a while.” Horace needed a cup of coffee, and when he got back, they could make arrangements for Ed’s transportation home.

She was just all wound up with worry. He’d seen it before, plenty of times.

The elevator was at least quick in this small suburban hospital, compared to some of the ones downtown, in the real trenches, like St. Jo’s where he had put in his internship.

The long hall led to the casual but comfortable cafeteria. It allowed him to enjoy a moment of serene contemplation, with his sternum held high and his chin up, breathing fully down into the core. Moments of professional satisfaction must be savored, as did the ride home from work in the green Jaguar and the nights in front of the fire with Anne, looking out over the lake and watching the sunset.

His life was like a fine cognac. He didn’t have it too bad, when he thought about it.

It was also important to appreciate such fortune, as hokey as some might find the sentiment.

Horace knew what he liked and what he cared about. He knew what was important to him.

The patients really did come first. It made all else possible.

Ed was a good guy, but then Horace had rarely met a patient he didn’t like.

Ed would be up and around in no time, but the bio-chemistry was invasive. His cells would undergo rapid changes, and the side effects included everything from nausea, vertigo, and disorientation, to the more easily treated diarrhea and inflammation. Normal reflexes and body control would come back fairly rapidly once that stage had passed. At his age, Ed had been physically active on a regular basis and the outlook was very good for such patients. He recalled that Ed had beaten him up pretty badly, in a tennis singles match only two, or maybe it was three years ago.

Horace had done this procedure dozens of times before and had full confidence in what he was seeing from Ed.


Mrs. Newell was on the phone and she was very upset.

Ed sat at his desk in the funereal silence of his main office, the big room done all in oak, although he had the normal, more utilitarian consulting rooms, a whole hallway full of them in fact.

“I swear to God, I’m going to kill him.”

“Now, now, Michelle. There’s no need to be hasty. Ed’s just taking a while to readjust. I’ve seen all of this before, and it just takes a little time—”

“You should see what the man did this time.” The statement was like a bear trap snapping shut.

Horace sighed. He had three more appointments, all routine by the look of them, although Mrs. Dare liked to talk. In her eighties, and with those salacious stories, he usually indulged her. She was a great old gal with a husky, smoker’s voice, the voice of a man he’d always thought, and a big, hearty, booming laugh.

This afternoon he had a golf date with some friends. For once the weather was perfect.

“Ah, what’s he done?” He put a smile into his voice although he didn’t feel it.

What the hell did she expect? They knew all the possibilities ahead of time—a better word than risks, as there were many rewards and trade-offs.

He was very thorough in preparing patients in what to expect. His professional reputation was riding upon it.

“He’s bought some bloody fishing camp up near Espanola!”

Oh, dear. This would call for some tact.

“Well, Mrs. Newell. The rejuvenation of a fifty-eight year-old man into a whole new body, the body of a thirty-five year-old, has its risks. I thought you guys talked about all this, in fact I know you did—we did—because I was there.”

He was there for at least some of it, guiding them through what he liked to call a process of mutual discovery. They must have discussed their plans privately. Apparently it hadn’t been mutual enough. They should have shared of themselves more.

The problem was a classic one—a lot of unspoken dreams, dreams on both sides, all lined up for afterwards. If only he’d known, he had turned down a few patients due to risky personality-types.

It was a question of having the maturity to handle it.

“Well, I’m not going up there.” She nattered on and he glanced at his watch. “Can you blame me? Argh. All them bugs. Fish, for crying out loud.”

She muttered away from the phone for a moment. He thought they had a small dog or something these days. Of course the thing would be right there in her lap.

“And that’s not the worst part.” She took a big breath and found her courage. “The man is insatiable. He pesters me all the time, and when I don’t give it to him, he goes off downtown and drinks beer all day. I have eleven grandchildren, for Christ’s sakes.”

“Well, yes, but you have to realize—” They had talked about all of this, at least Horace thought they had.

He could have sworn she understood, as well as Ed, every word of it. She had nodded intelligently in agreement and Ed seemed to be quite looking forward to it—the significance of which fact she had apparently missed.

“I think he’s going to strip bars.”

“Now, now, plenty of men indulge in a little beer and such. It’s nothing to be worried about. It’s just a little phase Ed’s going through.” He felt sheepish for saying it, but there was not much more he could do for the woman. “His regular, family doctor had him off alcohol for the last five or six years. He’s just enjoying life again.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have to put up with it.”

Horace repressed a snort. He really couldn’t blame her for being upset. She was fifty-nine years-old herself, and why she wasn’t interested in the treatment was beyond his comprehension. What older woman wouldn’t like to take twenty-plus years off her age?

But she hadn’t gone for it, and now wasn’t the time for the hard sell.

“I understand.” It was all he could do, to be there for her, lend a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on if necessary.

He didn’t think it was the money. They had plenty of that by all accounts. Michelle didn’t want to do it for reasons unknown. She needed to overcome that.

Otherwise she had only herself to blame, if things didn’t work out.


He stood awkwardly and let it all sink in, one word at a time.

Approximately six months and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars later, Michelle Newell was the envy of her country-club set. With the body of a young girl, as she seemed very fond of saying, her tanned legs were as smooth as silk and cellulite-free, and that was saying something after what she’d had before. A few varicose veins in there for garnish hadn’t exactly helped.

Doctor Brooks had just finished up a round of golf at the exclusive Brentwood Golf and Country Club, and after putting his clubs away in the locker room, cut across the pool area to grab a quick vodka martini.

He was heading for a quiet weekend at home with Anne and the boys on what might be the last warm weekend of early autumn.

“So. I left the bastard.” Her mouth was an unattractive line. “You know what I did? I told him I wanted to have another kid—a little baby girl, one to have for all my very own. I figured we could re-decorate the spare bedroom as a cute little nursery, and all of a sudden he flipped out, just totally flipped out.”

She gulped at her drink.

“Honestly, I actually thought he was going to hit me, standing right there in front of me, all stinking of beer and shouting obscenities.” She rolled her eyes, and engaged the woman beside her in a look.

The lady patted her on the back of the hand.

He sighed, shoulders slumping a bit, sort of cringing inside, as he knew there must be more. Her eyes bored into his. He summoned up some moral reserves.

“I’m sorry to hear that. But you’re looking very well!”

She smiled so hard her eyes practically disappeared, a little pink in the whites he noticed. The three ladies, all of them high-maintenance types, looked like they’d been there a while, wearing bikinis that weighed an ounce each and cost a thousand bucks.

“Anyway, Doctor, thank you.” She raised her heavily-frosted mug.

If she was drinking Long Island Ice Teas, and it sure looked she was, then she really was on the loose.

“Well, ah, I’m sorry to, ah, hear about you guys, and if there’s anything else I can ever do—” He turned to go. “It was nice running into you. Nice meeting you ladies.”

They waved languid arms and studied their drinks.

He’d already forgotten their names. Hopefully, they might not remember his.


He looked at Michelle once more.


She winked and took a long swig from her mug. She swallowed, lifting her chin and holding his gaze. The mug hit the table with a thunk. Those ruby-red lips parted, her back arched and her breast heaved as she blew him a kiss.

“Here’s looking at you, kid!”

With a faint blush and the horrible feeling that Michelle Newell was staring at his backside the whole way, Doctor Horace Brooks turned around and got the hell out of there while the going was good.

His own much-needed drink could wait until he got home.


If you enjoyed this story, you might want to check out The Stud Farm which is available from Barnes & Noble as well as numerous other fine retailers.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Louis Shalako's Top Five Tips for Being a Successful Writer.

Squee! Cupcakes!

by Louis Shalako

1.) Write a best-selling book, (and I can't stress that enough.)

2.) Get a million-dollar advance from a major publisher. Try not to be too long about it.

3.) Slap an award-winning cover on it and get great reviews from the New York Times, Oprah's Book Club and every other reviewer of note.

4.) Write a lot more best-selling books just as fast as you can, all edited by award-winning editors from major publishers, and oh; don't forget to get million-dollar advances for aforesaid books from aforesaid major publishers.

5.) Be nice to everybody, even when you feel like poking your eyes out with knitting needles.


Say 'Squee!' a lot and post some of the finest cupcake pictures since the dawn of time on Facebook and Pinterest.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Larger Than Life. Peter Henderson.

They just don't make 'em like that any more. 

by Louis Shalako

One of the great influences in my life passed away a few years ago. It's one funeral I’m glad I attended, for my broadcasting instructor passed away and I missed his funeral.

At least I knew when it was! But I had to help my brother or sister move, (forget which) and I recall sort of resenting that a bit at the time.

Honestly? There was this girl, and I was sort of wondering if she might be there…

Fifty-fifty chance, right?

I never even knew my old journalism instructor had passed until someone mentioned seeing it in the paper.

But Peter was different. He was larger than life. It sounds like bullshit.

Peter showed up one day when my old man dragged him home, probably the result of some long and involved conversation, over a couple of small pitchers of draft—my old man liked it because it was cheap, but honestly, it was a bit watery and the foam was pretty much gone by the time it got to the table.

There was a lot of thumping and talk and the sound of a dog, if you can imagine. He had this deep, rich, tobacco-brown voice, a sardonic voice with a note of contempt, superiority, enough to raise the hackles on any rogue male, and perhaps inspire a tremble in the midriff of any female lucky enough to still be of child-rearing age.

That guy always had the moral high ground. I don't know how he did it.

Yeah .I crawled out of the crib, and over a glass of un-needled moloko my old dad told me that Peter was renting his room for a hundred a month and was that all right or what?

“Well, sure,” I said doubtfully.

Why in the hell would anyone care what I thought, but of course my old man was always looking for someone’s approval.

That explains much.

Peter had a red Irish setter named Blue, and a nice short-haired grey cat, kind of old and arthritic, it was a Russian Blue, a cat with one eye named Squint, and he had been living in the camper on the back of a 1973 Ford F-150 which was mostly white but it had a blue stripe up the side.

He was returning from Montreal, but spoke English extremely well. He had grown up a few blocks away from where we lived.

So my old man took the smallest of three bedrooms. I had my own room, the fifteen year-old high school dropout with his own room, complete with stereo and mirrors on the ceiling as I recall, and Pete got the master bedroom for $100.00 a month.

My old man told him, “That’s room only, but we got plenty of peanut butter and I probably won’t let you starve.”

Peter had just taken a job with the local radio station. What a voice. Holy, crap, what a voice.

He had the morning talk show. The previous host had dropped dead of a heart attack while shoveling snow, and Peter had played a bit role in some National Film Board Canada documentary set in the Arctic, fuckin’ Nanook or something, and the station was willing to take a chance on him.

I listened to that guy, as you can well imagine, as well as looking after his cat. The dog, now, that thing rode to work with him and wandered around uptown all day. As far as anyone knows.

But Peter Henderson was the one who told me, “You’ve got a fucking brain in your head Louis. What the fuck are you doing laying around in bed all day until three o’clock in the fucking afternoon—(Peter always enunciated very well, putting the ‘g’ on the end and everything) and you can’t even get a job at a carwash and maybe try helping your old man out…”

I’ll never forget the way he pronounced fucking.

Oh, yeah, ladies and gentlemen, old Peter had a few things to say to a lazy teenager.

Peter was about six-foot three, with a big red beard and flaming, curly red hair. He came and went with a leather briefcase—I’ve never owned a briefcase in my entire life, but he had a leather jacket, a tie, shiny shoes, and he had the morning show, and I sure as hell listened to the most interesting son of a bitch I ever had heard in my entire God-damned fifteen year-old life.

Yeah, Peter and my old man drank at the kitchen table. I listened then too, but then my old man was buying and Peter was a hungry man back then. Peter ate my old man’s Viet Cong Stew, a favourite back then for us all. The recipe is now lost to history and maybe that's a good thing. He ate his peanut butter and his onion sandwiches with the salt and the pepper, which made him fart something terrible. It was a sore point between us, I can admit that after all these years. I gave him some awful painting and he hung it up on the bedroom wall, where he could lay on the bed with his dog and look at it.

“It brings me great peace,” he told me once.

I shall always treasure that remark.

But, ah, he went on to hold that show and this town, for many years, and I was sort of his snarky acolyte or denier or something and he told me a few other things besides.

“With that face, and that voice, with that fucking brain, Louis, you should be on TV.”

Think about what that did. It’s not like I ain’t got an IQ of about a hundred-forty and people do sort of look up to me, and even then I towered over Peter, my dad, and pretty much anyone around here. So why not, right?

But the man definitely had influence. He ran for election at some point, and the local politicos either loved him or feared him or just thought he was a pain in the ass, depending on how hungry they were getting. He would talk about them on his show, of course. It was a kind of power, I reasoned.

That thought stuck with me.

I finally did get a job, more than one, mixing mortar and carrying concrete blocks around in wheelbarrows and stuff like that, and what the hell, old Peter married a girlhood friend of my mother’s, and I attended the wedding along with some other folks, all attired in my own sort of tailor-made leather hippie jacket and I have, quite frankly, been a bullshit artist ever since.

Pete was a wonderful, loving, tough, loud sort of a talker. Never forget that guy. He’d stick his face right in mine, bad breath he always had, and he’d say, “You’re a lazy cunt, Louis.”

He'd grab me right by the collar and make it stick, too.

He was right, too.

Yeah, you couldn’t slide too much past old Pete.

He had a way of getting people talking, though.

There was the CBC on the radio, of course. We had eight or nine channels on the TV. Peter had a way of reading the local paper, knowing all about current events, and then he had his spiel. He’d open up the microphone at the top of the hour and spew out some reactionary, provocative point of view, just to piss people off more than anything, and then he’d go to a commercial, and then he’d nod at the producer—oh, yeah, I went in there a time or two just to watch, and then they’d open up the phone lines.

Let’s be honest, it worked every time.

After my old man died, my mother told me, “He blamed me for you becoming a writer.”

That’s a strange idea at the best of times. I worked my ass off at this like any other failed writer-bastard.

But seriously, folks, Big Frank really ought to have blamed that frickin’ homeless guy, the big red-haired one, the Shakespearean actor sort of guy, the one he dragged home, half drunk and staggering around with a silly grin on his face and talking all kinds of shit, all those long years ago—and that would be about 1974, as I recall.

The world was young back then, and full of promise, none of which has been wasted.

If there is a heaven, I can just imagine you two old sons of bitches up there, looking down here at us, raising a glass of the house draft, i.e. by that I mean the cheap stuff, and if you can have a good laugh at me that’s fine too.

You are gone but not forgotten.

You can figure out who’s to blame, for all of this, while you’re at it.


Blessed Are the Humble. Louis Shalako. (Amazon.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What Is Bitcoin, the virtual currency?

New York Stock Exchange.

by Louis Shalako

Love, or money, is what makes the world go around.

Let’s talk about money.

There are of course moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding the issue of money. This being the future and all, the one we were all madly reading about when we were kids, there are new kinds of money.

Plastic debit cards, credit cards, in-store gift cards, have all changed the face of transaction in the sense that we do things our parents never would have done. Our parents, certainly our grandparents, would have never swiped a card through a reader, waved an electronic speed-pass in front of a gas pump, or bought and activated a plastic gift card.

Let’s look at gift cards. When the ‘credit’ or ‘money’ is loaded up on the card, it is said to be ‘activated.’ 

That’s backed up by something on the front end, some kind of deposit somewhere. and on the ‘receiving end,’ when the card pays out in the form of groceries, gas, a pair of shoes, that transaction, is still backed up by coin of the realm, a stable ‘real’ currency, backed up by the assets of the state, and, or, its holdings in specie or bullion. This ‘money’ is backed by a state, who uses the currency to pay its bills, pay entitlements, and carry out its social and economic goals or programs.

If you want to purchase such a gift card, you have to hand over some cash, pay with a credit or debit card, or you simply won’t get your purchase. No money, no card. U.S. or Canadian dollars are pretty stable. You have one year on a gift card to use the funds, or you lose your ‘rights’ so to speak, and that is one of the criticisms of the cards. If you are paying cash, it’s just easier to use the currency of the country you are presently in—I once had problems buying a sandwich twenty miles inland in Michigan. All I had was a Canadian ten-dollar bill. I was on the way to Flint or something and the trip came up at short notice. No sandwich, end of story.

Virtual currency is different. It has no backing from any state or bank, there are no holdings in gold, dollars, bonds, whatever has been used previously to covey the idea of value, of monetary worth. The transacton is real because some person paid some other person for the bitcoin. That is its only backing, (my own conclusion.). The bitcoin is worth what someone paid for it and no more, and it has also been volatile over its short history.

Bitcoins are traded like a commodity. A peck of soybeans is a commodity, a sow-belly is a commodity. 

Conventional commodities are traded electronically, on trust, by reputable and registered traders.

They own the right to the funds generated by the sale of some peck of soybeans or a sowbelly somewhere, and those trades are backed up by the intrinsic worth of the commodity itself.

An international, virtual currency is only worth what somebody has paid for it. Demand for it drives the worth of it up, and the same thing can happen to soybeans or sow-bellies or whatever.

The difference is that the commodity is real, as opposed to virtual.

Make no mistake, if I buy one bitcoin, real money is coming out of my account, otherwise I don’t have the right to own it. If demand is high when I cash it in, real money comes out of some virtual font somewhere and if I want then I can go and buy what I want.

What’s different about a virtual currency is that it’s new, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s also international.

Is it a threat, and by that, I mean is it a threat to me, personally? Enlightened self-interest, right?

How does this affect me?

This writer is not a hundred percent sure of just how I would go about buying a sandwich, ‘twenty miles inland’ in some country, any country, with a bitcoin. Debit card for sure, and that U.S. dollar transaction would be electronically calculated and converted instantly so the bill is paid in U.S. dollars from my Canadian account.

Right? That seems simple enough.

Bitcoin charts.

Business Insider interview with Paul Krugman.

“Economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman says that "in principle, you can have assets, which are considered valuable, even though there is nothing backing them," but he is skeptical about what drives the recent surge of the bitcoin.”

It also seems simple enough, that in the trading of bitcoins, simple electronic and mathematical rules apply. Conversions from and into bitcoin virtual currency would be relatively simple.

The question to a consumer, and we live in a consumer society just as much as in a ‘money-trading’ society, is, “What good is it? What is it for?”

But if a virtual currency like Bitcoin is to become a valid international consumer currency, it must be in denominational units of small enough for convenient use. One bitcoin worth say, $450.00 isn’t much good if all you want to do is to buy a cup of coffee. If the coffee is valued at $1.60, that’s 1/287th of a bitcoin. That would essentially mean nothing to the average consumer, and if it’s volatile, one minute the value of your bitcoin is soaring, and the next minute it is plummeting.

So that is the starting point for the research to this story. I would like to know what it’s good for.

Here’s what people in nine emerging markets had to say about bitcoin. Sounds to me like they know more about it than this writer, but the M-pesa digital currency in Kenya is interesting. At time of writing, apparently it’s the most advanced such system in the world.

Bitcoin shut out of Chinese market, second largest in world. If it didn’t serve state policy, and if the government saw it as essentially chaotic, then it would be highly suspect in their eyes.

Will virtual currency break the power of the state to control monetary policy?

“There is another concern about Bitcoin that gnaws at me. Control of money is the State’s most important tool for maintaining power. Controlling money allows governments to engineer society, rewarding the politically connected while keeping the underclass content. It gives government the ability to promote the illusion that there is such as thing as a free lunch, and that the State is the fountainhead from which all good things flow. Thus, governments will crush anything that undermines their control over money. Absolutely no competition in this area is allowed.”

“Perhaps it’s my conspiratorial side, but something smells fishy here. If Bitcoin is as dangerous to the State as its proponents in the liberty movement claim, why isn’t the State already moving to crush it?” – Lew Rockwell.

“Virtual currencies, perhaps most notably bitcoin, have captured the imagination of some, struck fear among others, and confused the heck out of many of us.  Indeed, based on conversations my staff and I have had with dozens of individuals both inside and outside of government, it is clear that the knowledge and expectation gaps are wide. Fundamental questions remain about what a virtual currency actually is, how it should be treated, and what the future holds.”

“Virtual currencies, perhaps most notably bitcoin, have captured the imagination of some, struck fear among others, and confused the heck out of many of us.  Indeed, based on conversations my staff and I have had with dozens of individuals both inside and outside of government, it is clear that the knowledge and expectation gaps are wide. Fundamental questions remain about what a virtual currency actually is, how it should be treated, and what the future holds.”

What’s so special about Bitcoin?

“The fact that Bitcoin advocates rely so heavily on the niftiness of its underlying algorithms and protocol is one of the best reasons to predict its demise.  If all you have going for you is a cool algorithm, then at some point there will be someone else out there with an even cooler algorithm. And then someone else.”

“Indeed, there is evidence that this process is already underway. If you don’t want to use Bitcoin, you can always try Litecoin.” – Forbes

Steven Kinsella, as quoted in Forbes:

“Bitcoin has no use value, only exchange value, and because it is has no worth in use other than what others are willing to pay for it, it is always in a bubble: these happen when prices of assets get dislodged from their fundamental value. So Bitcoin is the perfect bubble.”

“(Charles) Goodhart argues that states have essentially always been in control of monetary systems. He emphasizes that governments have always viewed seigniorage as a useful form of revenue and are unlikely to allow this source of revenue to be replaced by a private source of money.”

The article concludes, “There’s no doubt that Bitcoin is an interesting invention, useful at a minimum for provoking good classroom discussions in Money and Banking courses about what exactly is the meaning of money. But people should be wary of investing large amounts of their savings in Bitcoins. History provides plenty of reasons to suspect that private money is unlikely to work. Maybe this time is different. Usually it’s not.”

To go further than that, what are the ethical or moral considerations of allowing Bitcoin and other private currencies free reign, to conduct a global experiment that could, in the longer term be disruptive of national economies?

I have some philosophical sympathy with a new form of disruption, for it seems self-evident that at some point in the not-too-far distant future, new forms of international government will arise.

When the European Union came into being and adopted the Euro, some national powers had to be given up, and yet the currency is backed up by the combined holdings in all the member nations.

Their gross domestic product, the real wealth of the nation, (the more developed a nation is, the more it is ‘worth,’) the ratio of debt to income and expenditure, all these factors contribute to the worth, or value of the Euro. In relation to other similarly-baked currencies, its values fluctuates over time as circumstances and therefore demand the Euro as a holding currency, (a commodity of value) goes up and down. This only becomes volatile in moments of crisis. The fact the European Union is international really doesn’t change the rule-set. And everyone involved at least understands the rules.

Issues of national sovereignty are touchy, hot-button issues, and yet civilization is advancing—we are becoming more organized, more knowledgeable. Social systems are getting more complex, and the demands for international cooperation are growing rapidly as the challenges of the 21st century become apparent or when they reveal themselves for the very first time.

It may be necessary to strip away some small portion of the sovereign powers of the state in its theoretical sense, in order to give some power to an international organization, one where all states and nations could hold membership, and have the right to speak, consult, debate, and set policy.

Also, if it is not to be completely powerless, such an international organization would have to have some funding, some revenue stream, generated by contributions on all members, dare I say ‘international taxation,’ and ultimately such an international entity would acquire assets. Their virtual currency, traded and used by consumers world-wide, might very well be backed up by an acceptable standard commodity—like gold, or even good old U.S. greenbacks as well as other high-value, stable currencies.

Such an international organization would of course use monetary policy to advance its social policies on a global basis, i.e., ‘world government.’ In its initial stages, that institution would be as experimental, and most probably just as potentially disruptive, certainly long term, as highly-speculative virtual currencies now in the marketplace.

In that sense, something very much like Bitcoin might be useful for an emerging world-wide electronic culture. Part of the usefulness of that tool might lay in its ability to subvert existing power structures and in laying the groundwork for something both benevolent in principle, in so far as it can be said that commerce is essentially benevolent and a socializing factor in human relations.

In terms of science-fiction futurism, displaced people, refugees, stateless persons, would still be citizens of the globe. No one could seriously claim otherwise. They might not want to acknowledge them as citizens, for that gives them certain rights, but the unfriendly state of origin in question could hardly suggest that they came from some other planet.

An international government might take some responsibility for those global citizens, but more importantly some virtual currency that they could take, send, receive, spend or trade anywhere in the world would appear to be their natural, supra-state currency. That currency would be a tool for further consolidation of a planetary government, once suitable institutional architecture is in place. a

And the world as we know it might even be a better place for it.

Sorry, even I didn’t see that one coming.


Additional Resources.

Bitcoin: a peer-to-peer virtual payment system. (Wiki.)

How to Steal Bitcoin in Three Easy Steps.

Bitcoin units.