Fake Fridays

Ponzi scheme

One con that has never gone out of style after more than a hundred years is the Ponzi scheme.  Every year, I hear of businesses being exposed as Ponzi schemes.  The fraud Bernie Madoff committed is considered the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.  A Ponzi scheme even helped bring down the Albanian government in 1997.

Although there are many ways to disguise the fraud, the essence of a Ponzi scheme is to pay early investors with the money received by later investors.  Very little if any real investing is ever done on behalf of the investors.

The con is named after Carlo Ponzi, also known as Charles Ponzi, although he did not invent the scheme.  In Brooklyn, in 1899, William Miller, who is profiled in The Confidence Game, used this fraud to steal between $1-$2 million dollars from investors, according to Hoaxes and Scams.  But Ponzi made the con famous.  In less than a year, in Boston, 1920, Carlo Ponzi defrauded investors of $5-$10 million.  As Hoaxes and Scams states, “no one ever knew for sure” how much how much Ponzi stole.  To read more about Carlo Ponzi, click here for the Wikipedia article.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has an excellent page on its website about what Ponzi schemes are. It also compares it to Pyramid schemes, another kind of fraud.  The website also gives advice on how to protect yourself from this kind of con.

 

 

Writing Tip

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More Elements of Style

A few weeks ago I wrote about The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B.White and how it is an essential tool for writers.  Sandra Merville Hart, a writer whom I have met through the American Christian Fiction Writers, did a three-part discussion on how this book has helped her.  She has written the Civil War novella A Stranger on My Land. 

Click here to read the articles on The Elements of  StyleTo know more about the author, just look under her name in Facebook or visit her book page on Amazon.

West Virginia Wednesdays

img_20160817_0004img_20160928_0001img_20160817_0003Hawks Nest State Park

I visited this state park, located south and east of Charleston,  several years ago, but the nice thing about state parks is that they only change with the seasons.  I stayed in the park lodge and used the cable car, which is called the aerial tram, to get down to the New River.  Being an old movie fan, I couldn’t help but think of the Clint Eastwood WWII movie Where Eagles Dare while I rode on the tram.  I also took a jet boat out onto the river, where you have great views of the New River Gorge Bridge.  I also visited nearby Babcock State Park. I love being out in nature and recommend visiting both parks.

New River Gorge Bridge is the second largest single span bridge in the world and the third highest in the U.S.  On the third Saturday in October, the bridge is closed to traffic and people can walk across it and watch BASE jumpers jump off it.  All kinds of events are planned for the day, so check out this site if you are interested.

Writing Tip

Placeholder ImageWriting to Music

Music has often sparked writing ideas for me.  I can read music and played in the band in high school, but I have rarely performed any kind of music since then, so I am an amateur when it comes to music and still find it inspiring.

Songs don’t work as well for me as pieces without words.  Most people are so language-driven that the lyrics grab your attention and steer your imagination whether you want it to or not.  I prefer grand symphonic pieces that sound like somebody is saving the world and Celtic music.  I also try to broaden my musical tastes.  I created a character who grew up in India and listened to music from the country.

Select a piece without words.  As you listen, just jot down feelings or phrases, or you may want to listen to the entire piece before you write anything, letting your imagination soar.  Keep listening to the piece as you write down more and more of your inspiration.  But if you start getting tired of it, stop listening.  Go back to the piece after a break.  Your inspiration will dry up if repeated listening only annoys you.

If you have only listened to current popular songs, I recommend trying movie soundtracks to introduce you to orchestra works.  Soundtrack for movies like Star Wars, the Marvel movies, or just about any action-adventure movie usually have driving orchestra pieces with strong melodies that make them easy to listen to.

 

Scripture Saturdays

Prayer

I’ve been a Christian since I was a child and knew prayer was important.  But I never really understood why it was important until I went to my grandmother’s funeral.

My grandma, a life-long Christian, died at the age of ninety-nine.  The pastor who performed the funeral service had just come to her church three weeks before.  But from talking to our family, he came to understand my grandma.  In his sermon, he mentioned how everyone in the family felt that if Grandma prayed for you, you were really prayed for.  He said that didn’t mean Grandma had supernatural powers and could make God do what she wanted.  He meant that when you’ve spent ninety-nine years getting to know someone, you know a lot about Him.  When Grandma prayed, she had a better idea of how to pray and what to expect.

Until that day, I hadn’t thought of my relationship with God as getting to know Him better, like I would a person.  I can’t know a person if I never read his e-mails or posts or call him.  I know this person exists, but I know nothing about him.  I think there are many Christians like that.  They believe in God, know some stories from the Bible, and pray when panicked.  But they don’t really have a relationship with Him.

When I began praying more than a few minutes before bed each night, my spiritual life opened up in ways I didn’t even know it could.  It takes time.  I can’t hope to squeeze time in to read the Bible and pray at the end of the day.  I have to allot time for it in my daily schedule.  I walk and pray.  I need the exercise, and the physical activity helps me focus.  So you don’t have to find a quiet spot and kneel.  Just dedicate time to prayer and then do it when you can focus it on it without many distractions.  Nothing is more important than getting to know God, and we can’t get to know Him without spending time with Him.  We need both quantity and quality time with Him.

 

Taking a break

I have some family matters to deal with this week, so I won’t be posting as regularly.  I should be able to get back on track in a week.

Fake Fridays

theconfidencegame_jkf_r3_a1

This new book is a very good place to start learning about cons and how they work.  My only criticism is that I wish it had photos because Ms. Konnikova writes about so many real-life cons that it would be nice to have faces with names to keep everybody straight.  The chapters are long, and sometimes I felt overwhelmed with information.  So I broke up my reading, placing a few days between chapters, so I could absorb the information.

What makes the book uniquely helpful are all the psychological studies it cites, showing how cons exploit certain human tendencies in our perceptions and thought processes.  I found these even more interesting than the stories of  various cons ad crooks, which are very compelling as well.

Click here it visit the book’s page on the author’s website.

Writing Tip

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The Hate Word – Grammar

My fifth and sixth grade English teachers did me a great favor, which I didn’t even realize until I was an adult.  They taught me how to build a sentence and why it is built that way.

The last period of the day in fifth grade was English class.  I sat in the very back corner because I liked to go unnoticed most of the time.  Every day Miss Boyd had a sentence written on the blackboard.  (Yes, it was that long ago.)  We would copy it down and label the parts of speech.  Then Miss Boyd would go over the sentence to make sure we got it right.

The lesson didn’t take long, and the sentences were easy to start with.  After a hundred and seventy-some sentences, I understood what the subject of the sentence was, the verb, the direct object, etc.  As a writer, I couldn’t have had a better teacher.

In sixth grade, my teacher did something probably considered fiendish today.  She had us diagram sentences.  I know some kids hated it, but I think I didn’t mind because Miss Boyd prepared us so well.

Both teachers gave me the foundation to be a writer.  If you want to write, it means you want to communicate through written words.  You can’t be understood if you don’t follow the agreed-upon rules of your language.  Once you get the rules engraved in your brain, then you know when you can break them and still communicate effectively.

A great reference guide is The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.  It gives you a lot of rules you may already be following but never thought about, and it can help answer questions if you write something that it doesn’t look correct.

Click here for Amazon’s page for the latest edition.

 

West Virginia Wednesdays

The Hatfields and the McCoys

I  read a very good book about one of the most infamous episodes in West Virginia’s history, Blood Feud: the Hatfields and the McCoys: the Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance.  What I liked about this book is that besides relating the events of the feud, the author explores why it’s still famous a hundred years late.  There were other feuds — the ones the author researched were all in Kentucky — and they are all almost forgotten.  Some of these feuds were longer and bloodier than the Hatfield-McCoy feud, so it wasn’t the violence that made it memorable.  Ms. Alther puts the enduring popularity down to media attention.  T.C. Crawford wrote An American Vendetta in 1888.  The book “reached a wide audience and spawned spin-offs in the form of novels and silent movies.”  It  also created the stereotype of the violent, stupid hillbilly.

We see the media doing the same thing now.  Certain crimes and trials become more well known than others because of how they are written and recorded, not because of anything inherent in the crimes or trials themselves.

Click here to visit the author’s page about the book.

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