Sunday, January 31, 2010

The "Rights" Thing Redux

You might recall that last June I wrote of the letter I got from DC Comics, inviting me to sign away all of the reprint rights to everything I wrote between 1976 and 1998 for a portion of a portion of a royalty pool to be determined by the company. You might also recall that I decided it was not in my best interests to do so.

Well, this past week I received a new letter from DC. Unlike the original, this one acknowledges that the reprint agreements, guaranteeing the creators a fixed fee (and a royalty if the reprint sales reached a certain point), substantially increase their upfront production costs. But also, "it precludes contributors like you from sharing in the upside of the actual revenues that may be generated by sales of many collected editions."

"Accordingly, to enable DC to more actively pursue our collected edition reprint program. we are asking you to accept royalties on sales of all DC publications that include reprints of pages of your work in lieu of reprint fees." It goes on to say that these royalties will be paid "using DC's royalty rates in effect at the time of the new publication." And for my edification, they include the current rates.

What they don't say is how long these particular rates will be in effect, nor give any guarantee that they won't decide tomorrow that their new rates are 1/10th of that, or 1/100th of that or "We will pay you a penny per copy no matter how much of your work we include in a book."

And then there's the line, "Of course, DC may develop new formats for reprint editions and, if your work is included in such a format, you will receive the then-current rates that DC establishes." Um, like, some digital format? A streaming video version? Something that hasn't even been thought up yet? And by just signing this agreement, I can give away my rights to anything and everything and accept whatever amount DC decides they will pay...forever.

As I said the last time, I doubt that there is any groundswell movement to have my stories reprinted, but I still don't see a reason to agree that they don't have to at least make me an offer any time they want to include something I wrote in a book. As I also said the last time, I'm willing to accept the current royalty agreement for the Secret Society of Super-Villains stories I wrote. And if there are other specific stories, well, let me know what they are, DC. I certainly recognize that some money is better than no money.

But I'm not foolish enough to sign away everything with no guarantee of rates, except that they will be established by you. Might as well just offer me a cup of grape Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Google Alerts

Thanks to Google Alerts, I get regular notifications when my name pops up in an online article or a blog or on a string on a message board. And when something I wrote goes on sale on eBay.

This week, for example, a complete set of 'Mazing Man is up for auction, along with the four issues of Superman: The Secret Years and an issue of Freedom Fighters. In the case of the latter, the shipping cost is higher than the asking price of the issue. I doubt there is anything I wrote that is commanding astronomical prices and if I were sell off my extra copies of everything I've written, I don't think it would fund more than a few days of retirement.
Copies of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Office Politics, which Laurie and I wrote pop up various places as well. Most recently, someone offered a copy for sale in Bulgaria. (Who knew that we would become authorities on Office Politics in Bulgaria?)

There is an ongoing debate on one of the message boards about DC characters who exist on one Earth or another. It is long and ponderous and would make most folks wonder why these people are devoting so much time to such a topic.
In any case, my name came up in connection to my use of the original Batwoman and Bat-Girl in stories in Batman Family, Teen Titans, and Freedom Fighters. One (or perhaps more than one -- I lost track) poster proclaimed that I had violated the rules for Batman stories set out by editor Julius Schwartz and writer Denny O'Neil when I brought the two characters back. It would seem that, somewhere, Julie and Denny had decided which characters of the Batman family were on Earth-1 and which were on Earth-2 and that I had ignored this. This poster uses as proof that Denny wrote a story in which he killed off "my" Earth-1 Batwoman because she was never supposed to exist. He (or someone else) says that I should have consulted with Denny before using her in the first place. Amusingly, Julie was the editor of Batman Family when I brought back the two characters... and Denny was not writing many, if any, Batman stories at the time.

A few weeks ago, a review of "The Touchdown Trap," my first Robin story (and my first published tale) appeared on a blog, along with scans of the entire tale. Google Alerts pointed me to that... and many other blogs that link to that one. Similarly, a review of "Clark Kent's Lonely Christmas" took me to a blog location and a posting on Facebook as well.

Perhaps the most amusing Google Alerts I get are when I do new installments of this blog. In fact, one should be coming along as soon as I post this...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dining Out

There was a commercial on TV the other day that proclaimed that dinner out for a family of four averaged about $45 and that, if you ate at home once a month, you could save more than $400 a year. (A quick bit of math based on that calculation says that you can save more than $12,000 a year if you eat at home all the time.)

When I was a kid, we went out to dinner about once a month, most often to the Stop 20 Diner, My favorite meal there was the roast turkey dinner, which came with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and string beans. We also got a cup of soup -- I was a big fan of the cream of chicken -- and the dessert was a scoop of ice cream -- they only had vanilla or chocolate and it always had chunks of ice in it -- or pudding.

On special occasions like landmark birthdays or graduations, we went to Cookie's Steak Pub. The one thing everyone who ever went to Cookie's remembers is the "salad" which consisted of a quarter of a head of lettuce and your choice of white, pink or orange dressing.

These days, our local diners offer a complete dinner for prices ranging from about $12 to $18, depending on the entree you choose. For that price, they give you a spinach pie appetizer, soup, a salad, coffee or tea, and dessert, along with the main course, which includes a potato and vegetable. You don't walk out hungry... and most people leave with a take-home bag containing enough food for another meal. Considering all the food they can give you and still make a profit, it's not hard to imagine how you could save $12,000 a year by eating a normal-sized meal at home.

One of the diners here even includes a glass of wine with everything else when you have the complete dinner. One time, Laurie and I went to the diner for dinner with an old friend. When the waitress asked what kind of wine he wanted, he asked if they had a Chardonnay. She said, "We've got red wine, white wine, and pink wine and they each come in a box. What color do you want?"

The only other time we had dinner out was Haircut Day, when my father would take my brothers and me to the "Mr. Haircut" barber shop in Hempstead where they had "18 barbers - No Waiting." We always assumed we made that fifteen minute drive because they charged 25c less than our local Elmont barber shop, but, while it was likely that economics played a role, it is far more likely that the last thing my father wanted to do was have to deal with two of us while the third was getting his hair cut. With eighteen barbers, all three of us -- and my father -- got our hair cut at the same time and we were usually in and out in less time than it took to drive there.

Our treat on the way home was to stop at Big Steer, which was a fast-food hamburger place in the days before McDonalds and Burger King took over the world. We would fill up on hamburgers and the world's greasiest french fries and my brothers and I thought eating out couldn't be any better than this. At the time, I think the burgers were 15c and the fries were a dime, so our entire feast probably cost about $2.

These days we have McDonalds and Burger King proclaiming the values to be found on their Dollar Menus. Recently, Mickey D has been advertising their McDouble cheeseburger. For those who might be wondering about it, it's what used to be the Double Cheeseburger, but now it only has one slice of cheese instead of two. About a year ago, when they put the double cheeseburger on the Dollar Menu, a number of franchisees complained that the profit margin was too low, so somebody figured out that they could cut the cost substantially by using half the cheese.

Meantime, BK has been advertising that their dollar-priced Double Cheeseburger has more meat than the McDouble (and, presumably, still has that second slice of cheese). Of course, neither chain is making lots of money on the burger. As always, their big-profit items are the french fries and drinks and how many people go to a fast food place to just have the burger? When you consider that the cup that your soda comes in costs more than the beverage it contains, it's easy to see that they're making a hefty profit on that $1 drink.


Though we still occasionally go out to dinner, usually to a restaurant that serves food we wouldn't make at home, Laurie and I prefer to eat in. We are always on the lookout for an interesting soup recipe or something different to do with chicken or beef.

And on special occasions like birthdays and graduations, we don't go out; instead, the celebrant gets to pick what he or she would like for the meal. Just yesterday, for example, we celebrated Rebecca's birthday with barbecued lamb chops, tortellini with pesto, and homemade eclairs. Oh, and there was a salad, but it was lot more than a quarter of a head of lettuce!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fun With Numbers

Political candidates love to talk about taxes -- cutting them, reducing them, slashing them -- when they are running for office. The incumbents, faced with the fact that they rarely, if ever, can deliver on such promises while in office, hedge it by saying that they have not raised taxes.

Such is the case here, where those in power crowed about not raising property taxes over the past few years. Why, then, did our taxes go up? Well, thanks to the housing market boom of a few years ago, the value of our houses increased. And since our taxes are based on the assessed value of the property, we paid more.

Okay, so now we come to 2010, when the the housing market bust has knocked down the value of the property back down. Our property taxes should go down, right? Not so fast! Check out the letter that accompanied the notice advising that our property assessment had been reduced.

Won't my property taxes go down if my assessment goes down?
Not necessarily. To demonstrate the relationship between assessments and taxes, consider the make-believe hamlet of Seagull Village, which is a community of two homes. Each resident owns a house valued at $100,000. Seagull Village's property tax levy is $2,000 which is the amount needed to covers its expenses. Since each resident owns 50% of the total property value, they each pay 50% of the levy giving them each a tax bill of $1,000.
If the property values in Seagull Village go down 10%, then each property is assessed at $90,000. The amount they pay in taxes, however, remains the same because the tax levy amount has not changed, even though the assessment has declined. Each resident still owns 50% of the total property in Seagull Village and must pay 50% of the $2,000 tax levy, which is $1,000.

Okay, got it? They just raised the tax rate. A $1,000 tax on $100,000 is a rate of 1%. That same thousand dollars on a $90,000 property is a rate 1.11%.
Of course, in this particular year, they will pat themselves on the back and say, "Your taxes have not gone up!"

The letter goes on to say:
Even if the properties' assessments increase to $110,000 each, the taxes stay exactly the same. They each still own 50% of the property and Seagull Village still needs to collect $2,000, therefore they will continue to see a $1,000 property tax bill.

Yeah, right! Can anyone name an occasion when the total amount of money being spent by the federal, state, or any local government has voluntarily gone down? I can't.
If property values go up, they'll collect additional taxes based on those higher assessments... and then crow about how they haven't raised the rates!

And the letter ends with:
An increase or decrease in the assessment of an individual property is not an indicator of whether the tax bill for a property will go up, down or remain the same.

That's true. Regardless of what happens to your property value, your taxes are going to go up... one way or the other.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Comment

My CTY colleague Ryan Fox has reported that in his area of Georgia they closed the schools early yesterday in anticipation of a couple of inches of snow. He said that there was an immediate shortage of bread, eggs, and kerosene in the local stores. Georgia's Snow Response Plan is, apparently (and, logically, since it is such a rare occurrence there), "Go home and wait for it to melt."

Further up the coast in Virginia, where Sammi lives and teaches, there was a two-hour delay in the school openings because they had a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Her area, where they are used to torrential rain and road flooding, seems to have a similar Snow Response Plan as Georgia, "Stay home until it melts." I suppose if they got a really heavy snowstorm, they'd be ready when it melted and flooded the roads.

Meanwhile, here on Long Island, we had maybe an inch of snow on the ground this morning. Nobody seemed to much care and there weren't any problems... unless you count the school bus that stops on the corner near our house being two minutes late.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Feed a Fever, Drown a Cold

"A cold treated with vitamin C, over-the-counter medicines, chicken soup, home remedies or any combination thereof will last seven days. Untreated, it will last a week." -- Anonymous

"Feed a fever, drown a cold." -- Laurie Rozakis

Despite minimal contact with the outside world over the New Year's weekend, I managed to catch a cold somewhere. Actually, we've narrowed it down to either someone in the Post Office, where I stood on line for about half an hour, or someone's germs on the touch-screen at the ATM at the bank. In any case, I've got an occasionally runny nose and a cough, which are being nicely handled by a decongestant and cough drops.

Laurie's philosophy, as noted above, has always been to treat a cold with plenty of fluids. Last night she added a pot of chicken soup to dinner and had a second pot ready for later in the evening. She also had homemade lemonade and orange slices. And if I had asked, she would have made me a gallon of tea as well.

Well, if the cold germs are just hanging around in my body, they have to be pretty strong to avoid being washed away by the torrent of liquid that passes through. And pass through it does, because, as you are well aware, what goes in must come out. This may be the only occasion that I appreciate the frequency and length of commercial breaks during TV programs.... and the pause button on the DVD player!

You'll forgive me for not writing more on this topic. I had, of course, chicken soup for lunch (along with cups of coffee and tea this morning)... and, well, you get the idea...