The Only Things Certain In Life Are DEATH AND TAXES!

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Tax

Tax (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

The only things that are certain in life are DEATH and TAXES!  We know about death but how much do we really know about taxes…where do they go…what do they do and who benefits the most from tax cuts and breaks.

I was sitting in my doctor’s office the other day reflecting on the fact that with the vision and guidance of a lot of people, including the President of the entire U.S. of A., I would soon be able to afford and have quality healthcare.  Being a diabetic and also being someone who is moving up in years, I am duly aware of my personal war with health.  Like many, there are good days and there are bad days and today was one of those bad days or I wouldn’t have been sitting here.  As usual, I read into a stack of old magazines and came across an old issue of Reader’s Digest (printed for seniors with large print…is that a hint?).  It had a very fascinating article about the taxes that we pay and where the money goes…to what program…to what service.  Personally, I was surprised as to how so little goes so far.  I have subsequently asked several people do they know where their tax dollars goes and they like me, before I read the article, didn’t have a clue.  So with that in mind, I hope to shed some light on YOUR tax dollars, the tax program and how it benefits you, your family, your neighbors and your community.

Let’s start with a worker (single w/o dependents) with an annual income of $55,000.  This person makes roughly $1,000 per week, right?  On a yearly basis, nearly two-thirds of your taxes went to the federal government and the rest goes to your state, county, or city government.

Using the standard deduction for an annual salary of $55,0000, your taxable income would be $49,300.  Your effective tax rate would be 23.1%.  That would make your total federal taxes approximately $12,720.

Here is a simplified table that shows where your $1,000 goes (Federal Taxes only).

  Program/Service  TaxRevenue  %Category %Total$1000
Income Security $220.00   22.0
·        Social Security $115.00 .52 .115
·        Welfare   $46.00 .209 .046
·        Disability   $35.00 .159 .035
·        Unemployment     $7.00 .031 .007
       
Health Care $203.00   20.3
·        Medicaid      
·        Medicare      
       
Nation Security $200.00   20.0
·        Defense $132.00 .66 .132
·        Public Order/Safety   $65.00 .325 .065
                Police   $27.00 .135 .027
                Prisons   $18.00 .09 .018
                Courts   $12.00 .06 .012
                Fire Protection     $8.00 .04 .008
       
Education $158.00   15.8
·        Elementary/Secondary $117.00 74.0 .117
·        College   $28.00 17.7 .028
·        Library(s)     $2.00 .013 .002
       
Government $143.00   14.3
·        National Debt   $90.00 63.0 .09
·        Executive/Legislature   $21.00 14.7 .021
·        Tax Collection   $11.00 .077 .011
       
Highway/Transportation    $79.00   .079
·        Highways    $25.00 31.6 .025
·        Agriculture      $8.00 10.1 .008
·        Air Transport      $4.00 .051 .004
·        Air & Water Quality      $7.00 .088 .007
·        Space Program      $3.00 .04 .003
       
Housing/Community     $10.00 12.65 .01
Recreation/Culture       $7.00 .088 .007

So by the chart, how do your tax dollars work for you?  Let’s see…

  • You pay $7.00 into unemployment for 52 weeks for a total of $364.00.  If you have ever been unemployed, how long did it take you to get that investment back?  And since they make such a big deal over the unemployment numbers, do you know the actual break out.  Use this link 2011 Unemployment Figures to see what’s that all about.  You will see what groups are really unemployed and how they affect the numbers.  Did you know that Teens (16-19) make up 22.9 percent of the unemployment numbers?  Shouldn’t they be in school anyway?  Or, not surprisingly Blacks in 2011 represented 15.5 percent of the total where only 7.9 percent of the White population 16 years and older were unemployed?  And only 5.3 percent of white males were unemployed in 2011.  What are really the working years?  I know that many of us start young out of necessity, but should that really be counted, without explanation, in the reported totals?
  • Welfare looks like a really big chunk.  At $46 per week (annual total $2,392) that is a serious deduction from your pay that you hope that you never need.  But just like car, house or life insurance you are better off having made that investment than you are without.  A single man or woman without children, regardless of previous income, gets a minimum payment of $200.00 a month (based on the state of Michigan payouts).  I’m guessing that your previous income and the length of time you were employed may have something to do with the payouts.   I can see why this can have a negative effect on the entire financial system.  Because, if you have kids you do get more.  It’s a major problem today and it will be tomorrow if it is allowed to persist.  The answer, though, is not to kill the program when you can make smart adjustments to the current program and find ways to deal effectively with the external issues that create toxic environments that hamper and negatively impact what is still a good and very necessary  program.  There are a lot of cheats and ne’er-do-wells and they make it very, very hard for everybody in the program.
  • Social Security is a tricky for me.  The way I see it, I have X-amount taken from me on a paycheck-by-paycheck basis.  Using the chart again, I see that $115 is taken out of my paycheck every week for a monthly total of $460 and an annual total of $5,520.  How is this money managed really?  Does the government hold onto it until I need it?  What’s the percent of the “rebate” I get at retirement age?  What does the government do with the difference?  What has the government done with the difference?  You see, I am afraid because I don’t really know what happened to the financial security we had during President Bill Clinton’s last term in office.  Sept. 11 happened that’s what I do know.  And we entered in a war with Saddam Hussein and his boys in March 2003, preceded by the tremendously expensive search for Osama bin Laden.  And before we finished the job in Iraq completely we were in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.  Why?  Because it was believed that there were forces within the country that were harboring bin Laden.  Our president had declared that any country that harbored terrorists was not a friend of ours.  I stood with him on that, as I know everybody did.  But they found him in Pakistan where he had been hiding for so long.  Almost as long as the Afghan War.  So is this where the budget surplus of the Clinton years disappeared under the Bush years?
  • The amazing thing is how small the contributions to things like schools, libraries, housing, recreation and culture, public radio and television, public order and safety are and they are always among the first tier of programs/services that get cut.  What makes it even more amazing is that these are what I call “quality-of-life” services that should be covered under our government.  With our tax dollars we are being asked to fight wars overseas while we are losing the war on our streets.  Is this not our priority…therefore, their priority?
  • We are taxed on a regular basis to support our highway and transportation system, yet our roads and bridges are in such a state of disrepair.  Now that I see how things are taxed and for what purpose, I am beginning to wonder if our elected representatives really understand that they represent us…the people.  Where does it say that they can spend our money any way that they decide?  Our roads are worn…our bridges are breaking down…schools are closing…welfare is struggling…social security is nearly bankrupt…why…Why…WHY?
  • Since part of our taxes are used to pay our representatives, why aren’t their salaries affected like everything else we pay for when “times are hard”?  They borrow from one area after another to account for what they want to do, but it never hits them in the wallet like it does the common man or woman.  How many essential programs have been modified or shutdown to pay for the wars they wanted to fight?  As I write this, special interest groups, national and international, have bought a lot of our congressional representation.  Who benefits?  Not me!  Do you?  Have your family/friends?  If not me, or you, then who?
  • Defense spending, which accounted for 27 cents of each tax dollar during the Vietnam War in 1970, fell to 11.1 percent of government spending by 2000.  The cost of the Iraq war, beginning in 2006, pushed defense spending back up to 13.2 percent of all federal, state and local government spending.  How can we afford that?  I was taught that “wars” were good for the economy.  And maybe from a historical perspective the saying is true.  But we have recently learned that all wars are not good…not for the economy or for anything else.  Surely somebody had an idea as to how this was going to work.  What was the plan and why didn’t it work?

The chart from above clearly shows how a shift of a few percentage points of your tax money can create serious…significant problems for programs that serve the largest number of people of our society.  Unfortunately, we have elected lumberjacks not tree surgeons when it comes to handling our financial interests.  And besides being lumberjacks, they are some kind of  “whore” that sells our interests for their gain. Sadly, they have been able to do this with the assistance of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Appointed for their lifetime, the SCOTUS justices have rendered a lot of decisions that seemingly have followed the party line of the party that put them on the bench.  The Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obamacare) was the rare decision that went against the political balance of the court.

Speaking of the AHA (Obamacare), why all the fuss?  Why can’t they use the savings accrued from the ending of the two wars to fund the program or part of it?  How does a program with the lofty goal of saving lives while saving money produce such vitriol and anger?  How can the “greatest country on the planet” show so little value and support for the citizens, young and old who make this country so great?

Even though I am a lifetime Democrat, I have tried not to let that influence my thoughts on this.  I watched both conventions just so I could hear what both sides had to say about the problems/issues that we face today and the solutions they were going to use to solve them.  I think I am a like a lot of people who say, “they don’t care where a good idea comes from” as long as it works.  So to my Republican and Democrat friends, I want to ask the following questions…

  1. How would you save Social Security?
  1. How would you save Medicare?
  1. How would you deal with Healthcare?
  1. How would you fix the Economy?
  1. Why do you think your party (or any party) has the best idea/method to address these issues?

I can’t wait to hear your answers.  I believe a healthy debate among us the taxpayers would be real beneficial.  I will post all responses as long as they are not filled with insults and swearing.  If you can’t talk intelligently and emotionally without being offensive, your problems run deeper than the problems we need to solve.

9/11…A Remembrance

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English: wtc

English: wtc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Sept. 11, 2012 and it is the 11th anniversary of the day that changed life in the United States of America forever.  For many of us it was the first and hopefully the only time that we experience violence on our shores directed from an international enemy.  An enemy that many of us didn’t know that had existed until those two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  Quite often since that day the question that is most often asked is, “What were you doing on the day and time the planes hit?”

For me the answer is quite simple and significant for another reason.  You see, on that day, I first acknowledged that I had diabetes.  I say acknowledge because, of course, diabetes just doesn’t pop-up…like the planes on that day, this had been in the works for some time.  There were signs that I had ignored…signals my body was giving me and I chose not to recognize what was going on with me.  I can’t say that was what was going on with the government offices that were set up to protect us from such an attack, but like with myself the questions had to be asked… “What did I know?  When did I know?  Why now?  Why didn’t I do something about it sooner?”

Comparing my acknowledgement of contracting diabetes to the 9/11 attacks is a tricky thing to do.  So, just to let you know, that’s not what I am really trying to do.  It’s just that it is such a weird circumstance that the manifestation of my health issue coincided with the tragedy that took place that day.  Like many of the people that have contracted diabetes, I did not recognize the signals that should have alerted me as to what was going on inside of my body.  Were there any warnings that the U.S. was going to be attacked?  Subsequent information on the planning of the attacks indicates that there was.  And for me, there were plenty and somehow it never registered on me that I was under siege.  Even though there was strong evidence that something was wrong, somehow I tricked my mind into thinking either nothing was wrong or I was going through some sort of phase.  The first mind trick was that I went on a water diet, hoping to lose a lot of weight.  I had put on what I wanted to call “stress-related weight” because my family life and professional life was in conflict.  My mother had been in the hospital that year since April.  Most of the time she had been near death…we were urged to pull the plug three times and most of what I was doing, between eating and boozing, wasn’t healthy at all.  Then there was my job; my boss never known to be the most sympathetic person on the planet, was all over me to increase revenue for the agency.  He had let go most of the agency’s sales department and was coming down on me pretty hard to make up the lost revenue.  There was a lot more pressure than the norm to perform and this combined with my mom’s situation I can easily admit that I wasn’t handling any of this well.  Anyway, for me, I thought the water diet was a good idea.  After all, I always would drink a lot of water, so why not take advantage of it.  My water intake went up sharply.  I went from an average of 6 glasses of water a day to 10 – 12.  This was probably the first obvious clue, though the weight gain should have made me stop and think too.

Then there was the candy consumption…the urge for sweets.  I thought that as a kid I had eaten enough candy and junk to last a lifetime and so, as an adult, I rarely indulged in sweets.  I was very disciplined, limiting myself to eating cake only once a year on my birthday and setting tight restrictions on what type of sweet I would eat if I were inclined to indulge.  Well, about two days before 9/11 I found myself craving…dying for candy.  At first it would be a single candy bar.  Doing it my old way, I would open it and eat just half, saving the rest of it until later.  That was the plan!  But what really happened is that I would eat the first half and then 5 minutes after eating that I would come back and finish the rest of it.  Life was terrible those two days, as I would have strong cravings for something sweet well into the night.  Thankfully, I made it through those nights but it was the first thing on my mind when I got up the next morning.  There I was drinking tons of water in an attempt to abate my appetite and “jonesing” for something sweet like a heroin addict needs his dope.

Then it hit me.  On the morning of 9/11 at approximately 8:46 a.m. (I was on vacation that week) I was watching the “Today Show” when they showed a plane crashing into one of the towers of the World Trade Center and as the announcers were speculating as to what was actually happening a second plane came on the screen and I along with the rest of the country watched (like it was in slow-motion) as the second plane crashed into the other tower.  Quickly there was word of other planes in the air and their subsequent crashes (one into the Pentagon and the second, supposedly heading toward the White House, in a field in Pennsylvania).  At that moment, I really wanted a candy bar.  Thinking it was nerves and nothing else, I got dressed to go to the store.  I was feeling a little lightheaded so I decided to walk instead of drive, which was probably a good thing for when I stepped out the door I was really disoriented.  My vision was blurred and I walked on very unsteady legs.  I made it to the store, which was about 100 yards away from my house, and I bought two candy bars instead of my usual one.  When I got home, I ate the first one as I watched the news reports and quickly ate the second one…I wanted more.  Just as I was walking out the door to go buy some more, I saw a commercial that asked if I or if I knew somebody that was experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Sudden weight gain and/or loss
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water
  • Appetite loss
  • Craving sweets
  • Blurred vision

I don’t know how many times I had seen this commercial but on 9/11 that was the first time I really saw the commercial and I got scared…really, really scared.  I had all of the symptoms and on that day as hysteria was raging across the country; I was going crazy thinking about the fact that I may have diabetes.  As much as I wanted to sit and watch what was going on, I had to go out and get myself some more candy and this time some soda pop.  I had stop drinking the “sugar” sodas a long time ago, but I wanted…no needed the sweetness of a Faygo Red Pop, straight up.  I barely got out of the store before I had to open it and guzzle it down.  I ate an entire candy bar and finished off the pop before I made it to my front door.  I was out of control and embarrassed about it for three reasons.  The first being that my self-proclaimed discipline was sorely lacking; the fact that I was the first in the family to contract diabetes in spite of my efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle; and third I should have been more into the catastrophic events of the day…my county…my people had been attacked.  I had to settle down and fortunately I did.

I abstained from consuming more sweets and my vision came back to almost normal.  I called my doctor and set up an appointment.  I got in touch with family and friends and made sure that they were all right.  I thought about my mom, lying in her hospital bed, so I called her too, in case she needed some comforting.  I then tried to make sense of what had happened to the people in New York, our country and to me.  For all the right reasons, I was still scared.  Similar questions ran through my mind.  If I was thinking about the attacks, I would ask, “Why Us?”  If I was thinking about having diabetes, I would ask, “Why Me?”  Thinking about the attacks, I would ask, “Why wasn’t the government prepared”?  Thinking about diabetes, I would ask, “Why wasn’t I prepared”?  About both, I would ask, “Wasn’t this preventable”?  And lastly, what are we/I going to do now?  You see, that’s how the two events, though separate, become comparable…they are linked by coincidence and by the fact that they, as I said so earlier, were life changing…life change for our country, the world and for me on that day forever!

That’s my story…what’s yours?

What Was It Really Like This Summer?

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If you read my blog, “Green Thumb?  Maybe…Maybe Not!” you know that I described on a personal level, as well as a regional and national level, how hot it was this summer and how the heat affected my garden and anybody else that took the time to put seeds in the soil.  Well how hot was it really?  Here’s a breakdown from the month of May thru August (courtesy of the National Weather Service)…

May

Despite a near normal month of April, we experienced the third warmest month of May in the history of weather record keeping.  The average spring temperature (March, April, May) was 55.2, which was a full two degrees warmer than the previous record of 53.1.  May was characterized by persistent warm temperatures along with episodes of record or near record temperatures.  Only three days in the entire month (the 10th, 17th and the 31st) featured below normal temperatures, as the remaining 28 days saw daily average temperatures rise to at least 10 degrees above normal on 10 occasions, including 2 days of 90 degrees.  Those two 90 degree days happened a month early than the average date (June 19th) for Detroit’s first 90 degree temperatures.  The highest temperature for the month was registered on May 28th at 95 degrees.  The average temperature for the entire month was 65.3 degrees.  The normal average was 59.7, so May 2012 was 5.6 degrees higher than the norm, tying it with May 1896 for the third warmest May in history.

# Days 70+ Degrees          # Days 80+ Degrees          # Days 90+ Degrees

13                                            8                                              2

Rain/Precipitation: 1.72 inches

June

June started with unseasonably low temperatures.  May 31st the temperature was a lowly 65 degrees and June 1st followed at only 62 degrees.  After recording 13 straight months of above normal temperatures, it did seem like a change might be in the air to start the season.  I took advantage of the cooler weather to aggressively put seeds and plants in the ground.  After June 1st we had only one other day (June 5th) that was below 70 degrees (6/5 was 69 degrees) as the hovered in the 80’s and 90’s most of the month.  In fact, there were only 6 days in the 70’s (6/2: 75; 6/4: 72; 6/6: 79; 6/11: 77; 6/13: 74; 6/25: 76).  This was the first real sign of the drought-like conditions that was to affect the entire Midwest and other parts of the country.

The first 90-degree temperature of June and the third of the year occurred on June 9th and by the time the month ended; we hit 90 degrees 8 more times.  This meant that in two months (May and June) we had already hit 90+ degrees eleven times which is amazing since Detroit only averages eleven 90+ degree days a year.  With June being as warm as it was it resulted in an average temperature of 50.3 degrees for the first six months (Jan.1 thru June 30) of the year also…another record.  The previous record for the first six months of the year was 1998, the “Super Nino” year, with 49.1.  As I have pointed out in previous posts, the warm weather had to have an affect on the crops.  Consecutive hot days and warm nights probably impacted on the growth cycle of the plants.    The average low was only 60.6 with 13 days above the 60-degree mark.  The hottest day of the month was June 28th when it hit 99 degrees.

# Days 70+ Degrees         # Days 80+ Degrees           # Days 90+ Degrees

6                                              13                                            9

Rain/Precipitation: 1.31 inches

July

If anybody thought that June was hot (and it was), July was hotter and I do mean HOTTER!  July, the warmest month on record nationally, was the second warmest month ever recorded in Detroit.  The average temperature of 79.0 fell just –0.3 degrees short of the all-time hottest month, which occurred exactly one year ago (July 2011).  The heat also prolonged the streak of warmer-than-normal months for Detroit to 15, dating back to May 2011.  In similar fashion to last summer, extreme heat quickly built across the southern plains and Midwest early in the warm season.  However, very dry conditions allowed the heat to expand northward much more aggressively than in the year prior.  The result was prolonged near-record or record heat across all of southeast Michigan that lasted not only through June, but July as well.  By the end of the month, record heat and dry air had resulted widespread severe drought conditions across southeast Michigan.  Because thunderstorms are relatively inefficient at alleviating drought conditions, the multiple episodes of extreme weather that occurred did little to ease drought concerns.  But the storms did do some damage…

Taken July 5, 2012 by Jenni Littsey

These pictures were taken on July 5th after a major thunderstorm hit my mother’s neighborhood.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt!

The extreme heat resulted in the high temperature reaching 90 degrees or higher on 13 days in July, raising the total for 2012 to 24 days for the year at that point.  More than doubling the annual average of 11.  At that pace it was possible to beat the all-time record of 39 90+ days, which was set in 1988.  Additionally, the 100 degree threshold was crossed 3 times (July 4th, 7th and 17th), marking only the 3rd time in Detroit’s historical record that 100 degrees has been reached more than 3 times in a calendar year.  The hottest days were July 4th and the 17th when the temperature hit 102 degrees.  The record warm start to the year was also prolonged through July.  The average temperature of 54.5 degrees exceeded the previous record of 52.9 (Jan. thru July 1921) by 1.6 degrees.  Overall the average temperature for the month was 89.6 degrees or +6.2 degrees above the 83.4 degree monthly normal, and the second warmest month on record.

# Days 70+ Degrees                # Days 80+ Degrees       # Days 90+ Degrees

1 (July 19th)                              17                                            13*

*Includes 3 100+ degree days

Rain/Precipitation: 3.67 inches

The extremely dry weather conditions left me wondering how the neighborhood wildlife survived during these times.  It had to be pretty hard for the birds, as they need plenty of water.  That probably explains why I didn’t see as many as usual except for the days after a big rain.  I watered the plants in my garden by hand so as to not waste any and as a result there was absolutely no standing water anywhere.  The squirrels, however, probably got through it all by eating more vegetation (leaves, etc.).  One would think that my garden, which was full of succulent plants and all, would be an ideal target, but I strategically placed inflatable snakes in the garden and that has kept them at bay, even now.  The weather probably affected the amount of babies the squirrels had (giving birth in July) so there weren’t as many needy mouths to fill.  Still, when I look up at the trees, they don’t have as many leaves on them as usual.  C`est la vie!

August

What can I say about the month of August?  One thing we do know is that it was still hot…very, very hot!  August continued the record-setting trend of higher than normal temperatures (average temperature 83.4, which was +2 degrees over the norm, 81.4) for 16 consecutive months.  The higher than average temperatures in August also extended the record high temperature average from January thru August.  I am totally convinced now that there is such a thing as global warming (as if there was any doubt).

August started out with 8 straight days of 80+ degree weather, picking up where July left off (12 consecutive days of 80+ degree weather).  The average temperature for those 8 days was a whopping 89.2 degrees.  There were 6 more days that were 90+ degrees increasing the total for the year to 30 days.  The hottest day was Aug. 31st when the temperature hit 95 degrees and the coolest day of the month was Aug. 11th when the thermometer registered only 71 degrees.  For the first time since June (69 degrees on June 5th) we had temperatures below 74 degrees.  So that means we had 64 days in row where the temperature got no lower than 74 degrees, during which time the average temperature was 88.3 degrees.  Now that’s HOT!  The 4-month average (May – August) was 83.3 degrees, 5 whole degrees difference.  It’s no surprise that no matter whom I spoke to, people’s gardens suffered quite a bit.  With the scant amount of rain we got through that stretch (4.9 inches =  .07 per day or just slightly more than ½ inch per week), the problems I had with watering (just enough or too much) now appear to be understandable (Green Thumb?  Maybe…Maybe Not!).  But, what I still don’t get is how well the community garden at Nolan Elementary-Middle School did.  Planted where it got full sun for the entire day and subject to the non-focused watering technique of young girls and boys (some times they missed entire rows of plants) AND to also have to deal with a limited supply of water, the garden did more than just survive…it THRIVED!  Plus, it had to go through hurricane like damage from vandals.  Am I jealous?  You bet I am…lol!  You can’t beat results and Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners ultimately had a fantastic year. Look for their upcoming success story on their blog, “Planting The Seeds.”

# Days 70+ Degrees         # Days 80+ Degrees            # Days 90+ Degrees

9                                              16                                            6

Rain/Precipitation: 2.25 inches

Is This The End?

Is this the end?  Well, we will just have to wait and see.  So far this the temps have stayed pretty consistent with the rest of the summer: Sept. 1 = 84; Sept. 2 = 81; Sept. 3 = 89; Sept. 4 = 81; Sept. 5 = 89; Sept. 6 = 86; Sept. 7 = 79.

Last year (2011) the month started out strong too: Sept. 1 = 92; Sept. 2 = 98; Sept. 3 = 95; Sept. 4 = 78; Sept. 5 = 64; Sept. 6 = 67; Sept. 7 = 63

But once the temperature dropped on Sept. 5th it mainly stayed that way for the rest of the month and for the remainder of the year.  The warmest day was Sept. 12 when it hit 84.  The coldest day was the last day of the month, Sept. 30 when it dropped to 55 degrees.  There were 16 days when it was 70 degrees or below.  The average temperature for the entire month was 72.5, which actually isn’t all that bad.  But, that would be considered to be a “spring-like month” compared to the temperatures we have experienced this year.

Do we have anymore 90+ degree weather on the horizon and will we break the aforementioned record of 39 days, set in 1988?  Only time will tell.  One thing is for sure, this was one helluva summer…definitely one for the books!