“Muslim prayers at the Democrat convention – What’r them Dems a Smokin’ now??”

If I get one more email from my right wing friends, all of whom are whipped into a panic because the Democratic Convention is going to be turned into some kind of Muslim jihad, I am going to cancel my hotmail account and back over my laptop with my big old pickup truck.  No need to make this a really long blog post. I will get it out in the open right now…it is not true…big lie.

The closing prayer at the Democratic Convention, which kicks off next Monday, September 3rd will be given by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Cardinal Dolan, although no real fan of the Democratic platform,  is a big enough man to deliver a prayer at both the Republican and Democratic conventions this year. The Cardinal made it clear up front that he would be performing his duties only as they relate to those of a pastor, and in no way was he endorsing any party, platform or candidate.

So why has everyone gotten their undies wrapped around their ankles about Muslim prayer? It seems it comes from the fact that there will actually be Muslim prayers said next week in Charlotte. That much is true, and on Friday, August 31 (that’s tomorrow), Muslims will gather in Charlotte’s Marshall Park, to do of all things…pray. For the record, this Jumah Congregational Prayer is not endorsed by the Democratic Party. It is, obviously, timed to coincide with convention activities, but it is only one of nearly one thousand events taking place in and around the Charlotte metro area during convention week.

For today, this is enough said. I have to get busy working on my non-fiction e-book that I want to complete by mid-September. No hint as to the title yet, but if you are in deep debt, especially to credit card companies, you may want to save back about $1.99 – the paltry amount I am planning to charge for it.

Now back to deleting rabid emails from my Tea Party friends

The Uncertainty of the Cone, and following Isaac

In August of 1969, when I was fifteen years old, I travelled with my parents from our home in Iowa to New Orleans, Louisiana. More accurately, we tried to travel to New Orleans as we did not make it all the way.  By the time we reached the Lake Ponchartain Causeway, we discovered that a major hurricane was bearing down on the Gulf Coast, forcing us to turn back north. We retreated to Natchez, Mississippi to wait out the storm.

The storm was Hurricane Camille. Hurricane Camille still holds the record of being the second deadliest hurricane to hit U.S. shores, with the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 (no names back then), being the first. Officially, Hurricane Camille is still the only Atlantic storm to exhibit recorded winds in excess of 190 miles per hour.

After she made landfall at Pass Christian, Mississippi, Camille went on to claim 259 lives before she made her exit back into the Atlantic near Norfolk, Virginia. Camille left behind $1.5 billion in damage (that is $9 billion in today’s dollars), and the devastation to the Gulf Coast was compared to the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

This was my introduction to hurricanes. In the Midwest, we didn’t have such storms. We knew about them of course, but in a day when all 3 available television stations were usually off the air shortly after midnight, they were not the focus of much local air time. We were more accustomed to funnel clouds that drop out of the sky to do random damage for a few minutes before disappearing. Tornadoes were sporadic and hard to predict, especially back then, and you usually didn’t know one was coming until you were in one. Similarly, in my part of the country we usually saw hurricanes on the evening news after the damage was done, in spite of the fact they were known to be on the way for days before landfall.

As I followed Isaac this past weekend, as it made its way up from the Caribbean, and across the Florida Keys, I thought of how things have changed. Now we have 24/7 news and weather. In addition to the Weather Channel (probably my favorite channel on the box), local news here in the Fort Lauderdale, Miami area was focused entirely on this storm. Newscasters were positioned in all corners of the state, from Key West, to Ft. Myers, Tampa, and further up the coast in Ft. Walton Beach.  Still others were headed to New Orleans, now projected to be in the center of the Isaac’s path. All eyes and all news were on the approaching storm, and of course: The Cone.

The Cone is sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘Cone of Death’. Sometimes it is called that and it’s no joke.  The Cone is the cone-like projection of the storm’s projected path as it is plotted by weather forecasters on the tracking map. If you are anywhere inside of  The Cone, you have some probability of  impact. We can even get the ‘cone to our phone’ now, an app that you can sign up for so you can track the cone right from your cell phone. They didn’t have that back in 1969.

So one has to wonder if all this fuss is necessary, and several people I have talked to say the hype is too much, and sometimes, I think that as well. By late day on Saturday, The Cone had shifted to the west and there was little danger of any significant damage along the east coast of Florida.  Still the reporting continued, warning us to be aware of the dangers of flash flooding and tropical storm force winds.

Are we over-reported today? Maybe not.  If over reporting of Hurricane Camille would have resulted in the deaths of 258 people instead of 259 it would have been well worth it.

Today, as Isaac approaches New Orleans, ironically cancelling Hurricane Katrina memorial services, my thoughts turn to the citizenry of that city and surrounding environs. Hopefully, this storm will pass without claiming any lives. Can there be any real over-reporting of such approaching storms? Not if you are anywhere near The Cone.

Neil Armstrong, 1930 – 2012

They say that humans are the only animals that are aware of their own impending death. I am not certain that I believe that, but that is not the point of this entry. The fact is, most of us do not give thought to our own demise, as long as we are in good health and occupied in other pursuits.  Occasionally, something happens that shakes us back to the very roots of reality – back to the stark bare knowledge of our own existence, and the (very soon), lack thereof.

I was reminded of my own mortality yesterday. Early in the day I was busy making plans to weather yet another tropical storm here in South Florida. I had made all the usual rounds: Home Depot for a tarp and roofing nails, Publix, for water, food, and batteries, the gas station for auto fuel and generator fuel – all the usual stops we usually  make  around here when the tropics threaten.

Later I turned to my computer and found that Neil Armstrong had died. It was then that I had a ‘death-moment’…that one or two seconds when it all becomes clear. It is then you really know that time for you will someday run out. I remember Neil Armstrong as a young man, younger than I am now. I hadn’t thought too much about him in recent years (he was a low profile guy anyway), but occasionally he turned up in the news, and when I thought of him, I always thought of the young forty something astronaut that I remember from my youth. But time has been ticking by…

If you weren’t alive on July 20, 1969, or if you were too young to remember, or if you weren’t paying attention in forth grade history class, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Actually, saying that he was the first man to walk on the moon trivializes the event. He was the first human being to plant a foot on anything in the Universe that was not planet Earth. Of course, Neil did not do it by himself. He had the resources of the entire United States Government behind him. Still, in a day when making a long distance telephone call was nearly a life-event, and the internet was still a dream away, and most of us were watching television in black and white, the moon landing seems more remarkable today than it did then.

I was fourteen years old, when Neil took his first small step for mankind. I was watching the landing at my grandmother’s house, in rural Iowa, on a black-and-white RCA television – the console model with feet on the bottom and wide hardwood shelf on top for displaying pictures. The moon landing had been one of the most anticipated events of my young life up until then, and at that time it was difficult to imagine that anything could ever compare to it. Kids wanted to be astronauts because that was the future. Teachers talked about moon bases and space colonies. I recall one teacher saying to our class that by the time we had children of our own, travel between the Earth and the Moon would be commonplace.

Of course none of that has happened. Not to say we haven’t had success in cultivating near-space for our own purposes. Without satellites in orbit the communication that we enjoy today would be impossible. But as far as returning to the Moon, there is little interest. Of course there were other missions to the Moon, but it is a costly and dangerous place to travel.

So I say farewell Neil Armstrong. I cannot believe you were 82 when you passed. To me, and perhaps to a generation of other teenage kids who were watching you on that day in 1969 you will remain 39 years old forever.

Godspeed, Neil, wherever the journey takes you…we will all be along soon.

Which novel most inspired you to write fiction – and where is William Ryan

What inspires you to write fiction? The answer to that question differs from writer to writer. Some writers I have spoken to say that they knew from their earliest years that they wanted to write fiction, and that writing has been part of their daily routine since elementary school. Still others come to fiction writing later in life. Many develop an interest in fiction writing during High School when a particular book, author or teacher inspires them. For others, the desire to write fiction comes later, during college, or in still  others not until later in life. For many writers (I am one of them), the desire to write fiction was suppressed for years by the need to generate cash, a task more easily accomplished by producing technical and non-fiction works – paying gigs if you will. Still, I wonder how many authors can say that after reading a particular book, that they were inspired to create one of their own.

Having been an avid reader all of my life, it is very difficult for me to say that one book has caused more of my creative juices to flow than another. To try to come up with my most inspirational novel (not necessarily the best novel), I turned to my “re-read shelf”. This is a shelf on my bookcase that contains the few (very few) novels that I would like to re-read between now and The End – the BIG End. As I say, a very select few novels sit on this shelf (more on those titles another day).

One book that inspired me greatly was William Ryan’s, “Dr. Excitement’s Elixir of Longevity”. This 1986 novel is about an ex-Navy SEAL, known as Dr. Excitement, who struggles to readjust to civilian life after serving in Vietnam. For some reason this book struck a cord with me, and I thought that if I wrote a novel that I would want it to look a lot like this one.

But in this blog (except for Indie books), I am not doing book reviews. Suffice to say, Dr. Excitement is no longer in print, although if you check Amazon you’ll find used copies available. By the way, if you can get your hands on a copy, the black and white photo of a tortured looking William Ryan, hand on forehead, staring blankly with an empty shot glass before him is worth whatever small price they are asking. Which leads me to the question: What has happened to William Ryan? With such a classic (to me anyway), I would expect Mr. Ryan to have published many acclaimed works since 1986. The only other William Ryan title I can find is a collection of poetry titled “Eating the Heart out of the Enemy”, which I do not own.

Anyway, this is what is on my mind today. If you have a novel that you found to be especially inspiring, please leave a comment. Or, if you have any idea of what has happened to William Ryan, I would like to hear from you.

Hank Williams Jr., Paul Ryan, and what the heck is happening at the Iowa State Fair

“We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the U.S., and we hate him!” HWJ, on stage at the Iowa State Fair; August 17, 2012

As a native Iowan (although I call Florida home today),  I took particular note of the words of Hank Williams Jr., who used his performance at the Iowa State Fair this year to take aim (figuratively of course) at President Obama. It is no secret, of course, that Mr. Williams is no fan of the prez. Remember how his lucrative contract with Monday Night Football was cancelled in the wake of a Fox News Interview in which Williams compared the President to Hitler. I mean really, anything that could possibly be said after those remarks has got to be downright complementary in comparison.

Of course the Monday Night Football gig was a position that Williams could well afford to lose. Maybe he really believes his own crapola, or maybe he only half believes it and is using it to whip up the Republican faithful in preparation for the November election. I don’t know – I hate to sit anyone next to Ted Nuggent on the crazy train, but he has certainly bought the ticket (sorry Ozzy).

As the son of famed country music legend Hank Williams Sr., Junior has amassed great wealth in his own right with hit after hit, and is indeed a man who needs little introduction. I confess to owning a couple of HWJ CDs, but I won’t be playing them. Was it because of his remarks at the Iowa State Fair? Yes it was. Will I be taking them out and backing over them in a mall parking lot with my pickup truck (yes, I am a liberal that owns a pickup truck), the answer is NO. Maybe after the election, should Obama be reelected, I shall be happy to put William’s classic “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down” on as I drive my RV south toward the Conch Republic this winter (yes, I am a liberal with an RV).


In other Iowa State Fair news, Vice Presidential hopeful Paul Ryan was hustled offstage after ‘rowdy’ protesters tried to rush the stage. In the August 13th incident, which Ryan blew off, telling ABC News that being from Wisconsin had prepared him for hecklers, was nonetheless almost as disturbing to me as HWJ’s onstage fightin’ words.

Being from Iowa, the Iowa State Fair was, in my youth,  a one of a kind event. When I think Iowa State Fair, I think of 4-H livestock exhibitions, tractor pulls, Bill Riley’s talent scouts, farm implement displays, seed corn salesmen, corn dogs on a stick, ice cold lemonade, the only horse race (no gambling allowed back then) this side of Omaha’s Ak Sar Ben track, midway carnival rides (the only ones many of us ever knew, and heat, heat heat. The event was held at the end of August and it was always hot. That is what I remember of the Iowa State Fair. Political candidates always campaigned there, but I don’t recall any getting heckled, or anyone  stirring up a crowd with inflammatory words. Politicians came to shake hands and entertainers came to entertain. It was simple back then.

And oh, I will not be voting for Paul Ryan or Mr. Romney. But I detest Mr. Ryan’s treatment.

What I’m reading – The Night Sky

Last night I put my Kindle aside for just long enough to take my dog for a walk. Outside in the post-thunderstorm, South Florida, early evening air, I did something that I have not done in a long time – I looked up at the night sky. At one time, I had an interest in astronomy, and had even purchased a cheap telescope from Home Shopping Network (now that’s commitment). It was an inexpensive instrument, however, and it soon proved to be too poorly constructed to provide a stable viewing platform. Once you finally located an object, viewing it was difficult as the object would shake and flutter and dart from view. No matter how tightly I twisted the mounting screws, or how well I secured the tripod, viewing any celestial body beyond the moon was nearly impossible.

Equipment frustrations aside, I still persisted in my new hobby, subscribing to Astronomy magazine for the monthly star charts, and tightening and tweaking my telescope. In time, other pursuits, plus the fact I was living in a location with a very high level of ambient light, caused my interest in astronomy to wane. But still there were flickers of interest. While visiting Colorado last year, I looked up into the night sky over Central City and remarked to my wife that that was how the heavens were supposed to look. For a short while, I toyed with bring my old telescope down from the attic, or more likely, purchasing a better model. It never happened.

My home in South Florida is directly in the heart of the West Palm Beach / Miami metro-plex. There is so much light in the night sky that on many nights I could read a book in my front yard. These are not conditions for viewing the Horsehead Nebula, or any other celestial body for that matter.

Last night, however, I happened to look west, out over the Everglades. A break in the late evening thunderheads revealed a beautiful picture postcard quality, quarter moon, hanging at about 30 degrees above the horizon. To the left and right above the moon were two brightly shining heavenly objects. Below and to the right was a third object, easily distinguishable, but not quite as brightly shining as the other two.

After completing my dog walk, I did a quick internet search. It took only seconds to find that the bright object, above and to the right of the quarter moon was Saturn, and the object above and to the left was the planet Mars. The body to the right and below the moon, shining with much less intensity than Saturn and Mars, but still easily discernable, was the star Spica, the brightest star in the Constellation Virgo and the fifteenth brightest star that you can view from earth. Located 260 light years from earth, the light that reached my retinas started its journey from Spica in 1752. How do you like that? With a bit more research, I discovered that the last planetary occultation (the last time a planet in our solar system passed directly in front of Spica and obscured the star (occults) it from view, was when the planet Venus passed in front of Spica. That was on November 10, 1783. Not to worry, another planetary occultation is coming up – on September 2, 2197.

Feeling small and insignificant in an unimaginably large universe, I went away from my stellar research with a mental note to look for a new telescope.

Loompanics, Ayn Rand and the next VP

Back in 1986 we didn’t have the internet. Finding off-beat books was much harder than it is today. If you truly wanted to veer from the beaten literary path, you had to look very, very hard.

Around that time, in the mid-80s, I saw an ad in a popular magazine for a company that advertised books that you couldn’t find in the public library. This company, called Loompanics, was based out of Port Townsend, Washington and specialized in  controversial books.

Of course I ordered the catalog and I was not to be disappointed. The catalog that was sent to my house was chock full of just what I wanted to read: ‘how to disappear and live free’, ‘buy land cheap’, and how to ‘start your own country’ are just a sampling of the titles available. There were books on how to ‘survive in prison”, “write a porn novel”, and ‘create a fake I.D.’ Not that I had any desire to do these things, but for a writer, Loompanics was a treasure trove of ideas, and information. Within its black and white newsprint pages you could find books about survivalism, weapons, drugs and sex. These were books that contained practical how-to-do-it information that sometimes pressed the borders of legality. If you were on the run from the law, or if you had a burning desire to build a bomb shelter, or move to the woods and live off of the land, Loompanics could supply you with a ‘how-to’ book. Although aimed at the “left-wing-libertarian” audience (if that makes any sense at all), Loompanics also carried something for nearly every political persuasion, including the far right. Alongside the books, the catalog often featured a smattering of articles. It was here that I was introduced to Ayn Rand and the Objectiveness Movement.

Founded by Rand in the 1950s in New York City, the movement formed in the wake of Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. Interestingly enough, early members of Rand’s inner circle include Alan Greenspan. I must confess that I have never read The Fountainhead, but instead I moved directly to Rand’s 1957 classic, Atlas Shrugged. In case you haven’t read this book, it forms the cornerstone for much of the conservative thought in the U.S. today. People are probably more familiar with the phrase “who is John Galt” than they are of the actual fictional character in Atlas Shrugged.  Attend any Tea Party rally in the U.S. today, and odds are you will find someone waving a John Galt sign. John Galt license plate frames are showing up more and more these days. So much so that I am wondering how many people have actually sat down and read Atlas Shrugged and if they have, has it been recently?

All in all, Rand, a chain-smoking Russian atheist, wrote a damn good book. A book so powerful in fact,  that a survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club resulted in dubbing it the second most influential book in America today (losing out to the Bible for the number one spot). So when Vice Presidential hopeful Paul Ryan declared his devotion to the principals espoused in Atlas Shrugged, it made me think back to my own somewhat long slosh through this tome and how I did not come away with any sort of Road to Damascus Conversion after reading it.

Here’s why:

The title Atlas Shrugged  references the Greek god Atlas who carried the world upon his shoulders. In this analogy, the productive people of the world (Atlas), are being held back  because of all of the unproductive people of the world (mostly union workers, malcontents and assorted lay bouts). Atlas, in shrugging, is shaking them from his back, in fact dropping the world in the process. Clear now?

Do you have any thoughts on Ayn Rand, or Atlas Shrugged. If you do, I would like to hear from  you.


Five books that you were always going to read – but it’s too late now…

Suppose it’s late in the year, 2012. You’re driving to work on I-80 in northern New Jersey, or the DC beltway, or God forbid, 595 in Ft. Lauderdale. You’ve just taken your first sip of coffee and cranked up a Doobie Brothers tune on the local Yacht-rock  FM affiliate when all hell busts loose.

An Atlanta-based shock jock is suddenly telling you that the six-mile-wide meteor that was supposed to be an internet myth has plunged into the Atlantic somewhere south of the Canary Islands. As of this moment, a 250-foot wall of water is racing across the ocean directly toward you. You have a half an hour to get your affairs in order before you take the deep dive, so take a breath. What do you do? Do you call family, friends, or loved ones (you probably won’t get through, so don’t bother). Pray? Who to, they’re probably some Mayan gods anyway, and it’s probably too late to make simpatico with those guys. So since you’re stuck in traffic you may as well flip through your DayTimer (or more likely your iPad or laptop) to see what life-events you’re going to have to scratch for eternity.

If you’re like me, you’ll turn first to the list of books that you’ve always intended to read but put off because you thought you’d have lots of time someday to read them. Well, it’s to friggin’ late now Partner. Here’s my list – let’s just do the top five since there probably is no time for the any more than that:

  1. Moby Dick; Herman Melville. I confess I have never read this classic, and I always felt guilty that I didn’t. It was almost the first download that I put on my Kindle, but I opted for Edward Abbey’s The Monkeywrench Gang instead. Not that I shy from a heavy read. I made it through ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Barnaby Rudge’ but I have never even cracked the cover of this book. Oh well…too late now.
  2. Death in the Afternoon; Ernest Hemingway. Being a huge Papa fan, it grieves me that I will be taking my last and final dive without having read this bullfighting classic. Maybe being an animal lover has kept me from reading this one. In any case it has been on my shelf for years – unread, and in light of today’s events likely to remain that way for eternity.
  3. The Road; Cormac McCarthy. I am almost as big a fan of Cormac McCarthy as I am of Papa, but it looks like I’ve run out of time on this one too. Being too busy with the Border Trilogy to read it, I will have to bid farewell to, arguably America’s greatest living author, without reading what is considered by many to be his greatest work…oh well.
  4. “Infinate Jest”by David Foster Wallace. I have always wanted to read this book every since I picked it up at Barnes and Nobel in University Plaza in Boca Raton a couple of years ago and tried to lift it. I confess, I have never read a word of DFW apart from several bios after his death. But this book keeps coming up and if I were to live well into my nineties, I would probably have read it…but not now.
  5. “The Honey Badger” by Robert Ruark. When I was eighteen years old, I bought a paperback in an Iowa drug store titled: Uhuru. It was a great book and over the years I read more about Robert Ruark, a man who emulated Hemmingway, and was a great writer in his own right. So I read Ruark before Papa – how do you like that. This book was  his last and it has been on my list for years.

These are the five books that I will likely to NOT have read when the big one comes down this December.

What are yours??