Monday, June 30, 2014

Benvenuto Straniero

Oh he's leaving ... leaving
on that midnight train
   to Georgia ...

Sorry for channeling my inner Pip on the intro, but I felt it was necessary. By the time this post appears, I will have already left my native shores. No, not by train, nor even to any of the lands named Georgia. Truth be told, I embarked on a Boeing 767 outfitted with twin Rolls Royce RB-211-524G engines. Also, the flight left the runway just after lunch time, which is nowhere near the witching hour. Given that I have already been gone for several days, it is entirely likely that I reached my intended destination a few hours after I left, but I have been stuck in a proverbial holding pattern so that the pilot can rack up his flight hours and/or his frequent flier miles. This interminable circling and looping just above the runway also gives the crews on the ground sufficient time to get into their full-fledged surly and brusque attitudes. It doesn't matter what foreign destination that you are traveling to, this same scene plays out in much the same way for every incoming flight from the decadent west. They still think that all of our gas-guzzling American cars are outfitted with tailfins.

It's somewhat amusing that no matter how hard I try to not immediately show my Americanisticality, it comes out in a glaring way within a few short nanoseconds after I step off my plane. Usually it happens when I disdainfully address the first person that I see with a haughty arrogance and command them to carry my bags or worse yet, to carry me. When they don't seem to understand my words, although I purposefully talk slowly and with an elevated volume (just as instructed in my Rosetta Stone CDs), they look at me with feigned confusion. It is then that I find myself huffing and complaining about them dang foreigners that I see everywhere.

Where am I you ask? Right now I am deep in the heart of the Italy. If you have never traveled to this part of Europe or seen an Italian cooking show on the Food Network, you might not appreciate that the countryside is actually covered in a layer of dried pasta about a foot thick. Fusilli, rigatoni, orecchiette, linguini. Everyone that I meet is quick to smile and nod before promptly offering a jar of freshly bottled marinara. Perhaps these foreigners ain't so bad to be among after all.

Friday, June 27, 2014


My latest read from Orson Scott Card was his science fiction novel Pathfinder. This was an interesting story driven by characters who are trying to come to grips with a world that they understand less with each sunrise. As the story begins, we are introduced to a humble yet precocious 13 year old boy named Rigg (certainly a variant of Card's Ender) from the Earth-like planet called Garden. Rigg and his father live an isolated existence up in the mountains, where they eke out an existence trapping and hunting. Rigg has never considered himself poor or deprived. His education under his father's guidance has been advanced, even if Rigg can foresee no purpose to what his father has taught him. Why should a boy living in the woods have any need for studying culture, history, science, and government? Rigg's world changes one day when he finishes his chores and comes upon his father trapped beneath a tree. Father gives Rigg a last cryptic instruction before he dies that he needs to find his sister in a far-off city. Father has also left Rigg with a pouch of jewels, but he has no idea where his father would have acquired such items or what their purpose might be.

Rigg leaves the mountains behind and begins his trek to find the sister he never knew that he had. Along the way, he picks up a traveling companion, a boy named Umbo whose father has disowned him. As they travel together, they come to understand that they each possess some sort of strange ability to control time. Hard to understand and even harder to control. Rigg is a pathfinder. He can see the paths that all living creatures leave, a path that is unique for each creature and never dissipates. Umbo has the ability to move himself and others through time. When Rigg attempts to sell one of the jewels that his father gave him in order to survive, he comes to learn that each jewel is priceless and that he is a prince of the royal family that was removed from power by the people's revolution some few decades in the past. Exposed as a royal in a population that remembers the oppression during the monarchy, Rigg's life is in peril.

The other story arc that runs through this book to explain how humans settled on the planet of Garden, is an Earth colony ship that is attempting for the first time to make a faster than light speed jump. However, due to an anomaly, this process does not follow expectations and 19 identical versions of the colony ship are created some 11,000 years before they actually left Earth. They are directed by their commander to set up 19 colonies, each separated by impenetrable energy fields such that each colony has no knowledge of the others. When Rigg finds his sister, he learns that she too has a power that allows her to alter her own pace of time. Rigg's unexpected arrival in his mother's home, sets into motion her scheme through her own band of loyalists to restore the monarchy. Her plans call for her to immediately eliminate all others who might have a claim to the throne, including Rigg and his sister Param. Rigg and his sister then decide to use what they have come to know about their powers and the history of Garden, to penetrate the energy field into the next colony. There they finally come to understand who they are, who actually controls the planet, and what role they have been destined to play in the future of their world. A fun book to spend time with. I now move onto the second part of the story in Ruins.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


How many times have you rejected outside advice to long-standing problems that you are having with the curt dismissal, "because that's not how I usually do things"? I don't know about you, but for me that dismissive answer is my usual go-to reply. This is one that I have thrown back into the face of folks ennumerable times in my life. Actually, it is not by chance that I have linked this post to a photograph of a basketball rejection. Here the shot of the offensive player is deflected away from the basket by the defensive player. A particularly photogenic "rejection" is one in which the defensive player swats the ball back into the face of the offensive player who attempted the shot.

Of course, the obvious retort to the statement, "because that's not how I usually do things", runs along the line, "So, how is your usual way of doing things working out?". Seen in the harsh light of ongoing, continual frustration or failure, perhaps it is time that I purposefully set aside my usual way of doing things and try a different approach. It is certainly the case that the reason why we cling to our usual ways and methods is because they are as comfortable as an old shoe, as huggable as our favorite soft blanket. So if we want to have success in an area where we have struggled for a long time, we have two possible paths to take:
  1. Try something new and explore new paths, while continuing to tweak our approach and look for what might work for others and adapt what we learn to our situation.
  2. If we are not going to make any changes, then we need to stop whining and fretting and gnashing our teeth because we know how things will likely work out in the future.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Quick Hits 21

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

Suppose that God decided to turn away from his creation on Earth for a time, to take a completely hands-off approach. How long do you think it would take for humanity to recognize that he was gone?

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Truth Matters

I picked up the book Truth Matters by theologians Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw on the recommendation of a pastor friend of mine. The purpose of this book, subtitled Confident Faith in a Confusing World, is to give the Christian some additional historical background in order to be able to defend their faith with a bit more assuredness. This sounds like a reasonable and worthy goal, but in my view, this book does more harm than good. It doesn't take more than the first few pages to realize that this book was written to counter the claims of a popular author named Bart Ehrman who has written a series of best-sellers debunking the Bible. However, instead of trying to engage in an honest debate or bringing forth their evidence for the validity and trustworthiness of the Bible, they go about a sort of character assassination of Mr. Ehrman. They try to paint him as a buffoon whose points are easily dismissible, trivial quibbles, or obviously baseless.

What passes for logic and reason from the authors' viewpoint is often laughably simplistic, naive, and so full of holes it, in fact, makes the arguments of Ehrman seem all the more valid. Let me give three examples of the approach of this book.

1). "Whenever we engage in an ethical debate of any sort, we are proving by the nature of our conversation that we're in the presence of God. That's just an unavoidable consequence of reason." (pp. 40)

2). "Some critics may believe there are reasons to doubt what we have [in the version of the Bible available today], but there's really not that much to those claims." (pp. 111)

3). "Like it or not, the most reasonable story is the one declared as fact in our Bibles." (pp. 170)

The attitude throughout this book is cavalier, haughty, and disrespectful. While they make a few reasonable points to rebut Ehrman, they are fully condescending with their "there is no way any reasonable person could doubt the Bible in any way ... trust us, we are high-brow academicians."

There are many books available in the area of Christian apologetics. I would say that the vast majority of them that try to go toe-to-toe with agnostics or atheists fail miserably for the simple reason that the existence of God cannot be proven. Neither can the existence of Jesus as a supernatural being who was fully God and fully man who died and was resurrected. There is no logical argument that can be made that is 100%, absolute, and bulletproof. However, there is one point made in the book that I agree with and support to the fullest,

"The challenge for everyone who thinks the Bible is (or even is possibly) inspired by God is to actually read it. Before reading any books that see to call it into question ... read the Bible."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Observations 58

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • It occurred to me that I have not owned a pair of sneakers/tennis shoes for more than 10 years. It's amazing what being a grown-up does to you.
  • In the amount of time some folks at work spend telling you why they won't do something, they could have easily completed the required work. The added benefit would be the additional workplace harmony that results.
  • I received an email the other day from someone that I thought I knew fairly well. Instead of a comma after my name in the greeting, he used the more formal semi-colon. What am I to make of this?
  • I got a site-wide email at work the other day that stated in the subject line in a challenging bold font, "Please Ignore". So I opened the email and read it very carefully.
  • Have you ever come across one of these people who attempt to give driving directions but they talk only in terms of road numbers? ... Get on highway 17 and junction onto route 132 using the bypass on state road 91 ... What? Ever hear of road names old-timer?

Friday, June 20, 2014


My latest read from author Orson Scott Card, Enchantment, was definitely my favorite of the 20 or so of his books that I have read to date. The story is described as a modern re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, and while this book certainly has some obvious similarities to the classic tale, it is not some cheap copy. To the contrary, it is a magical piece of work from start to finish. The settings, the characters, the pacing, and the story arc, were just masterfully crafted. The book was very different from everything else that I have read by Card, and I found that it completely enrapt me.

The story begins as the patriarch of a small Jewish family from Russia makes the difficult decision to leave his homeland because of ongoing religious persecution. Piotr and Esther Smetski, along with their 10 year old son Ivan, are about to leave everything they have known behind to emigrate to the United States. On their journey, they stay for a few nights with cousin Marek who lives in the Ukraine. One day Ivan goes out to explore the forest surrounding his cousin's farm and stumbles upon a beautiful lady trapped on a pedestal surrounded by a leaf-filled chasm. As he approaches, something beneath the leaves stirs and scares him away. As the scene was so fantastic, he convinces himself that it was some sort of an illusion, a trick of the eye. However, even as he grows up in the United States and begins college, what he witnessed in that forest as a young boy plays through his mind again and again. Ultimately, Ivan visits the Ukraine again as a graduate student and is drawn back to visit cousin Marek. He returns to the forest and finds the lady asleep on the pedestal, just as he saw her all those years ago.

Ivan recognizes the situation. To awaken the enchanted princess, only a kiss can break the spell. However, the moment her eyes open, she tells Ivan that they will both be torn to shreds unless he immediately agrees to marry her. When Ivan takes Katerina back to her village to meet her father the king, the journey takes him back some 1000 years into the past. We soon learn the tale of the dreadful witch who had hoped to force the king to turn over his realm in exchange for his daughter's release. The princess agrees to marry Ivan, not because she has any feelings for him, but because it is her duty to save her lands and her people. Ultimately, Ivan and Katerina fall madly in love and, as they say, live happily ever after. I highly recommend this one.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


The thief stalks his victims from the shadows. He strikes from a position of practiced strength with absolute surprise. Our attention focused on other things - bread, milk, cheese, soccer practice schedule. While we fumble to adjust to the sudden stark shift in our reality, to the unexpected shock, to the present danger, they make quick work of us. Another easy mark. By the time we have come to ourselves, regaining some measure of mental acuity and agility, they are long gone. Counting their ill-gotten treasure, never once do they give us another moment of thought, already their mind fixated on spending their gain or looking for their next score. Meanwhile, the innocent left behind is dealing with a dense cloud of turmoil that has overwhelmed the bubble of peace and normalcy that they had known just a short while earlier.

Brigands, pirates, and highwaymen are not just fictional contrivances in fairy tales, two-dimensional caricatures in the latest thriller on the new releases table at the bookstore. They are all around us. They are you and me. So many times we can hurt other people, wound them deeply, and just go on about our lives as if nothing happened, or even be pleased with ourselves for giving someone what we feel they had coming or what they deserved. In the fog of our ruthlessness we may even be pleased at how efficient our attack was. The blindside attack is the most devastating, the most brutal, and most effective precisely because those we aim our weapons at never saw it coming. Yet I think that in most of these situations, especially when it is someone that we are close to, it never really dawns on us how egregiously we have hurt someone else. Such attacks lead to the deepest scars that run straight through the heart.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Plate Tectonics

The lithosphere of the Earth is the outermost shell of our planet. It is not a continuous structure, but instead is made up of a small number of what are known as tectonic plates. These plates are continental size structures that have the freedom to move and to shift relative to the underlying solid mantle. For folks dwelling far from the edges of the plate boundaries, they have no inkling that the collisional forces can result in massive energy release where the plates come together. These boundary regions can be quite unstable, sometimes resulting in what are called fault lines, where earthquakes are prevalent due to the pressures that the plates exert on their neighbors.

While the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift is interesting to consider in its own right, I was thinking about it recently from the standpoint of a different sort of illustration. Consider the people around you, maybe those at work, those waiting in line around you at the supermarket, or folks wandering around the stores in the mall. Many of these folks are living their lives in a sort of cruise control mode, far from any sort of unstable edge. For the most part they are at peace, in equilibrium with their surroundings. However, some fraction of those around us are going through upheaval on a grand scale in their lives. They are dealing with health issues of their own or of family members, death, financial troubles, depression, divorce, and conflicts at work, all on the boundary of their life's tectonics. The pressures they are feeling are tearing them apart, but they are still trying their best to function and to do what they need to do to survive and to look like the rest of us.

Sometimes people might not respond to us in kindness. They may be oblivious to our presence, seemingly careless, clumsy, or absent minded. It just might be that they are struggling to deal with major disturbances in their life. Perhaps we could give them the benefit of the doubt and to curb our hasty judgements, our malicious gossip, and our harsh tongues.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Yawning at Tigers

I just finished reading the book Yawning at Tigers (subtitled You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying) by pastor Drew Dyck. This book was recommended to me by my online friend Bill (who is a pastor in Indiana). After I got a couple of chapters into this book I started to form the impression that there was nothing new or unique here, that I had read this type of book multiple times in the past. I think that sometimes when it comes to reading books for my devotional time, I am easily bored. I want something that will teach me something new, with a fresh perspective and exciting, practical illustrations. I oftentimes struggle with the "same old, same old". However, I decided to stop approaching this book as a novel, to be pored through in a couple of sittings. I decided to purposefully spend a bit more time pausing to think and consider. When I did that, I started to get a lot more out of this book and came to appreciate much more what its message was all about. Namely, it is easy to get bored in the presence of a God that we think we already understand. I was doing to this book what I so easily do to God.

From the notes that I took during my reading, there were some nuggets that I wanted to share.
  • When we approach God casually, as if he were some sort of cosmic buddy ... we demonstrate a dangerous misunderstanding about his nature.
  • We need intimacy with Christ - and reverence for him.
  • Instead of treating him (God) as an equal, we (need to) approach him with reverent awe.
  • We are sideliners - criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged.
  • Only when we gain a proper understanding of God's identity can we begin to appreciate the implications of his love.
  • Inevitably we project our biases and wishes heavenward and end up with a god who looks suspiciously familiar, a god made in our own image. We end up bowing before the mirror.
Ultimately, I came to appreciate my time with this devotional and found it valuable. I would recommend it to anyone who struggles with losing sight of God due to boredom, apathy, busyness, or the rut of routine. If you go through the motions of following a tamed version of God, relegated to a comfortable niche or pattern, perhaps it is time to once again come to know the true nature of the God who is pursing us.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Observations 57

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • They did a major office reshuffling in my area at work recently. Now I keep encountering a whole different group of folks in my bathroom. It makes me very uneasy.
  • Every Monday morning I attend a group meeting at work. For the past 20 years the meeting has taken place in the same room and I tend to sit in the same seat. In the ceiling tile above my head, the same dead bug has been attending the meeting for as long as I have.
  • Annoying people with bad comb-overs are hard to take seriously.
  • It's amazing how the words "fag" or "queer" can destroy someone's career just with a single utterance. How did we get to this point? What is even more scary is where we will be as a society in another 10 years.
  • The following news headline appeared recently on CNN, "Obama caught on video working out." I sense an impeachment hearing around the corner.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hidden Empire

Orson Scott Card's novel Hidden Empire is the sequel to his novel Empire. There we witnessed the assassination of our country's top leaders and a political movement that had used this event to attempt to take control of several state and local governments. Out of the aftermath of these events an ex-Princeton political science professor named Averell Torrent rose to power. A man who was ultimately nominated by both the Democratic and Republican parties to serve as their candidate for president. A man who helped to unify the country with his ability to bring about quick and sensible solutions of all manner of crises and issues. A man both astute and clever, who seemingly has the ideal solution for every national and international problem that arises. Yet he does not seem to have any enemies or skeleton's in his closet. So what is it about him that bothers some of his closest advisors?

Shortly after Torrent's rise to power, we meet a young Nigerian boy, who becomes the first person infected with a deadly virus carried by monkeys in the forests of his village. In short order the highly contagious virus has spread throughout most of Nigeria and begins to work its way like an unstoppable wave in all directions. The president orders a quarantine for the entire African continent in order to protect U.S. interests from this disease that has a mortality rate of nearly 80%. In order to gain political approval for this seemingly heartless decision, the president ultimately agrees to let missionaries entire the continent to tend to the sick. When local warlords begin to raid and to kill, a team of special ops men are sent to protect the missionaries. Ultimately through this unspeakable epidemic, the African continent is remade and comes out the stronger for it. Yet it seems that nearly every event has been scripted or controlled. While there is no proof
of this, the available evidence seems to point toward the president. Could he have unleashed a killer virus on the world all for his own political gain?

Ultimately we learn that Torrent is not a saint, but that does not mean that he is not a man of principle or an exemplary leader. This multi-dimensional character is a very intriguing one due to his brilliance, his principles, his nobility, and his flaws. This story, while still a thriller, was more character driven, more nuanced, more considered, than Empire. I thought it was a very strong piece of work.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Be Still

I love to listen to the sounds of life around me. Somehow, when I can be still enough to let them soak in, to allow myself space to appreciate them, these sounds actually seem to have healing powers for my spirit.

Birds chirping and singing, fluttering forth and back
    Squirrels digging and foraging in the landscaping
        The children next door playing games in their backyard
            Grown-ups across the fence puttering about in their garden
                Cars out on the highway coming and going

Sometimes we long to get away by ourselves to get a bit of peace and quiet. Oftentimes such periods of escape can help to quiet our minds from the day's strife and busyness. For me, one of my favorite places to get away without really going anywhere, is my back porch. In nice weather, I can often be found out there with my book or my crossword puzzle. When I can be still, it is then that the sounds can wash over me, which allows the concerns of the day to finally be quelled, at least for a moment.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Endless Love?

Countless times I have heard folks utter heartfelt declarations along the lines of, "I will love you forever" or "There is nothing that could ever make me stop loving you". Yet despite our heartfelt pronoucements, we all, in fact, have our limits regarding our feelings toward others, and those limits are much more finite than many may care to imagine. With the divorce rate in this country at about 50%, there is no denying love's mark is not a permanent tattoo, but apparently washes away quite easily. Such cold and harsh statistics gloss over the personal circumstances behind the tears, the pain, the hurt, and the anger. However, I would bet the main reason that underpins nearly every broken relationship is that we are, each and every one of us, selfish at heart. We want what we want when we want it, and if someone gets in our way too often or at the wrong time, then those once seemingly formidable bonds of love can transform from hardened steel to dust.

There seems to be a prevailing sense that there are different types and sorts of love in our relationships with others. While feelings of love between spouses are anything but permanent, despite our protests to the contrary, many will claim that their love for their children is unconditional. Flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood somehow makes a critical difference. But what if your child completely rebelled against your authority and your core values? What if they made it clear through their actions and their words that they truly disliked you? What if they shut you out of their lives? If love is based on relationship, mutual positive feelings and respect, then isn't it a fallacy to think that our love for our own children is anything more permanent than any other kind of love?

I think that sometimes folks let themselves come to ruin over lost relationships, not because there is any measure of love involved, but because they are clinging to regrets over what they wish would have been. The deep feelings that we might label love that seem to linger within us in such circumstances are likely not for the person as they are today, but for the person that we knew or thought we knew. I just haven't seen anything in the character of human nature that supports the notion of endless love. We all have our limits.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Empire is a novel by Orson Scott Card about how the political and philosophical ideologies in our country have lead to divisions deep enough to plunge our nation into its second civil war. The left and right have become so absorbed in their own rhetoric that they feel the other side is either ignorant or evil. With our nation's leadership, the greater good of the populace plays second string to the posturing needed to maintain power and win re-election.

An ex-army special ops team leader, Reuben Malich, has completed several key government missions and distinguished himself in Washington. He is called state-side to work with high-level Pentagon officials on improving national security. Specifically, he is tasked with devising plans for how terrorists might assassinate the president in order to implement preventative measures. He is also directing an operation for high-level officials to distribute high-tech weaponry to U.S. allies to shore up democracies around the world. However, everything unfolds around him when the president and other top officials are assassinated by what appears to be a terrorist operation, following to the letter the exact plans that he drew up. In the aftermath of this horrible event, Reuben quickly sees that he is being set up to take the fall. The evidence before him makes clear that the assassination was an inside job. He then is forced to go underground along with his newly assigned aide, Bart "Cole" Coleman, to find out who was responsible.

Reuben and Cole end up in New York City to find that it is under seige by a group of Americans who call themselves the Progressive Restoration Movement. The weaponry that they possess is state-of-the-art and effective. Reuben and Cole learn that the assassination of our highest leaders was not a separate event from this takeover, but actually the starting point for a movement to start a civil war in the U.S. to restore our nation back to its constitutional-based government. The events in Washington and New York were planned by a brilliant mind who understood the delicate equilibrium that holds our nation to together. With an an astounding swiftness, the Progressive Restoration Movement begins to be taken seriously in state and local governments. Reuben and Cole see this movement for what it truly is, a power grab by ruthless agents who want to bring America to its knees.

This book had several noticeable flaws, mostly involving far-fetched story developments and a heavy undercurrent of Card's personal political views that were distractions to me. However, the book was at least above threshold by enough of a measure that I will move onto the second part of the story, Hidden Empire.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Observations 56

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • I just saw the dumbest commercial ever. A man is sitting in an airplane seat rubbing his temples. He clearly has a headache. An asian stewardess sympathizes with his discomfort and offers him, using perfect english, an aspirin. He then replies in a loud voice and with exaggerated pantomime like he is talking to primordial ooze, "No I'm not having a heart attack, just a headache." Absolutely inane.
  • I was at the dentist for a teeth cleaning the other day. As I sat in the lobby listening to their piped in easy listening station, they played a Bon Jovi tune. Bon Jovi is now considered easy listening? Did I miss a memo?
  • Also at my recent dentist appointment, they did a procedure known as "varnishing" my teeth. Is it any wonder why my smile isn't white?
  • An online friend of mine wrote a tribute to his recently deceased grandfather. It was simple, humble, and loving. With just a few stories from his past, I could understand the beauty of their relationship. It really touched me.
  • For years I have written the number "4" the same way, with the top open and all line segments at 90 degrees. However, the other day I kept finding myself writing it so it was closed at the top with one slanted line. I think that I need to run some internal diagnostics or do some cranial disk defragmentation.

Friday, June 6, 2014


The third book in Jeff Abbott's Sam Capra series is entitled Downfall and picks up just a short while after the second book The Last Minute ended. Sam had just risked his life dealing with an international criminal ring all in an effort is get his kidnapped son back. He had made an alliance with another covert group whose mission seemed to be about helping people. With support from this group called The Round Table, he eventually found his son and hoped to leave the world of slavers, arms smugglers, drug dealers, and illicit power brokers behind. The leadership of The Round Table made him a deal at the end of his quest. They would give him ownership of bars that they controlled around the world and he would manage these bars, working to turn a profit. In exchange, every so often they would ask him to assist in one of their operations, using his unique set of skills as an ex-CIA undercover operative.

Downfall starts when a woman comes into one of Sam's bars with two pursuers on her tail. She asks Sam to help her, which he does without question. At the end of the night, the lady is gone and one of her attackers, a Russian ex-Special Ops agent, lies dead on the floor of the bar and Sam has escaped death yet again. This is just the beginning of the end of the short peace that Sam had begun to lay claim to, a peace that included raising his son away from danger, away from deadly risk, away from always having to look over his shoulder. It turns out the lady is running from a clandestine group who controls her mother. A group whose members have each been given significant assistance that allowed them to reach the pinnacle of their fields. In return, they must unquestioningly submit to do whatever the group's leadership asks of them to bring about the downfall of others.

In one short night, Sam is unexpectedly pulled back into the life that he thought he had left behind. Given everything that has happened to him, he can never be sure which encounters are random and unrelated to him, and which are carefully orchestrated by his enemies. Ultimately, it seems that there is nobody who can be trusted to be who they claim to be. Fear is a greater motivater than duty, than honor, than past relationships. Sam must rely on his instincts, his sense of right and wrong, and the greater good to survive. When money, power, privilege, and position are offered, who can say no? A thrilling and fast-paced adventure. The next chapter of the adventure, set for release in July, is called Inside Man.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

iTunes Latest - 19

Back in December of 2011, I discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my thoughts on each song.
  • Straight On - Heart (1995) - I have been a Heart fan on the different steps of their journey from rock band to pop stars and back to rock band. I recently stumbled upon their 1995 acoustic set The Road Home and fell in love again with this song from my youth. I knocked down the wailin' wall, Ain't no sin; Got the feel of fortune; deal me in
  • Painkiller - Three Days Grace (2014) - Hard rock isn't my bag usually ... however, every once in a while I come across a song with some rhythm, some teeth, and something that makes me scream out. This is one of those songs.
  • The Good Life - Three Days Grace (2009) - This is first song from this group that stuck in my head. This is the kind of tune that becomes a fan favorite, that instinctively makes them feel good and sing along.
  • The Downeaster Alexa - Billy Joel (1989) - This song is from the album Storm Front, the last Joel work where he was in the mainstream, before he semi-retired. This one is cut from the same mold as Captain Jack and rises above standard, dismissible, rock fare. A song for the folks who make their living off the ocean but who are struggling to survive.
  • Alone - Heart (1995) - Once I found the acoustic album The Road Home, I had to go back for a second helping of this song from the band's arena pop days. Till now I always got by on my own, I never really cared until I met you

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Unintended Consequences

I recently wrote a post asking the following question:

If you could wish for anything in the world and have it come true, would you wish for something for yourself, something for your family, or something for the world?

My online friend Bill noted that he would likely do something for himself because making some grand wish for the world would likely muck things up even worse. This got me to thinking at bit more on this.
  • A wish for no more wars might be granted in terms of everyone being so apathetic that tyrants could operate out in the open unchecked.
  • A wish that your sports team would win every championship might lead to a fan base that vanishes in short order leading to a league that closes down.
  • A wish for jobless rates to be zero might mean a new socialist government where everyone makes the same wage regardless of what job they do. Of course, this would also likely include a completely corrupt government to boot.
  • A wish for no child to go hungry might lead to unchecked population growth that would eventually lead to all-out war in the fight for resources.
Sometimes even a completely heart-felt, altruistic, and humble gift that seems like a no-brainer can lead to unintended consequences and much more pain and suffering than if we acted more selfishly. Of course, this is not an entreaty to folks to stop giving and trying to look out for others. It is more a considered thought into why we might make certain choices with a bit of perspective.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Last Minute

The second book in Jeff Abbott's "Sam Capra" series is entitled The Last Minute, and picks up just after the first book, Adrenaline, ends. There we met CIA operative Sam Capra, who was working in a covert counter-terrorism team in London. When the building where he worked was blown up, Sam was labeled a traitor because it seemed his pregnant wife had something to do with the operation. Eventually, Sam came to learn that his wife was not who he thought she was, but through this life altering betrayal, he made the decision to reclaim the child, his child, that his wife gave up. The story of The Last Minute is about this quest.

Sam's wife was part of a criminal organization called Novem Soles, comprised of some pretty nasty folks. Not only were they involved in some particularly dark activities, including human trafficking, selling babies, distributing drugs, and illicit arms deals, they were amazingly well connected and well funded. This group had their own plants deep in governments and big business around the world, including the CIA and U.S. law enforcement. It is against this tide that Sam was trying to navigate. He was given the impossible choice by the group that had his child, either he agrees to kill a computer hacker who has evidence that would severely hurt major portions of their organizational leadership, or they would kill his son. Even though Sam understands that he is being played and that the chances are that he will never see his son again, he agrees to cooperate. From the start of this plan, Sam has been given a partner of sorts, a lady named Leonine whose child is also apparently being held by the same group.

Working against Sam are factions within the CIA who want to bring in the hacker and his evidence. However, it becomes clear to Sam that their motives are not what they seem to be. Sam is supported by another undercover group, that uses their funding and connections to try to help put down Novem Soles and other criminal groups. The story is fast paced, engaging, and has enough character development to keep the protagonists and antagonists from simply becoming two-dimensional cartoon cut-outs. A very enjoyable thriller that will keep you turning the pages. The next story in the series is entitled, Downfall, and I will move to that next.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Quick Hits 20

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

You have a friend at work who, from time to time, borrows his disabled mother's car. You notice that whenever he drives her car to work, he parks it in one of the handicapped spaces even though he has no physical issues of any kind. Does this change your opinion of your friend?

What do you think?