Friday, October 31, 2014

Big Red Tequila

My daughter had really enjoyed a couple of "young adult" book series by author Rick Riordan, including Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Kane Chronicles. Two years ago for Christmas I bought her the seven books in Riordan's Tres Navarre series. When the stack sat on her bookshelf untouched for quite a long time, I asked her about it. She told me that she started reading the first book in the series, but she just wasn't that into western novels. As I hated to think that these books would go unread, I added them to my list. Just a few pages into the first book, Big Red Tequila, it became clear why my daughter had stopped reading these books. They were definitely not "young adult" novels. They are full on grown-up stories, with grown-up themes, action, and dialogue. However, this first book was a winner. A thoroughly enjoyable story, with a level of humor from the protagonist that reminded me of several books that I have read from Dean Koontz.

The story involves Jackson "Tres" Navarre, who grew up in a small town on the outskirts of San Antonio. Tres' father had been the local sheriff, but when he was murdered right in front of young Tres, he took the first opportunity he could to distance himself from the haunting scenes and memories. The murder case went unsolved and eventually became a distant memory. Tres had left his girlfriend Lillian behind in his exodus, and this parting had always eaten at him. After 10 years of living in California, Lillian asked Tres to come back to Texas to give them another shot. Feeling that he needed to face up to what he left behind, Tres and his cat Robert Johnson return. Yet it doesn't take long before Tres meets up with folks who subtly try to intimidate him. As he pushed back, the heat on him turned up. When Lillian disappears, Tres is quickly up to his neck in colorful characters and suspects, all of which also seem to have some connection back to his father.

While none of the characters is fully fleshed out, Riordan provides enough so that you begin to fill in the missing backstories on your own. Slick politicians, eccentric widows, affected artists, loyal bumpkins, and desperate hoodlums. All populating a small town setting that is painted with such clarity you can hear the jukebox from the cantina. A very enjoyable read. I move now to the second book in the series, The Widower's Two-Step.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I am what is known as a bookworm. In the evening or at my lunchtime break, I like to pull out whatever book I have and read for a bit. Note that I said that I like to pull out a book. It seems that more and more these days, the notion of a book is synonomous with terms like 8-track, cassette, and VHS. Things that today's youth would recognize only as some sort of object that our ancestors used to poke at with a pointy stick before fun and convenience were invented. Primitive things from the before time. Today's nerdy technological types might even say with some degree of dripping distaste that a tablet computer is a book, while they drool on their pocket protectors and bell-bottom slacks rambling on about gigabytes and go-anywhere convenience. However, I would argue that the dronings of a group of pimply faced, lactose-intolerant, D&D playing cretins accounts for nothing in my world. Let me tell you what a book is by using the old-timey definition of the word.

Book - a handwritten or printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers.

You might even find it somewhat ironic that I looked up the definition of the word "book" in an actual book known as a dictionary. Note also that in the definition of the word, it explicitly says that a book is only a book if it is "fastened or bound together within covers". Thus a printed out stack of paper from a laser printer is not a book, it is a recycling project. Without a proper binding, something doesn't feel write to me ... errr ... feel right to me.

I think that part of the reason that I have never gotten into using an e-reader of any sort is that I stare at computers all day at work. The idea of relaxing with a computer during my down time does not make sense to me. In some ways it seems like a continuation of work. I am not sure why, but it gives me some degree of pleasure to see my bookmark moving forward through a book as I read. Plus I also think that there is some visceral tactile experience in the holding of a book that gives me pleasure. Then when I am done, I can slam the book shut in gleeful triumph, something that cannot be reproduced in an equivalent manner just by pressing a power button.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I read a novel several months ago (Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card) about a contagion that was spreading quickly across the African continent, bounding without check from village to village. One became two, two became ten, ten became a hundred, a hundred became a world-wide panic. What was initially a problem of the primitives living in their third world hovels, became a different monster altogether when its first cases starting appearing in the populous, modern cities. The virus was initially passed from a diseased simian to a village boy when it sneezed in his face. The boy then infected his immediate family and from there the virus took wing as visiting relatives from outside villages made their way back home. The novel is several years old, but it clearly was written based on the first published cases of ebola. Over the past year, the more recent outbreak in Africa has mirrored the events in the novel in very eerie fashion.

In the story, the U.S. president developed world-wide support for a complete blockage of the entire African continent. His rhetoric was that the only way to protect the rest of the (civilized) world was to isolate the disease until it had completed its scourging course. Nobody goes in, nobody comes out. In today's news, infected people are leaving Africa and transporting the disease all around the world. It is actually a model of a maximally efficient procedure for widespread distribution of a disease. Take a modern airliner filled with 400 people who will travel from airport to airport, coming in contact with hundreds of other people along the way to their final destinations, who will in turn come into contact with hundreds of other people, and so on and so on ...

There was a recent news story of a nurse coming back from Africa who was put into quarantine. She was eventually released early to go back to her home and her usual routine. She was raising a clamor that her rights were being violated through forced isolation. Nevermind the fact that she was a nurse at ground zero, had an elevated temperature, and could be a carrier of a deadly seed. I spoke recently with a colleague of mine who I respect as a reasonably moral and considerate person. He told me that if he knew that he were infected he would still feel no issues whatsoever with getting on a plane and flying home to see his family. I think that this is an attitude that many people have, and they, in fact, feel that it is their right. I am left incredulous at how selfish we have become as a people. The majority of the time we think about ourselves and our own needs and desires.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Sworn Sword

The second novella in George R.R. Martin's The Tales of Dunk and Egg series is entitled The Sworn Sword. These novellas are considered as prequels to his A Song of Ice and Fire tales, taking place some 100 years before that time. This story takes place about a year after the first novella, The Hedge Knight. There we were introduced to Ser Duncan the Tall, a knight of humble beginnings whose honor and dignity impacted the kingdom and the royal line. We also met the boy named Egg, Dunk's faithful squire. Of course, Egg is more than the clever and resourceful lad that he seems, he is also a prince of the land, yet his true identity is kept a secret. In this story Dunk and Egg have sworn an oath to serve the lord of a small holding. When the source of their castle's water runs dry, Dunk investigates to find that a neighboring castle has dammed up the river for their own survival.

We learn through this tale that there are two ways to approach a conflict. One way is rash, ill considered, and leads to battle. Another way is through respect and honor. Here we see both ways played out with their usual results. Again, Dunk shows how even a low-born, simple man can claim the high road. As the story ends, Dunk and Egg are dismissed from service, a job well done, and move onto their next adventure. The next novella in the series is entitled The Mystery Knight.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Life has a way of forming and shaping us. We attend to patterns and paths that have worked for us in the past. Over time we find their well-worn ruts a comfort to our minds, peace for our souls. Routines and behaviors are forged over many long seasons that today may bear little resemblance to how they were initially conceived. Think of the hermit, the hoarder, or the cat-lady. When we encounter stories of such people we label them as pitiful freaks. Yet their afflictions were not formed instantaneously out of the aether. Pains and hurts and disappointments slowly accreted their burdens incident by incident and morphed into something unrecognizable. A monster on their shoulders robbing them of reason, of clarity, of true relationships.

While the term freak is liberally applied to such individuals, I have come to understand how such a transformative metamorphosis can take place. In fact, I have seen it in my own life as I am likely on the fringe of the freak crowd given some of the mechanisms that I have developed to protect myself. Over the years I have worked to build a fortress around me to keep the world out. Battlements raised, moats entrenched, earthen embankments fortified. If relationships that matter carry such risk of betrayal, of pain, of hurt, better to hide away, isolated from contact. It seems the only way to quell the din of the harsh words, the broken promises, the life draining goodbyes. However, after this pattern of isolation has long been established, the perplexed tears still occasionally arise of why nobody likes me, why I have no friends, why I am alone, why I am such a freak.

Friday, October 24, 2014


So far this year I have now read half a dozen books by author Jeff Abbott. After reading the four books in his Sam Capra series, I decided to tackle some of his earlier works. I started with his thrillers Panic and Fear, finding them both professional efforts, but generic, pedestrian, and lacking in complexity and layering. Definitely the work of an author who has not quite figured out how to write an intriguing story with fully-fleshed characters with nuance and a developed personality. My most recent read of Abbott was entitled Collision and in my opinion this was the best of his novels that I have read. This was a story of some degree of subtlety, of intrigue that pulled me in, and of action that served to promote the story instead of being gratuitous. Characters of souls in white, black, and every shade in between.

The story begins with Ben Forsberg and his wife Emily in Maui on their honeymoon. Both Ben and Emily work in the field of government consulting, linking private security firms to needs the government has in the U.S. and abroad. Emily is killed by a sniper without warning and her murderer is never found. A short while after Ben returns home and begins to return to some semblance of equilibrium, agents from Homeland Security link him to a sniper killing in Dallas. Ben is caught completely off guard and unaware. He has no idea what the agents are talking about, only that they seemingly have strong evidence to lay at his feet. Ben is immediately ensconsed in the unseemly muck of crooked government contractors, rogue CIA groups, and terrorist plots. The more the private security firms can rile up the terrorists and keep them as present threats to the world, the more these billion dollar companies can pull in. As terrorism activities quell, the government-funded operations struggle to maintain their power base and survive. In short, peace is not in their best interest.

The story was very well paced and things didn't come into full focus until the end. The aspect that I most appreciated was that the characters couldn't be easily labeled as "good guy" or "bad guy". Even those bending the rules well past their breaking point, sometimes had good reason and were looking toward the greater good. While Abbott may never be a master of character development, he definitely created a story here that I enjoyed and that had me hoping that Ben would survive and get his life back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Observations 69

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 has come to this. There is a show on cable TV called "Fat Guys in the Woods".
  • The other day I came back to my office after a meeting and there was a flagrant floret of broccoli sitting in the hallway just outside of my door. Reminded me of the scene with the horse's head in the Godfather movie.
  • Why do people who come to meetings late or leave meetings early always seem to let the door slam behind them so that they maximally disrupt things?
  • A Russian colleague of mine included the following bon mot in a recent email to me, "Well, live is much stronger then we think about it, is not it?" How can you argue with a sentiment like that?
  • In the old days there was Johnny Carson. He could be serious, light, roguish, or even silly at times, but he always seemed to display charm, grace, and dignity. Today's crop of late night talk show hosts, Conan O'Brien, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, more often than not are so awkward they make me cringe. They just don't seem to possess that easy, suave showmanship that pulls the viewer in.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Way I Need

You frequently hear folks asked the question of how they want to be remembered by their loved ones after they die. After some reflection you will hears answers like:
  • a good provider
  • someone who liked to have fun
  • someone with a good heart
  • a kind person
All of these are reasonable answers. In fact, there is certainly no one right answer. For me I think that I have figured out how I would like to be remembered by my daughter when I am gone,

He loved me the way that I needed him to love me.

Actually, I have gotten the sense that as my daughter has gotten older and more independent, I am more a source of frustration to her than a motivational influence. I too often treat her as a kid or try to help her too much or try to take over instead of letting her figure things out. It turns out that I am very much a work in progress. As time marches on I often fret that my daughter still doesn't know that much about my heart and how hard I have tried to give her what I was able to give. Too often it seems that while I wallow in sentimentality, she is just enjoying each day and each new experience. I go below the surface to try to map the depths while she skims happily along the surface. Yet just when I think that I have missed the mark by half a world, she lets me know that she knows me and accepts me and loves me in a way that I finally understand. Then I realize that all along she has loved me the way that I need to be loved.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Victory Over Depression

Earlier this year I read the best-seller Classic Christianity by Bob George. In the endnotes it advertised another of his books, Victory Over Depression, that was written with the purpose of helping folks living with and suffering from depression find a path through their troubles from a Christian perspective. I decided that I would pick up a copy. After reading it, I can only say that it was a complete disappointment from start to finish, and what is worse, folks who follow the advice contained in this book could find themselves even farther from stability and wellness.

The trouble starts when it becomes clear that Bob George does not truly understand what depression is and what it is not. He immediately defines it as something akin to a sad period in one's life, sort of like an extended bad mood. If you want to understand something about what true depression is, I would recommend that you read William Styron's book Darkness Visible. Styron states that "such incomprehension has usually been due not to a failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience. ... Most people in the grip of depression at its ghastliest are, for whatever reason, in a state of unrealistic hopelessness, torn by exaggerated ills and fatal threats that bear no resemblance to actuality."

If those words give you some improved insight, then you will appreciate that depression will not be alleviated with approaches like "if you have fear, anxiety, and depression, then you are not fully trusting in God", which is the core of George's guilt-themed mantra. Time and again he would relate an anecdote from one of his counseling sessions where he would listen to someone's woeful story and then start arguing with them over some point of semantics. He actually thought he was being so clever trying to cure folks with his high-brow academic ramblings. If it were me in that situation, my state of mind would only worsen, realizing that if this is supposed to be helpful, then I am even more lost than I had ever thought before. George also states his opinion that taking medication to fight the debilitating effects of depression is sinful because we are not relying on a trust in God. Utter rubbish and an extremely foolish and dangerous point of view. If this is what "Christian counseling" is all about, count me out.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Absurdities 1

I have a lingering collection of things that I have stumbled across in my travels and daily life that have made me laugh or shake my head whilst uttering expressions such as, "What has this world come to?". In this series I share the silliness and absurdities with you. Enjoy.
  • "Why are you being so obtuse?"
  • There is an honest-to-goodness celery museum in Michigan called the Celery Flat Interpretive Center dedicated to the history and goodness of celery. You will be pleased to know that guided tours are available for a nominal fee.
  • This one kind of makes sense if you have experienced the unique pain of stepping on one of these delightful children's toys.
  • Just when you think that we have made progress, the cycle repeats itself.

Friday, October 17, 2014


The novel Fear by suspense, action-adventure author Jeff Abbott is
a pretty standard thriller as books in this genre go. Nothing special, nothing especially memorable, but good for company for a few nights of reading. The main character in the tale is Miles Kendrick, a private investigator who was part of a federal sting gone bad. In the aftermath Miles believed that he was responsible for killing his best friend Andy who had gotten involved with some sketchy mob types. Due to his value as a witness, Miles was placed into a government protection program for his own safety. He struggled so much with the traumatic, haunting memories of his friend's death that he was seeing a psychiatrist, Allison Vance. Miles came to trust and rely on her counsel and her therapy, but when she unexpectedly had another doctor join their session, Miles had a sense that something just wasn't right. Later that evening he found a desperate note from her asking for help in a vial of anti-depressants that she provided. When Miles went back to her office, he arrived just as an explosion rocked the building. Miles struggled with feelings of loss along with a debilitating sense that he had let his doctor down. He vowed to get to the bottom of her murder.

The story follows Miles as he buries himself deeper and deeper into entwinging intrigues of folks who all seemed involved with Dr. Vance. It seemed that she had knowledge of a new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder that was apparently effective, but was being tested illegally. However, as this new treatment appeared to be a lucrative gold mine, opportunists and ne-er-do-wells seemed to ooze out of the woodwork to lay claim to producing and marketing this multi-billion dollar cash cow. Nothing would stand in their way. The story doesn't reveal its secrets of who is league with who until the very end after twist upon twist, whereupon things are wrapped up with a neat bow.

Miles, for someone who has apparently suffered from a severe mental breakdown and is deeply afflicted by its ongoing effects, seems to be the sanest insane man ever. Able to swallow down his crazy whenever he needs to jump into action hero mode or do some clever thinkin'. I believe this novel could have been considerably strengthened if Abbott had developed this character a bit more and made his condition and its affects on his thoughts and actions a bit more realistic. Mental disorders are not something shrugged off with a simple pep talk. However, despite its flaws, I still enjoyed my time with this book, but it is definitely not one of Abbott's best.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In the News 4

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Goodbye to Pete Van Wieren - The headline appeared at the bottom of the sports page after pretty much everything else, but it hit me hard. A piece of me had been taken away. Pete Van Wieren was one of the broadcasters of the Atlanta Braves on TBS when they used to broadcast nearly all of their games. A job he did with skill and professionalism for more than 30 years. One of my favorite moments of the day used to come when I would switch on the TV and could hear Pete and the sounds of the ballgame for a few moments before the picture tube warmed up. It just feels like the two of us lived through a lot together. In fact, my time watching the Braves and listening to Pete helped me to find my peace for many years. Pete Van Wieren died of cancer on August 2.

Ebola 'Doe' Family - The news headlines have been covered with stories about the Ebola virus outbreak in parts of Africa. Since the end of 2013, nearly 1000 people have died and folks are still contracting the disease and moving down its grizzly path of excrutiating pain toward death. Researchers announced that they believe they have figured out who the first individual was who was infected in this most recent outbreak. A 2 year old boy died on Dec. 6, 2013. A week later on Dec. 13, 2013 the boy's mother died, followed by his 3 year old sister on Dec. 29, 2013. Finally, the family's grandmother died on Jan. 1, 2014. An entire family wiped out in less than a month. The news story that I read was very clinical in its reporting. They never bothered to mention the names of those who died as if they didn't even matter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

iTunes Latest - 21

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.
  • My Love Follows Where You Go - Alison Krauss and Union Station (2011) - There are several up-tempo songs by AKUS that I very much enjoy, but their 2011 album Paper Airplane is a notably melancholy and subdued affair. However, this song makes my spirit bloom, both its bouncy rhythm and its lyrics that remind us that our love binds us to our partner no matter how far away they roam. This song is absolutely wonderful.
  • Brothers in Arms - Dire Straits (1985) - This song is one that has always haunted me. It came from a hugely popular, iconic recording that marks the mid-80s for many people. In 1985 I was a college ungraduate and a big fan of the show Miami Vice. I still remember crying during the episode of Miami Vice where they used the haunting melody of Brothers in Arms after one of the shows regular characters was brutally murdered.
  • Lie Awake - Alison Krauss and Union Station (2011) - A haunting and beautiful song off their Paper Airplane album about worry and pain at the end of a relationship. How to get out from under and get away from history, pattern, and confusion.
  • Forever Man - Eric Clapton (1985) - I have always wanted to like Clapton's work because he had that aura of cool that a rock n' roll stud should possess. However, in truth, I have never really bonded with his music. However, this one was released back when I was in high school and still holds up some 30 years later even if it really isn't more than a pop song in a thin electric guitar wrapper.
  • Songs of Innocence - U2 (2014) - As part of their global marketing strategy, the uber-mega band U2 gave their new album away for free. Even though I am not a big fan of their music, I did download the album. My first impression was that this music does not have their signature sound. My second impression was that the songs on this album are pretty indistinguishable from each other. The one song that I have listened to a couple of times is called The Troubles.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hedge Knight

I think most folks have caught a whiff of the buzz associated with George R. R. Martin's multi-novel saga A Song of Ice and Fire (more commonly known as the Game of Thrones). The most recent book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, was published back in 2011. In today's short attention span world, it is hard to sustain a buzz over a long period of time. However, Martin has managed to keep us all clamoring for more since the first novel in the series, A Game of Thrones, was published back in 1996. Martin's engaging story arcs of knights, dragons, power struggles, intrigue, cunning, and plotting has provided fans of the epic fantasy genre a standard that all other works are judged by. The next part of the tale, The Winds of Winter, is tentatively scheduled for release in 2015.

However, Martin has managed to appease his rabid Thrones fanbase (and keep them from rioting) by throwing out a few bones along the way in the form of novellas that take place in and around the lands of Westeros. One such offering is the series known as the Tales of Dunk and Egg. Presently there are three entries in this series, although Martin has indicated in interviews that he has plans for several more.

In the first novella, The Hedge Knight, we meet Dunk of Flea Bottom, a common squire of an elderly hedge knight, Ser Arlan of Pennytree. When Arlan dies one night as the two were journeying to a jousting tournament, Dunk buries his lord and decides to continue on to the festivities. Along the way he stops at an inn to get a meal and rest his horses where he meets a young boy named Egg. Egg is a feisty ball of sass who pleads with Dunk to make him his squire. Dunk turns him down but finds upon arriving at the tournament, that Egg has followed him. Reluctantly, Dunk allows Egg to serve him. Shortly thereafter, Dunk who was hoping to enter the tilts to make some money and establish his reputation, gallantly defends the honor of a peasant girl who is being beaten by a knight of some station. In short order Dunk learns that the knight was none other than one of the king's sons. By law, for striking a prince, Dunk must undergo a trial by combat. Ultimately, Dunk proves himself worthy and honorable, and earns his title of Ser Duncan the Tall when he is invited to become a member of the household of Prince Maekar, another of the king's sons. Dunk agrees, but insists that first be allowed to travel with Egg as his squire for several years before returning to Maekar to finish his training.

A fun read that reminded me of why I am a fan of Martin's writing. The next novella in the series in entitled The Sworn Sword.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Above Reproach

Capitalism is an economic system that is based on ownership of business and industry by the private sector instead of the government. The version of capitalism that has developed in the United States has proven to be a model that, despite its flaws, in many cases levels the playing field and promotes equality and fair prices through competition. Capitalism is that proverbial golden ticket that promises that any person who is clever enough and works hard enough, can rise up to make their million, regardless of their background. However, even beyond questions related to issues associated with privatization of the means of production and distribution for so many vital goods and services, capitalism is often seen to be at odds with itself. On the one hand it is a system that is based on every person for themselves. On the other hand, it is a system that requires integrity and personal responsibility for the community to survive.

Over the past few months there have been numerous stories in the news about food safety recalls. While production and distribution of food is largely contained within the private sector, it is critical that it is carefully watched over, with strict controls in place. One bad apple, so to speak, can lead to widespread health problems. That is why the U.S. Government has developed the Food and Drug Administration and set up a strict system of rules. However, while some food safety recalls can be attributed to unfortunate oversights such as mislabeled packages, others are due to me-first human nature. As an example, there was a cattle processor that was recently charged with selling beef from cancerous animals. The distributor bought the affected animals at minimal cost and sold their meat at normal prices. It was all about greed. There are other examples of this sort from the past few months where produce distributors have knowingly skirted safety rules in order to prevent any loss of profit, hoping on getting away with the schemes that they have likely gotten away with in the past.

Even though we live in a society based on capitalism, where we still celebrate the self-made man and those individuals who have worked their way to the top, it is amazing how fragile the equilibrium is. As fast as new government regulations are put into place, there are slippery folks searching for loopholes and backdoors to maximize their profit while putting the rest of us at risk. The government can't seem to keep up. Imagine how much smoother and efficiently this system would operate if we were all above reproach in all of our dealings ...

Friday, October 10, 2014


Having read and enjoyed the four books in Jeff Abbott's popular Sam Capra series, I decided to look into some of his other novels. I grabbed a copy of Panic from my local library and dove in. The story begins when Evan Casher, a freelance documentary film maker, gets a strange call from his mother begging him to visit her immediately. Having known his loving mother as a person of calm strength, her panicky and uneven pleading without a reasonable explanation, scared him to his core. He rushed from his home in Houston to her home in Austin to find her dead on her kitchen floor. As he is trying to adjust his mind to what he has come upon, he is jumped by a hidden perpetrator. Just as suddenly another person frees him. A wild start to a novel that follows Evan as the story of his life unravels in a matter of a few days.

Evan slowly comes to gather bits and pieces of information that his parents were not who they seemed to be. Somehow his loving, normal, same-old same-old parents were no longer Ma and Pa Casher, but something else, utterly unbelievable. Like an unexpected kick in the gut, Evan is reeling and cannot get his bearings. He is caught up in intrigue and drama complete disjoint from anything that he could ever image. Suddenly nothing makes sense to him and he finds that there are very few people in his life who he can trust. Left to his own instincts and his own intellect, he pieces the puzzle together bit by bit. However, it is Evan's own unshakable morality that serves as his ultimate guiding polestar.

A tightly written, crisp effort from start to finish. Although not high art by any means, a worthy tale that kept me turning the pages of a good old-fashioned adventure.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hawaiian Observations

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 week on my trip to Hawaii.
  • During my trip, the Ironman Triathalon took place near my hotel. There was quite a buzz circulating about an 84 year old nun who was part of the field. Turns out she has competed in and finished dozens of these competitions. I wonder if you could say that she has made this a habit?
  • The meeting was held in Hawaii in order to foster scientific cooperation between the U.S. and Japan. As roughly half of the participants were Japanese, I spent some time observing them as the long sessions went on into the evening. Clearly westerners have an advantage in keeping their eyes open longer.
  • On my first night in the hotel I slept fitfully. I awoke to find that during the night, some kooky exotic spider had bitten my temple. Not quite the aloha spirit I was expecting.
  • Despite what you may have heard about Hawaii, not everyone who arrives on the island gets lei'd. Maybe that is just because I am not a playa.
  • Whenever I travel overseas (and I count Hawaii as "overseas"), there is nothing more comforting to me than getting to my hotel room, turning on the T.V., and immediately finding one of my regular shows. That really takes the edge off and helps me to feel at home.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Caste System

Airlines board their planes by "zones", a scheme originally implemented to get folks into their seats more efficiently than a bull rush free-for-all. However, airlines quickly saw a way to turn this zone labeling into a cash cow. If you want to get to your seat early in the process, then the airlines will charge you a fee. However, the number of zones that exist and the fee structure have now officially reached comical proportions. I sit in the airport waiting area as they begin boarding my flight listening to round after round of premium zones announced:
  • Now boarding our Sky Elite members
  • We happily welcome our Platinum Elite to board now
  • Those with Elite Platinum can now approach the podium
  • Our One World Skyline members may now board at this time
  • Now boarding our Platinum Traveler members at your leisure
  • We welcome our Gold Ruby members on board
  • Now receiving our Gold team members
  • ....
The endless waves of preferred members naturally leads to the development of a caste system in the airport. If you have not paid a premium to get on board early, then you are treated with contempt, not only by the airline employees, but by your fellow travelers. When the common rabble are finally allowed to get on the plane, then all of the Sky Elite Platinum Ruby Gold folks have to haul themselves up out of their expensive seats so the rest of us can get into our cheap seats right next to them. By the time all of the luggage is stowed and everyone has finally gotten settled down and belted in, enough chaos has ensued that the bull rush scheme would have gotten the plane off the ground much, much sooner.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Regular readers of this blog and, in particular, my book reviews, will know how much respect I have for the writings of pastor Charles Swindoll. All told, I have now read nearly three dozen of his devotionals. There is something about his approach and style that brings me into focus with his teachings, his stories, his humor, and his love for God. Sometimes it almost feels like I can hear his voice talking to me. Likely that is because I have listened to his preaching on his nationwide radio program Insight for Living. When he released his most recent book, Abraham, I grabbed my copy with eager expectations.

Abraham is the only person in the Bible that God refers to as his friend. That alone should cause us to examine his life. While all of his life's details are not recorded in scripture, a significant portion of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, records a biography of the man born as Abram and renamed by God. Abraham was not a perfect man, he struggled with sin and character failings like us, but he is known as the "father of the faith" because when God called him, he followed. Swindoll takes us through the life of Abraham and teaches us about who this man was, how he lived, and his life of faith in God. Along the way Swindoll provides practical advice and direction for our lives of faith as well, including four directives from the life of the nomad Abraham that should apply to all of us:
  • Wherever God leads, follow.
  • Whatever God promises, believe.
  • Whenever God tests, trust.
  • However God blesses, share.
I am convinced that this book came along at a time in my life when it would have the biggest impact on me. Perhaps if you too are struggling in one of life's valleys, there might be something here to give you a lift. Very well done and highly recommended.

Monday, October 6, 2014

E Komo Mai

Today my journey will span some 5,000 miles as I trek to a conference on the island of Hawaii. I make this trip with a bit of a heavy heart. You see, five years ago I went to this same conference, held at the same hotel, with my 11 year old daughter. That was the first time since my divorce that I could even begin to contemplate such a grand outing. It took every ounce of strength that I could muster to undertake a trip to a place that my wife and I had dreamed of going to together. Without her presence I struggled with feelings of depression and failure. The weight on my chest kept pulling me down with its should-haves, with its could-haves. I found myself unable to let sunshine penetrate my beclouded mind. Yet my daughter was relying on me to be strong and her energy and giddiness buoyed me. We ended up having an adventure that bonded us more deeply and gave us fond memories that have lasted through the years.

Today I travel alone without anyone to rely on me. Nobody was present to see me off and nobody will be awaiting me at the airport to welcome me back. I will be roaming the grounds of the hotel replaying all of the old memories that my daughter and I shared. I know that this will bring out old aches and feelings of helplessness and loneliness. I have found that in my years of traveling alone, I often let solitude serve as my companion. The presence of that life-sucking monster only makes the food bland, the air stale, and the breeze cloying. Yet it is I that tacitly invites him to come alongside.

When I told my daughter about my travel plans this week, it barely registered a reaction. I had expected her to recollect on our time there together or maybe even ask if she could go along with me again. Instead, she grunted at me and went about what she was doing. It is amazing how timing is everything. I am so glad that I took the opportunity that I had five years ago. If I had put that moment off, I am certain that we would never have shared an adventure anywhere near that same scale. Today and this week, I pray that I can find some level of enjoyment and contentment out on my own.

Friday, October 3, 2014


The novel Flood by Stephen Baxter told the story of a catacylsm that forever changed life on Earth. Over a period of 40 years, vast oceans long trapped beneath the continental plates released, raising water levels by more than 10 miles. Eventually all land-based life was drowned, save for a pitiful remnant surviving in ragtag communities of rafts, living off scavenged and scattered detritus. In the years leading up to the end, a program was put in place to build a spaceship to take humanity's seed out among the stars to find a new Earth. The story of Ark overlaps that of Flood when the ark builders and its crew were holed up on high ground in the Rockies putting the pieces in place for their departure. As the end approached, the mountain tops of Colorado were crawling with a starving, lawless, desperate form of humanity. The departure of the Ark was pushed up because the overwhelmed Ark base security could not keep the rioting throngs out. The ship was launched in chaos as the highly trained crew were attacked and many were left behind, replaced by the rogues who had fought their way through security.

The story develops over a period of 10 years as the Ark makes it way to a potentially viable planet, some 10 light-years away from Earth. A tense unease developed among the crew - power struggles, petty grudges, and the usual hurts and frictions that arise among people forced to survive in and around others in a cramped environment. Fights and rebellions mixed in with periods of stability, peace, and cooperation. A microcosm of humans being humans. After 10 years the 80 members of the crew arrive at the preselected planet that was meant to be their new home, only to come to the realization that the planet was not optimal. The crew makes a decision to split up. A faction decides to head back to the drowned Earth, a faction decides to take their chances on the new planet, and a faction decides to continue on to the next perspective planet on their list.

Of course, this is a science fiction novel and the author has taken some liberties with the physics to allow this starship to fly, but the author completely side-stepped the laws of relativity which made for some real eye-rolling moments for me. However, he did have a talent to capture the tension and the drama of human life and he pulled me into life within the Ark to the point that it became vivid for me. There we some graphic sexual scenes and situations that were included that I found a distraction as they weren't necessary and he left more questions unanswered than were addressed. However, even with the flaws in this series, it was still a read that quickened my senses and made me want to keep turning the pages.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Observations 68

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 find it so frustrating that most companies and organizations cannot seem to be able to do something nice for someone without holding a press conference to announce their generosity to the world.
  • A pastor friend of mine said that when giving criticism, be honest but fair. I wonder how he would respond to a parent who asked if their extremely ugly baby was cute. Perhaps, "Absolutely not. But praise be that it isn't as beastly as your other children."
  • When T.V. chefs refer to the person that sells them fish, they call them a "fishmonger". That term has always seemed to me like a put down.
  • I ran across a news story the other day about a hot new fashion trend, jeans that have been torn up by lions. What will we think of next to get all fevered about?
  • Believe it or not, there are still people out there who think that they are impressing others when they have a conversation on their cell phone.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wave Goodbye

I have several photographs in my office of my daughter. One on the wall next to my desk, a couple on the filing cabinet beside my computer, and one on my window sill. Each captures a decidedly younger version of my girl. As I look at each one, I find it so easy to let my mind drift back to those frozen moments and remember how our relationship used to be. In those days I was at the center of her world, the first person that she looked to when she had something to share or had a concern of any kind. However, today, although she is still a teenager, she is no longer a child and certainly does not want to be remembered or treated as such. She has developed her own life with many other connections, and it is one in which I play an ever decreasing role, where I have been relegated out into the fringes. This transition is perfectly natural. In fact, it is an important responsibility for each parent to raise their children to be independent and to teach them how to be self-sufficient. But I have struggled so much with each step of this evolution because I have never been ready to say goodbye to those younger versions of my child.

There is a series of DVD releases that my daughter and I enjoyed when she was younger. A new chapter in the adventure was put out each year, and from the moment the release date was announced, we both eagerly looked forward to having our own special movie night together. The most recent release in this series was last summer, and my daughter surprised me at the time when she asked if we could get it. Even though she was too old for it, scheduling that movie night was special to me, likely because I knew that it would be our last. Over the past three or four years I have watched as, one by one, most of our father-daughter traditions have been set aside for good. While my daughter took no notice of any of this in her rush to grow up, I felt the loss of each and every one. But just because I know that I am supposed to let go, doesn't make the process any easier.

Just a month ago my daughter started her junior year in high school. I cannot believe how quickly the time has gone. Sometimes it seems like I could wake up any moment and I would be in her nursery, rocking her to sleep in my arms when she was a baby. For the past several years I have tortured myself performing mental computations of how much time I have before the clock ticks down to that inevitable moment of parting where she goes off on her own. It is in those moments that I ache the most. But I am determined that even as I wave goodbye to the past I will try my best to celebrate each new phase, and cling to the knowledge that my daughter is happy, that she has a bright future ahead of her, and that she knows she is loved.