Swing Time II Available Soon

Swing Time II: Stardust in the Shenandoah will soon be available. (Right now, “soon” is all I can tell you!) This is, of course, the sequel to Swing Time: A Swing Dancing, Time Warping Story, and features Chance and Faith once more. This time, they are at a World War II weekend at the Mimslyn Inn in Luray, Virginia, a place where many of you have stayed or visited. It’s a grand old hotel sparks one’s imagination concerning all the people who have crossed its threshold since opening in 1931. It certainly spoke to my imagination, which saw our two dance instructors cross the border between Past and Present yet again, when a friend of Mr. Tommy, a character in the first story, reaches out to them for help. Faith wants to know why such a task has fallen to them a second time, but with help from a couple of newfound friends, she learns that a dancer cannot ignore the heed of the Universe when it calls upon you to dance.

Swing Time II also features area-bands Jump Alley and the Silver Tones Swing Band. I tried to stick to their actual playlists, but when I needed a particular song, I just added one to their respective sets! Members of our dance group will also recognize a couple of other folks who make “cameo” appearances.

This story came to me almost all at once while driving up the Shenandoah Valley one late afternoon last summer. I’ve never had a story come to me so completely before, but then I’ve never had to wrestle so hard with a story to get all the elements into place. It’s one thing to envision many dynamic scenes and another to stitch them together correctly. I don’t want any readers of mine saying to themselves, “Hey, wait a minute! This couldn’t happen because in the last chapter you said . . . !”

Swing Time II: Stardust in the Shenandoah will be available in both paperback and in a Kindle version. The latter will include YouTube links to the songs featured in the story, just as the first Swing Time did. As to when it’s available, well, you’ll be the first to know!

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Know What’s Really Cool? Doing Your Job

During a recent baseball game between the University of Florida and Vanderbilt University, the Gator pitcher struck out a Commodore batter to end the 5th inning. In celebration, the pitcher stomped off toward the dugout, fists clenched and screaming as if he had just struck oil on the mound with his spikes.

Sports are humbling. Baseball in particular is a game of failure, and since it will be your turn to fail soon enough, you might want to show a little humility and a little respect for your opponent. You may want to act as if you expect to have success. Act as if you actually struck out someone before.

The coolest victorious moment that I’ve ever seen in sports did not involve any dancing, fist pumping, bat flipping, ball spiking, high-fiving, or primal screaming. Actually, I didn’t witness it, but discovered it in a photograph taken immediately after Alan Ameche plunged into the end zone to give the Baltimore Colts the 1958 World’s Championship in sudden death. This was the game that put the NFL on the sports map, and most football fans are familiar with this photo:

But it’s this photo (or my photo of the photo) that captures what cool is all about. There’s Johnny Unitas, the Colt quarterback, who has just led his team down the field for the winning score, in the lower right. Not only is he making no gesture, he’s not even heading toward his teammate, Ameche, who is still lying on the ground. Notice that the fans haven’t yet stormed the field, so this is immediately after the winning score. But, there goes John, just walking off the field. He expected to win. He did his job, and that was all the satisfaction that he needed. Of course, his generation was used to doing the job that needed to be done. Unitas’ teammate, Gino Marchetti was a machine gunner during the Battle of the Bulge. Colt defensive lineman Art Donovan served in the Pacific as a member of the Marine Corps and participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

John Unitas: The epitome of cool.

Then, there is this story sent to me by a good friend just last week:

75 years ago on this day, Stalag VII-A, the largest Nazi POW camp of WW2, was liberated by the US Army’s 14th Armored Division. Among The Liberators was my grandfather James Taibi, Staff Sergeant, D Troop, 94th Recon Squadron Mechanized, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his actions that day. “For gallantry in action near Moosberg, Germany on Apr 29, 1945. Leading his column toward the town Sergeant Taibi encountered entrenched enemy positions of unknown strength. Deciding to push on despite the increasing intensity of hostile automatic weapons fire, and without consideration for his own safety, he exposed himself to man his gun turret. In the ensuing fire fight, though wounded and despite waning consciousness, he continued firing, clinging to his gun, and account for fifteen enemy dead. Sergeant Taibi’s sheer courage and unselfish devotion to duty reflect credit upon himself and is in keeping with the highest military standards.” At the time of its liberation, there were 76,248 prisoners in the main camp and another 40,000 in Arbeitskommando working on factories, repairing railroads or on farms.

“. . . though wounded and despite waning consciousness, he continued firing . . .”

Kind of puts into perspective striking out a guy in the 5th inning.

I hold out hope that one day a high-profile athlete will make a spectacular play and then head off the field, the non-gesture starting a new trend. When you are so secure in your own talent that you do not need to celebrate it, then you are the coolest cat in the stadium. The only other thing as cool is if your sense of duty compels you to complete your job “or die trying,” which was not simply a figure of speech for Sgt. Taibi.

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A Half-Century Plus One Year of Marriage

Jerry and Bonnie Lane, friends of ours, and frequent commenters on this blog, celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary this month. Can you imagine being married that long? Unless you have already celebrated at least 25 years, no, you cannot.

For two people to coexist for 51 years without challenging each other to a steel-cage grudge match is a marvel unto itself, much less staying—and growing—in love for over half a century. You understand, of course, that I couldn’t swear in a court of law that they have never challenged each other to a steel-cage grudge match, but I would be willing to bet heavily on it.

Martha and I are approaching 42 years; our friends Al and Margo will mark their 42nd anniversary 13 days before we do, and I know that there are other readers who are hovering around a similar number of years. One hears a great many maxims about what makes a successful marriage, but I’m here to leaven three of them with a spoonful of experience:

Communication is important. Yes, it is. So is knowing when to not talk to one another. This is why there are multiple rooms in a house. Spouses can be annoying, and—since they’re human beings—you’re not going to “fix” them, no matter what you think. Therefore, go someplace where they aren’t, and you won’t be annoyed.

Marriage is a 50-50 proposition.  Yes, it is. On the whole. But at any moment, it may be 50-50 or it may be 75-25. Or 90-10. Or 100-0. Developing a successful marriage involves knowing when to play the odds, and knowing when to bet on yourself when the odds are 3-1 against. Generally speaking, play the odds.

Love conquers all. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t even conquer the urge to annoy your spouse. (See above, as sometimes it’s intentional.) If you stick with it, though, and stay at it, you realize that love is part dedication, part stubbornness, part affection, and part familiarity. A good, warm, solid familiarity.

Now, some of you know Bonnie and Jerry, and some of you don’t, but 51 years of love and dedication is be celebrated by all! It should make everyone feel better knowing that there’s a little corner of the world where love has blossomed for all this time.

Congratulations! And may today be a day full of love. (I say this rather than “Here’s to another 51,” because that’s not how it works. How it works is based on a formula: 51 years = 18, 628 days, spent one day at a time.)

We met Bonnie and Jerry through dance, and knowing how much they love the smooth dances, here’s a special waltz for them.

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Is keeping pace now impossible?

Recently, while strolling through the Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg (VA) I was struck by the dates on the tombstone you see above. Noah Russell was born before the War Between the States concluded and died before World War II had ended. What changes he witnessed in his lifetime! Born when there were still a few muskets on the battlefield and lived to see Flying Fortresses dropping bombs over Europe. His dates remind me of my great-grandmother, who traveled in a covered wagon from St. Joseph, Missouri to the family homestead in Kansas, then lived to see Alan Shepard launched into space. Yet, I wonder if I have not lived through even more dramatic change than Mr. Russell or my “Mom-mom.” I also wonder if the progress we have witnessed in my lifetime has outstripped the human capacity to adapt to it.

The changes that previous generations endured were at least imaginable. You didn’t have to be an engineer to imagine a horseless carriage or a flying machine. You could imagine harnessing the power in steam or in electricity—you may have had no idea how, but these powers existed for all to see.

I never imagined the changes that I’ve seen and experienced.

When I entered high school in 1972, slide rules were on the way out and something called a “calculator” was on the way in. The top-of-the-line, scientific calculators were manufactured by Texas Instruments and cost $149.95. (You math geeks can click here for a history of TI’s calculators, their functions, dimensions, costs, etc.) I never imagined that 50 years later, one could go to almost any store and find a calculator that runs on solar power for under $10.00.

I never imagined that we would go from vinyl and tapes to CDs, then to mp3s, then to streaming music from “the cloud”; not that I could ever imagine that songs, movies, photographs, and virtually the entire knowledge of humanity—think about that because it is no exaggeration—would just be floating around on the ether, as it were, and all we’d have to do is click a button or two on our phones, which we would carry in our pockets.

I remember when a top prize on any game show was an “Amana Radar Range,” which was the first microwave oven. Now, we have air fryers because, you know, microwaves are too slow and primitive. Of course, I also remember my great-aunt Vida fixing dinner on a cast-iron stove.

I never imagined that when I required surgery to repair a heart valve that the surgeon could guide a robot’s hand into my chest cavity and make a snip there and put a ring here and sew me up in under 3 hours; and have me back on the dance floor in three weeks. In fact, it took me a full year to realize the magnitude of what Dr. Vinay Badwahr had done. That frightened me after the fact. Even 5 years before that time, the doctors would have had to perform open-heart surgery and my recovery would have taken far longer. As for 50 years before, well . . . I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. That surgery was performed on me! And I still can’t even believe that it exists.

I can at least remember when Life—that is, change—happened more slowly, and in ways that were at least imaginable. My poor children and their contemporaries, however, have lived in nothing but a chaotic swirl of change. No wonder these new adults are often anxious and depressed. They no sooner entered the world than it changed, then changed once more, then changed again. I at least remember Aunt Vida’s stove and the outhouse and the crank phone. I grew up in a relative constancy that young adults have never known. Nikita Khrushchev may have waved his fist at us all and threatened us with nuclear annihilation, but the thought of The Big Bomb was not nearly as anxiety-producing as the thought of What Can Possibly Come Next? What is the Next Thing that will totally rearrange my daily life? Evolution required us to be adaptable, but I don’t think even Mother Nature imagined the pace at which change occurs these days.

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“Forty Percent off”

My fascination with the American home front during World War II did not stop with publishing The Secret of Their Midnight Tears trilogy, and I continue to come across very interesting material. The war was an all-consuming affair, affecting people on a daily basis, and involving everything from scrap drives and rationing to picking milkweed pods for Mae West life jackets. References to these daily reminders appeared in books, magazines, commercials, movies and radio programs, almost without thought, at least as the war progressed. In December 1941, however, America was very conscious of Pearl Harbor and the country’s entry into the war. All of which brings me to Fibber McGee and Molly.

It can be argued that this show was more popular than any other in the history of radio, running in one form or another from 1935-1959 and starring the real life husband and wife team of Jim and Marion Jordan, also known as Fibber McGee and Molly. The premise of the show is that Fibber, good-natured and loving husband that he was, was often involved in some scheme to get ahead. Molly, with her easy laugh and Irish accent managed to keep Fibber grounded, episode after episode as a cast of characters appeared at their door each week. Written by Don Quinn, the show was at the top of its game during the 1940s and was the highlight of every Tuesday night for many Americans.

Which means that Fibber McGee and Molly went on the air Tuesday, December 9th, two days after Pearl Harbor was attacked. That particular episode, titled “40 Percent Off” opens with a series of war bulletins followed by an announcement from Johnson’s Wax—the show’s sponsor—that it was important to keep up morale at home, essentially by continuing our American way of life. Laughter was an important part of that way of life, and so, the episode went on as scheduled. The story begins with Fibber receiving a notice from a new store that as a “special customer,” he will be granted 40% off on every purchase. The show’s usual cast of characters stops by, and it just so happens that each is headed out to purchase one item or another. Fibber ever desirous of being perceived as a big shot, assures each one that he can make these purchases at 40% off.

Fibber McGee & Molly

As he did most weeks, Mayor LaTrivia stops by and mentions that he would like a globe for his office. Of course, Fibber tells him that he can get it at a discount because he “knows people.” Then, Molly asks, “You want a globe with Japan on it, Mr. Mayor?”

“Why, certainly.”

“Well, then you better get one quick,” answers Molly.

A couple seconds of laughter is followed by strenuous applause. Uplifting applause. Applause that said, “Doesn’t matter if our fleet is shattered and bodies are still being fished from Pearl Harbor’s oily waters. We’ll do what it takes.” It’s hard to imagine that 10 seconds of applause can say all that, but it does. In fact, it still says that, and frankly, it gives me chills.

And then, the show went on.

Don’t take my word for this, however. Listen to the dialogue between Molly and the Mayor, which begins at 16:35 of the episode. Better yet, listen to the entire episode which may be found here.

We remember Bob Hope and his USO shows; we still watch movies such as The Sands of Iwo Jima; we remember that Rosie the Riveter went to work and Glenn Miller lifted our spirits. It is no surprise that “40 Percent Off” did not enter our collective memory, but on the night of December 9, 1941, millions of Americans at home were applauding in front of their radios along with the studio audience, and it was one of many, many important moments that contributed in its own small way to America defeating totalitarianism around the world.

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America, Stop Constantly Emoting

Somewhere along the line in the past 50 years, America has transformed from a relatively stoic society to one in which every day is like a giant primal scream therapy session, and one conducted by an unlicensed therapist at that. Everybody is supposed to feel everything and then tell everyone else about it. It’s gotten so that we now seem to equate deep feelings with deep thinking.

Television shows are filled with crying, cursing, wailing, wallowing, the gnashing of teeth, and the smashing of furniture. The constant exposure to such programming reinforces the idea that such expression is normal, thus creating a vicious cycle.

Nowhere is our constant emoting more apparent than on social media, particularly Facebook on which people routinely provide the rest of us with the play-by-play of their emotional state. In case you are so overwhelmed by your own emotions that words fail, you may choose from exactly 200 emoticons to show the world your current mood. Posting such updates is, of course, an invitation to all your friends, and all your friends’ friends, to form an emotional bucket brigade who pour criticism or encouragement on your emotional fire as they see fit.

Gone are the days when a person was expected to meet life’s inevitable crises with a measure of faith, a dash of grace, and a certain degree of you-can’t-beat-me stoicism. Faith and grace, those twin sisters of strength, were long ago run out of town, and stoicism has been replaced by spectacism, a freshly-coined word meaning “to make a spectacle of one’s self.”

Guess what, America? You don’t have to share every feeling. It’s not a social requirement. We don’t need to know what you feel; most of the time, we don’t want to know what you feel because we have our own feelings going on over here, although your narcissistic obsession with your own feelings might blind you to that fact.

So, here’s some advice, America: Shut up about your feelings.

Just shut up.

Stop giving voice to every feeling, and I say this for your own good. Living in a constant state of ginned up outrage and self-created drama is not healthy nor natural.

First, giving voice to emotions often gives them a reality and a permanence that they wouldn’t otherwise have. If you don’t give voice to every emotion, if you don’t analyze it and put words to it, it may simply go away. You feel blue, for example. Maybe, you feel blue just because; but describe it and explain it, and you give life to your blueness as surely as Dr. Frankenstein gave life to The Creature.

Second, have some faith in yourself. You don’t have to be defeated by every one of life’s trials and tribulations. The Greatest Generation became great, not because they were better people than we are; not because they were braver, stronger, more moral, or happier. They were the greatest because they refused to surrender to the overwhelming emotional situation in which they found themselves. They set their fear aside; they set their lives aside, and did the job which needed to be done. (Ironic, isn’t it, that they did this for their grandchildren who now throw themselves on Facebook’s floor and fling tantrums in every direction?)

Third, unfiltered, uncontrolled emotion is easily manipulated emotion. The powers that be, and there are powers that be, on Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and in the nation’s Capital have a very vested interest in seeing that you are easily manipulated. They don’t want you to think—just react—and buy this product, buy this idea. Such manipulation goes a long way toward explaining why some powers that be have already moved on to the next step, which is to tell you what to feel.

Emotions are like a corral of wild stallions. We need to respect their power and ride them with care and caution. We can’t just fling open the gate and allow them to stampede us. If America is to restore the emotional balance clearly lacking in our society, then we must lasso those emotions and lead them back into the corral. It’s not healthy to leave the horses in charge of the stable.

Setting aside their feelings, they did what needed to be done.

Original caption: Landing on the coast of France under heavy Nazi machine gun fire are these American soldiers, shown just as they left the ramp of a Coast Guard landing boat. CPhoM. Robert F. Sargent, June 6, 1944. 26-G-2343.

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A Movie for our Times

Friday nights have been a television wasteland ever since The Wild, Wild West went off the air in 1969. This past Friday night naturally found me clicking through Martha’s Netflix channel (is that the right word for Netflix?) desperately trying to find something to watch; something that would actually hold my attention, and not just kill some time. Fortunately, I found a movie that held my attention and then some in a 2019 film, The Highwaymen, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson.

Costner plays former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, while Harrelson plays Maney Gault, also a former Ranger. These two are brought back to active duty by the state of Texas to track down the infamous outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde. The Texas Rangers, however, had been disbanded by Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (played by Kathy Bates) because of their questionable law enforcement tactics; therefore, Hamer and Gault are credentialed as Texas Highway Patrolmen, which explains the title.

Both Costner and Harrelson give outstanding performances, the cinematography is excellent, and the producers pay careful attention to details. The plot is historically accurate for the most part (or at least to the extent of my limited research), but The Highwaymen is far more than a cops and robbers flick or a buddy movie. It is a film with nuanced themes which are wonderfully developed by both the script and the actors.

It’s one thing for Bonnie and Clyde to kill a few police officers (9 is the best estimate) and rob rural gas stations, but when they orchestrate an escape for several friends from the Texas Eastham Prison Farm, well, that was going too far because it made the state of Texas look ridiculous. Meaning the politicians running the state of Texas in 1934 looked ridiculous, and that could not be tolerated. Ma Ferguson does not want to call in these former Rangers, but doing right is often a dirty job, one which few people are equipped to pursue to the lengths necessary to succeed. Frank Hamer was such a man and so, the Governor reluctantly relents.

Hamer has no illusions about this particular job: You cannot compromise with evil, you cannot negotiate with evil—evil must be put down like a mad dog, and that’s what Hamer sets out to do. In one telling scene early in the movie, Hamer visits a gun store and purchases enough arms and ammunition, including a Browning Automatic Rifle and a couple of Thompson machine guns, to arm a platoon, rightfully believing that if you’re going to exterminate evil, you have to match evil’s firepower. Hamer’s attitude is reinforced by the filmmakers who write no dialogue for the actors portraying Bonnie and Clyde. In fact, the outlaws are not even seen in close up until the final scene in which they are killed.

Nor does Hamer have any illusions that what is “right” is ensconced in the law, and that what is “wrong” is illegal. Hamer is comfortable with the idea that you sometimes have to shade wrong in order to do right. Hamer does not hesitate to cross state lines in his pursuit of Bonnie and Clyde, for example, and as more of his character is revealed, the more we learn that he has been willing to do more than just pursue criminals who have left his jurisdiction.

Maney Gault is portrayed as being much more like the rest of us. He’s somewhat hesitant to cross certain boundaries, both literally and figuratively. Gault is uneasy, for example, about the prospect of shooting a woman, even if it is Bonnie Parker.

Ultimately, the two men track the outlaws to Louisiana and, along with the local sheriff of Bienville Parish, arrange an ambush which was successfully carried out on May 23, 1934. A crowd gathered when the bullet-riddled car was towed into Arcadia, Louisiana, the bodies still inside. There was an immediate rush for souvenirs, and according to Wikipedia, one man was trying to cut off Clyde’s trigger finger before order was restored. The film depicts this scene, which also includes several wailing young women, wearing Bonnie’s trademark beret—the outlaws had become celebrities.

The job completed, Hamer and Gault drive back to Texas.

Upon its conclusion, the film notes that 20,000 people attended Bonnie Parker’s funeral in Dallas. Some 15,000 attended Clyde’s.

The heroes of the story were forgotten. The evil was then, and continues to be, glamorized.

I’m not sure why that is often the case. Maybe, it’s because it is easier to forgive evil than to remain vigilant in its face. In any case, we’re not comfortable with the people who remain vigilant; the ones willing to perform our dirty work. We curse the cops and shun our veterans. Maybe, we know we lack the courage to do what they do. Maybe, we’re jealous of Frank Hamer’s sense of right and wrong. Moral relativism, and all that.

I believe in moral relativism, but then there are situations in which moral relativism is itself relative. There are situations in our lives and events in our world that must be confronted without hesitation; situations and events that must be declared evil, and our response must be unhesitating and without compromise.

The Highwaymen is a movie for all times, particularly the one in which we live.

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Dirty Dancing Outrages U.S. Ambassador

Yet another most interesting item regarding outrage over the latest dance craze appeared in the “Out of the Past” feature in the February 1st edition of the Winchester Star. Datelined January 26, 1921 from Brussels, it reads:

Owing to a protest by the diplomatic corps, headed by Ambassador Whitock [sic], of the United States, the tango will not be danced at the coming court dances, the first to be held since 1914.

The “shimmy” is also barred, but the fox trot and one-step will be permitted.

It turns out that the Ambassador’s name was actually Whitlock, with an l. Brand—that was his first name—was a four-time mayor of Toledo, an attorney, a politician, a journalist, and an author, as well as the ambassador to Belgium, at least according to Wikipedia.

In other words, the man couldn’t hold a job.

He was appointed minister to Belgium in 1913, which was somewhat bad timing, but served U. S. interests splendidly during the Great War, and upon its conclusion, and the restoration of the Belgian government, the United States established an embassy in Belgium, naming Whitlock as the ambassador.

The Wikipedia article does not mention why Ambassador Whitlock took exception to the tango. We’ve already discussed polite society’s aversion to the shimmy in this blog post and this one, as well as this one. And one more here for good measure. Clearly, those who would maintain the moral standards of the day saw the jazz age dances as an affront to all that was holy and decent. The photo below, of Ambassador Whitlock and his wife suggests that their morals were affronted rather often. Constantly, perhaps. They certainly don’t appear to be a couple who would dip and dive in a tango, much less shimmy like flappers in a speakeasy. In fact, Mrs. Whitlock appears to have just read an item from an Indianapolis newspaper dated January 4th, 1921 which stated that the young women there refused to wear corsets to dances, because “they were termed ‘old ironsides’ by the boys and they were unable to accomplish the movements in the new dances.” Actually, Mrs. Whitlock appears to be wearing a corset at least two sizes too small. So does Mr. Whitlock, for that matter.Fortunately for those of us in the dance community, Ambassador Whitlock has been forgotten while the tango and the shimmy live on. I intend no offense to Ambassador Whitlock by this remark. He was probably a laugh riot when he got together with the Minister of Sweden and they joked about the Ambassador from Luxembourg employing the wrong spoon for his soup at the dinner before the court dance.

So. In honor of all those diplomats’ daughters in Belgium who never got to tango or shimmy 100 years ago, and as a tribute to those girdleless girls from Indiana, I present another version of “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.

Enjoy. Enjoy it for them.

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Look for special book promotions in 2021!

The New Year is bringing about a couple of changes to my writing world in order to make it easier for you to order books from this blog. You may now pay for any books you order directly from me via PayPal. If you have a PayPal account simply open it, then look for paypal.me/AustinGisriel, type in the correct amount and hit “send.” Please know that I am still quite happy to handle payment with an old-fashioned check as well. (Actually, you can just send money without even ordering any books if you feel so moved.)

You should also look for special offers throughout the spring, as free shipping will be available for individual works during a certain number of days and times.

Indeed, Book Raid.com will be running a special promotion tomorrow for The Boys We Knew when the e-book version will be available for only $.99 rather than the usual $2.99. While Book Raid’s promotion is for one day, I am extending that offer for an entire week, through next Tuesday, February 2nd. For that week, you can purchase The Secret of Their Midnight Tears AND The Boys We Knew, the second book in The Secret of Their Midnight Tears trilogy for only $.99 each.

In fact, if you like paperbacks, as I do, you can order the entire Secret of Their Midnight Tears trilogy in paperback directly from me and pay no shipping. This offer is good from now through Valentine’s Day. That’s $25.00 shipped and autographed for all three books and I’m more than happy to inscribe any special dedications. Simply direct message or e-mail your mailing information and method of payment.

I am making this offer good through Valentine’s Day because The Secret of Their Midnight Tears trilogy is a love story. Oh, there are a couple of boys who are crazy about a couple of girls, but this is also a story about the love for one’s family and one’s neighbors and one’s country. This is a story about a few young people in one town during WWII who were trying to make their way in the world, when they were suddenly called upon to save it.

***

One final bit of news: The sequel to Swing Time: A Swing Dancing, Time Warping Story is just about complete! Look for it in late spring!

Thank you and please, feel free to share this message!

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Adam, as do many of his descendants, lacked scientific perspective

I don’t know why the hand-wringing over “climate change” bemuses me so. Perhaps, because once upon a time, I earned a degree in theology and it amuses me to see that Humanity is as smug as it was in the Garden of Eden days. Adam, you’ll recall, was the world’s first scientist, and not a bad one. He established the nomenclature for all the animals and that achievement alone gives him pretty good standing, but having named them, he started to think that he created them, too.

Adam’s problem as a scientist, you see, was that he lacked perspective. All he knew was the Garden of Eden; he couldn’t see outside it, and so he thought he knew everything there was to know. In fact, he began to “know” things that were not true. To ensure that he knew it all, he ate from the Tree of Knowledge—with a good degree of encouragement from his new lab assistant. This was a mistake because what good is knowledge if you already know it all? Adam gained wisdom, but found out the hard way that he didn’t really know much.

As Adam’s descendants, most of us have inherited this lack of perspective and the notion that we know everything. In theology, we call that hubris, which brings me back to my bemusement.

Back in the early part of this century we fretted over “global warming,” but it turns out that our perspective was limited on the matter of warming and cooling, so, we moved over to the slogan “climate change.” Worrying about the climate changing is akin to worrying about the sun setting. Imagine if our perspective was just a tad shorter. Along about dusk every day we would begin to worry that the sun was disappearing and we couldn’t be sure that it was coming back. Before midnight, we’d have a sun tax, and by 2 a.m. there would be a fully staffed, fully funded federal Department of Solar Disappearances. Next morning, long about dawn, we’d realize we were wrong, but by then, people would be emotionally invested in the thing, and hating their neighbor for scoffing at their overwrought feelings. And of course, that tax and that bureaucracy will still be around on the day the sun does finally extinguish itself in a billion years or two, because solar systems may come and solar systems may go, but taxes and bureaucracies never leave us.

Perspective is the key ingredient in scientific thinking. The amount of time that the Earth has been forming a climate, compared to the amount of time that humans have been measuring what’s going on in our climate is about the same proportionally as all that time between when Adam was calling a striped horse a zebra up to supper-time tonight, compared to the time it takes you to eat that supper.

I’m reminded of all this by a passage from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi in which Twain, who had been a pilot on the river before becoming one of the greatest chroniclers of jackassery in human history, illustrates in the quotation below what scientific perspective is all about; in this case, it illustrates what we now call, “the danger of extrapolating from inadequate sample size.” In Chapter 17 of Life on the Mississippi, Twain devotes a passage to the phenomenon that the river has shortened itself through the centuries by cutting through 242 miles of capes and necks:

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and “let on” to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! . . . Please observe:

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oőlitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

It’s all a matter of maintaining the right perspective, you see.

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