Friday, June 26, 2015

FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN AMERICA?

If you were to search for the reason so many people left their homeland in Europe and came to America, the word ‘freedom’ would rank high on the list. Freedom is embodied in our Bill of Rights and it is the foundation of our society. We are said to believe that the pursuit of happiness‒ as long as it doesn’t impact the rights of others‒ is what America is all about. Why is it then that we have given most of our rights away in the last two decades in pursuit of being safer and more secure when we really aren’t? The War of Drugs gave law enforcement the right to break down your door at 3 a.m. to search for drugs that are alleged to be on your premises. They really don’t need any proof beyond a ‘tip’ from someone who is said to have reliable information.

Regulations that allow banks and other financial institutions to turn over your financial records to others‒ who really don’t have any right to know you private business‒ has created the opportunity for crooks and con artist to have access to your bank and saving accounts. The government can spy on you while you are on the Internet, despite the assurances that you cannot be unreasonably searched. Most of our personal freedoms are embodied in the Fourth Amendment which says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In may cases, probable cause has been cast aside in the name of expedience.

In the past two weeks, there has been an almost hysterical reaction to the shooting in a South Carolina church that has nothing to do with the crime or what it might take to prevent racial hate crimes in the future. The governor ordered the Confederate flag taken down from the state capitol building, which is probably a good thing, but mass hysteria has caused other zealots to take a giant leap forward with an agenda they can’t explain and probably don’t understand. Knee jerk reactions seldom solve anything. There are petitions demanding all materials referring to the Confederacy be removed from store shelves. Some of our largest chain stores have complied. This involves commemorative license plates, materials and objects used by Civil War Reenactors, T-shirts, and many other things. Few people in the South view them as racial symbols. They are simply a part of our history in the minds of most of our citizens. Rewriting history is a dangerous endeavor that solves no useful purpose. There is even a call from a New York literary critic to stop the showing of ‘Gone with the Wind.’ How long will it be until Amazon and other booksellers ban all books having a Civil War theme. Most of this hysteria is driven by politicians who hope to gain an advantage by whipping the citizenry into a feeding frenzy. While many of us were shouting and gibbering in the streets, congress sneaked the trade bill past us. Maybe it would be a good idea to read again the statement made by a writer named Voltaire about freedom of speech.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

I do not believe in censorship in any form except where underage, impressionable children are involved. Do you want anyone telling you what you must think, say, or do? If our freedom of expression is eroded away, then what is left? Think about it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


UNSINKABLE by
ABBY SUNDERLAND &
Lynn Vincent

I followed the voyage of Zac Sunderland in National Geographic magazine when he, at 17, became the youngest person to sail solo around the world. When Zac’s sister, Abby, decided to beat her brother’s record, I was astounded. Why on earth would a 16-year-old girl try to accomplish something so difficult? Was this a death wish, was she overreaching, or was someone or something pushing her beyond her abilities?
At the time of Abby’s voyage, I was battling cancer and was only vaguely aware of the news coverage, except that she only made it half way around the world before she had to be rescued. Recently, someone gave me a copy of her book, Unsinkable, which detailed the events leading up to her voyage, and what was involved in her attempt to break her brother’s record. Much has been written about the voyage, with so many becoming vocal critics of her abilities, even going so far as to criticize her and her family as nothing more than thrill seekers. Having pursued several difficult and sometimes dangerous sports, I started reading the book with an open mind. Was her attempt foolhardy, or was there something larger than life that drove her on?
In view of the criticism Abby and her family received, she and her co-author spent a lot of time in explaining the type of family she came from and the kind of things each of them expected of themselves. Her father was a sailor and somewhat of an expert on all things nautical, after having spent the last 30 years on boats. Abby loved the sea and at 13 started helping her father deliver boats along the coast of California and down the length of Mexico. Often, there were two boats to deliver to some marina, and she sailed one while her father handled the other. Her father, Lawrence, taught Abby about the sea, the equipment, and the dangers to avoid. I wasn’t far into the book when I decided that the way Abby was raised wasn’t very different from the way in which my generation grew up. There are few of us who can remember when we started driving or when we were turned loose with large pieces of farm equipment. We worked hard, shared responsibilities, and were mentored by every adult we were around. Most kids today are sheltered by their parents and don’t know how to handle any of life’s experiences. Upon graduating from high school, they have mastered their cell phones, the Internet, and little else. They have no job skills, yet they are sent off to college or to the workplace, after having absorbed unrealistic expectations from thousands of movies and televisions programs. No wonder so many of them grab the first job that comes along and spend the rest of their lives making a living and never really learning to live. There is something exhilarating about pushing yourself to the limit and beyond that few people who haven’t experienced it understand. Mountains are climbed because they are there, and oceans are crossed because there are adventuresome people who cannot resist. As Lawrence said in the book, “No one comes away from the sea unchanged.” The same is true for any other endeavor that pushes us to the limit in order to grow and to become. What Abby did was dangerous, but think of the many thousands of teens who die each year because they can’t handle a car safely, or they don’t seem to be able to drive without sending a text message to their friends while they are behind the wheel. Parents need to learn to encourage their children to pursue their dreams, and then be willing to turn them loose to find their place in the world. If you are a parent, you need to read this book. It is a story of faith, determination, and courage. You will come away from it energized and perhaps strangely changed.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

ALTAR OF EDEN by James Rollins



BOOK REVIEW ~~ Five Stars


My favorite type of book is a Thriller, and especially a well-researched thriller. So many books today deal mostly with rapidly escalating disasters that leave the reader’s head spinning. Cars, guts, and buildings are blown higher and higher with sound and fury that signifies nothing. It is a relief to read an author who can handle these elements and make them logical -- one of the prerequisites of a good action novel.

In Altar of Eden, Rollins weaves a tale that is not predictable. As a veterinarian, he has researched his subject matter well, especially DNA and what research and development might do in the future. Place this ability in the hands of an unscrupulous group and you have the substance of which nightmares are made. Rollins’ descriptions of locals and events are visual in nature. You can see his characters vividly. He grips the throat of the reader from the very first page and doesn’t let go until the end. If you are looking for adventure, suspense, terror, the clash of human relationships, passion and rapid moving action, you might want to consider reading this book. Move over Michael Crichton and make room for James Rollins! I highly recommend this book. Five stars for this one.

I reviewed this book after having received it as a gift from a friend.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review of The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks

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When someone on Facebook asked, “are there any men who write romance?” I immediately thought of Nicholas Sparks and his seventeen romance novels. I went to my bookshelves and prowled through the section where I had his books filled neatly away. It had been a number of years since I had read The Guardian, so I brought it back to my easy chair and decided to read it again. In the few minutes I had been gone from my computer, several comments had been posted, and a few of them said that Sparks didn’t really write Romance. One woman, with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek said, “there isn’t a single chiseled chin or a drop-dead gorgeous he-man in any of his books. The characters are just ordinary people.” The Guardian was published in 2003, but I couldn’t wait to read it again.


The guardian is the story of Julie Barenson, a young woman who had struggled through her teen years, then found the man of her dreams; someone who loved and valued her. His sudden death left her devastated, alone, and unable to pick up her life again. Then she received a letter her husband had written before he died promising that he would look after her, and asking her to find someone else to love her. The note was attached to a box containing a small ugly puppy. Four years passed and she began to date again, but what kind of man did she really want to spend the rest of her life with? Did she want to get romantically involved with Mike, her best friend, or did she want it to be Richard who was trying to sweep her off her feet? The book is filled with suspense. You might say that is a romantic thriller, but however you label this book, it is exciting and unforgettable. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

REVIEW OF ELI'S COMING BY DARCIA HELLE



Dark Fantasy novels are growing steadily in popularity, and fans of the genre are sure to find this first book in Darcia Helle’s series, ELI’S COMING, an enjoyable read. This is a fantasy story concerning Eli’s ‘gift’ which he has inherited from his American Indian ancestors. At first he has considered it a curse, but has come to realize that his super-human abilities can also be used for good. Eli has a dark past, and this serves as the force driving the plot of this supernatural thriller. In addition to the dangers he faces, there are also some inner demons that he has to conquer. He meets and falls in love with Amanda, and he is forced to carefully weigh the choices that might cause her harm. Amanda must also weigh the choices she is forced to make. This is a real page-turner as the reader is pulled along by the unfolding plot. If you are a fan of dark fantasy, you won’t be able to lay this book down. Thanks for letting me introduce you to this book, and I hope you will have a happy reading experience.

Joe Prentis
[I received this book as a gift in exchange for an unbiased review.]

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review of Wolf Spencer on Julies Book Review
Wolf Spencer
by
Joe Prentis

The opening of this book reads like a Clint Eastwood / Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Credit goes to Joe Prentis for a cinematic vision and being able to write in a style that captures the details of the Old West. If you like reading Westerns this first book of Prentis’ Renegade series will keep your interest. It has the makings of establishing a new genre. Call it the Western as Mystery. Wolf Spencer is a man with a past. Who he is and why are part of the mystery. Why did he leave the town that opens memorably with, ”If Wolf Spencer saw the gallows as he rode into town, there was no indication...under the shade of his flat ­brimmed hat”? Why did he come back? Does he love Shannon? Does Shannon love him? What happened between them? Who are the bad guys? Who are the good guys? It’s the kids’ game of
Cowboys and Indians all over again with a twist ­ not all the Indians are bad guys. Many questions arise and many answers are given. But many answers are not given.
You have to read the whole Renegade series to get all the answers.
4 Stars
William

Posted by Julie Ramsey on:


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER



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This winter has been the worse in the memory of most of us. Areas of the northern United States have seen as much as one-hundred inches of snow, ice and freezing rain. Harbors along the Atlantic that are normally open all winter have been frozen thick enough to require icebreakers to open a passageway. Even the southern part of the United States has been hit hard because winters are normally mild and there isn’t a lot of equipment to clear away snow or ice. Winter lingering so late in the season makes you wonder if there might be something ominous in store for us in the near future.
I had never heard of the ‘Year Without a Summer’ until I was reading a local history written during the early part of the 20th century. According to the author’s account, an abnormally cold summer occurred in 1816 when the average temperature of the earth dropped by 0.7 to 1.3 Fahrenheit. There were major food shortages across North America and Europe, and even in the southern United States, a snow or two occurred in June. There was frost and freezing temperatures each morning during July.
It is believed that this anomaly was caused by the explosion the previous year of a volcano in what is now Indonesia, spewing large amounts of dust and chemicals into the atmosphere. This is thought to be the largest volcanic eruption in the last 1700 years. This ‘aerosol veil,’ as it has been called, was in the upper atmosphere where it was not dispersed by rain as is often the case after a volcanic eruption.
In Europe there was a famine that resulted in riots. Widespread starvation occurred when the price of food and firewood rose to astronomical levels. These conditions were further aggravated by poor transportation and a lack of management on the part of the governments involved.
Can this happen again, or I guess I should ask, is it happening now. There are too many people who dismiss the idea of manmade climate change because it runs contrary to the agenda they are pushing. Part of the problem has been caused by the name ‘global warming’ that was initially used, and when scientist changed the concept to ‘climate change’ it caused guffaws from world capitols as well as from the ordinary citizen on the streets. If you are a doubter concerning climate change, go and stand outside and face into the wind. I live in the sunny south and this time last year I mowed my lawn for the first time to get rid of some rapid growing weeds, and to give the grass a chance to grow. Today, they are predicting one to three inches of snow, and the possibility of another round of abnormal weather. I don’t know if climate change is real or the figment of someone’s imagination, but there are people who do know. We ought to hold their feet to the fire until they produce the facts and figures and insist that our leaders do something about it. If you want to read more on this subject, Google it on the Internet.

Friday, February 13, 2015

One of the Four Million Reasons to like a book.

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I just finished reading an eBook. It had too many grammar and spelling mistakes, enough of them to distract the reader from the story. The plot wandered a bit, and there were too many unresolved issues at the end of the book. It might sound strange to say that I loved the book, but I did, and I have put it on my list to read again in the near future.

Some of you are probably reading the paragraph above for the second time and wondering what you missed. Whenever I read a book, especially by a new author, I don’t approach it like an English teacher grading papers. What I’m looking for is a story with engaging characters I will care about. If I become hopelessly in love with Amanda─ who has just turned eighteen and feels that her life is over because she finished high school─ the author has done something remarkable because he has engaged my emotions with his characters. To put it another way, we like to read about characters we like, just as we want to hang around with likable people. This is not to say that the characters shouldn't have faults. My closest friends have faults, but the things that engage us with a real person are subtle enough that it is not easy to define, nor is it easy to put into a book. I don’t know any perfect people, but if I did it would be intimidating enough that I wouldn't want to hang out with them. I once worked with a man who was too hard on himself. At odd moments he confessed all of his shortcomings and wanted to know what he could do about them. If he was slicing cake for the morning break, you would get the biggest piece as he self-flagellated himself over his latest failing. The next time your story doesn't seem to be working, examine your characters to see what motivates them. Are they more intelligent than they should be, too attractive, do they know how to solve every problem without any hesitation? And the most important quality of all, will your readers love them, like them, care to the point where they would give up watching their favorite ball game just to listen to them pour out their heart and ask for understanding?

There has been a lot of attention lately on the forthcoming sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird. Think about the characters in that novel. We see all of their flaws and faults, which is what the story is all about. Even the ones like Atticus Finch who tries to present a facade of perfection to his children, have flaws, even though we might not immediately be able to point them out. Literature is supposed to be a reflection of real life. Put your characters under a microscope and study their flaws. How real are they? Will I love them just as you do? Then go and show it to your readers in the same way a teen will try to draw attention to his date at a Valentine’s party. The next time one of you want me to read your story and tell you what I think, I'm going to listen for the sigh at the end of your request. If you aren't presenting your story because you love your characters and for no other reason, I probably won’t like it either.


Have a great afternoon and happy creating.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

ARE BOOK PIRATES STEALING YOUR BOOKS?





 
There is an increasing amount of disregard for the rights of authors. I read somewhere that the average book takes from 500 to 2000 hours from concept to finish, which is a considerable amount of time invested in a project. Even some otherwise honest people seem to think books should be free and you have no right charging for yours. Try driving away from a gas station without paying for a fill-up and the wheels of justice will start to grind, but stealing your books doesn’t seem to arouse the kind of ire it should. Yesterday I checked one well-known pirate site and discovered five of my books being offered for free. I sent them a letter of detest and they promised to take action within 72 hours. This morning when I checked to see if they had complied with my request, I found that they had added four more books of mine to their site. The legal system is expensive, cumbersome, and unsympathetic to the stealing of intellectual property. I wonder if you have checked pirate sites on the Internet to see if they have stolen yours. If you haven’t had your daily temper tantrum, this might get you cranked up into high gear. Excuse me while I get back on the carpet and drum my heels some more.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

WHAT DOES THE HACKING INCIDENT AT ANTHEM MEAN TO YOU?

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The recent coverage by the news media of the hacking incident at Anthem has left a lot of people confused and fearful after it was reported that the financial information of 80 million customers has been compromised. All of this was done over the Internet by some unknown person or persons. Coming at a time when North Korea made additional threats against the U.S., there were some who wondered if they were responsible. Others pointed a finger at China. Actually, you don’t need a government to hack a database like most companies have, even the big ones. Most of them have our information protected with little more than a user name and a password, much in the same manner as you do on your home computer. Programs that scan and prevent intrusions are not much more effective than the virus protection and firewall on your home computer. The easiest method of intrusion is simpler than you might imagine. Hackers can sometimes trick an employee to let them into the system by posing as a supervisor or an employee of another company that has a ‘right’ to access the information.
Over the last decade or two, companies have made an effort to collect personal information from every individual that is a customer, or might be a customer at some time in the future. Basically, the information they collect consist of your name, birth date, email address, physical address, your age, employment, credit history, salary, and sometimes your heath history. Why do they want this and who is responsible for such an intense effort to compromise your privacy. Customer and company security is the answer you will probably get if you ask, but the real answer is the fact that private information is a gold mine to those who have it. What is the source of the information? Part of it comes from you because banks, credit card companies, and health care providers demand it. The other information comes from computers who search out bits and pieces of information and put it into a file. Some of this information is passed along to companies that have some connection with the people you do business with. Surprising, despite the ‘policy’ stated in their disclaimer, banks are as guilty of passing private information along as anyone else. Some of it winds up in the hands of telemarketers.
So what can you do besides wring your hands? You can subscribe to a credit protection agency that will monitor activity on the Internet that might impact you personally. There is a fee involved that can be as low at ten dollars per month. For this amount they will monitor you bank accounts, your driver’s license, your credit cards, and report any use of your personal information that might cause a threat. If you want full monitoring that includes your credit union and your 401 plan it will cost you as much as forty dollars per month. After the protection agency reports any threat they find, it is up to you to take action. You would think that the people who caused the problem in the first place would be financially liable for any damage. That, however, is not the way it works in the market place.
The hack at Anthem, as far as I know, is the largest incident to date, but some who have suffered something similar have had to pay for the loss and then sue for the return of their funds. Some companies will tell you that they will assume any loss you incur, but you need to find out what this means. Some customers have paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and spent years getting their identity back and their credit repaired. Check each bill or report from all companies where you do business. If you find a discrepancy, report it immediately. Remember that this is not something that will blow away in a few weeks or even in years. It will be with us forever and will require vigilance on your part. Companies should have provided a system that guarded our information before they collected so much of it and passed it around so freely. A complaint to our government officials might accomplish something, but don’t hold your breath. Some of them have their hands thrust deeply into the pockets of the companies that are exploiting you.   

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Political Pain in My Gut

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There are two kinds of crazy people in the world; Liberals and Conservatives. Their craziness arises from their tendency to find simple solutions to complex problems. The majority of us live out our lives in the vast wasteland between these two extremes. We have no leaders and can attract few followers to any cause because people respond to hysteria more readily than to a workable solution.

The founders of this country felt that a free press was necessary for the exercise of a fair and equitable republic. If a free and unbiased press ever existed, it has long since passed into oblivion. The conservative press pounds away at us daily with a new crisis. There are always several catastrophes to choose from, but if necessary, they will ramp up some trivial event to make it sound as if Armageddon is imminent. The conservative’s solution will require more controls, greater expenditures of our resources, and a closer watch upon our citizens. The liberal press will focus on oppression by the police, our institutions, or real or perceived threats that are supposed to be breathing down our collective necks. The response of the liberals will be to point a finger at repressive rules, whether they come from government, religion, or traditional morals.

The next election is approaching and most of us will not vote for anyone, but rather vote against the one we fear the most. The conservative candidate will offer more tax cuts to the wealthy and to business, telling us that it will trickle through the economy and create jobs, despite the fact that we have seen a steady cut in employment over the last thirty years. Liberals will want more social programs, taxing of the rich, and closing all of the loopholes in the tax system. For every plank in any candidate’s platform that we like, there will be dozens of others that are programmed to cut our jobs, destroy our savings, and turn the American dream into a nightmare.

So what is the solution, you might ask. The short answer is there isn’t one, or at least nothing that we can grasp that will offer a quick solution to our problems. In every important area of life, we build carefully, a brick at a time until it is done. If we are going to get out of the hole we have dug with our shortsightedness, it will require time, and I am not sure how much of that we have left. After two hundred years of history, it should be apparent to all of us that we can’t build anything worthwhile using politicians that are bought by special interest, whether they are on the right or on the left. We must learn to think for ourselves and quit parroting the half-baked ideas of Talk Show Host from either extremity of the political spectrum. In the meantime . . . God help us all.
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Monday, August 4, 2014

In The Eye Of the Beholder

Being young is wonderful -- perfect teeth, perfect hair, and a lot of other perks that go along with being young. Tight skin with a healthy glow tops flabby and out of shape in the minds of many. I was astonished when a young friend of mine told me about her normal routine after work. She was a Chinese-American who grew up in the Far East, and had a slightly different take on life than the rest of us. She, along with her brothers and sisters, gathered around their grandmother’s bed each evening and talked about their day.

“She is so beautiful,” she told me with a sense of pride. Digging in her billfold, she produced a picture and handed it to me. Her grandmother was a diminutive woman with an over-abundance of wrinkles. It wasn’t one of those things -- she is beautiful inside. My friend actually thought that her grandmother’s features were attractive. Quite a contrast between the way her family viewed the elderly, and our ‘throw away’ attitude of everyone past twenty-five when the first wrinkles appear.


In our society, we don’t need more anti-aging products. Instead, we need to adjust our attitudes and realize there are no throw away people. We have been sold on perfection and programmed to believe that anything less is a terrible plight that should be avoided at all cost. Wrinkles and stretch marks are there for a reason. They are milestones of our various struggles and victories. Beauty, in the sense of what we hold to be true in western society, is a fleeting illusion. We need to accept the reality of what nature has given to us and learn to be comfortable in our own skin.