Monday, July 6, 2020

Spain Goes Rad Vegan

In Barcelona they put on a concert in the ornate Opera House to an audience of plants.

The audience reminded me of Congress.

Only the Venus flytraps clapped but at least no audience members got up to leaf.
The daisies and the roses gave a blooming ovation.
The whole audience experienced an hour of growth, really.
However, kudzu is expected to reach into the balconies by the end of the week.
Management is considering providing takeout salads to Barcelonans at considerable discount.

Check out the new novel Killing Ground in print or e-book.

p.s. Americans are still refusing to wear masks even in dense crowds despite the out-of-control numbers of new cases in many states. Please reconsider this behavior. Masks can save lives, as evidenced in countries around the world. Spread the word.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Americans Unmasked

    Many people among us refuse to wear masks because they perceive it to be an infringement of their personal freedoms.

    But if that’s true there are quite a few other strictures that could also be considered to compromise our freedoms. We’re not allowed to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We can’t cruise the Interstates at 100 mph. By law we must stop for school buses. We must wear seat belts. I’m a lifelong motorcycle rider and in my state of North Carolina I’m forced to wear a helmet or face a stiff fine. Do these laws compromise our personal freedoms? I don’t think so. Without such laws we’d have far more needless deaths and injuries, higher insurance rates for all of us, and higher health care costs. I don’t believe any thinking person wants a lawless society in which anybody can do whatever they want in the name of freedom.

    A recent study by the Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research projected that mask wearing and social distancing can cut virus deaths by two thirds, and statistics in areas that have observed those simple rules would seem to bear that out.

    At least if a motorcycle rider chooses to not wear a helmet, or somebody refuses to wear a seat belt, flouting laws which are intended to save those same people from severe injury or death, it’s only their lives that are in danger.

    But people who drink and drive or cell phone and drive or drive like NASCAR contenders or don’t stop for school buses are putting others at grave risk, which is of course why we have laws preventing such behaviors.

    As near as I can find out no other nation in the world protests the required or suggested use of masks to help fight this current common enemy of all humankind. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases, spoke out last Friday about people congregating without any recommended precautions. “They’re not physically distancing and they’re not wearing masks, and that’s a recipe for disaster.”

  In our current circumstances, those who flout the rules and the best advice of pandemic experts like Fauci and refuse to wear masks in public or to social distance because it compromises their sense of freedom are not only risking their own lives but also potentially exponential numbers of other people’s lives as well.

    And they have no right to do that.

    Even in free America.

    Especially in America, where we’re supposed to care about each other.


Monday, June 22, 2020

The New Social Revolution

    Two serious issues far too long embedded in our society have of course become increasingly clear in recent events. We still have an endemic racial bias against minorities—blacks, native Americans and others. And law enforcement in our country needs overhauling on basic levels. Hard to dispute that when certain cops blatantly use excessive force and commit murder after murder on video. Citizens by the hundreds of thousands are demanding reform through massive protests, and millions more support those events that have peaceful intent. But as usual the protests have brought out a rogue element of extremists and destroyers and looters, casting a shadow over the whole movement and tending to swing the pendulum too far the wrong way.

     Recently there’s been a rash of statue-toppling across America.

    One day in San Francisco protesters tore down statues of Francis Scott Key, lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner;” St. Junipero Serra, first US saint of the Catholic Church; and Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president who once bought a slave (whom he freed) but who led the Union with distinction against the slaver Confederacy. Nobody has yet attacked the imposing General Grant National Memorial in Manhattan. Another recent target has been Teddy Roosevelt, despite his many contributions including the preservation of wilderness areas and the establishing of our treasured protected national parks.

    Portland rioters even went so far three days before Fathers’ Day to attack and pull down a statue of George Washington, revered father of our whole nation. They wrapped a flag around his head and torched it because he was once a slave holder. We have a statue of him in Raleigh, so I suppose that will have to go, as well (protesters there have recently destroyed two other local statues, so they’ve had some practice). Of course, the name of our national capital will need changing. They'll also have to rename towns like Washington, NC, and any number of streets across America. It might be a bit too difficult to pull down the Washington Monument, but I suppose it can at least be defaced a good way up with graffiti using ladders. The history books will need to expunge George Washington Carver even though he was black. And what about Mount Rushmore? It’s not only racist because of Washington’s visage, it’s also sexist because none of the figures is female, although I heard there’s a plan to give George a dynamite nose job and some Sherwin-Williams makeup and rechristen her Georgina.

    We’ll have to be very careful about putting anybody up on a pedestal from now on lest the radical protesters come in the night with their righteous zeal, their ropes, and their spray paints.

    And if Aunt Jemima Syrup and Uncle Ben’s Rice represent racism, are Betty Crocker Cookbooks and Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal reverse racism? Col. Sanders’ Chicken and Granny Smith Apples must be ageist. And Mickey and Minnie and Daffy must be shameful symbols of creature denigration.
    Let’s hope the extreme elements on both sides of the racial and law enforcement issues will calm down and our country will see long overdue meaningful and lasting reforms emerge from the current chaos that will change our society for the better.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Things we’ve been told that are untrue

   There are many things our leaders and the media have convinced us to believe over the years that are simply untrue.

   How many generations of us learned that the adventurous hero Columbus discovered America in 1492? There's even a national holiday in his honor. But the guy was neither a hero nor did he discover our continent. Leif Erickson was the first to come here across the Atlantic Ocean 500 years before Columbus, but there have been natives on our continent for thousands of years, and they were obviously the original discoverers, who came here across the land bridge that once existed between what are now Alaska and Russia. Columbus was a cruel killer who sold thousands of Taino people to Spain as slaves, murdered hundreds of native people in what is now the Dominican Republic to quell a rebellion, and, because he introduced diseases for which natives had no immunity, killed some 230,000 more Tainos. Not a guy we ought to be proud of, and many cities and states have finally converted Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

   Ask anyone what the first words spoken on the Moon were and you’ll get Armstrong’s pre-written statement about one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. But those were not the first words.

   The first words spoken on arrival at the Moon’s surface were, “Okay, engine stop.” Followed by, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Armstrong only spoke his famous line seven hours later. When you land at a New York airport, the first words you’re likely to hear from the captain are, “Welcome to New York,” not something you might hear that captain say seven hours later while stepping out of a cab. You arrived in the city when the aircraft’s wheels touched down.

   We’re led to believe astronauts experience little or no gravity in the ISS. Not true.

   Gravity on the station is virtually the same as it is on the planet’s surface. Gravity is acting on the astronauts constantly but they’re also in constant free fall; that’s why they’re floating, and why they can have such fun manipulating apparently suspended objects. It’s the same sensation skydivers experience before opening their chutes. The whole ISS is also in free fall. Only its high velocity of 17,150 mph keeps it in equilibrium with the pull of gravity. As it falls, the curvature of the planet is receding at the same rate beneath it, thus it always remains in orbit.

   Our politicians at every level have often lied to us over generations, but only relatively recently have we had the almost instant ability with the Internet and other public avenues to fact check them and call them on their lies, which any thinking person can see have become routinely commonplace in Washington and Congress. As just one fairly recent example, we were convinced of the need to invade Iraq to hunt down horrible weapons of mass destruction and punish Saddam Hussein for his alleged evil ties to Al Qaeda. But both reasons were utter myths, and that ill-advised adventure cost thousands of young American lives, thousands more wounded, a hell of a lot of money, and an unknown number of Iraqi civilians dead including women and children.

   Except for watching the least biased and most objective national and world TV news we can find these days (often PBS), Naomi and I are Netflix addicts. There’s a documentary that caught our attention. Movie maker Oliver Stone directed and narrated “The Untold History of the United States” and it’s enlightening.

   What were the true factors that conspired to plunge the world into two great wars? What were the real and shifting motives of the major leaders throughout those horrendous conflicts? Who was Henry Wallace and what impact did he have on our world? What surprising big businesses benefited by selling to both enemy and ally? Was it necessary to drop two nuclear bombs on civilian Japanese targets? We’ve been led to believe it saved thousands of American lives, and we want to believe that, but it simply is not true. What sort of machinations went on offstage during the protracted and senseless Vietnam War and the fifty-year cold war?

   How often have widely accepted historical narratives been at odds with the truth?

   All too often, I think.

   But thanks to such documentaries and to many courageous writers of both fiction and nonfiction down through the centuries, we do get corrective glimpses of truth. We need to be perceptive enough to recognize them.
             “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” —Arthur Conan Doyle

See the new novel Killing Ground on Amazon in print or Kindle.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Law Enforcement Out of Control?

Federal Law Enforcement organizations:

FBI Police
U.S. Dept. of Justice
Homeland Security
Secret Service
U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division
U.S. Marshals
U.S. Immigration and Customs
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
CBP Office of Field Operations
U.S. Border Patrol
Bureau of Prisons
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
Financial Crimes Enforcement
Dept. of Defense Police
U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Police
Air Force Office of Special Investigations
Bureau of Industry and Security
Office of Export Enforcement
Federal Reserve Police
Smithsonian Police
Supreme Court Police
Pentagon Force Protection Agency
Bureau of Indian Affairs Police
Amtrak Police
Hoover Dam Police
U.S. Treasury Police
Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
National Nuclear Security Administration

It takes several breaths to recite the whole incredible list, and I’m sure I left a few out.
Add to all this the thousands of state and local police agencies nationwide. In my home state of North Carolina, for example, all 100 counties have individual sheriff’s departments with deputies, all cities of any size have their own police departments, we have a statewide agency called the N.C. Law Enforcement Division, and of course we have a N.C. Highway Patrol. All other states have similar multi-tentacled law enforcement structures. And in case there’s not enough exiting law enforcement the National Guard can always be called in anywhere on special occasions.

As an example of just how ridiculous law enforcement in America can get, for the 2019 Superbowl in the Atlanta Mercedes Benz Stadium 50 different agencies were involved in security. Fifty. For a football game. Does anybody besides me question how that could possibly have been an effective, efficient, and economical application of law enforcement?

With such a mammoth collective law enforcing structure permeating every aspect and level of our society, why do we still have so much higher per capita crime rates, so many more murders, so many more gang and drug related crimes and ODs compared with, say, the Scandinavian countries where they manage to get along with far shorter lists of law enforcement agencies? When I was in Chile, for another example, I was impressed with their efficient nationwide Carabinieri, who seem to do just fine handling everything from protecting their national leaders to local infractions.

In considering American law enforcement and our sprawling government with its myriad agencies and our vast and expensive global military complex, is there a point when we should maybe ask when does enough become far too much?

This difficult year has exposed major cracks in our system of government on several levels and also in our society. We can learn from this and work to improve ourselves, or we can watch the cracks become irreparable fractures.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Things NOT cancelled:

    Many events, celebrations, games, and gatherings have been prudently cancelled to limit the virus spread and thus save thousands from sickness and death.

    But many things have not been and will never be cancelled, including:

          Spring and the other seasons
          Art in all its forms

    Be safe.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Have we already forgotten? 

   I recently received a catalog offering piloting clothing, gifts, and mementos. This was from a company I’ve long respected and have occasionally bought items from. I was appalled at what I saw on one page that offered an autographed book, framed signed posters, and a model of a German WWII fighter plane. Here’s the letter I wrote to the company.

   To Whom it May Concern:

   Received your Wright Brothers Catalog today.

On page 22 you feature three Nazi pilots and write of them in glowing terms: Gunther Rall ". . . third ranking ace of all time . . . his 275 victories . . . ,” Hans Marseille "the Star of Africa,” and Erich Hartmann ". . . highest scoring ace fighter pilot of all time . . . the 'Blond Knight' of Germany." Between them these three Nazi pilots shot down 785 Allied aircraft, killing hundreds of American and Allied men who fought one of the most evil regimes of all time—many of those men suffering unimaginable agony, such as being burned alive in their cockpits or being maimed and disfigured for life—just so you would have the right to lionize that vicious enemy they fought so bravely.

   I suppose a few neo-Nazi skinheads with swastika tattoos who are also free to live and express themselves among us in America might want the overpriced mementos on page 22 glorifying these three Nazi pilots.

   But, as you choose to remember and praise these Axis pilots, I choose to remember rather the courageous pilots of the Allied Powers who fought and all too often died in the Battle of Britain and in Italy and in the Pacific, and in North Africa and in the lethal skies over Europe so I, too, could be free.

   Please remove me from your mailing list.

Phil Bowie, pilot
New Bern NC

   On this Memorial Day let’s pause to remember all the thousands upon thousands of men and women from our military services who gave their lives for us in way too many wars.
   And also let’s pause to remember the nearly one hundred thousand souls our nation has lost this year to a new global enemy we all need to keep fighting in every way we can.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Crisis Perspective

   For perspective during these frightening and frustrating times, imagine you were born in 1900.

    In your 14th year, World War I exploded, and it only ended in your 18th year after killing 22 million people. In the same year that war ended, the Spanish Flu epidemic spread its deadly tentacles around the planet until your 20th year, sickening 500 million and killing 50 million in just those two terrible years. In your 29th year, the Great Depression began. Unemployment hit 25 percent and the World GDP plunged 27 percent. It persisted until you were 33. The country nearly collapsed along with the entire world economy. Many lost everything. Some committed suicide. People starved.

    When you turned 39, World War II erupted and two years later America was inexorably drawn into it. Between your 41st and 45th year, 75 million people died horribly. Millions were maimed. Millions were displaced.

    In your 50th year, the Korean War broke out, killing another five million people. In your 55th year the Vietnam War began and dragged on and on through four presidents and 20 years, killing four million more people to no purpose. In your 62nd year the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened nuclear Armageddon that was only narrowly averted, and a long cold war dragged on, shadowing our world.

    Think of all those souls born in 1900. How did people survive all of that? Yet many did and went on to help create a better world.

    Now humanity is under yet another global threat.

    Maybe we need to view it in perspective. Think of all those who came before us and their many trials.

    Maybe we need to help each other out while we each do everything we possibly can to defeat the common enemy. And try to build a better world on the other side.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Anti-vaxxers

     My mother shared a hospital room with a woman named Dot when they both gave birth, Dot to a daughter named Cynthia. They vowed their kids would share birthdays together, alternating between our home and theirs in our nearby Berkshire villages. Dot and her husband Howard, who had a woodworking business as did my Dad, became close friends over the years. Cynthia and I did, too.

    Dot and Howard had been childhood polio victims, and the disease had left them severely disfigured and impaired. One side of Dot’s face was paralyzed, though it never dimmed her crooked but genuine smile. Howard was hunchbacked with a twisted torso and one leg shorter than the other, though he never let his condition interfere with business or family life. He walked with an awkward lurching motion, often with the help of a forearm crutch (a walking cane with a forearm brace added).

     Widespread fear of polio was quite real throughout my early childhood. It was a terrible virus, paralyzing and killing seemingly at random, and like the current virus there was no effective defense against it.

     Until Jonas Salk came up with a vaccine that could defeat it. There were no protests against using his vaccine. On the contrary, people were deeply grateful for it. They welcomed it and lionized Salk.

     In recent years, routine mandated polio vaccination of children had eradicated it from America and had reduced the disease worldwide to relatively few cases. If the polio virus could be deprived of all hosts for a period of time, it would at last go extinct planet-wide, so the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with other charities and agencies set out to achieve just that, spending millions in a comprehensive effort. But anti-vaxxers and religious objectors and African terrorist groups interfered, intimidating and even killing vaccinators, so the valiant effort sputtered and failed. Leaving the polio monster alive and still lurking in the shadows. It’s on the prowl in several countries including Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. In some areas, cases are stealthily on the rise.

     One faction of the recent widespread lockdown protest movement, vehemently objecting to the very measures meant to save them from sickness and death, has been the anti-vaxxers, those who have chosen to deprive themselves—and worse, their children—of vaccinations in general. They are apparently willing to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of others to scourging diseases like the current deadly virus on the altar of their own selfish beliefs.

     I wish they could have met Dot and Howard, who would have given anything to have had access to the vaccine with the power to spare them from the horrors of polio, but which came too late for them.


Monday, May 4, 2020

On Wearing A Mask
   I’ve never copied a post from elsewhere on the Net, but a friend sent out this message and I think it bears repeating:

   I wear a mask in public, not only for me, but also for you.

   I know I might have no symptoms and still give you the virus. I don’t live in fear of the virus. I just want to be part of the solution, not the problem. I don’t feel government is controlling me; I feel I’m being a contributing adult to society and that the world doesn’t revolve around me and my comfort. That if we all could live with other people in mind, this world would be much better. Wearing a mask doesn’t make me weak, scared, or stupid. It makes me considerate. When you think about how you look or how uncomfortable it is or what others think of you, just imagine someone close to you—father, mother, grandparent, sibling, or friend—cut off from everybody and choking on a respirator.

   Then ask yourself if you could have worn a mask and maybe protected that person.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Reporting Lesson Number One    

     When my mother, Edith, was hired on at a Massachusetts daily newspaper as a rookie reporter, her first assignment was to write her own obituary to be filed away just in case. It turned out to be a tougher assignment than she thought.

     It was a deliberate lesson that her editor taught her in humility and, more important, in empathy.

     She never forgot it when she was writing news reports about the unfortunate, the troubled, the oppressed, the misguided, or the people out there on the fringes of society. All those ordinary un-famous souls who still deserve a compassionate and objective appraisal of their lives.

     My high school class in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, numbered only 22. There were just 99 students in the whole high school. In my senior year school mates Mack Heath and Linda Sanderson died one night when their car struck a bridge abutment. It hit our school and our idyllic village hard. I’ve thought of them often since. They never had the chance to live and love beyond their teen years and experience the broader world and work at some fulfilling occupations and thus make their lifetime contributions to our society. I’ve tried to do a little living in their names.

    We’re losing too many among us during these terrible days. We see the raw statistics every day. The numbing numbers. We perhaps need to remind ourselves that each of those thousands of lost souls was a person in many ways the same as us, whose life was no less precious, and who faced the darkness all too often alone and suffering.

    In the years to come, those of us who make it through should maybe do some living for the lost ones and work some extra measure of good in the world in their stead.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Forty dollars and a pocket watch

   My father Erol was a twin. He and brother Irol were the next to youngest of seven, and there were often three or four state kids also living on the Lisbon Falls, Maine, dairy farm along with a hired hand. Father Bowie was an itinerant house painter, so was usually gone off in search of work. He sent money back when he could.

   Life on the farm was not easy. Winters were harsh and there was no heat in the bedrooms. Nor was there indoor plumbing. Each morning before dawn Mother Bowie had to rise, rekindle the fire in the large old kitchen stove, break ice in the well to bring in water, and get breakfast going for the whole crowd. Her work was never done, though she only had one good eye. Mending clothes and keeping them clean. Planting and tending and harvesting the vegetable garden. Cleaning house. Canning in the fall to last out the winter. Raising chickens and gathering eggs. Baking. Once, she was chosen Maine Mother of the Year.

   They all had chores from early ages, including the twins. Chopping stove and fireplace wood, haying, digging ditches, repairing the house and outbuildings, fixing equipment, shoveling snow. The never-ending milking. Dad had a favored cow he fed and milked twice daily besides his other work.

   But it was a good life. They had a horse and buggy for hauling supplies and milk and butter. A sleigh to use when it snowed. The older kids tended the younger ones. There was a pond on their acres with fish and frogs in it, and they could skate on it when it froze over. They learned the essentials in a one-room schoolhouse. They put together a six-piece orchestra and played on Saturday evenings in the nearby villages. I have a 1909 poster in my office advertising a Vaudeville Show at the Pine Tree Grange Hall in Lisbon. Entertainment, fifteen cents. Dancing afterward to the Bowie Family Orchestra, thirty-five cents. One of the acts was a boxing match between the four-year-old Bowie twins, Irol and Erol. Equipped with baggy shorts and outsized gloves, they each took a half-hearted swing and then both started crying. Their elder sisters comforted them, and the match was called a draw.

   Hubert, the oldest boy, assumed the role of surrogate father and never left the farm, eventually opening a successful feed and farm supply store by the old house. Sister Celia opened a summer camp for girls across the hill road. The farm thrived.

   The other children left, one by one. And then in 1922, it was time for the twins to strike out on their own. Mother Bowie presented each of them forty dollars and a silver Waltham pocket watch, and words to the effect that how they’d spend their allotted time would define their lives. It wasn’t much of a stake, but it was all she had to give, and it proved sufficient.

   Irol got a job in retailing and rose to manage a Montgomery Ward store in New York State. Dad took a job in a Massachusetts cabinet shop to learn that trade and opened his own fine one-man woodworking shop in 1949, which he continued to work over the years while also teaching in a Northampton trade school. He always held down those two jobs, working long hours year after year. With my stone mason grandfather’s help, he even managed to also build our home during one year in the village of Williamsburg, where I grew up. Dad was a deacon in the village church. He became a rock of my generation in the family, always there when any of us needed anything. Dad’s apprentice, Gilman Smith, finally shut the woodworking shop down when he retired a few years ago.

   The twins were remarkably similar in many ways. Each had a daughter first and then a son, about the same ages. Each once chose a new car in the same color. Both became Masons. Often, they seemed to share the same thoughts, even over great distances. They played highly competitive golf over the years whenever they could get together, keeping track of scores. In the end they were dead even.

   They were sometimes cold on that Maine farm. Sometime hungry. Often exhausted. But never bereft of love or good humor. And every one of them turned out just fine, thank you, making their contributions to the world each in their own way.

    The family survived the terrible Spanish flu from 1918 through 1920, which infected half a billion people around the planet--a quarter of the entire world population--and killed 50 million. Nine years later they began to endure the Great Depression, which lasted almost a decade and made them frugal through all the years thereafter. They lived through the darknesses of World War II and Korea and Vietnam and the frightening Cold War years. They were tough and resilient and hard-working and appreciative of the free society they helped perpetuate. I’m immensely proud of them.

   Dad never forgot the lessons of his upbringing, and he kept his pocket watch until he died at 98. I have it now under a glass display dome near my computer. I had a jeweler give it a cleaning and a new crystal.

   It still works, both to keep time and to remind me to spend it well.

   As he did.