Monday, July 19, 2021

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 immediate effective defense against it.

     Until Jonas Salk came up with a vaccine that could defeat it. There were no protests against using his vaccine. No reluctance. 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 eventually 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.

     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.

     The world is facing a resurgence of killer Covid. Cases of the Delta variant are rising in every one of our 50 states, almost 100 percent among those who have chosen not to be vaccinated. President Biden said, “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.” Yet anybody in America can get a vaccine free any time they want, unlike in so many other, poorer countries on the planet where people would gladly accept the vaccines to stop the severe sickening and the dying.

     If we do not want to go back into lockdowns and mandated masking, we must get vaccinated. If we want to eat out freely and take a cruise and travel and shop, we must get vaccinated. It’s as simple as that.

     I have a friend in management at Pfizer and he is deeply dismayed that after all the research and work and rigorous testing that produced one of the safest and most effective vaccines ever developed, people by the millions are refusing it. They’ve seen hundreds of their friends and family members and neighbors take the vaccines months ago with no ill effects, yet still they refuse.

     Please. Please help spread the word to get vaccinated. It can save so many lives and keep our economy healthy, too.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

Monday, July 12, 2021

Six-word short stories

     Ernest Hemingway, famous for his Spartan style, is credited with this semi-famous six-word story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

     It’s a strong example of creative compression, inviting reader participation to flesh out the story, which all good fiction does.

     Here are a few six-word shorts I came up with:

Life                                                                  

Too young. Too busy. Too old.

Tragedy

Bought a gun. Sonny found it. 

DMV Statistics

One more drink. Four more dead.

Cell Addiction

Drove and texted. Carved in stone.

Parting

Married happily.  Money woes.  Lawyers richer.

Golden years

Growing old.  Looking back.  Shoulda dids.

Panic

:-))    :-)    :-o     :-/     :-<     !!!

Posture

Sat up straight.  On a thumbtack.

Native America

Chargoggagoogmanchoggaggoggchaubunagungamaugg. White people came. Webster Lake.

(The original Indian name for the lake, which is in Massachusetts near the Connecticut border is the longest place name in the United States.)

See if you can come up with a few shorts. It’s great practice for condensing. Most first drafts of any writing, fiction or non, can be cut down considerably, and always with beneficial effect.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

Check out my North Carolina series suspense novels on Amazon. Also see the latest stand-alone novel of Africa, Killing Ground. Easy buy links in print or Kindle through my website.

 

 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Have you heard of Benford's Law?

Simply stated, this law says that if you take any large group of multiple-digit numbers--U.S. city populations, numbers of arrests per year in multiple cities, vote counts in numerous American counties, the numbers of book buyers for the top 100 bestselling authors, even the number of fractions of seconds each note is held in a long piece of music--in short, any database of supposedly random numbers on any subject, the numbers will begin with 1 for 30% of the time. Moreover, more of the numbers will begin with 2 than 3, more will begin with 3 than 4, more will begin with 4 than 5, and so on through 9, which will begin a number sequence only 5% of the time. 

If you chart this with 1 through 9 on the X axis (horizontal) and each number's frequency of occurrence on the Y axis (vertical), you get a smooth downward-sloping curve called the Benford Curve.  Many, many statistical samplings of supposedly random numbers databases have borne this out consistently, and statisticians take the law into account in their work. This phenomenon has even been used to detect fraud if a given database does not follow the law.

Nobody knows why this law is true. 

It just is.

(Source: the "Connections" documentary series on Netflix)

Phil

Check out the popular suspense novel series set in the Great Smokies at www.philbowie.com

Monday, May 24, 2021

Real Leadership

    Many people still ask, “Why spend money on space when we have so many dire problems here on Earth?”

    At the least, the space effort has resulted in thousands of beneficial fallout tech and science advances. Moreover, it is early efforts in what will surely be an attempt to save our whole species by migrating over time to a new young planet when our sun can no longer sustain us. What could be more important?

    The really big waste of money, time, and resources is the massive military budget. Last year it was $686 billion (compared to the NASA budget of $22.6 billion). We're the only nation on the planet that maintains a global military presence of 800 bases in 70 countries. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. How would we feel if Russia or China had bases in Mexico and Cuba and Canada and patrolled our coasts with their carriers? One carrier costs $13 billion, by the way, and they want a dozen more. The waste is blatant and pervasive. The vast complex has grown out of control and there's no end in sight. Year after year we just tolerate it. For what? There is nothing that advances humankind in it. Nothing productive or uplifting.

    I recently watched a 1964 YouTube CBS documentary tiled "D Day plus 20 years." In it, newscaster Walter Cronkite and Eisenhower talk about Ike's recollections of the Normandy invasion. It's a fascinating portrait. He knew an amazing wealth of detail and took his tremendous responsibilities as the Allied Supreme Commander most seriously. The troops loved him and fought hard for him. We should be forever thankful they did. It could be a very different world now had they not. They deserve our refreshed respect as we approach Memorial Day 2021.

    In the video, Walt and Ike are alone, no big entourage, no limousines, no teleprompters, no flags. Ike drives a simple open Jeep himself and Walt takes a turn at the wheel, sometimes in the rain. Show me any president among the past half dozen who would have done the same. (Although Joe Biden might; he’s done pretty well by us thus far.) Ike is self-effacing but knowledgeable, giving full credit to those who served under him, and the steel in his spine is evident. His off-the-cuff message at the end of the documentary, while they’re visiting one of the several large cemeteries behind the invasion beaches, is deeply moving.

    He was a great American leader who even back then warned us about the pervasive encroachment and increasingly high cost of the bloated military-industrial complex.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts can be yours in print or Kindle from Amazon. (Easy buy link on my website.)

 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Stunning Cosmic Fireworks

    Everybody loves fireworks, but what many don’t realize is the Universe is putting on its own show nightly. It’s free and far surpasses Disney in splendor.

    The show is performed by dozens of nebulae. For some of them it’s bittersweet because they were created by dying stars along with whatever attendant planets they had. We can spot a few of them with the naked eye as faint smudges, like the famous one in Orion’s sword. With even a small backyard telescope they come alive in swirling, streaming colors and myriad shapes. With more powerful scopes they’re breathtaking. I was fortunate to view several through a large scope on an astronomy trip to the dry Atacama Desert in Chile a few years back, sights I will not forget. Hubble has shot spectacular images of many you can view online. Enlarged prints make excellent abstract art to decorate a home or office.     

    Some resemble creatures, like the stunning Butterfly Nebula, the Horsehead, the Oyster, the Lion, the Owl, the Turtle, the Tarantula, the Robin’s Egg, the Pelican, and the Cat’s Eye. Others evoke whimsy, like the Bow Tie, the Little Gem, the Dumbbell, the Little Dumbbell, the Double Bubble, and the Blue Snowball. Some have names drawn from legend or myth, like Cleopatra’s Eye, the Medusa, the Crystal Ball, and the Ghost of Jupiter. There’s even one called the North America Nebula that resembles our continent remarkably well.

     One of my favorites is the beautiful Veil Nebula, appropriately in graceful Cygnus, the Swan constellation. It’s the 50-light-years-long (that's 300 trillion miles long) remnant of a great supernova—the explosion of a giant star 20 times the mass of our Sun. It looks as though it’s drifting on a soft evening breeze.

    There’s a primeval hopeful aspect to a few of these grand displays because they’re vast molecular clouds of dust and gas that are nurseries where new stars and their planets are being born—whole new solar systems like ours, some that may ultimately harbor life.

    The nebulae are brilliant reminders that we, ourselves, are children of some long-ago cataclysm that forged many of the molecules needed to build the dazzling blue planet we call Home.

    We’re all made of star stuff from the perpetual fireworks display that illuminates the cosmic night.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts can be yours in print or Kindle from Amazon. (Easy buy link on my website.)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Remembering Mom

    May ninth was the day we set aside to remember and honor the women who gave us the greatest possible gift of life itself and guided us through all our formative years. My Mom was Edith Chapin Caughey, one of eight children born and raised in Waltham, Massachusetts.

    Dad’s first wife, Marion, died giving birth to their daughter, Nancy. Mom often cared for Nancy while Dad worked. They became close, soon married, and I was born a year later.

    We moved west to Northampton, Mass., when Dad took a job teaching in a trade school. We lived in a two-story house next to a gas station. The first floor had been a fish market when Dad bought the building. He remodeled it into a rental apartment, and we lived upstairs.

    Mom took a job as a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Over the years, she interviewed Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote news articles of all kinds, and reviewed plays at a nearby mountainside theater. Dad began a woodworking shop in 1945 in half of a rented two-car garage, designing and making prototype store displays for products like Ace Combs and Wearever fountain pens.

    In 1949, when I was ten, Dad and my maternal grandfather, John, built a home for us in the village of Williamsburg, Mass., and we moved that fall. Mom retired from her reporter job and began freelancing for New England Homestead magazine and other publications.

    Mom, Dad, and sister Nancy all taught Sunday school in the village church. I remember Mom preparing lessons using an easel and a felt board, cutting out biblical scenes from different colors of felt. In her lessons, she’d change the story scenes by laying up onto the tilted board different cutouts of landscapes and palm trees and silhouette people. She often baked for the church suppers that were some of the finest I’ve ever had.

    Mom kindled my early interest in books by reading to me Heidi, Brer Rabbit, and other engrossing tales, as she did for other village children in our small stone library. Later, with her encouragement, I devoured the Zane Gray books and the works of Mark Twain. Early on, she urged me to write the best I could for English classes, and she always gently corrected my grammar in conversations at the dinner table.

    She always stood by her family until her death much too early at 59. She’s an ineradicable part of who I am, and I’ve been proud to follow her excellent example as a lifelong freelancer myself, which has given me many rewarding experiences and enriched my life.

    Thanks, Mom.

Phil

www.philbowie.com

The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts, can be yours in print or Kindle from Amazon (Easy buy link on my website.)

Thanks to all those who’ve reviewed the series favorably on Amazon and kindly sent notes a

e-mails. You’re much appreciated

Monday, May 3, 2021

Our Nearly Anonymous Neighbors

    We share the North American Continent with two large neighbors bordering us, yet most Americans know little or nothing about either nation because they’re hardly ever in our news. Mexico is of course notorious for the dominance of their drug cartels and the resultant political corruption. But I suspect the majority of its citizens are just like the average American, good people who never make the news and are only trying to live a responsible and rewarding life.

    I’ve been to both nations on brief vacation visits and was sent to Canada once to do a job. Outside the major cities like Toronto and Montreal, the atmosphere is frontier-like, and I found the people warm and friendly.

    I visited Cozumel and Costa Maya on a cruise, but those are tourist-heavy places I’m sure don’t represent the average Mexican experience. I love the food and their music, and I’m slowly learning Spanish through the fun online site Duolingo.

    Both nations have popular exhibits at Disneyland’s excellent Epcot World Showcase, and I’ve visited them with much interest several times.

    Canada probably intrigues me most of the two because it’s closer to New England where I grew up. I can tell you the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is a lot cleaner and more attractive than our side. Dad drove our family to New Brunswick on one vacation and the seacoast was spectacular, as is the coast of Nova Scotia. I’m told the Canadian Rockies are majestically beautiful.

    Some facts about our large cool neighbor to the north:

    We share the world’s longest international border at 5,525 miles, and it’s undefended by either military.

     Despite having only 11 percent of our population—fewer people than live in Tokyo’s metropolitan area—Canada is bigger than us, second only to Russia, and has the longest coastline on the planet at 151,000 miles. It has more lakes than all the other nations on Earth combined. They have the third largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

    Canadians are the world’s most educated; nearly half of their adults hold college degrees. They were the third nation in space after Russia and America.


    The Trans-Canada Highway is 4,860 miles long, running through all 10 provinces from St.

Johns, Newfoundland, on the East Coast to Vancouver Island on the West Coast. I’ve

always wanted to do it on a motorcycle. Vast areas of the northern regions have no roads at all

and depend on bush planes for supplies. Some extreme northern regions can have snow year

round.

 

    The northern reaches are frigid. Drivers in Churchill leave their vehicles unlocked to offer

escape to anyone confronting a polar bear. In Newfoundland, people sometimes play hockey on

frozen ocean bays.

 

    Canada has been our staunch ally in major conflicts. After Pearl Harbor, they declared war on

Japan before we did.

 

    Overall, Canadians seem to hold America and its people in high regard. Maybe it’s time we

 returned that admiration and affection.


Phil

www.philbowie.,com

 

The suspense novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts, can be had in print or Kindle from Amazon (Easy buy link on my website.)

Thanks to all those who’ve reviewed the series favorably on Amazon and kindly sent notes and

e-mails.