Monday, May 30, 2016

Preposterous Predictions

     There have always been scoffers, of course, those mean-spirited, short-sighted skeptics who pop up whenever somebody proposes a bold new idea.  They’re the vociferous naysayers, the critics who trumpet that it shouldn’t or can’t or won’t be done.

     Here are seven glaring naysayer blunders:

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” —New York Times editorial, 1920

“X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” —Lord Kelvin, Royal Society president, 1890s

“Stock Prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”—Irving Fisher, Yale economics professor, 1929

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” —Pierre Pachet, Toulouse physiology professor, 1872

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” —Harry Warner of Warner Brothers, 1927

“The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communications.” —Western Union company memo, 1876

“Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone . . . probably never.”
 —David Pogue, tech columnist, New York Times, 2006

     And how many have said that Trump would never make it this far?


Monday, May 23, 2016

Horn tooting time

     Forgive me for mentioning that several of my short stories have done okay recently, if I do say so myself.  It feels pretty good.  One is called “Mister Sad” about a suicidal man and a Down syndrome child named Bianca.  I wrote that one in admiration of a real-life Bianca I had the good fortune to meet on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, and it took second place in the UK Flash 500 fiction contest.  Another titled “Pocket Dream” about a pair of aged escapees from a system that discards our elderly, was a top twenty finalist in the Doris Betts Literary Competition (out of 185 submitted stories), and a science fiction yarn called “Silent Screams” about an abused android was “highly commended” in a Writers’ Village contest.

     Short stories are great fun because you can experiment widely, trying out new genres, page-testing characters who may star in a novel one day, or just honing writing skills.  Because there is no room in a brief yarn for lengthy exposition, the writing must be concise, characterization must be limited to a sentence or two, and ideally there should not be a single word that doesn’t contribute to the story.  It must be a tightly-woven tapestry with no loose threads.

     I’ve written many over the years, and even earned modest sums when editors bought a few of them.  In fact, my first published piece of work many years ago was a short story in the Clemson University literary journal, “The Chronicle,” when I was a student there.  I moderated a short story writing workshop at the Killer Nashville writers’ conference two years ago and had great fun doing it.  My recent collection “Dagger and other tales” brings together 17 stories from various genres, including an award-winner begun by Stephen King.  Many of these tales were previously published, and each has an introductory paragraph or two explaining how that particular story came to be.  “Dagger” is available on Amazon Kindle.  Or you can buy it easily through my website.

     If you’re a writer or an aspiring writer, I know of no better way to learn the craft than tackling a few short stories.  There’s still a fairly robust market for them, including several prestigious periodical anthologies.  Google will be pleased to help you find potential markets.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Maybe it’s just me . . .

     In a recent Washington Post editorial, Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason said that disparaging, stigmatizing words such as “convict” and “felon” for those convicted of a crime, sentenced to prison time, and ultimately released will be officially replaced by “person who committed a crime” or “individual who has been incarcerated” in all departmental communications, because those old harsh words can “drain a person’s self-worth.”  Ms. Mason made no mention of damage suffered to the bodies or to the mental health of the victims of these convicted offenders.

     In 2013, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter proposed amending city code to replace “ex-offender” with “returning citizen” and made that language change mandatory for city employees.  Again, he made no mention of what proper terminology ought to be for “victim.”  Perhaps Nutter would accept “unfortunate individual” as appropriate?  Or how about “person affected by an unlawful act?”

     In July, 2011, Anders Breivik blew eight persons into fragments with a van bomb, then methodically stalked and shot 69 more persons on an idyllic island owned by a youth summer camp organization.  In court he smiled frequently and gave a crisp Nazi salute.  He was sentenced to 21 years, the maximum under liberal Norwegian law.  He was sent to a comfortable well-appointed detention facility.  Recently he sued for violation of his rights, claiming he has suffered isolation from the facility’s population.  And he won.  The fact that his seventy-seven victims were deprived of the rest of their lives and are forever sealed in the cold isolation of their graves apparently was irrelevant.  (Count to seventy-seven out loud and visualize a different person, many of them young, for each number.  It will take you a while.)

     During the most recent Super Bowl, Doritos aired a commercial showing an ultrasound of a fetus in a woman’s womb.  “Pro-choice” groups took extreme umbrage, accusing Doritos of “humanizing fetuses.”  Which leaves me perplexed.  What is a fetus if not human?  Sub-human?  Simian?  Maybe in their view it is simply an “organic thingy.”

     Increasingly, euphemisms are being used to avoid calling things what they really are.  “Planned Parenthood,” for example.  Or politicians simply “mis-speaking.”  Or illegal aliens being considered merely “undocumented.”  Terrorist attacks termed “man-caused incidents.”  Washington these days is rife with this.

     Do such trends in societal thinking deeply disturb anybody else?

     Or is it just me?


Monday, May 9, 2016

Brutal Barbs

     It’s always interesting reading those few grumpy one-star Net comments on products and services, and those emotional discussions on every news issue or announcement, which often degenerate into the crudest kinds of name calling and vicious put-downs.

     We’ve always had put-downs, of course, but in those much-lauded good old days they were more civilized, more intelligent and clever.  Classier.

     A few examples:

     From Beethoven after listening to a rival improvising on the piano for a half hour: “Will it be long before you begin?”

     Theodore Roosevelt about President McKinley after he refused to declare war on Spain:  “No more backbone than a chocolate eclair.”

     Abraham Lincoln on the ideas of his political opponent Stephen Douglas:  “As thin as the soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.”

     H.G. Wells on a literary work by Henry James:  “A magnificent but painful hippopotamus.”

     Winston Churchill on Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after he supposedly convinced Hitler to leave England alone in exchange for Britain’s noninterference:  “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

     Winston again on Clement Atlee:  “A modest man, who has much to be modest about.”

     Prince on a rival’s new album:  “Michael Jackson’s album was called ‘Bad’ because there wasn’t enough room on the jacket for Pathetic.”  (So-long Prince.  You were a fine musician.)

     But my favorite is one from radio and TV host Arthur Smith to a rude heckler.  I think it can be applied equally well to most of those mean-spirited losers out there who cruise the Net giving one-star reviews to everything they come across:  “Sorry, I can’t hear what you’re saying.  I’m wearing a moron filter.”


Monday, May 2, 2016

The terror among us

     There has been much apprehensive discussion about the potential threats we face from shadowy terrorism.

     What if 3,154 Americans had been recently killed by lurking terror among us in the most gruesome ways imaginable?  What if this terror had injured 424,000 more Americans, many of them grievously?

     Those tragic statistics are real, recorded in the span of 2013 alone.  The casualties are even worse for 2014.  And for 2015.  They will be worse still in 2016.

     The bloodshed goes on.  Day after day.  Year after year.  At horrendous cost in lives and lost productivity and dollars. 

     The lurking terror among us is distracted driving.  It’s killing and wounding us every day.  Ten percent of all drivers under 20 involved in fatal accidents are reportedly distracted.  At any given daylight moment across our nation 660,000 drivers of all ages are using cell phones.  Some of them will not live to see tomorrow.  Headset phones have proven no safer to use while driving than hand-held devices.

     All of this death and destruction is entirely unnecessary.
     Yet has even one presidential or other public-office candidate dared raise this horrific issue?

     Might this terror be a worthy topic of political debate?  Might it deserve some attention from our lawmakers in Congress?

     Does anybody care?

     Somebody better.  Because if we continue to ignore this dark and very real terror among us, the decade beginning with 2016 will witness this scourge needlessly killing 50,000 more Americans and injuring four million.  Will you or someone you care about be among those?

(Statistical source: