Monday, November 30, 2020

Where is American Patriotism?

    On infamous 9/11, nineteen terrorists killed 2,977 Americans on our own soil, and our people came together in a wave of patriotism not seen since the Second World War. Flags sold out in days. Political affiliations and differences evaporated. We were united and unanimously defiant in the face of the common enemy.

    In 2020 a new deadly enemy has attacked us everywhere, except this time it is mindless and microscopic. In ten months of terrorism it has infected over 13 million of us and killed over 267,000 of us. For some perspective, that’s 90 times more than those killed on 9/11. It’s 55 times more than our combat deaths in the Gulf War, the Afghan fighting, and Iraq combined. In ten months the toll has been six times the number of American combat deaths in all 19 years of the Vietnam War. Within a week or so the toll will exceed the horrific number of American World War Two combat deaths.

    We have only four percent of the planet’s population, yet we have 19 percent of the global deaths. The curve of infection and death across our nation is nearly vertical, setting terrible records with no end in sight. An American is felled by the virus now every minute of every day. The killer continues to ravage our people and our economy.

    Yet where is American patriotism in the face of this murderous enemy?

    Spring breakers and normally patriotic bikers and political rally attendees and college and neighborhood party goers have continually flouted the best advice of the experts like immunologist Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx and have defied the imposed state and city restrictions in the name of personal freedom, only deepening the crisis and prolonging economic recovery for all of us.

    Severely stressed health care workers and medical science experts recently begged us not to travel and gather this Thanksgiving. Millions of us traveled and gathered anyway.

    Naomi and I decided to watch the Macy’s parade for some uplifting entertainment. The company had scaled it back because, they said, safety was of paramount concern. But none of the parade participants were masked or practicing distancing. There was a heavy police presence, most likely to deter any potential terrorist attack. But not one officer we saw mingling with the crowd was wearing a mask to thwart the invisible killer that stalks across America. Not one. Very few of the thousands of spectators wore masks or bothered to distance. Most cheered loudly. We turned off the coverage in frustration and dismay well before the parade ended.

    Vaccines are on the way, but we’ll need to get through several more months before they can help defeat this invader.

    We have the simple weapons needed to fight the enemy and cut the death toll right now, and we know from examples the world over that they work. Avoiding all unnecessary gatherings. Wearing effective masks. Keeping our distances. Washing our hands. If we will only do these things we can save thousands of lives. Regardless of our individual views, we are all Americans first. And together we can beat this common enemy that is sickening and killing us.

    Please, people.

    Please spread this simple life-saving message among family and friends. It’s more important than ever.



Monday, November 23, 2020

Giving the Right Kind of Thanks   

   The pandemic is obviously and exponentially raging out of control all across America, partly because we’ve had no coherent national plan to fight it (and still do not), and partly because we’ve simply grown weary of it and want it to end. Far too many people have adopted a cavalier attitude and are not wearing masks and not social distancing, even though we’re being told over and over by the qualified experts like immunologist Dr. Fauci that those are the best two weapons we have to effectively combat this scourge that has now killed a quarter million Americans and is breaking records for infections and deaths every day, straining our health care facilities and those who valiantly work within it to their limits.

    Masking and distancing have somehow become politicized. Not wearing a mask is for some people a bold statement that their personal freedom will not be compromised. Some are still believing that Covid is no worse than the flu or that it’s an insidious hoax, but any health care worker will testify that it is indeed quite real and is extremely nasty. Some people simply feel that mask wearing is too inconvenient and annoying.

    It’s Thanksgiving week, and despite expert advice not to gather this year in traditional celebration, many are planning to do so anyway.

    We’ve thanked our courageous, overworked, and severely stressed health care workers for their heroic efforts, and that is certainly appropriate to do once again this week. But some of those hard pressed workers are begging us to show our sincere thanks, our support for them, and our compassion for our fellow Americans by masking up and distancing and not gathering (which risks spreading the disease now more than ever) while we all await a vaccine.

   What’s really inconvenient and annoying and an imposition on personal freedom is being shut away alone in an isolation unit with a tube down your throat, choking to death on a respirator.

   Or causing fellow Americans or someone you love to suffer that needless fate.

   Please follow the advice of the experts. Mask up and distance. Avoid unnecessary gatherings. These simple measures will help save lives.


Monday, November 16, 2020

 About being funny:

Readers really like good humor.

Readers really dislike not-so-good humor.

The difference between the two is subjective and elusive.

Writing humor can be some of the toughest work we try to tackle. A few pros of course can bring it off quite well. Janet Evanovich is a fine example with her plucky, sometimes riskily rash and vulnerable heroine Stephanie Plum, who works as an untrained and unlikely bounty hunter for her uncouth cousin Vinnie, a bail bondsman. Plum has the sometimes help of inherently humorous sidekicks like plus-sized unashamed former hooker Lulu and some quirky relatives like her prickly outspoken grandmother Mazur. She has a hot-and-cold romance with vice cop Joe Morelli, and she can always turn to the mysterious Batman-like Ranger when she needs serious muscle to help her get out of the latest dire jam she’s managed to get herself into. Evanovich has starred Stephanie Plum in more than two dozen best-selling novels and she’s showing no signs of slowing down as I write this. Humor has sure worked well for her.

Another beloved author for whom humor was a helpful career-maker was the late Robert B. Parker. His humor was less slapstick than the Evanovich style, more understated and wry, an integral element of the interaction between protagonists and their associates. This was showcased in his Spencer PI books and the resultant TV series. Several authors are carrying on the Parker franchise with somewhat varying degrees of success. A couple of them nail the humor style. A couple of them don’t, really.

There are a few commonalities in the styles of these two highly successful authors we can take note of and perhaps learn from.

For the most part, the humorous bits occur outside and apart from the serious scenes. For example, especially in the original Parker books, scenes of tension and lurking danger such as between Sheriff Jesse Stone and the sophisticated criminal Gino Fish, or scenes when somebody is killed in the Plum books, do not contain humor. The authors restrict the humor to the quieter scenes wherein it’s more appropriate. A better way of stating this might be their novels are not constructed primarily to showcase humor. The core structure is a serious engaging plot first, with humor used here and there only as a pleasant bonus for the reader.

In the Plum books the humor is a bit more outrageous. In the Parker books it’s more subtle, handled with a deft light touch.

Neither author in effect tells us when something is supposed to be funny. They let us figure that out for ourselves. I read a book recently wherein the author kept saying things like: “Susan threw back her head and laughed.” This after a bit of so-called humor that was not all that funny and thus did not warrant Susan’s strong reaction to it. By showing Susan breaking out in uproarious laughter, the author is indicating that you, the reader, should too. It’s similar to people I’m sure you’ve met who in conversations laugh excessively at their own bad jokes. Or those folk who append a string of ha,ha,ha’s to their online comments or texts. This author also had his protagonist and associates joking casually and only semi-cleverly while in the thick of mortal combat, which did not sound appropriate or authentic at all. You won’t find either Stephanie Plum or Jesse Stone ever throwing back their heads and laughing—or joking while in a serious fight.

These days TV comics (as on Netflix), both male and female, are almost all heavily foul mouthed, swearing a lot and employing scatological and sexual comments. Sorry, but I don’t get that. I much prefer the more intelligent and cleaner wit of Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld, and both those comedians have long been far more popular and successful with the general public as well. Jim Gaffigan uses cleverness to make us laugh, not profanity or sexual blatancy, and he’s one of the most popular comics out there now by far. Likewise, Stephen Wright appealed to our intelligence, not our base instincts. I view those foul-mouthed comics as insulting, arrogantly assuming I’ll accept and even admire their crude below-the-belt remarks. I don’t, and I’m obviously not alone.

If you want to write humor, the best advice I can offer is to study the two example successful authors, Robert Parker and Janet Evanovich, with their quite different styles. Then proceed with caution, perhaps somewhere in the range between the two, generally using light touches here and there only as seasoning for an otherwise engaging and well-plotted story.


For some distracting pandemic reading, try 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. Available in print or Kindle from Amazon. Money back if you don’t like them.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Our Cosmic Carnival Ride

    The newest Mars rover, Perseverance, launched last July and carrying an array of instruments along with a small aerial drone, has logged 159 million miles with some 133 million miles to go before landing on the red planet on 18 February, 2021. It’s streaking along at 60,000 mph, or a thousand miles every minute (equivalent to three minutes traveling from coast to coast across America). What would that feel like if we could hitch a ride on the spacecraft?   

    Actually, there would be no sensation of speed at all because we can only sense acceleration or deceleration, not constant linear (or near linear) velocity. There would be no perceptible movement of stellar bodies to give a visual indication, either, simply because every object is so very far away from the spacecraft. Don’t believe it? Need proof?

    Well, we're all doing high speeds in several different directions right now, in fact. As the earth rotates, we're moving up to 1,100 mph toward the east just sitting on our couches. That's one direction.

    We Earthlings speed around our sun in our annual orbit at 67,000 mph, covering 19 miles per second and we don't even need any ride tickets. That's another direction.

    Our whole solar system is orbiting the central black hole in our Milky Way galaxy at half a million miles per hour or 139 miles per second. That’s another direction.

    And the entire Milky Way is hurtling through space at 1.3 million mph or an astounding 361 miles per second (equivalent to flashing across the whole width of Florida in a single second). That’s yet another direction (toward the massive Andromeda galaxy).

    That makes four high velocity movements in different directions simultaneously. 

    It's a wild and crazy cosmic carnival ride, yet we sense almost none of it. The only clues we have are the sun and star field daily appearing to poke across the sky as Earth rotates, and the slow change of annual seasons as we orbit our faithful star.

    And you thought the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Zipper and the Dueling Dragons roller coaster were adventurous.

Phil For some absorbing pandemic reading, try 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. Available in print or Kindle from Amazon or easily through my website. Money back if you don’t like them.

To help save lives, please mask up and social distance in public.


Monday, November 2, 2020

 Correctly using our language

     Our language is endlessly expressive, but it must be used correctly to preserve its integrity and to be most effective. Too many times words are misused, so the language suffers. Here are a few examples:

     The original meaning of unique was one of a kind. As such, it could have no modifiers. You cannot have something that is very unique (very one of a kind). Something is either one of a kind or it’s not. The proper word you want if you’re going to use a modifier is unusual. Often something can be very unusual.

     The original meaning of enormity was a horrific abomination on a vast scale. The Holocaust was an enormity. An elephant is not, therefore, an enormity. An elephant is enormous, or unusually large.

     Credible means believable and does not mean credulous or gullible.

     Enervate means to weaken and does not mean to energize. A rush hour commute through insane traffic is enervating. A Starbucks cappuccino is energizing.

     Criteria is the plural, not the singular of criterion, which is the singular, and data is the plural form of datum.

     Bemused originally meant confused or perplexed. If you appreciate some humorous comment or incident, you are amused, not bemused.

     To imply means to suggest something without saying it outright. To infer means to draw a conclusion from what someone else implies. The speaker/writer implies, and the listener/reader infers.

     Comprise means to include; compose means to make up. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves. When you use compose, you put the pieces or segments first: Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.

     Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. “I can’t run any farther and I have nothing further to say about that.”

     Use fewer when you’re referring to separate items that can be counted, like apples or carrots; use less when referring to a whole category, like fruit or veggies: You have fewer dollars and therefore less money.

     We’re all clear on a lie meaning an untruth. It’s the other usage that can be troublesome. Lie also means to recline, as: “Why don’t you lie down and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lie is something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay.

It’s even more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.” (Sometimes it’s easier to just say, “I took a nap.” Or, “I put the book on the table.”)

     An often-misused phrase that particularly lights my fuse is center around. The center of a circle or sphere is fixed and unmoving in relation to that circle or sphere. Therefore, the phrase is impossible. You can center on something or revolve around it, as the planets revolve around the sun, which is stationery at the center of our solar system with respect to earth (the entire solar system collectively is moving through space). But the earth cannot center around the sun.

     There are lists of commonly misused words online. Study them to be sure you use them correctly.

     Of course, if enough people continue to misuse a certain word or phrase, the folks who write the dictionaries will eventually cave in, throw up their hands, curse (eloquently), and add the misused definition, sadly to the detriment of our language.


For some absorbing pandemic reading, try 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. Available in print or Kindle from Amazon or easily through my website. Money back if you don’t like them.