Friday, December 31, 2010

Edwin Edwards -- Governor of Louisiana

People from all over the country brag that their home state has the worst, or most corrupt politics in the country. My wife is from New Jersey and she has always argued in favor of The Garden State having some dubious political history -- until she moved to Louisiana. In spite of her home state loyalty, she seems to agree that things are very bad in the deep south.

For over fifty years, Edwin Edwards was involved in some way in the state's political scene.

Click here and read my review of an interesting new book about the former governor who is at the time of this writing, incarcerated in federal prison.

Even if you aren't from Louisiana or don't care about Louisiana, there's something for everyone with any interest in politics.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Robert E. Lee

PBS will air a documentary on Robert E. Lee on Monday, Jan.3, 2011 at 9:00 PM.

Notice the physical changes in his appearance as he aged, and also as the was affected by the stress of war. The two images furtherest to the right could be as close together as 6 months but are most likely a few years apart (maybe as much as 10-15 years). I had the opportunity to review a preview copy recently. Here's my review:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Art of Photography

Great new book on the technical side of photography.

Instructor Bruce Barnbaum includes important NON-technical info as well.

Shown here is one of my favorite images of his, "Moonrise Over Cliffs and Dunes".

Often criticized as being "false", it is actually a combination of two images. What it depicts, does not exist in nature.

Do you think this is ethical?

Does it compromise his integrity?

Check out my entire review here:

War Is A Racket

Ever heard of Smedley Darlington Butler?

How about "Devil Dogs"?

Butler was, at least during his lifetime, the most decorated solder in U.S. military history. To this day, not very many have won TWO Medals of Honor. Then, after a thirty-three year career of exemplar service to this country, Butler experienced an enlightenment. He began a campaign against war.

War Is A Racket is his book explaining his position, how he arrived at that position, and his recommendation for dealing with war. Here is my review of that book.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mel Torme - Remembered at Christmas

Another Christmas season and another time to hear our favorite Christmas music. Here's some info on the composer of a seasonal favorite, "The Christmas Song". Many of us know it by the lyrics in the first verse, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."

Nat King Cole had a big hit with it and it's one of the most covered Christmas songs ever.

Join me in celebrating and remembering Mel Torme. Follow this link to my tribute to him on

Sunday, December 12, 2010

John Lennon - Power to the People

Here's my review of a new compilation of Lennon hits.

I also had a review of a new book about John and the link to it is here:

Please take a moment to check out these articles and consider re-tweeting, sharing on Facebook, and/or Digging them. I would really appreciate it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Robert Altman - The Oral Biography

Mitchell Zuckoff has written a new book about film legend, Robert Altman. Here's the link to my review:

Altman directed 37 movies, countless television programs, and several plays. Here's the trailer to one of my favorite movies he directed:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Remembering Leroy Anderson

Who? You know.

I bet you know the words to some of his songs already -- may have danced to some of them, too. Do you tango?
Do you type?
Ever listened to a clock?
Danced with your cat?
You know Leroy, he's great! Oh, and he pronounces it: "la - ROY", the classical way. He went to Hah-vahd you know.

He's shown here in this photo with Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops for whom he wrote a number of pieces. A large portion of his body of work was referred to as "light orchestral" compositions. He would appear as a guest conductor for the BP and of course conduct his own pieces.

Read my article at this link for the rest of the story:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Playboy Hard Drive

Here's my news article on Playboy Magazine's most recent effort to recoup lost readership, revenue, and advertising.

Business analysts say the future for the magazine is online -- but this is off-line. It's an external hard drive.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

No Pressure

Since the television and motion picture industries started self-governing themselves and attempting to apply some standards to their products, it seemed as though killing children on-screen was a taboo.

A despicable ad campaign came out in October 2010 with an effort to scare people into supporting the climate change movement. Not only did they blow up children and adults who didn't consent to their "no pressure" approach, they succeeded in getting explosive reactions with an epic fail production.

Check out my wife's commentary on the campaign in her article here. As she says, if nothing else, "no pressure" will become a popular catch phrase.

Yo ho ho!

In January of 2010 I reviewed Michael Crichton's book that was discovered by one of his assistants after the legendary author's death, Pirate Latitudes. I liked it very much and now have learned that Steven Spielberg (who worked with Crichton on Jurassic Park and E.R.) will be doing the movie.
Also, the existence of a book trailer was just pointed out to me and here it is. If you have read the book, it might be convenient to read it again before the movie debut. That's what I plan to do. Hmmmmmm........I wonder who might get cast as Lazue?

Watch for more details as they become available.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Over a year ago, I started writing reviews for Blogcritics and more recently, Technorati. These are sister publications and appear online at their respective websites. My reviews cover a variety of media including movies, books, and music. My favorite kind of music is JAZZ and you can find my jazz oriented articles as a part of the “Jazzed Up” feature. Articles about other music genres are scattered through the “Entertainment” section of Technorati and the “Music” section at Blogcritics. Frequently my reviews are picked up by other publications like Seattle Post Intelligencer and other websites like "". Please leave a comment and if you have a request, please let me know!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clarence Darrow's Landmark Cases

How many lawyers can boast of having been involved in a "landmark" case -- or one haled as "the trial of the century"? Clarence Darrow could and did. How about THREE? Clarence Darrow did!

I recently reviewed a new book about those cases. An interesting bit of history (which I discuss in my review) involved three other trials without which, none of the three big cases would have seen Darrow's participation.

For some reason, books with long titles seem to appeal to me and this is no exception. The Great Trials of Clarence Darrow: The Landmark Cases of Leopold and Loeb, John T. Scopes, and Ossian Sweet is a, but wait. Just click HERE and read my review. It would be great if you could leave a comment over there or here. I'd appreciate the feedback.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"The Kennedy Detail"

When I got home from school That Day, my mother told me she had been watching "As The World Turns" when it was interrupted by the CBS News Bulletin, Walter Cronkite speaking.

November 22, 2010 was the forty seventh anniversary of this fateful day. Recently I had the opportunity to review a new book about the secret service agents assigned to protect the First Family on what they refer to as "That Day".

The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence was written by former agent, Gerald Blaine along with award winning author, Lisa McCubbin. Retired agent Clint Hill (shown in the above photograph) wrote the foreword.

Please click on the link, enjoy the article and share on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bob Dylan's Lyrics

It took me years to figure out some of Dylan's lyrics. The actual words I mean. Sometimes he's hard to understand! Finally, the internet came along and was of great assistance. Now there's a book out, two actually, that deal with where the lyrics came from and some inkling as to what they might mean and their significance.

Here's the link to my review of Still On The Road, by Clinton Heylin.

Last year, I reviewed Dylan's Christmas album and now I'm looking for it because it's about time to start listening to Christmas music again. Sure got here fast!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bob Creates a New Word -- "Politibacy"

My creative wife, Miss Bob, has been busy again. This time, she's come up with a new word. Her prolific writing (over 420 articles for Blogcritics in less than a year and 49 for Technorati in 26 days) has given her lots of opportunity for self expression and in doing so, she's come up with a great new word!

It is: " POLITIBACY" and she talks about and uses it in the first paragraph of her recent article reviewing a documentary by Oliver Stone.

It would have been great to have had this word when I wrote this article. It sounds better than "apolitical".

We would both appreciate some feedback; what do you think?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review of a Pulitzer Prize winning book!

This doesn't happen every day; or week; or even year. It was a great honor for me to be able to review the book that won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.

Another significant aspect is that this is true and more terrifying because it is. If you thought you were safe just because the Cold War ended, think again.

What's the 21st Century version of "duck and cover"?

Here's my review:

Friday, September 10, 2010

The New Mickey Spillane?

The second novel of the "Jo Epstein" mysteries is available now to pre-order from Amazon. It hits the streets in Nov. 2010.
Here's an excerpt from my recent review and a link to the entire article:

"[Joyce Yarrow]..may very well prove herself to be the Mickey Spillane of the 21st century. Has the golden age of pulp fiction returned? Yarrow and Spillane share similar roots, the Bronx and Brooklyn respectively. Like Spillane, she can come up with some great analogies, exciting plotlines and typical street/detective chatter."

Read more:

And here's the trailer from YouTube:

Global Warming -- Which side are you on?

Climatism! by Steve Goreham hit the streets back in April, 2010.
Here's an excerpt from my review and the link to the entire article:

Regardless of which side of the global warming issue you find yourself, have you been successful in converting anyone who doesn’t agree over to your point of view? That might be as easy as getting Michelle Obama to become a Methodist Republican — or getting Rush Limbaugh to become a Zen Buddhist Democrat!

Read more:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How I Watch Football

Seems like I've loved football all my life. Watching on TV is a lot of fun and I enjoy games when none of my favorite teams are participating. I just pick one of the two in the game and cheer for them.

Over the years, as I've gotten more familiar with the rules, listening to the announcers, commentators, and other talking heads has become boring, tedious, and irritating.

Many times, while watching an LSU game on TV, I would "MUTE" the sound and tune in on the radio so I could hear Jim Hawthorne, the "Voice of the Tigers". Living in the mountains of North Carolina makes it difficult to hear Jim now, so I've come up with another solution -- and it works for any game!

Again, I hit the "mute" button and now, I turn on my CD player and listen to OPERA!
Yes, you read that correctly, opera. One of my favorite performers is Kiri Te Kanawa.
One aspect of opera that appeals to me is the emotion -- and football games are full of emotion! Whether your favorite team is winning or loosing, it's a emotional roller coaster throughout. Years ago, the schools' bands were featured at half-time. Now we just get more commercials and talking heads.

Many public broadcast stations present the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons and that's great timing for college games.

NFL Films actually filmed a "Hi Mom Opera" years ago and that's where I got the idea. To see it, go to this link and skip all the way over to the last segment, at the "40 min" marker.
It's going to be a long time till football ends next year (the Superbowl isn't until May 2011), so enjoy the opera and have a great season!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rush Limbaugh! An Army of One

On August 12, 2010, Zogby International released poll results showing Republicans leading in this fall's elections while the presidential approval rating remains at 43%.

A June 2010 Gallup poll shows that people who consider themselves to be conservative outnumber their liberal counterparts by 2:1.

It's not common for the party in control to dominate the mid-term elections, but these numbers at lease raise eyebrows, especially considering the way Democrats dominated the last national elections.

Can observers credit Limbaugh as having influenced this turnaround? USA Today founder, Al Neuharth, reports in the August 6 edition that Limbaugh's daily radio show is carried on almost six hundred stations and has a daily listenership of "between 15 million and 20 million". He even claims to be a frequent listener himself.

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, the leading trade publication covering talk radio says, "Limbaugh is more -- not less -- important than he thinks he is."

Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer, political columnist, and former Clinton aide says that Limbaugh is dangerous because "millions of people believe him."

I recently reviewed the new biography of Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh An Army of One,by Zev Chafets, for I was surprised to learn that Limbaugh's January 2009 comment about the new administration, "I hope he fails." set the Republican strategy for the November 2010 elections. Limbaugh's role models included Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, and Muhammed Ali. He privately supports gay unions and does not feel strongly about capital punishment.

It was interesting to note that Limbaugh's basic tenants, belief structure, and modus operandi haven't changed much, if any, from his statements in the 1993 Playboy interview. Whether you are a loyal fan, or hate is guts is irrelevant. You will benefit from this book either way. Read the complete review here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jazz Guitar!

Instrumental jazz got me through pharmacy school. I hated to study in silence but lyrics distracted me. I needed some variety to classical and Mantovani. Dave Brubeck and "Take 5" came along just in time.

Over the years, I expanded my interests in jazz and started tuning in to WBRH (Baton Rouge High). It's the only high school radio station in the country and they play smooth jazz 24/7. Since I started writing for in October of 2009, it's been a pleasure to write about jazz music.

Check out my two articles on the work of Lee Ritenour. First a review of his latest project, 6 String Theory --

And, then, a real treat for me, an interview with "Captain Fingers" himself!

Enjoy the articles and please, I could use a few diggs, re-tweets, and shares on FB.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Are you ready for some football?

It's about that time again! As of this writing, the first high school games are barely six weeks away!
I'll be writing a feature column on football at Blogcritics and hope you will visit with questions, comments, and suggestions.

Here's some good summer reading to get you into the mood. These are my reviews of two great football books.

First a look at a unique idea that Jackie Sherril turned into a tradition at Texas A & M.

Next a review of the history of one of America's winningest college programs, The University of Alabama.

I recommend both of these books. Excellent writing, great stories, and memorable illustrations and photography. Both are available on Amazon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Violinjazz - Gypsy Jazz !!!

If you aren't familiar with this genre of music, you're in for a real treat! It has roots in folk, rural, local, and classical music. Django Rheinhart is probably the most well known and now here comes Jeremy Cohen drawing attention to an American artist who was also great in that field: Eddie South.

And here's my telephone interview with the talented Mr. Cohen:

You can hear samples at Amazon, please check it out.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sensational Murder Trial !!

"He needed killing." was, as the legend goes, a legal and effective defense in the Deep South for shooting a man.

The "hip pocket move" and the doctrine of "apparent danger," taken together, were the comparable defense in the Wild West Days of Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth, in the roaring twenties, was still considered in many ways to be enjoying the "wild west" ways of days gone by. It was certainly true of their legal system. To that synergistic mix, add Fort Worth's eleventh commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Mess With J. Frank Norris" and it's easy to see how a local pastor with the national celebrity similar to that enjoyed in later years by Michael Jackson or O.J. Simpson could be found guilty in the court of public opinion and acquitted by a jury of his peers.

Read my complete review here:

Image supplied by Stokes
Then if you want more info, I interviewed the author, Reverend David Stokes. Here's the link to that interview:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day Memories

Two articles published recently (this week) about Memorial Day. Please take a moment to click on each link and visit the two sites. There are some similarities, but each article is different.

Blogcritics gave my article there a front page headline on Saturday, 5-28-2010.

The article over at Hubpages is longer and has more photos as well as related merchandise:

I hope these two pieces help you remember those who gave the ultimate for our freedom today. Many times veterans are heard to say, "If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you are reading it in English, thank a veteran." No matter what language you speak today, if you see a veteran, be sure to offer your appreciation.

We often hear that in war, the first casualty is the truth. Regardless of how the politicians behave and the decisions they make, or the motives that drive those decisions, the poor grunt in the trenches and foxholes has to live with them. I choose to honor the men and women in uniform who meet the enemy in person. What becomes of them?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Football is in the air!

Not just because of Ben Roethlisberger. Most high schools have finished their spring training and graduation is just a couple of weeks away. Football officials are signing up for the fall and we start meetings in July. August and the first weeks of the next season are barely a hundred days away.

It's a good time to re-visit a couple of articles I've had published that relate.

The first applies to every area of our lives although I wrote it in the context of football.

Next comes an article that gives me a headache. Football helmets keep coming off!
You'll see in the article that both national and local organizations have promised to do something about it. So this season, we have a new rule. Officials have to watch for symptoms of concussions. A whole new can of worms!

Since October 22, 2009 I've had fifty articles published at and I hope you have or will enjoy many of them.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Review: Zen and the Magic of Photography by Wayne Rowe

Haiku: Pictures
by Bob Etier

The photographer
Sees an invisible world
and captures moments.


I missed my exit. On the way home from work the other night, I drove right past my exit taking the same route as every night for over four years. Obviously this is a well known journey for me. I was aware of the other vehicles on the road and the operation of my own car. I was driving safely but my thoughts were elsewhere. This may not be the best analogy for a zen experience but it sure fits the mold for a somnambulist trance.

Since becoming a professional photographer, the most frequent compliment received involves my ability to "see" the subject with a different eye. "Oh, you see things I would have never noticed!" is a common remark. A major influence on my selection of subjects has for years been William Eggleston. Years ago someone said of his work, "He doesn't go out looking for the bizare, but he finds it in everyday situations." When an artist can produce work that elicits those type comments, it shows that he or she was "in the moment" when that piece was created.

A simple definition of zen is "meditation". Wikipedia says this of meditation: " a holistic discipline by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive, 'thinking' mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness." We're back to "in the moment" now and it can apply to anything from motorcycle maintenance to religion to photography. Zen and the Magic of Photography is Wayne Rowe's offering on how to learn to see and to be through photography.

Dr. Rowe is a professional photographer and a professor of photography at Cal St. Tech in Pomona. His book consists of three parts. Part One deals with the image, zen, satori, haiku and their connections. Like Dr. Rowe, once I became "enlightened" it was clear that zen experiences have occurred for me and my Canon as well. I learned that seeing "with a different eye" can be described as making the "invisible visible". Chapter titles pique the readers interest with names like "Zen and the Empty Mind" or "The Role of Intuition and Feeling in Photography". My wife has written haiku for my images for years and Rowe's commentary on that aspect of zen really appealed to us.

Part Two encourages the reader to be open to all forms of the photograph from still to motion pictures. After a brief discussion of the "third effect", we're back to being in the moment. Covered here is a comparison of method acting as exemplified by James Dean and Marlon Brando to zen due to their "intuitive, spontaneous, realistic, and 'in the moment' style". Another example is the zen experience of a noted movie director as he films a climactic scene in Capote's In Cold Blood.

The concluding section offers examples from Dr. Rowe's own portfolio as well as others that illustrate his message. Analyses of the images by someone with Rowe's experience and love of his art make the book even more valuable to both the novice and seasoned professional. I especially enjoyed his comments on an iconic shot of James Dean at Times Square by Dennis Stock. Even a casual reader will quickly discover that Rowe has accomplished his goal to help us see and be through photography.

Would I buy this book? Yes, in a moment. It will help all photographers benefit from zen more often, and on purpose.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Fragile Species - Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is my dear friend, Miriam Goldberg. She wrote this essay to accompany my entry [shown here, "Dead Zinnia"] into the Fragile Earth photo competition at Western Carolina U. My entry was one of 96 accepted in a field of over 500.

Snowflakes fall then melt,
their time profoundly fleeting,
in them I see us.

A Fragile Species

Do you know how many species of life there are? How many have disappeared? How many are disappearing? If your answer is “yes,” let’s sit down to tea. Because only God knows answers to these questions. Man has never known with whom or what he shares planet Earth. Just as you may know many, but not all, of the people who live in your town, we have a rough idea of our global neighbors. We know that within our own species lie great mysteries which define our differences, and we willingly admit that there are things in nature that defy our understanding, yet we seldom let our ignorance prevent us from making dire pronouncements on the state of the planet or its inhabitants, both plant and animal.
When a species is added to an endangered list, numbers dictate its inclusion. Low numbers. Perhaps, though, one of Earth’s most fragile species numbers in the billions. A species with a sketchy survival instinct that could easily paint itself into oblivion—that’s us.
Save the tigers! Save the rainforest! Save the whales! Save the polar bears! The list sometimes seems endless. How about “Save yourself!”? Let’s save ourselves from those who predict the death of our planet by a new ice age or a global warming. Let’s save ourselves from those who predict our future based on a pond’s frog population or the number of butterflies that drown in the Gulf of Mexico each autumn. Let’s save ourselves from our own words and actions by finally seeing our purpose on Earth.
We, the arrogant “owners” of the planet, are more bird-brained than the lowliest of birds, if any bird could be considered lowly. In arrogance, we strut around like peacocks; we crow our reign over all things living as if any other species agrees we have more of a right to this space than they. We’re cuckoo, and we are on our way to dodo status. It’s time to think small, my non-feathered friend.

As a species we strive for more territory, more influence, more power, more comfort, more knowledge. How about more understanding? Instead of solving problems by creating problems (such as the DDT solution or the Ethanol solution), let’s solve problems by understanding and eliminating them. No one would seriously blame the extinction of a species on that species, but we seem bent on deserving that responsibility. Has there ever been a more self-destructive species than man?
We expand our territory to include areas that are hostile to us, then attempt to eradicate the hostility, whether by resettling human populations, relocating crocodilians and bears, building sound barriers, rerouting rivers, or any of our other often futile endeavors to recreate and rule our environment. We think big. We want more. When we create a problem, we don’t solve it, we hide it with another, bigger problem, and we keep doing it until it’s seemingly unsolvable. The planet, however, has a simple solution: extinction. The phrase appearing on the tombstone of the extinct Homo Sapiens should be, “All they wanted was more.”
Our footprints are large, but not ineradicable. We feel we have no borders, no limits; this earth is ours! We believe that we are the proprietors of the planet, the invincible rulers. How nature laughs at us. We are so mighty, our entire species can be taken down by a microscopic, nearly invisible entity. We, whose numbers are large and whose influence seems boundless, can be exterminated by a virus. Our history of reproduction, colonization, and victory is primitive compared to what a virus can accomplish. Or a bacterium. Or bug. While hikers may fear a bear encounter, or swimmers a shark, so many more of us succumb to attacks by predators we have invited by invading their territory.
We affect climate, we affect nature, we affect each other, but we blame all these things for their effect on us. We are as fragile as earthworms and fireflies; despite knowing we are mortal, we feel invincible. Therein is our weakness, our fatal flaw. Our footprint is large, but when we no longer walk this planet, the earth will quickly recover. Nature will overtake our cities, our homes, our factories, and malls. Birds will make nests in our plastic shoeboxes, cockroaches will eat our wallpaper, all species—known and unknown to us—will benefit from us having been here, but gone. And the planet—self-cleaning as it is—will eliminate the damage we have done, burying the indestructible with earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and all it has in its considerable arsenal, while life continues and makes use of our remains.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt

They just don't make presidents like they used to! Harrison Engle's 1986 film makes it easy to suspend your disbelief and get caught up in the enthusiasm of one of the most popular presidents in history. This is a remarkable film of a remarkable man. Watching this DVD is like attending an open air band concert on the mall. Few men can match the variety, notoriety, and successes of his relentless efforts. Even fewer Presidents can compare with his accomplishments. He's even on Mount Rushmore! TR was awarded (posthumously by President Clinton) the Medal of Honor for his heroics in the Spanish American War in 1898. He is our only President to be so distinguished. Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the 1905 peace treaty between Russia and Japan. Something he actually accomplished -- not just promised.

The twenty-sixth President is described by narrator George C. Scott as a man of action who wanted the common man to have a fair chance and a square deal. Distrusted by liberals and feared by conservatives, TR was known more for the results he achieved than for promises, claims, and rhetoric. He personally authored over a dozen books (no ghost writers). He was an outdoorsman, naturalist, conservationist, and of course politician. During his term as President, the number of national parks doubled and he worked hard to get the Grand Canyon recognized as such. His trip to Panama made history as he became the first sitting president to travel outside the country. He is often regarded by historians and critics as one of the five best Presidents along with Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR.

Previously aired on Biography and The History Channel, The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt will be available on DVD April 13, 2010 (from Infinity Entertainment Group). We can enjoy a tour de force documenting the life and times of America's youngest President. Enjoy a romp through history at the brisk pace of a Sousa march, which in fact accounts for much of the soundtrack. The film includes remarkable footage of historical events, still photos, and re-enactments in both black and white and color. The set includes three discs: the feature, an audio CD, Sophisticated Sousa, and a bonus DVD. (I've enjoyed the Sousa CD in my truck on the way to work for several days now.) The bonus disc includes an interview with the director, photo archive, "Teddyisms" (memorable quotes from TR), a biography of John Philip Sousa, and Roosevelt's 1905 inaugural address.

Would I buy The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt? Yes! In a downbeat!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reading for Survival

In a dangerous world filled with stress, the key to survival was memory. So says the author of The Executioners (later known as "Cape Fear"), John D. MacDonald. In his last published work before he died in 1986, MacDonald set out to inspire us with Reading for Survival. This thirty-one page essay was published in 1987 by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. It was also sponsored by the Florida Center for the Book in Fort Lauderdale. The essay takes the form of a series of conversations between his fictitious protagonist, Travis McGee, and his friend known only as "Meyer", an economist, teacher and lecturer. The opening scene finds the two in a docked houseboat darkened by a thunderstorm. The conversation begins, as does the authors opportunity to share with us his concerns for reading, readers, and non-readers.

Meyer guides us through his version of the evolution of communication beginning with our earliest ancestors' dependency on memory in order to live in the wilderness, recognize signs of nature and the animal kingdom, and then share that knowledge with future generations. Once the amount of information required was too massive for memory alone, we started making marks on pottery, then cave walls, and the next thing you know, Gutenberg got the masses involved with his press. Books became artificial memory before the gigabite arrived. Now we have tons of information and it's available to us at the speed of light. Google found over nine million results for "gutenberg", in 0.28 seconds. What do we do with all this information? Do we need that much? Consider Len Bias.

Len Bias was a talented basketball player at the University of Maryland. He was a senior during the same year that Michael Jordan was enjoying his second year in the NBA.
Bias was the second player drafted that year and went to the Boston Celtics. Two days after the draft, he died of a cocaine overdose. Kenneth Rosenau wrote in
The Palm Beach Post, "That [Bias]..was finishing his fourth year at an academically respected school without a prayer of graduating is also an outrage that should be addressed."And "[He]...was twenty-one credits short of having a degree." Was Bias any better off than the homo erectus who couldn't remember which snake was poisonous? Would his judgement have improved had he been a better student? Meyer asks, "Can one examine his own life without reference to the realities in which he lives?"

What about the non-reader, the person who wants to believe because he isn't well informed and doesn't understand the risks? He's the one "born every minute" that signs up for that variable interest loan with a dubious lender. MacDonald warns us of the teacher who promotes himself as the translator. Beware the translator who interprets the information for you. Think for yourself he suggests. Education, literacy, reading, thinking and remembering are MacDonald's prescription for enduring. He leaves us with a warning from Mark Twain, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."

Encourage non-readers to enrich their lives and better comprehend the word around them -- by reading.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Review: "Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America" by Jay Parini.

[Similar version was published first at ]

"You know more than you think you do." So says an Olympic gold medal winner, and so begins a book that over sixty years later still influences the baby boomer generation. A book that espouses a kinder gentler approach to the journey from birth to adolescence. One of the founding myths/stories of our American heritage is the road trip. The story of two characters on a journey to freedom, either real or dreamed, the epitome of which, according to Hemingway, was penned by Mark Twain.

Since the Mayflower arrived in the New World, Americans have been on road trips. Whether it was the great unknown wilderness of Lewis and Clark or the quest for "it" as recounted by Kerouac, we've been searching. We learn from the journey and sometimes feel that when we have reached our destination, it stretches further out before us on the horizon. And we continue on. As individuals we continue the journey begun by our ancestors while seeking goals of our own along the way. Inspiration comes from our accomplishments and is driven by the efforts, desires, and dreams of previous generations passed along to us by oral family histories, diaries, journals, and books (both fiction and non-fiction).

A special collection of those books is celebrated in Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America by Jay Parini. The author teaches college in Vermont and has a long list of credits that add up to "literary scholar". He sees "..poetry as the most important form of writing," and has several collections of poetry, novels and biographies to his credit.
His selection criteria in his own words, "I was looking for books that played a role in shaping the nation's idea of itself or that consolidated and defined a major trend." It is clear that this is not a collection of America's "greatest books". Choosing could only be made less difficult by narrowing the focus; he includes a list of one hundred works that also changed the country with a confession that another hundred could have easily been added.

Parini has chosen his baker's dozen well. Included are significant works from politics, religion, adventure, exploration and philosophy. These books are filled with stories--memorable legends of both fact and fiction that describe our many interconnected journeys and the diverse experiences that make us Americans. He suggests questions to help us ponder the trip. His analysis inspires us to come up with our own questions. How could a country founded on the notion that all men are created equal allow slavery? How can we not be thought to be crazy or depraved when we push the boundaries of acceptable behavior? How can we change someone else's attitude without giving offense or arousing resentment? How could women not be allowed to vote? How much individual freedom are we willing to give up to be able to say we live in a free country?

A chapter is devoted to each book and treats each with the same format. He offers a brief summary of how the book changed the country. Next is a biography of the writer and historical context of the book. If you have not read the book, you will enjoy the third portion, a detailed description of the book. In some cases he details individual chapters. Despite this occasional level of detail, he manages to keep each chapter to approximately twenty pages. A discussion of the books that followed in the wake of the subject work concludes each section. In some cases, books that came before or inspired this particular work are mentioned.

Prior to reading this book I had never considered the importance of "the road trip". It was enlightening to see the diversity in the types of trips, the parallel motives and lessons learned along the way. The most memorable benefit of this book for me was the connections that came to mind while reading. Many of the stories reminded me of other books I've read on my own journey. I can ride on the raft with Huck and Tom, stand on the shore with Eliza, enjoy Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims or ride a chopper with Dennis Hopper. I can participate in my country's grand experiment in self-governing and I can speak with confidence in front of a group. Somehow it's easier to bear my own cross down the road to the promised land because of the journeys of my ancestors and mentors. The books chosen by Parini helped me to see that they, along with many other books I've enjoyed, have not only changed America, they have changed my generation, shaped my thoughts and made me who I am. I read not only to learn, I read to survive.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Travelogue of the Poconos

[Previously published at]

Journey Along the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad by Alan Sweeney

It was hiding in the attic. Underneath a thick layer of dust and dirt was an old shoe box filled with photos and picture post cards. The post cards were on a thicker bond of paper than we see these days and the side with the photo was textured. The texture was more pronounced than the typical matte finish. Slide your finger across it and you feel the embossed nature of the finish. Several of them survived the storage well and are stunning! Others did not fare as well and, although dilapidated, still manage to depict scenes of an era past in real time but alive in the memory. Who hasn't enjoyed a dig through an assortment like this found in a back room, basement, or attic? Fortunately for us, Alan Sweeney (a veteran of the hospitality industry) decided to share the fun of an adventure down memory lane with his photos and post cards.

Our trip begins in the depot at the Delaware Water Gap and we follow the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad line west to Tobyhanna. After the first stop in East Stroudsburg we visit five other tourist destinations in the Pocono Mountains. Each of the eight chapters begins with photos of the local railway station or depot followed by reproductions of vintage photographs and post cards that reveal the charm and appeal of the various mountain settings. Boarding houses, hotels, inns and resorts sprung up all throughout the Poconos as more and more New Yorkers sought the refuge of the Pennsylvania mountains for clean air, cooler weather, and beautiful surroundings. Many came for the weekend or a few days while others stayed for a week or longer. Long lasting friendships developed as locals opened their homes to the visitors who came season after season. We see a variety of scenes including interiors of the resorts, enticing landscapes, and visitors enjoying the recreational activities available. The post cards are fun! Several include hand written notes from the late 1800's and early twentieth century. Also included are some period advertisements, promotional brochures, and menus.

Over one hundred locations are represented with sometimes similar but always unique histories. In many cases, the author has included a brief history and the current status of each property. I particularly appreciated the larger size print, the arrangement of the photos, and the layout for a book destined to grace many coffee tables and find it's way into waiting rooms (especially in the North East). The quickly read comments and stories of each site add up to an interesting commentary on the area and how it evolved from shared rooms to resorts accommodating hundreds. One resort alone hosted three presidents. Journey is fun to enjoy in a single sitting or to enjoy many times letting it fall open to an appealing locale on each visit. Whether it's "The Antlers Inn", "Cherry Lane Cottages" or "The Indian Queen Hotel", the romantically named destinations will welcome you with warmth and style as many times as you care to visit.

Would I buy this book? Yes! The nostalgia factor and it's potential to begin both reveries and conversations make it an excellent investment. I'll keep it next to my recliner.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I'll Catch You at the Light

[Previously published on]

On the way to work one morning last week, I was accelerating up to the 50 mph limit when a car closed fast behind me and passed in a stretch of road where the double yellow line was absent for just a few hundred feet. It would have been a close call had another car been approaching from ahead. The passer who was in such a hurry zoomed over the hill, around a curve and out of sight. Just a minute or two later, I pulled up right beside him at a red light. The temptation to wave at him was almost irresistible! In the end, I just focused on the light and to my surprise, accelerated away from the light ahead of him. Maybe I beat him off the line because he wasn't paying attention, but of course, he passed me again before we got to the school zone.
My commute to work is twenty-seven miles and depending on weather and traffic usually takes forty minutes. About ten years ago I decided that the pace of my life could slow down a bit and not much would change. It was easy to rely on my car's cruise control. Setting this handy device at about five mph over the limit tends to keep me going at a speed the state troopers don't seem to mind. Other drivers do. Most just fly by like I'm standing still and ignore me. Some are annoyed. It has always struck me that tailgating at sixty mph is dangerous so when another driver passes me and cuts right in front of me I change lanes. Remember the old rule about keeping one car length per ten mph behind the vehicle in front? The last fifteen miles to my job is all four-lane divided highway and ends at a very long light -- it must be three or four minutes if it catches you, and backs cars up thirty or more deep. For four years now, I've taken the same route to work so it has been easy to learn which lane moves the fastest and at which times of the day. So it seems, not a day goes by that I don't find myself at the "long light" next to someone that passed me earlier on the journey.
Fortunately, road rage is a thing of my past, and personal victories in morning traffic are no longer important. It does feel good though, to be able to leave the vehicle and walk in to work with a spring in my step and a smile in my heart from a fresh reminder that I am indeed a persistent tortoise.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

[Previously published on]

Have you ever been to a party and met lots of people in a short period of time? Then you got home and said, "There were several really interesting people there! It sure would have been nice to get to know them a bit better." That's how I felt after this quick and enthralling read. I was eager to get into the story and Crichton made it easy. The story begins with a public hanging and escalates with the arrival of the merchantman Godspeed. The ship brings new characters and news of events that lead to adventure, violence, destruction, romance and mystery on the high seas of the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Interesting, intimidating and charming personalities appear in surprising people as diverse as privateers, politicians, courtesans, pirates, whores, transvestites, executioners and Harvard graduates! Crichton continues his clever connections with places and people. An island in this novel repeats the name of an island from The Lost World and a ship captain shares the author's alma mater. The lookout for the expedition, a sailor with incredible vision, is named "Lazue" which is a bastardization of the French term "les yeux" for "eyes". We meet an executioner named Sanson (a la "Manson") and visit a place that's name means "slaughter" A willing reader is quickly caught up in the whirlwind action and can easily overlook the lack of character development, "Ok, he's a pirate and she's a whore. Get on with the story!"

And what an interesting story it is! Our would-be hero sails off with a hand-picked crew to face his demons and foes. Part of his mission is to identify just who it is that he is up against in a romantic world of pirates and politicians where betrayal and loyalty walk hand-in-hand. How can you be a conquerer and return home a hero if you aren't sure of your enemy? Our protagonist (is he a privateer or a pirate?) sets out on his mission financed by important people to deal with The Black Ship, Monkey Bay, The Mouth of the Dragon and a foreboding fortress on the island of Mantanceros. Crichton's fans have come to expect enlightenment in each of his books whether it is nano technology, gene splicing, poisonous politics, or reverse sex discrimination. They won't be disappointed with Pirate Latitudes's monographs on 17th century weaponry, sailing ships, and navigation. Also included is an explanation of the posturing used by sailors in which they would stand up straight on the bow with their arms extended, back to the wind (remember that Decaprio/Winslet scene in Titanic?). If the characters are not developed enough to suit the discriminating reader, then surely the setting will satisfy. Establishments with names like "The Black Bear", "Queen's Arms", "The Yellow Scamp" and "The Blue Goat" and their seedy characteristics place the reader right there with the characters. Attention is also given to oppressively hot jungles, mosquitoes, and foreboding geography.

Island life in 1665 was not easy. It may sound romantic today but it had to have been brutal then. And a pirate's life was always violent. One such incident: "Hunter chose that moment to lunge. He pushed his palm flat against the upturned tankard, ramming it back against Levasseur's face, which thudded against the back wall. Levasseur gurgled and collapsed, blood dripping from his mouth. Hunter grabbed the tankard and crashed it down on Levasseur's skull. The Frenchman lay unconscious. Hunter shook his hand free of the wine on his fingers, turned, and walked out of Mrs. Denby's Inn. He stepped ankle-deep into the mud of the street, but paid no attention."

Readers will be glad that an assistant paid attention and found this complete manuscript in the late author's files as the book is a fitting conclusion to a remarkable career. Crichton remains to this day, the only writer to have had the number one book, movie, and TV show at the same time. The book ends with an epilogue detailing the conclusion of the lives of several of the characters as well as an epitaph that is befitting Crichton himself: "Honest Adventurer and Seaman, Beloved of His Countrymen In The New World. Vincit"

[Note: According to a New York Times article, Harper Collins will also publish a technological thriller of which Crichton had finished a third. The publisher and estate will find an author to finish the novel based on Michael Crichton's notes and plan to publish the novel in the fall of 2010.]

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Sales Floor CEO

[Previously published on]

"You said your company is promoting an 'automatic order' program for your regular customers?" I asked over coffee with a friend. The Juke Box Junction attracts a diverse clientele ranging from families and teens to business types and retirees.

"Yeah, they're pushing it really hard." Walter sighed. "And it's really bad! Customers sign up for it, then don't accept the auto order 95% of the time. Then we have to return it to stock creating lots of double and even triple work." Walter has spent his career in retail. First with small drug chains, now with a national big box retailer.
"Why would they promote a program so heavily that doesn't work?" I asked--already knowing what was coming.
"The people in corporate pushing it haven't worked in a store in twenty years!" Walter replied, almost shouting.
Miriam drops her spoon on the table and interjects, "My kid brother was a buyer for a chain of dollar stores and he drew up those little diagrams to tell the stockers where to put the merchandise. He never worked in a store in his life! When I heard he was doing that, I asked, 'What the hell do you know about stocking shelves?' He said he just works off the numbers, you know, how much of each item sells, the customer demographics, stuff like that. He wouldn't know a box cutter from a butter knife!"
It all reminded me of my early days at Eckerd, back in the eighties. The CEO had come from personnel and we always laughed about how they didn't have any cash registers in personnel. It was our way of lamenting how out of touch the occupants of the corporate suites were with the sales floor and the stock room. When was the last time you saw a blue suit take off his jacket and tie and help unload a truck? Most of my career has been in retail with a brief hiatus in direct sales (adult education and then life insurance). The seventies and eighties had been great years for Eckerd in Louisiana. Our division manager was Tony Spedale and he taught everyone in middle management to be sure to visit with every associate in the store during visits. He wanted us to stop by each department and make sure that everyone knew someone from management was in the store and had stopped by to see them. Those were the good old days.

Pass the cream and sugar, please.

Rex, the pharmacist in our coffee group chimes in with this story. "It's about to be January. January and February are usually the doldrums of the retail business and every year the corporate gurus send down the edict to cut payroll because sales will be off after Christmas. That's true enough for the non-pharmacy part of the business, but the first few months of every new year usually feature the flu season, so we need extra help. Not the time for us to cut payroll. Customers complain enough already about long waits for their medicine."

Charlie (a CPA) relates: "When I was in college, I worked off-campus in a Valumart. Checking in an order was a nightmare! It took away time I could be with customers and if I made a mistake, they said it was "paper shrink" and we lost money just like the merchandise was stolen --and I had it all right there in the tote box. How could it be stolen if it was right there still in the shipping crate?" Walter agrees, "As ordering technology evolved, it was supposed to make it easy to keep the shelves full. You know the old adage, you can't sell it if you don't have it, and 'replenishment' was supposed to be a panacea -- it's a boondoggle. Our inventory system is so complicated, it's a wonder we have anything on the shelves. And I know what you mean about shrink! I'm not sure who's running our company, the loss prevention department or legal. It's easier to catch and fire our own employees than it is to catch a shoplifter!"

Miriam almost reveals her age by asking, "What year did that book come out that extolled the virtues of 'management-by-wandering-around'? Remember, one company they talked about required everyone in the corporate office to work in the field a certain amount of time every month to stay close to the business."

"That was In Search of Excellence," I said, "it came out in the early eighties, '81 or '82." It is still one of my favorite books on business and management. Now in the autumn of my career, I wish my company felt that way. [I've been with my present employer four years and still haven't met my supervisor's boss. I still think that the associates that spend the most time with the customers --cashiers and stockers -- should be making a lot more than they are.]

"Oh yeah," Walter interjected, "my wife used to work at Wang Labs. Wasn't that one of the excellent companies? They're gone now, but most of the others did good. Wish I'd bought stock in all of them."

Friday, January 15, 2010


Had I been asked to title this work, I would have chosen "Reverie". The setting reminds me of a New Orleans courtyard and the subject appears relaxed enough to be lost in a daydream although the expression could be anger or annoyance as much as contemplation. She is focused on something that we cannot see. I doubt we would have seen it had we been there. This is a mood evoked from the "flash upon that inward eye" of something she clearly sees and feels strongly about. Perhaps she has done something with which she is pleased, but something that others may not share her pleasure. She doesn't care. She's confident in her reliving the incident and the results. The fact that she has broken some rule intrigues me, and her attitude makes her not only interesting but curiously attractive. "She's got everything she needs, she's an artist; she don't look back. She can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black." Dylan said it in "She Belongs to Me". How long will she enjoy this thought? How long can we share her defiance? We can enjoy it for as long and as often as we like, because she belongs to us.

Fazrul Arham worked as an illustrator in a Malaysian publication house for many years until the end of June 2009 when he decided to fulfill his ambition to work as a full time artist. He is largely self taught. More of this work can be seen and purchased here:

He writes about his work in his blog here:

Tittle: Demi Kasih Demi Sayang
Medium: Acrylic paints on canvas
Size: 20 inches x 30 inches
Year: 2004
Publisher: Creative Enterprise Sdn. Bhd
Signed and dated bottom edge right : fazrul arhan 2004
Model: Rohayah
Labels: Illustration Book Cover