Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remembering Martha Raye

I read something this week, and I’m going to try to have a stab at it, but I don’t remember where I got it, so this may by very inaccurate.

“You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom.  I hope you make good use of it.”  John Quincy Adams (1967-1848).

Think about it.  His generation left their country, their families, their homes, their jobs, in some cases titles and deeds granted by the crown and generations old to ride aboard leaky boats across an angry unpredictable ocean in a time long before Concord, Carnival Cruise Lines, and GPS to a wild, uncivilized, sometimes savage land to begin their lives again as free men and women.  They had little but what they carried with them, and many did not survive the journey.
Having arrived in the new land, they fought a war to keep that land from succumbing to the pitfalls that prompted them to leave their homes in the first place.
Nor was this a victory easily won.  There was no ‘Seal Team 6’ to handle it, no lifeflight for injured companions, no comforting care packages from ‘back home’.  All they had was the opportunity to fight for freedom, and fight they did.
Fewer than 250 years have since passed.  This land and this freedom have survived, yet not without great cost.  Revolution, 1812, Civil War, WW’s I & II, Korea, Nam, Desert Storms I & II and others.  Each generation sacrificing some of their own to pass freedom and liberty on to their children and grandchildren with the hope that they will ‘make good use of it’.
With this in mind, and this being the weekend we set aside to show respect and honor to those who have laid down their lives in service to our nation, I submit the following for your approval, received yesterday from a friend from Pittsburgh:

“This is a great story about a great woman.  I was unaware of her credentials or where she is buried.  Somehow I just can't see Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, or Jessica Simpson doing what this woman (and the other USO women, including Ann Margaret & Joey Heatherton) did for our troops in past wars. Most of the old time entertainers were made out of a lot sterner stuff than today's crop of activists and whiners.
“The following is from an Army Aviator friend who takes another trip down memory lane: It was just before Thanksgiving '67 and we were ferrying dead and wounded from a large GRF west of Pleiku.
“We had run out of body bags by noon, so the Hook (CH-47 CHINOOK) was pretty rough in the back. All of a sudden, we heard a 'take-charge' woman's voice in the rear.
“There was the singer and actress, Martha Raye, with a SF (Special Forces) beret and jungle fatigues, with subdued markings, helping the wounded into the Chinook, and carrying the dead aboard.
“ 'Maggie' had been visiting her SF 'heroes out west'.
“We took off, short of fuel, and headed to the USAF hospital pad at Pleiku. As we all started unloading our sad pax's, a 'Smart Ass' USAF Captain said to Martha, "Ms Ray, with all these dead and wounded to process, there will not be time for your show!
“To all of our surprise, she pulled on her right collar and said, "Captain, see this eagle? I am a full 'Bird' in the US Army Reserve, and on this side is a 'Caduceus' which means I am a Nurse, with a surgical, take me to your wounded. He said, “Yes, m'am.   Follow me.”
“Several times at the Army Field Hospital in Pleiku, she would 'cover' a surgical shift, giving a nurse a well-deserved break.
“Martha is the only woman buried in the SF (Special Forces) cemetery at Ft. Bragg.

“Hand Salute!  A great lady.”

As you’re sitting around the BBQ having a hot dog and a beer, watching a parade, or whatever your plans for Memorial Day, 2011, be sure to thank a vet this weekend.  And if you’re reading this and you are a Vet, Thank You!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Review - For Sale in Palm Springs

What do a dead realtor, a sexy redhead, a missing photograph, a retired chief of police from Eagle River, Wisconsin,  a secret society, Palm Springs and a slew of mid-century tract homes that may or may not have been owned by movie stars have in common?
These are the key elements of For Sale in Palm Springs, a book by novelist Albert Simon (© 2004-2010 by at, ISBN 0-976200-34-1) a thoroughly delightful murder mystery that could have been, but sadly isn’t.
It’s too bad.  The material is there.  Everything you need to make for a good, stay up late, sit on the edge of the chair, page turning thriller.  You have a lush setting.  Likable characters.  A few dead ends.  A decent, likable protagonist in the retired cop turned consultant, and a few wacky comic relief characters.  All that’s missing is the thread that stitches them all neatly together.
Good novels are good stories that are well told. Simon has a good story.  The problem is that he doesn’t tell it well.  It may be forgiven since his native written and spoken language is Nederlands (Dutch), and this is his first novel, although at 160 pages, ‘novel’ is a bit of a stretch by today’s standards.
Simon’s mistake is two-fold.  Good writing ‘shows’ rather than tells.  Simon tells rather than shows.  And he is in desperate need of good editing, something I find to be a problem with many self-published writers.  The best story in the world will fail to gather an audience if it is poorly edited.
The problems with this first attempt are legion.  The dialogue sections are not only shaky – remember this is not his first language – but every single one of them is tagged.  He said.  She replied.  He answered.  She agreed.  That just isn’t necessary.  Now and then, yes, but not every spoken line.  The dialogue isn’t believable.  When characters interact, you have to believe they would speak the way they do.  I didn’t.
Another problem has to do with things like describing an action the same way repeatedly.  In one page and a half section, a character is twice described as “turning the same color s her hair”.  The same description is used of the other character in the scene: “It was his turn to turn the color of her hair.”  This descriptive technique is used in other places as well, as if the writer ran out of ways to creatively not show the action.
Lastly, the story runs on for about 150 pages and then just wraps up a little too quickly and a little too neatly for my tastes.  Dame Agatha  and super sleuth Hercule Poirot can get away this.  Albert Simon and Henry Wight aren’t there yet.
For Sale in Palm Springs is the first of five Henry Wright mysteries, and perhaps they get better.  The seed is there, but it needs more time to be harvested.  2 ½ stars out of five for this first attempt.
Tampa readers can find For Sale in Palm Springs online at, where it is available in every major e-reader format, .pdf, and rich text format, and this one is a free download.  Other books in the series are at for a paltry 99 cents, so it’s obvious Simon isn’t writing to make the next Harry Potter, although, even at 99 cents, if you sold 100,000 of them, that makes for a nice paycheck.  But this one is a free download, and I’ve read worse.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Say What?

It’s been a few days since I last pondered the meanderings of life and put the result of my journey through the quantum mystery of reality into words.  Mostly, I’ve been observing the decline of the American version of the English language, both spoken and written flavors.  I’ve been recalling my high school English teachers, a trio of dedicated dispensers of didactic discourse, each from a very different angle.
I’m not certain how much my tenth grade teacher taught me.  I had too much of a crush on her to see beyond the cute blond hair, big blue eyes, short skirt so fashionable and acceptable in those days, and the shapely legs it contained.
The eleventh grade teacher presented a very different manifestation of my bumbling rite of passage through life, high school, and the English Language.  In fact, when I made it abundantly clear that I wasn’t going to like her at all, and threw down the gauntlet of idiomatic challenge, she proceeded to retrieve said gauntlet and pulverize me with it, linguistically speaking.  Determined creature that she was, no such inferior subset of the human species as a marble mouthed transplanted jersey boy was going to blemish her record.  She would, and in fact, did, not only equip me with a king’s ransom in stylistic vocabulary, she formed the focal point of my determination to lose my uniquely ‘joisey’ idiomatic expression.
It’s difficult to explore the effect of my senior year mistress d’linguistic art, because I spent very little time actually in her classroom.  To be sure, all I did was report for attendance and test days.  I spent the rest of that hour in the teacher’s lounge working for the eleventh grade teacher.  No, this woman’s influence was of a different order entirely.  Where the junior year teacher equipped me with words to use, the senior year teacher’s contribution was in the art of putting the words together, and that occurred more by virtue of her being the sponsor of the forensic club and debate team than from any time spent in he classroom.
Now, on to the matter at hand.  After the exemplary education I assumed everyone else was also receiving, it has come to my attention that sadly, this is not the case.
The other week I listened as a local television reporter uttered a simple six word sentence in which the first and last words were “you know”.  I don’t even remember what the middle two words were.  All that resounds even now was beginning a live report with the  opening sentence of “You know blah blah you know.”
I expect that from jocks.  Last night a one minute, thirty second interview with a local professional athlete contained the words “you know” eleven times in the jock’s answer.
But a reporter?  What’s that all about?  It just got me thinking of the number of individuals who put their face and voice in front of others who slaughter the spoken word!  From the dynamic trainer I worked with who ended every bold, explosive instruction with a quiet, mousy, introverted and insecure “OK?” to the union representative who thinks every statement requires the use of an obscenity, and that after each expletive filled announcement, must proclaim “that’s what it’s all about” to all the “um’s”, “uh’s”, and imbecilic addition of the word “and” before the final digit of every year since 2000 AD, talking heads march on in their never-ending battle to stupidize the English language!  Nor does the venue matter.  Whether it’s NPR, PBS, ABC or FOX; a talk show, a news broadcast, a commentator, or a politician, the end result is the same.  One is left with the impression that the spoken word was not a part of their education and training experience.
And it gets worse when you reduce the spoken word to the written word, and believe me – it is a sad reduction, indeed.
There was a time in our national development when speech, whether written or spoken, was both elegant and eloquent.  When diction was a key to being understood, when February had two ‘R’s, and the year was not 20and11 (two thousand and eleven).
Reduce it all even further, and you are left with LOL, OMG, and C U L8R!
Where is ‘Enry ‘Iggins when you need him?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Read a Good Label Lately?

When I’m between novels (currently reading For Sale in Palm Springs, a mediocre murder mystery from the pen of Albert Simon not quite fast paced enough to be a thriller – I’ll post a review later) I read whatever is available.  Street signs, T-shirts, cereal boxes, license plates, billboards, whatever.
It’s amazing what you find boldly set in writing if you just look.
For example, last night one of the ingredients for the supper I prepared was Pillsbury Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes.  In with the cheddar cheese powder and blue cheese powder was FDA Red #40 food coloring.  I couldn’t see anything red in the item as I prepared it according to package directions, but it’s there none-the-less.  In fact, a whole bunch of things on our shelves have FDA Red #40 in them.  It causes big time headaches in my wife.  It’s also in Ranch Wheat Thins, Cherry Twizzlers, and hummingbird nectar (red colored sugar water).  Red #40, also known as Allura Red AC (disodium 6-hydroxy-5-((2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo)-2-naphthalenesulfonate), is an azo dye once made from coal tar. These days it’s a petroleum byproduct.  Yum!
MiO is a ‘liquid water enhancer’ I saw on the shelf in our grocery store yesterday.  I presume ‘liquid’ to refer to the state of the enhancer product, and not the ‘water,’ which I think is usually assumed to be in liquid form.  I ‘Googled’ it (interesting how nouns make their way into our vocabulary as verbs, isn’t it?) and found a number of links for the product, and a very badly written review by a guy named Steve who got a free sample in the mail.  One of the primary ingredients is Propylene Glycol (HO-CH2-CHOH-CH).  You know it’s a primary ingredient because they list them in order of content, and this is third on the list after water and malic acid, whatever that is.  It’s even in front of the FDA Red #40.  Oh yeah – it’s a primary ingredient in automobile engine coolant.  I guess it means if you add this stuff to your drinking water, you can run all summer without overheating.  Think about it.  Not only have advertisers convinced us to buy water in bottles (Evian is naïve spelled backwards) but not they’re trying to sell us more water infused with refined petroleum to ‘enhance’ it.
Do you have any clue what reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, sodium aluminum phosphate and invert sugar are?   Me either, but they’re all in Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Snickerdoodle Cookies.  And their Member’s Mark Super Sweet Corn is labeled ‘product of China’.   You remember China?  They’re the guys who brought us lead paint (poison) in children’s toys, asbestos (poison) in dry wall, Propylene Glycol (anti-freeze) in toothpaste, and who hold the markers on most of our liquid wealth (money).
For some reason I’m having flashbacks to an old episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in which Howardf Hessman’s character (Doctor Johnny Fever) sets up a commercial by telling his listeners to brush their teeth, and remember to rinse with a nice, refreshing glass of “CHEMICALS!”  WKRP aired over 30 years ago.  Almost prophetic, and more accurate than recent Doomsday predictions.
 I was going to tell you what’s on the label for the rotisserie chicken at many food chains, but I think I’ve read enough labels for one day.  Back to the almost a novel but not quite a thriller.

Monday, May 23, 2011

No! Seriously?!?!?

I lived in the Netherlands for a little over a year.  I needed a job.  To get a job, I needed a work permit since I was technically an immigrant.  To get the work permit I needed a visa (We call them green cards in America, except the American system is more like friends with privileges) and to get a 1 year visa, I had to bring the foreign police written proof that I was already enrolled in a Dutch language class.  To get a longer one, I would have had to pass both written and oral language and culture exams.  When I asked about this, the officer assigned to me said “Americans are the only people in the world stupid enough to throw their culture away to make room for foreigners.  We love foreigners here, but this is our country and our language.  If you want to stay, you have to learn them, not the other way around.”  Makes perfectly good sense to me.
Am I the only one to notice that he sassy, rude, impolite culture of instant messaging has worked its way into general conversation, and that entitlement is now a way of life for the majority of Americans?  I walk with a cane, but that doesn’t mean I’m not risking my life to walk in the marked cross-walk area of a grocery store parking lot when someone in their gas guzzling SUV with a cell phone glued to their ear doesn’t think stop signs are intended for them too.
I was in Walmart a couple of weeks ago.  In the health and beauty section there was an empty box on a baby formula shelf that had some time previously held K-Y His and Hers and a free rainbow colored twist ribbed condom.  Apart from the humor of the location of this empty box (baby formula section right under a security camera) I couldn’t help wondering, doesn’t using the prophylactic pretty much cancel out the advertised effect of the His & Hers product?  Which probably explains why the axel grease was missing but the free condom was still in the box.
When did it become appropriate public attire for a 16 year old kid to wear a T-shirt with the words “Wake up Drunk” on the front and the words “Go to bed Fu**ed” on the back?  In big capitalized letters?  Call me old fashioned, but I wouldn’t wear that now! And I’ve got over 40 years on the kid!  I wonder if his mother knows.  I wonder if she cares?  I wonder if she bought the thing for him?!?!?
My grandson has a nicer cell phone than I do.  How did I survive middle school without a cell phone?
I’m not certain which is more of an embarrassment to me – that my high school’s graduating class of 2011 will only include just over half the students who entered high school there four years ago, or that students who went through the same county wide system I went through didn’t learn enough to properly complete a ballot in the 2000 presidential election?  The county in which I currently live will be laying off most 1st and 2nd year teachers and cutting arts programs.  That should help.
I reads an article yesterday that said last year seventy BILLION dollars were spent in this country to purchase lottery tickets.  The payout for that $70,000,000,000 was less than half what was spent.  Most of the tickets were sold to individuals who bought lottery tickets instead of food, shelter and clothing,  and by doing things like walking up to a complete stranger at a grocery store and saying “I’ll pay for your groceries with my food stamps if you’ll give me the cash so I can buy lottery tickets, smokes, booze or drugs.”  Let me spell it out to you.  Our taxes are paying for impoverished families living on welfare to gamble, drink and get stoned.  Ain’t America great?
I spoke with the owner of the company that did our attic insulation and duct repair.  I had some questions about why no two of the people from his company who either inspected, quoted, or performed the work were on the same page about what need to be done and what it would cost, and my concern that if they overlooked something I could see from the middle of the garage, how can I be assured that the places I can’t easily see were done?  The big topic of discussion, however, was his employee who offered to under-cut his boss’s price by about 75% and include the materials at no cost.  I’m not pointing fingers over how he could do the work for his price, let alone do it materials included.  Well, yeah, I am.  I have a feeling I know where the materials were coming from.  The guy, of course denied it.  I asked for someone different to come out and recheck the work.
But wait – there’s more.  At least two night a week there’s a break in our local news to “go live to Universal Studios in Orlando” to watch lotto and powerball numbers being drawn, and at least in our market, the news anchors, between bouts of being cute with each other, wish the local gamblers good luck.  And that’s after they’ve brought us the big breaking news stories of the week:  “Make sure to use cash at your local bar so you can leave a better tip”, “Here are the best local drag queen bars”, and “Did you hear the one about the idiot Christian Preacher and the end of the world?”
Seriously?  That’s the local news?
Boy, do I miss Walter Cronkite.