Not So Amazing: KRESKIN JUNK MAIL

•November 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

kreskin 1_LI (2)kreskin envelop deceptionThis is more of a quick RANT than a reasoned blog post as I deal with another scammer trying to dupe my father from his mailbox. Yes, The Amazing Kreskin managed to find him at his new address and send him his deceptive, elder-baiting junk mail.

It’s just unconscionable what the elderly have to endure every time they go to their mailbox. And The Amazing Kreskin is just one exploiting his “celebrity” (especially with the senior crowd) to take advantage of those living on fixed incomes and still dream of greener pastures.

kreskin return envelopeLike so many of these scam mailings there is no contact information in their materials–just a return envelope for your check or credit card number. And, lucky for me, I managed to intercept this crap before that return envelope was used by my father.

I did find an email address on the Kreskin webpage. First, I asked them if this junk was really coming from their organization. If it was, I requested my father be removed from any of their mailing and phone lists. If it’s not coming from them (hahaha–not likely) I suggested they find out who was mailing it and sue them for fraud.

I’m still waiting for their response. If I hear nothing or if they admit to this heinous act, I’ll be sure to publish their email address so that you can deluge them with complaints about their deceptive mail campaigns. This type of abuse–against the elderly or anyone–needs to stop.

Thank you for listening to me rage.

VETERANS DAY: Remember the History, Remember the Hope

•November 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

commemoration of the centenary of the great war, USASometimes when I’m working on my fiction writing it’s so easy to become absorbed in the world you’ve created or, in the case of my current project, the history of the time period in which you are writing, that current events actually seem more distant.

My newer work-in-progress deals with the last year of World War I and the year or so following the end of that conflict. So, I’ve been absorbed in books, online articles and documentaries about the war–exploring everything from it’s causes and impacts on the world to innovative killing technologies and their severe impact on the men and women involved.

going over the top trenchesWhile most wars tend to generate evolutions in defensive designs and offensive weapons technology, the historical timing and global nature of this war saw the rapid production and development of weapons on an industrial scale. Unfortunately, it took some time (if ever) for the tacticians to adjust to the killing power of the new technologies and casualties in single battles were often of a number rarely seen across entire wars.

Chemical agents were used for the first time. Bombardments often used tens of thousands–and sometimes hundreds of thousands–of shells. “Shellshock”–what we now refer to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)–was more pervasive and debilitating than in any previous conflict.

Because of the enormity of the loss–the enormity of the suffering–it was commonly dubbed ‘The Great War” or “The War to End All Wars.” With the end of the war, some world leaders saw an opportunity–a chance to create an international body to support alternate, non-violent means of conflict resolution and to punish nations that did not abide by the new normal. The lofty dream of the League of Nations fell apart almost immediately and was but a distant memory by the eve of a much larger conflict just twenty years later.

armistice-daySo, while doing my book research I was struck by how relevant this may be for today–especially since the date for Veteran’s Day in the United States is what many in Europe and the UK refer to (and what our holiday was originally called) as Armistice Day. Our American holiday is typically clarified as a celebration of living veterans–with Memorial Day being the holiday with which we honor those who gave their lives for our country. Yet still, I could not shake the historical link to Armistice Day, the men and women sacrificed and that brief dream of hope.

What an honor it would be for veterans–living and dead–for the world to renew that hope with a vigor befitting their sacrifices–to choose peace, negotiation, consensus and compromise as the preferred solutions to international conflict. What an honor to the millions–the lost generation–that gave their lives if we could truly remember the “War to End All Wars” as the historical genesis of something current, something positive and something larger.

 

Transformations: Evolution of an Environmental Ethic

•October 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment

beach and whelk eggsOne of my earliest connections to the marine environment were seashells. From a young age we took frequent vacations to visit my grandparents on Anna Maria Island in Florida. It was a thousand-foot walk to the beach–the Gulf of Mexico–and it was our daily destination. We’d often walk the beach before breakfast and then later spend hours lounging, swimming, reading and sand castle-building.

In addition to the frequent “good mornings” (and their reciprocation) from fellow walkers, those morning strolls often included keeping a keen eye out for shiny or colorful sea shells. As my interest in sea shells grew, I’d spend more and more of my other beach time picking through the shells at the wash line or just beyond the typically calm break.

As I grew a little older and a little more adventurous, donning a dive mask opened up a new world. I could swim a little farther out and I would look for actual live mollusks. At that point in time, I knew the best quality shell–the shiniest and most colorful–came from a live animal. I didn’t over-collect, but I did take my share back to the house and an old pot of water to boil away the creature inside the shell.

Cowrie ShellsAt that time I also developed a relationship with the owners of a shell shop on Anna Maria Island–when we were there on vacation year after year. I was particularly fond of cowrie shells–most of which were from areas of the Pacific or Indian Oceans. As I focused on these beautiful and uniquely shaped shells, I ordered rarer specimens–not really considering the impact of the methods used or of the demand created for exotics. I think at some point I realized they were being collected as live mollusks–but as a collector realized I was getting the best specimens that way.

field guide and horse conchWhen I was old enough (8th grade), I learned to SCUBA dive with my buddy Jackie. He was interested in seeing the fish and I was interested in just about everything else–but mostly living shells. In New Jersey, there wasn’t much that I was interested in collecting. So when we dove there, I observed the fish and crustaceans. But, on my first family vacation to Florida as a certified diver I was looking to get out on a boat and dive–for the fish, for the overall “exotic” experience, but also to see what kind of live mollusks I might discover and collect. On the second, shallower dive of that offshore boat trip I collected two large horse conchs–living creatures.

I was excited by the dives. I was excited by the support of the boat captain/divemaster for my enthusiasm and expertise. I think he thought it was cool that I was starting so young and was so obviously gung-ho. I’m sure I thought it was cool that he made his living SCUBA diving. On the ride back to the marina he offered to take me on a commercial collecting trip with one of the owners of the sea shell store I mentioned earlier. It would be a local, shallow water trip using a surface-supplied, “Hooka” rig that floated in an innertube. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

The shallower draft boat took us off the waters between Anna Maria Island and Passage Key. There we dove in some more challenging conditions–deeper water and swift currents–in search of live sea urchins. It was a shorter dive, but we collected several large mesh bags full of critters.

Following that dive, we refueled, rested and motored over to the shallow sand flats and grass beds on the backside of Egmont Key. It’s here that we really got to work–firing up the surface-supplied rig and collecting just about everything we saw. Sigh. At the time I was excited with what I saw and what I collected–live lightning whelks, lettered olives, moon snails, banded tulips, crown conchs and sand dollars–lots of sand dollars. I remember scooping handfuls into large mesh bags as I swam along underwater–many handfuls and many bags.

On the boat trip back to the marina it was the multiple bags of sand dollars that gave my young mind serious pause–too many. I was only beginning to really understand and implement ideas of ecology, conservation and environmentalism in my own life. I knew the shell shop sold a lot of sand dollars, but that was just too many.

I’m certain that long ride in the boat back to the dock on Anna Maria Island–watching all that we collected die–was a bit of an epiphany. I never took a trip like that again. Sure, I still collected a few live shells from time to time–but even that eventually ended as I realized the impact it was having on the populations of those species.

These memories came flooding back to me recently–prompted by-the posting of a photo of a beautiful cowrie shell by an acquaintance on Facebook and by the biography of Henry David Thoreau that I had just completed.

388px-Benjamin_D._Maxham_-_Henry_David_Thoreau_-_RestoredI realized my long-ago ethical transformation had evolved in a similar manner to Thoreau’s. For several years, Thoreau funded his writing by providing specimens (birds, reptiles and small mammals) for Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz. Thoreau killed these creatures and only later in life lamented his actions and changed his mindset and refused future requests for specimens. From that point his writing grew even more eco-philosophical in nature as well as more objective–learning the habits and characteristics of living things through patient and careful observation.

These days when I walk the beach I still look very discerningly at the shells washed along the tideline.  Occasionally I spot and pick out something special. Sometimes I’ll even carry it with me for a bit–usually setting it carefully back down a few hundred yards later and hoping another appreciative walker will pick it up. Rarely, it will go in my pocket and I’ll take it home. But, every time I  there is something I take home–a memory of my early days of shell collecting and the evolution in ethics and action it instigated.

***

 

 

 

OCTOBER 24: NATIONAL NO STEREOTYPES IN THE MEDIA DAY

•October 17, 2018 • 1 Comment

I challenge all American media outlets to refrain from using generalizations and stereotypes in their reporting for one day–Wednesday, October 24, 2018. 

NEWS ANCHOR WITH HEADLINEAlt-Right, Snowflake, Neo-Nazi, Libtard, Left, Right, Liberal, Fascist and Conservative are just a few of the generalizations and stereotypes regularly bombarding us on television, in newspapers and on the web. For a country that holds individualism–and individual rights–in such high esteem it’s mind-boggling how quickly we are to put individuals in an easily-recognizable and generalized category.

Any collective term can be de-individualizing–minister, welfare recipient, used-car salesman, librarian, teacher and politician. Sure, individuals in those jobs tend to have many of the same duties and skills–and those may even define their lives–but each is still unique.

Even as kids we conjured certain standardized images of jocks, nerds, burnouts, rebels, preppies and sluts. Did the Breakfast Club teach us nothing?

Why do we use stereotypes? We use stereotypes because they are an easy way to make sense out of a busy and complicated world. We are in love with black and white–simple clarity. Grey areas make us uncomfortable. Complex issues make us uncomfortable. Complex people make us uncomfortable. On the other hand, generalizations give us comfort. Besides, who has the time to really get to know the quirky characteristics of your own friends, let alone someone who may have a differing opinion or two? So, stereotypes are time savers too!

Why does the media make generalizations? The media is likewise trying to make sense of an increasingly busy and complex world–for us. Unfortunately that sometimes also means simplifying things–whether it is vocabulary, concepts, individuals or categories–so they are understandable for the largest possible audience. They’re in essence giving us what we need–comfort in generalizations. They’re also a mirror of our stereotype-using selves.

Why do I care? Because the individuals that I know defy generalizations and stereotypes. They rarely–if ever–fit neatly or easily or completely into a category associated with certain definable characteristics. My friends and family are nuanced individuals and taking that uniqueness away from them not only denies their uniqueness, it erodes the very foundations of our liberty.

How does using stereotypes erode the foundations of our liberty? It makes it easy to hate. It makes it comfortable to hate. How? By allowing someone to de-individualize (and dehumanize) the opposition–the enemy. It’s easier to hate a generalized group that you’re told embodies characteristics you detest than it is to hate an individual that may disagree with you on a number of topics and agree with you on others.

You may have heard the term divide and conquer. It’s one of the oldest of military strategies. It’s also one of the oldest military strategies to be applied off the battlefield. Generalities and stereotypes are one of the most effective weapons of choice for those wanting to gain and hold power through hate, fear and anger. And it is a weapon used by all sides indiscriminately.

Newspaper and coffeeSo what exactly is the challenge? Well from 12:01am to 11:59pm on Wednesday, October 24 all media–television, radio, web and newspapers will cease using stereotypes and making generalizations. What does that entail? Well, it entails some pretty laborious and exacting journalism–naming and discussing individuals and not lumping them into easy-to-label general categories. If it sounds like a generalization or stereotype–even remotely–don’t use it.

Now, I’m not saying that all labels are inappropriate. What I am saying that if they are used, the media needs to go beyond the label–to at least hint at the individual or the individualism they’re reporting.

I also expect the media to reign in their guests–keeping them from making gross generalizations as well. I expect them to ask guests for specifics–not stereotypes.

I know this is asking a lot. I don’t expect this to be an easy challenge–even for myself. But, I’m going to try. I challenge you try it yourself as well. Maybe together we can convince the media to jump on the bandwagon as well–if only for a day–and rekindle the individualism of person and thought that America was built upon.

An Appropriate Walk

•September 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

thoreau walking quoteThis morning I finished reading Henry David Thoreau: A Life. As completing the last six pages delayed my planned morning walk, I thought it an appropriate homage to one of my literary and environmental idols to walk to the library to return the book.

 

CRAZY WRITING RESEARCH: Hoping the FBI never comes knocking

•September 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

BRAINSTORM ENDING WITH UComp dolphin graphicOne of the most common “writer threads” on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram typically deals with crazy online research and writer worries over alarming authorities, being “watched” or even being officially questioned for that research–even though I’ve never seen proof of any of that happening. I’m sure many readers can imagine–given the wide range of genres–some of the topics writers explore–although most people can’t imagine the detailed tangents many of us take as we surrender to our curiosities.

For me, one of the most interesting and engaging aspects of the writing  process–especially my fiction writing–is the research. And honestly I’ve yet to feel more than a mild “chilling effect” when I do some of my more questionable searches.

NEW FRONT COVER AUGUST 2018 WITH SILVER MEDALFor Wendall’s Lullaby–my first novel–most of my research was pretty tame–dolphin social systems, mass strandings and responses, dolphin pathology and some in-depth geography. I did do some detailed research on the U.S. Navy SEALs–tactics, equipment and weapons–as they were the closest model to my fictional Marine Mammal Specific Special Operations Teams (MSOTs). The only research I thought might touch some nerves was looking into the impacts/effects of an explosive in an enclosed space–both on the human body and the other objects in the room.

Delphys Rising screenshotFor my current work-in-progress, Delphys Rising, some of my research is a little further out on the spectrum of what might be considered “suspicious” by the Big Brothers that might be watching. The slightly crazier research has included the geography of North Korea, North Korean military installations (locations and type), North Korean submarines and North Korean missile programs.

 

Stop the killingFor Delphys Rising I’ve also done extensive research on Japanese whaling, the dolphin/small whale drive hunts in Taiji, Japan and the Faroe Islands as well as the animal rights protesters addressing those hunts. And, while I don’t consider most of these protesters “eco-terrorists,” my plot required me to look into groups that are considered that radical.

But, not all research is the kind that might draw the attention or red flags of those patrolling the internet–not unless their warped agenda is against underwater births, Hawaiian voyaging canoes and navigation, humpback whale songs, spinner dolphins, wind power or sensory deprivation/float tanks.

Of course writing this little blog (as well as the sticky note on my desk) just reminded me that I need to clarify some historical details about the use of Midway Atoll–the remote Pacific Ocean location featured in Delphys Rising. So, back to Googling I go.

 

 

 

 

Morning Wake-up Call

•September 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same fields, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson
west sunrise 1
For a long time, I’ve been a morning workout person. When I’m not injured many of those morning workouts start pre-dawn, on the water–paddling. I’ve posted hundreds of photos from my morning paddles–reveling in the warm colors and wonderful optical effects. Each morning, each sunrise is unique–some more magnificent, some more subtle.
Many times the dawn not only creates spectacular sights in the east, but also in the west–typically an orange glow on storm clouds offshore in the Gulf.
This morning, as I started my return walk to the east, the sky brightened and the fiery glow of the sun below the horizon was obvious–and beautiful. Orange rays from the sun and shadow rays from the clouds burst from that expectant focal point. It was a phenomenon I had seen on countless occasions. And, because of that familiarity–as I walked–my eyes wandered. They wandered to the water–to the north, to the south and finally over my right shoulder to the west.
west sunrise verticalWhat I saw over my right shoulder to the west stopped me–orange and shadow rays emanating from a focal point in the west. In the west?
I couldn’t recall ever having seen this before–not at sunrise. Never at sunrise.
Was it from the light of the setting moon? No. The moon was still high in the sky and but a crescent. I was stumped. I kept walking.
My mind wandered in all sorts of directions–a crashing meteor, an oil rig fire, an alien spaceship.
Of course, there were two pauses to take photos. And during the second pause I moved my gaze from horizon to horizon–from west to east. I wondered–could they be the same rays originating in the east? Could they be converging on a perspective point due to the curvature of the earth? This possibility seemed the most logical–most scientific–explanation I could fathom.
I kept walking and from that point on my thoughts shifted from explanation to wonderment. All the years I’ve spent experiencing sunrises and today I saw something magnificent that I had never seen before–something new.
The realization jostled me just enough–shaking me out of a bit of a mental slumber. Admittedly, I’ve been wallowing in a grey funk. Sad about not being able to do my normal fitness routines. Stressed after cancelling my upcoming triathlon event due to the Red Tide outbreak in Southwest Florida. I was having a hard time moving forward–looking forward.
This morning I took some steps–literally and figuratively–reminded by those rays in the west that each day is something to look forward to–something never seen before.
west sunrise 2
 
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