Friday, May 31, 2013

The Dreaded Lurgy

from Jacqueline

This will be a quick, brief, snappy post.  I have the dreaded lurgy.  There is a red cross on my door, so all who step onto the drive with the intention of selling me windows, magazines, landscaping or whatever they hawk, they will know full well that they might well leave with the plague.  I am assailed.

I have a cold.

My head feels like this ...

and sometimes like this ...

My nose like this ....

and I am leaving a trail of screwed up tissues wherever I roam.

The only thing for it, of course, is this ...

either neat, or in the form of this ...

A hot toddy is the only good reason to have a cold.  I have several recipes, mostly including brandy, Manuka honey, lemon and hot water. In the days before I realized I was lactose intolerant, I would put brandy and honey into a mug with hot milk.  That's a knockout and worth a few hours sleep.

I also make my own cold remedy from oranges and lemons I pick myself, a sort of sloppy marmalade to which you just add hot water and brandy - ok, that has a kick to it.

So, what's your favorite cold remedy?  I intend to try any offered today from the humble readers of Naked Authors.  And I promise I will do my level best to come back with something worth reading next week.  This week I have the lurgy.

Here's to your health, this weekend!

Monday, May 27, 2013

War and Remembrance

Patty here...

Today is Memorial Day, a national day of remembrance for members of our military who have died in service to this country. It was first observed as Decoration Day, commemorating those killed in the American Civil War, a number estimated at between 620,000 and 750,000. During my childhood, Veterans' organizations passed out paper poppies on Memorial Day, a tradition inspired by WWI, but it seems that practice has been lost because I haven't seen them for many years.

I've known only two people who were killed in battle. A neighbor died in Viet Nam in the early days of that conflict. I didn't know him well. He was older than I, but I never forgot him. On a trip to Washington, D.C. decades after his death, I found his name on the wall of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial. My fingers swept across the polished granite, feeling the weight of all those carved letters —58,272 service members killed or missing, many more than the total population of the town where I was born.

The second was my great uncle, Julius, who was killed in WWI in the Argonne on October 9, 1918 one month and two days before the Armistice. While he was gone long before I was born, my mother, who was the keeper of family stories, preserved his legacy in our collective memories. His history is not unlike other soldiers who are serving in our military today: He was an immigrant. Julius was born in Russia to German parents who came to the U.S. to find a better, safer life. He was from a large family of hardworking people who were grateful to be living in the U.S.

Julius was a corporal in the 364th infantry, 91st division. He had been in France for only four months when he died. Colin V. Dyment described Julius’s death in a letter to his mother.

"In the Argonne men of the 91st not infrequently turned to a comrade close by, only to find him gone west, killed so quickly that he had neither moved nor uttered a sound."

He was buried in France next to several of his friends. In his pocket they found a letter to his mother that he had written in pencil two days earlier. It was removed from his clothing before he was buried and anchored on top of the grave with a rock.

A fellow doughboy found the letter sometime later, stained by mud and rain. There was no address just a reference to Julius’s hometown. The soldier carried the letter with him for eight months until he returned to the United States and tracked down Julius's parents, my great grandparents. Julius’s last letter is still in our family grab bag of relics from the past. I share part of that letter today because his words seem poignant and universal.

"Tell everybody hello for me and to write to me, even if I don’t write. I don’t get much time. I’ll have lots to tell when I get home. I have been through just about all of it once and I have a pretty good idea what it is now…Mother, it is getting dark and we are about to move to another place, so I’ll have to close. Don’t worry about me. I am sure the Lord is with me and that He will stay by me to the end. If it be His will that I stay here, I know that we will meet again in a better land where there is no war."

Dear Uncle Julius,

I hope you found that land where there is no war and please know that even ninety-five years after your death, your family still remembers you with tears of grief and pride.


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Monster In My Elbow.

from Jacqueline

I guess I've not been paying attention over the past year, or perhaps, what with one thing and another, my mind has been on other things.  Things other than my personal safety, that is.  I've told you all about the case of the flying horse manure that ended up in my eye - and I am still dealing with the infection.  She who is really, really sensitive to antibiotics has been given just about everything ending in "cin" or "cyn" over the past year - amoxy, neo, tobra ... you medical types will get the picture.

To no avail.

Now for the story of the cactus needle.

As you may know, I spent much of last year in England due to the fact that my Dad was very ill with the sudden onset of a rare blood disorder.  He passed away in early July.  My brother arrived from California a few days before he died.  John and I both ended up living here in the Wild West, something I attribute to early conditioning by my Dad.  He loved westerns, and so we watched westerns on TV on Sunday afternoons (for some reasons, that's when they were on British TV).  Those wide open spaces called to us, I guess.

But I digress.

I'd already bagged the spare room, so we'd set up a bed for my brother in the conservatory.  I was in the process of pulling down the blinds (so he wouldn't be blinded with sunlight first thing in the morning), and the one in the corner was stuck.  Oh, that would be the one in the corner next to The Monster.  The Monster is a cactus.  It began life as a very small cactus.  Thirty-odd years ago.  Now it's a big thing, with long needles.  I hate it. I do not like cacti.  Cacti are the plant version of reptiles, and I am not fond of reptiles.  I'm not fond of the desert either - I prefer green.  My people come from damp, so I prefer green.

I digress again.

I was fighting with the stuck blind, and probably because everything was pretty emotionally charged, I was bound and determined to get that thing down - I had to have control over something, I suppose.  I pulled and I pulled.

"Jack, forget it.  I'll be OK," said my brother.
"No, I'll unstick it ...." said I.
"Jack, you'll hurt yourself."
"I'll be fine, I just need to pull this cord, and -"

The cord snapped.  My elbow came down at about 50 miles per hour and hit The Monster.  I screamed.    "Heck," I said.  Only I didn't say "Heck."

I inspected my elbow. No blood, but a small bruise began to appear.

"Do you think there's a needle in there?"  I asked my brother, who was bleary eyed with jet-lag and with worry about our Dad.
"No, it would bleed - and you'd see a hole."
I inspected The Monster.  No needles seemed to have been damaged.  I iced my elbow.

The elbow hurt for some time afterwards, but calmed down eventually.  Then it would hurt a bit again, and the pain would come and go.  A couple of months ago I was fingering around the pointy underside of my elbow and I felt something.  A little something.  I asked my physical therapist about it (the one I've been seeing about my knee - that would be the knee injured last summer and on which I had surgery in February).  "That's odd," she said.  And she suggested I ask my orthopedic surgeon about it, at my next knee check-up.  Which was last Monday.

The knee was given full marks for being a good knee and getting better in good time - well done Jackie's knee.  Then I asked Dr. Mike about the elbow.  I told him the story of the stuck blind and The Monster, and pointed to the exact place where I could feel something odd.  By the way, Dr. Mike is the same brilliant guy who put me back together after my riding accident twelve years ago.

"That's odd," he said.
"Do you think it's a bone chip ... or a cactus needle?"
"Could be a bone chip.  But let's get an X-ray."
Then he told me that a cactus needle would not show up on an X-ray.
I had the X-ray.
"It's not a bone-chip," he said.
"Whaddaya reckon it is?" I asked, slipping into a cowboy tone.  Dad would have laughed.
"A cactus needle.  But we would have to do an MRI to make sure."
"Does it hurt?" he asked.
"Sometimes," I said.
We looked at each other, and agreed.
Let's leave it for now.

Have a good weekend, and be happy you do not have a monster in your elbow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Travels with Nikki

From the messy desk of Paul Levine

I'm writing this aboard American Airlines 977 which was supposed to have just landed in Miami but instead we're on the tarmac in Tampa.  Thunderstorms.  No complaints from me.  Not after Jacqueline's tale of the farting dog in the bulkhead seats last week.

I am not a great traveler.  An especially bad flier.  As I've mentioned before, my lady and I are about to embark on an 1,800 mile road trip....with our old, mentally challenged, partially deaf rescue dog Nikki.

Nikki has never been farther in a car than the local dog park.  So we're entering uncharted territory that goes something like this.

DAY ONE:  With Nikki in a backseat dog hammock, we drive from Miami to Savannah, with pee stops for Nikki et al.

DAY TWO:  Drive through Georgia, South Carolina and into North Carolina where we've rented a cabin/cottage/summer home on the outskirts of Asheville.

The place has what every Miamian craves: a wood-burning fireplace.

DAYS 3-43: Asheville and surroundings.  Hike, bike, picnic, explore the Blue Ridge Parkway....maybe write a little.  Any suggestions from people who know the North Carolina mountains (or traveling with dogs) are appreciated.

Restaurant recommendations are not discouraged.  I am already smacking my lips over the fried green tomatoes and "Appalachian Egg rolls" (pulled pork in braised greens and pickled onions) at the Tupelo Honey Cafe.

Adventure ahead.  I'm not sure how the trip will go, but I assure you there will be no stops on the tarmac in Tampa.

QUICK NOTE: "The Deep Blue Alibi" is on sale for $2.99 for two days exclusively on Amazon Kindle. 

Paul Levine

Monday, May 20, 2013

Life or Death for Jodi Arias

Patty here…

Will she spend the rest of her life in prison or will she be sent to death row? Jodi Arias will soon learn her fate and so will we.

I came late to the Jodi Arias sideshow. For months I heard the name whispered breathlessly by trial watchers, but I was too distracted by life to investigate further. At some point, I asked a friend what all the fuss was about and was told that Arias’s eighteen days of testimony, outlining details of her sexploits was salacious. Pair that with the gruesomeness of the murder, and you had an intoxicating brew of “must see TV.”

As the trial neared its end, I finally watched an overview of the case. There is no disputing that Jodi Arias is a liar and a manipulator. She just isn’t very good at either. By her own admission, she’s also a killer. At that, she showed some talent.

 I listened to the questions posed to her by the jury and saw that they weren’t fooled by her transformation from femme fatale...

to dowdy defendent.

They also weren’t buying her self-defense argument. On May 8th, they found her guilty of murder in the first degree in the killing of her ex boyfriend Travis Alexander. She seemed unfazed when the verdict was read. Immediately afterward, she granted an interview with a reporter during which she said she preferred death to life in prison, that death was the ultimate freedom.

I do not for a moment believe that Jodi Arias wants to die. Her statement seems yet another ill-conceived attempt at manipulating the public and perhaps the jury. The woman should admit she suffers from a finesse deficiency and keep quiet.

The emotional pleas for death from Alexander’s family were difficult to watch. I tried, but failed, to imagine how I would feel under the same circumstances, listening for months to details of how a loved one died, wondering what pain he'd suffered. Their loss is simply unfathomable. However, I oppose the death penalty. Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on the issue but I now stand firmly in the “no” column for the following reasons:
  • Spending the remainder of her life locked in a small cell seems like “just” punishment for Jodi Arias, because the rest of her life is a very long time.

  • The staggering cost to California taxpayers to support a death row inmate is $175,000 per person versus $47, 421 per person for a regular inmate. Each year, California spends approximately $177 million on death row inmates. I assume the cost to Arizonans is much the same. To me, that money would be better spent on awarding scholarships to inner-city kids, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, or any one of thousands of other worthy causes.
  • Sometimes juries get it wrong. No doubt, innocent people have been executed. A small percentage, perhaps, but even one person is too many. 
If Jodi Arias gets death, we will be hearing much more about her in the years ahead, as the time it takes for death sentence appeals to go through the courts can take up to twenty years.

“The length of time prisoners spend on death row in the United States before their executions has recently emerged as a topic of interest in the debate about the death penalty. The discussion increased around the execution of Michael Ross, a Connecticut inmate who had been on death row for 17 years, and has been spurred by the writings of two Supreme Court Justices who have urged the Court to consider this issue.
Death row inmates in the U.S. typically spend over a decade awaiting execution. Some prisoners have been on death row for well over 20 years. During this time, they are generally isolated from other prisoners, excluded from prison educational and employment programs, and sharply restricted in terms of visitation and exercise, spending as much as 23 hours a day alone in their cells. This raises the question of whether death row prisoners are receiving two distinct punishments: the death sentence itself, and the years of living in conditions tantamount to solitary confinement – a severe form of punishment that may be used only for very limited periods for general-population prisoners.
Moreover, unlike general-population prisoners, even in solitary confinement, death-row inmates live in a state of constant uncertainty over when they will be executed. For some death row inmates, this isolation and anxiety results in a sharp deterioration in their mental status.” 

In case you missed the trial, Lifetime has already completed a TV movie called “Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret,” slated to air on June 23.

Your thoughts?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Leaving Home ... and Homeward Bound

from Jacqueline

This is not a post, not in the usual way of my posts here on Naked Authors - but I am here in the Virgin America Clubhouse at Heathrow Airport, waiting for my flight back to the USA.  Been here a couple of weeks to see my Mum, and return to a crazy couple of months because I have a serious deadline looming.  I managed to hit just about everything on my to-do list - there's always a to-do list - and really, I wish I were going on vacation RIGHT NOW! I cannot remember when I last had a vacation.

So, before you think I have won the lottery, being in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse and all that, let me just say that some years ago I decided I would not use my accrued Virgin miles to get a free flight, because I could never get the date I wanted from the airport I wanted, so instead, it's easy - I use those miles to upgrade.  Can't always do it, but if I book far enough in advance, it works just fine - and believe me, on a 11-hour flight from Heathrow to San Francisco, that cushy seat in Upper Class makes me feel less like Quasimodo running from the bells when I get off the darn 'plane, jet-lagged and less than gruntled.  I just hate that term, "Upper Class" though, because, really, I hate elitism.  But what can you do?  I think I'll just have another glass of bubbly while I work that one out.

Whatever anyone thinks of London - I usually spend a few days in the nation's capital on these trips home, though most of my time is spent in rural Sussex - London is by far and away the country's economic powerhouse, with investment coming in from across the globe.  And it shows.  Culturally, it's hopping, more than anything I ever experienced even twenty years ago.  Walk down the street and you hear every language under the sun spoken, and the restaurants are amazing (I know - London has finally moved away from the stigma of food overcooked in lots of water to make the best of wartime rationing).  And here's the interesting thing - there's money about.  People - ordinary people, not skillionaires, although I am sure there are a goodly number of them on the street - are dropping a lot on eating out, on clothing, cars, and, well, the things people with disposable income buy.  Perhaps it's all on credit, who knows?

A friend I had dinner with last Sunday - he works as a consultant to large corporations on developing customer service strategies - told me that Britain is basically being kept afloat by two things; London's golden economy and Scottish oil.  Two ends of a country keeping up the middle.  Perhaps that's true anywhere you go in the world - I'll have to think about it, and not being an economist, I can't comment. But I do know this.  Walk around London and you are always aware of its history.  On Tuesday morning I meandered alongside the Thames as it swept past Chelsea, and there it was, a working waterway since before the Middle Ages.  There were the water taxis, the lighters tied to a pontoon in the center.  The tide was out, and as I looked down at the mud and scanned for treasure, I imagined the mudlarks of Victorian times - another booming age - who would search high and low for anything of value fallen from a ship coming into the docks, or from the pockets of sailors having had too much to drink.  My mind skipped a century, and I could imagine the searchlights at night, as bombers came during Hitler's Blitzkrieg to hammer those same dock - and along with it the lives of so many east-enders.  And I looked at former warehouses, now upscale apartment buildings.  London, like New York, like Boston, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai or Madrid - is an old city with its ancient bones showing. But there's something these cities know that the younger inhabitants don't know yet, those star-struck whizz kids, and I guess many of us have been there.  It's that every dog has its day.  What goes up, must come down.  And every booming economy floats on an underbelly, which, in my humble experience of life, is most raw when the gold on top is shining brightest.

(I have an original of that poster, by the way)

So, that's it from me.  My flight will be called soon, and I might just have that glass of champagne now. While I can. The air miles are running out!!!

What are you up to this weekend?

Turns out I wrote a post after all ....

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ten Things That Make Me HAPPY

By Cornelia

1. This excellent news from The New York Times, because, as my sister says, "There are two kinds of food in the world: food that's good, and food that needs more salt."

No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet

2. My new house, and having all my books under one roof for the first time in five years... also, Pierre Deux armchairs for SUPER CRAZY CHEAP off craigslist:

(Note: these are only three of the shelves. There are ten shelves so far. I think I have to buy more from IKEA. I love IKEA.)

3. The view from my new room (TREES!)

4. Having my own lilacs to smell for the first time since I lived in Boulder (Which was, like, ten bazillion years ago or something.)

Also, they might be boarding some horses in the barn, soon. Which would be awesome. Because I think horseshit actually smells good. And also I will not have to feed them, or muck out the stalls. Because even though I'm rather fond of the smell of horseshit, I haven't missed mucking out stalls in the thirty-odd years since I last did it. And I was never really great at it. So I hope this writing thing works out. (I also hugely suck at waitressing.)

5. The paint colors my landlord let me pick out. Especially since I didn't actually have to do any of the painting.

I may have posted this already. BUT I REALLY LIKE THE COLORS.

6. Did I mention salt? I love salt. Like, SO MUCH. More than those colors.

7. My firstborn, even though she's shaved half her head:

8. Still getting to hang out in the city, even though all my books are in the country. Especially when I get to go to groovy restaurants on someone else's expense account. Or just really cheap Chinese-Cuban diners if dinner's on me:

View of Chrysler building from restaurant terrace Sunday night... and here's view of Central Park from last night:

9. Getting to go to the Fox upfronts yesterday:

10. Flavored salts from Williams-Sonoma:

11. (BONUS!) Having my co-conspirator like the first two chapters I wrote of our thriller novel. Which starts in Moscow and in which I got to mention the Gulag prison-gang guys who found a frozen wooly mammoth and ate it. Raw. Because that's the kind of trivia I love to collect. (Does woolly have two L's? I can't remember.)

12. (DOUBLE BONUS!) What my firstborn wrote on Facebook on Mother's day:

"so my mom is awesome, infinitely beautiful, and brought me up by teaching me that debutantes can be foul-mouthed feminists who read encyclopedias of serial homicide for fun, which is probably the best lesson a woman could learn. i love you bunches, Cornelia Read, thanks for being so fucking cool."

What's making you happy, dearest Fellow Nakeds?

Islands in the Stream, Novel in the Works

From the messy desk of Paul Levine


Cool! House Speaker John Boehner is dead set against legalizing marijuana, even for medical purposes. His daughter, Lindsay, just married Dominque Lakhan (pictured), a Jamaican-born construction worker with waist-long dreadlocks once arrested for marijuana possession in Florida. As Bob Marley said, "herb is the healing of a nation. Alcohol is the destruction." Have a drink, John.

More from the islands.  Americans, BEWARE the Turks and Caicos. On consecutive days two weeks ago, a single bullet was planted in the luggage of each of two American tourists, a retired 80 year old retired neurosurgeon from Sarasota and a 60 year old business woman from Texas. Both were criminally charged. The surgeon was held three stinking nights in a local jail before bail was granted. Full Disclosure: Both Americans are represented by my gal, the Miami legal susperstar Marcia Silvers. 
The UK dissolved the Turks/Caicos government a few years ago for corruption and only recently gave back control. The islands' former Premier is incarcerated awaiting a corruption trial. Local opinion seems to be that disgruntled, fired workers -- either from the airport or the tourist industry -- are trying to frame American tourists to sabotage tourism. Last Friday, Sen. Bill Nelson strongly condemned what was happening in the Turks and Caicos and essentially warned all Americans about travel there.

For those who have asked, yes, I've finished the 10th novel in the Jake Lassiter series. It's "State vs. Lassiter," where our hero goes on trial for first degree murder. More info later this summer. It's the first full length Jake tale since "Lassiter" in 2011 with the novella "Last Chance Lassiter" published last year.

For now, there are the nine Lassiter novels in the BACKLIST to choose from plus the "Solomon vs. Lord" series and four stand-alone thrillers. 


Help me name my new podcast that will be broadcast on Authors on the Air starting next month.  I'll be interviewing authors, of course.  But also Hollywood screenwriters, lawyers, sportswriters, and maybe my favorite bartender.  Working title: "Pulp Friction."  Like it?  Hate it?  Any suggestions?


Paul Levine

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blind Faith

Patty here...

I recently stumbled across a guest-post I wrote for another blog after my fourth book was published. I'm reposting it because yesterday was Mother's Day.

My fourth book just came out, and my mother has “read” all of them. I use quotation marks because my mother is what we euphemistically call “getting up in years,” and now lives in an assisted living apartment. Her mind is sharp but her body is frail from the ravages of age, the worst of which is the loss of sight from macular degeneration. Because she can no longer see to read, she has listened to the audio version of all of my novels except the latest. Cool Cache is dedicated to my parents. When I gave my mother her copy of the book, I guided her finger to the spot on the page where her name was printed.

“Is it there?” she asked.

“It’s there.”

“Daddy’s name, too?”


“He would have been so proud!”


“Read me the first chapter.”

With the first words, my mother pushed the button on her blue recliner and drifted into peaceful reverie. When I finished, I glanced up and saw her staring trance-like into space as if she was the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.


No response. My mother’s hearing is perfect. There was no way she couldn’t hear me. On closer inspection, she seemed unusually still. Her facial muscles were rigid and her eyes glassy. All I could think of was OMIGOD! I’ve killed her!


She blinked with a start. “Why are you shouting?”

“I thought you were…well, never mind.”

“I was just caught up in the story. Is that the end of the chapter?”


“It was very exciting. What comes next?”

“Chapter two.”

“So? What are you waiting for?”

I stopped reading after the second chapter because I had to leave for an appointment. A couple of days later I was talking to her on the telephone. She told me the suspense was killing her (bad choice of words, if you ask me), so she asked her caregiver to pick up the slack. In no time, they were on chapter nine.

“Lita keeps laughing,” she said.

“Maybe she’s tired. Exhaustion can make you hysterical.” I could say this with authority, because deadlines have made me an expert on hysteria.

“No, she’s laughing at your writing. Today she was giggling at lunch about something you said, and she didn’t even have the book with her.”

A little bit of family history here. My mother doesn’t have a sense of humor. If life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel, my mother is a big-time feeler. As a result, I live to make her laugh, sometimes by shocking her reserved sensibilities. Example, during a recent discussion on global warming, I asked if she knew that excessive farting by sheep in Australia and New Zealand was destroying the ozone. She laughed, which was a miracle because when I was growing up, the word “fart” was never spoken in our home. In fact, all references to flatulence were verboten. My sister and I were told that those strange sounds coming from my father’s direction were, in fact, barking spiders. I had a serious case of arachnophobia until I entered first grade and sniffed out the truth. I digress. So, it was not surprising that my mother wasn’t laughing. I just hoped Lita was laughing with me and not at me.

“Lita and I think you’re talented,” she continued.

Thinking a daughter is talented is the primary job of mothers and those who work for them. Truth be told, my mother isn’t a reliable arbiter of my talent, because she thinks everything I do is brilliant: navigating L.A. freeways, clearing my throat, folding laundry (If she could see those naughty little Victoria’s Secret thongs in my laundry basket, she would definitely drop laundry-folding from the list.) That night, I told my husband the story.

“I think you should redirect your marketing strategy,” he said. “It’s clear that seniors are a material audience.”

“You’re basing your hypothesis on one person, and she’s my mother.”

“Okay. Ignore the empirical evidence, and do so at your own peril.”

Despite the fact that I live with a man who uses “empirical” and “peril” in the same sentence, his words caused me to ponder. My books are very popular among my mother’s friends, but I’d always assumed that was because she carries a publicity poster in the basket of her wheely-walker and makes Lita slip my bookmarks under everybody’s daily dish of breakfast prunes.

Frankly, it’s difficult for me to narrowly define any specific audience. Still, on those days when I find myself alone at a book signing or stung by a critic’s tart words, it’s comforting to know there is someone sitting in a blue recliner, hanging on every word I write. Lita’s laughter is just frosting on the cake. I know you can’t read this Mother, but thanks for being in my corner.

My mother was my biggest fan. She died in August 2010. After that, I stopped writing for a very long time.

My mother in her early 20s. So fresh-faced and full of promise.

 The two of us on one of my book tours to rainy Seattle. 
Even though she was wheel-chair bound, she wanted to go with me. 
The trip was a challenge for both of us but also a cherished memory.

Do any of you have past or current memories of your mothers to share?  

A belated happy Mother's Day and Happy Monday!

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Man, His Dog, A Cramped Airplane ... and Me.

from Jacqueline

I’ve been flying a lot lately.  One month of book tour means quite a few flights, and then last weekend I came over here to England, which is where I am now, in windy – really WINDY, Sussex.  But this is about one of those flights they call, “The flight from hell,” but it wasn’t really hell, just really uncomfortable (and for me, every flight is pretty uncomfortable), and I might add, one that flouted a few safely rules.  Here’s what happened – and I might not have chosen to write this if United had bothered to email me back.  But you’ll see why I’m glad I did. 

I finished my book tour a couple of weeks ago with an event at the lovely Broadway Books in Portland.  Because I had knee surgery a few weeks before the book tour began, I needed to sit in aircraft seats with more leg room pretty much throughout the tour, so on this particular flight I paid extra for Economy Plus.  Here’s what happened.

While waiting for my flight I noticed a blind man – I guess he was in his late 60’s, something like that, he might have been older, not sure – he was in the departures area with his really big service dog who was dozing away by his feet. I thought about how brave it was, to make a journey through airports and onto a plane, not only with a dog, but with the challenge of not being able to see. I can see and I have enough trouble. 

The flight was called and the man was among the first to board, and because I had paid a bit extra for this Economy Plus seat, I wasn’t far behind him.  It was when I saw the plane that I thought, “Uh-oh ….”  It was one of those really small aircraft, and I just knew that I had been sold an Economy Plus seat when there was no extra legroom in 1D.  Then I discovered the man and his dog had been allocated seat 1C. 

I like to be accommodating, so I made it sound simple when I had to climb over the man and his dog to get to my seat – the Labrador was 124 lb and took up all the leg room in front of his owner’s seat and my seat – well, actually, just in front of my seat, because that’s where his behind was and he wouldn’t lay down for the entire flight, so at least the man was able to pat his dog’s head and tuck his feet somewhere behind the dog’s paws. The dog, with his bum right in front of me, also had a bad case of flatulence.

Because there was nowhere to place my feet, I had to elevate my legs and rest them against the bulkhead about three feet up, which, after a while began to really hurt my back.  My knee wasn’t feeling great either.  They were still boarding passengers at this point. There were no spare seats. The flight attendant apologized profusely – but what could she do? I just hoped there would be no need to assume the emergency position, because I would be toast!

After take-off, about the time the flight attendant came through the cabin with drinks and the quite delightful man next to me began knocking back his whisky and sodas, I was imagining being in traction for the rest of my life, though the Labrador’s digestive issues seemed to be improving.  I felt like turning around to the passengers behind me and saying, “It wasn't me!!!”

Finally, I could take it no more – about 20 minutes before landing I had to move, so I staggered over the dog, who was drooling all over the floor by now.  I had to walk up and down the aisle several times before I could feel my left leg from the knee to the ankle.  Then I went to use the bathroom, and when I came out the concertina doors snapped shut and caught the back of my jacket tight.  This was of course nothing to do with United Airlines, and everything to do with me and Fate on this particular flight.  Everyone around me thought it was really funny, me being stuck in the door, and I laughed too – but not one soul came to help me and even looked quite sorry when I elbowed the door open and the in-flight entertainment ended.  I made my way back to my seat.

The delightful young man sitting in 1B stood up as I returned (I was gearing up to clamber over the 124lb Labrador) and he offered to take my seat to give me a bit of a break.  I pointed out that his legs were far longer than mine, but he said not to worry, he was happy to sit doubled up for the remainder of the flight. Actually, he just said, “Not to worry,” and I know, I just know, he almost followed it with, “My bones are younger than yours.”  Oh well.

Right now I could go on about how I think United Airlines really failed in their care of the man and his dog. I discovered from the blind man that all service dogs travel free on most forms of public transport – and I think that’s great.  But the genius who booked the seat for a man who needed help, plus his very large dog should, I think, have realized that no one should have been allocated the neighboring seat.  That would be the seat erroneously labeled “Economy Plus” when it should have been rated “Steerage.”  I could go on about that for a long time, plus the fact that the FAA might have grounded the aircraft if an inspector had been on board, because I was one passenger in an unsafe situation.  But I will leave it there, you get the picture.  Maybe United Airlines will one day decide to reply to my email, and I might get a $29 refund for the extra leg room I didn't enjoy.  $29 is $29 after all.

Instead I will tell you this.  The blind man was a chatty guy, full of his week's adventure in Portland and happy to talk about all the countries he’d visited over the years.  He’d been blind almost his entire life and his dog (who shall remain nameless to protect his identity – no one needs to know more, now that you know he has really bad gas) was one in a long line of dogs the man had loved and who had served him well until they were retired.  When the young man sat next to him, he wanted to know everything about him.  The lad – mid-twenties, I would say – was pretty clean cut, the sort you wouldn’t mind your daughter dating. 
            “Got a girl, son?” asked the man, in a really loud voice.
            The young man blushed.  He nodded and said, yes, he had a girlfriend.
            “You find yourself a good girl, and you marry her when you find her.  Don’t let her go.”
            More blushes from the young man.  Rows 2 and 3 were all ears now.
            “I married my girl.  She’s gone now - lost her a few years ago.”  He sipped his whiskey and soda and ran his fingers across the dog’s big head, and the dog leaned against his charge.  “She was eight feet tall, my wife – four feet eleven in her bare feet, but eight feet tall to me.  And you should have seen her – she was beautiful.”
OK, so United Airlines, you really messed up.  But somehow, I wouldn’t have missed that flight for the world.  I just wish we’d all been in first class on a bigger ‘plane.  That would have been a good flight.  

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

We Just disagree

It is a natural instinct for people to become upset when someone disagrees with them.  This is the instinct that led the human race to try new things and move on from caves to mud huts to cities.  It drove empires to expand and republics to blossom.  I have, however, noticed it is  increasingly difficult to have a rational discussion with people, especially about politics.  Everyone wants to get off the subject or point to some past incident to justify their position.

There is an exception to this rule that I have found recently.  My friend, Paul Levine, whom I speak to on a regular basis, not only can present a rational argument, but, except other points of view without immediately dismissing the person as an idiot or completely out of touch with reality.  And, for the record, I did ask him if it was all right to make our private discussion public.

The most perfect example of this was our recent discussion about the hiring of a convicted domestic terrorist by Columbia University.  This story and a separate letter tell the tale better than me.

From the National Review:

People who ask how it is possible that a convicted killer — a participant in a failed plot to blow up a social dance attended by 18-year-old draftees and their dates; a murderess who abetted the cold-blooded massacre of three law-enforcement officers, including the first African-American on the Nyack police force; a woman whose actions left nine children fatherless and who has shown no genuine remorse for that — should be hired as an adjunct professor at an elite school like Columbia University haven’t been paying attention to what’s happened to our educational system from kindergarten to the university level, which has long been under the academic thumb of a Left that is comfortable supporting Islamic supremacists and anti-American terrorists both at home and abroad. After all, it was at Columbia that, in the wake of 9/11, Professor Nicholas De Genova told 3,000 Columbia protesters against America’s war on terror that he wished for “a million Mogadishus” and that a peaceful world would have no place for America.
The prestige of Columbia derives from its scientific and professional divisions (Social Work and Education excepted), in which traditional standards drawn from the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution and including two sides to controversial questions are still observed. Over the past several decades, the liberal-arts divisions and the aforementioned professional schools have reverted to their religious origins, except that the doctrines being rammed down students’ throats without the benefit of opposing views are Marxist rather than Christian.
Conservatives have been lame in opposing this ominous development. They have abdicated responsibility at the trustee level, they have had little or nothing to say about it at the policy level, and they have been inattentive to it at the political level, despite the fact that 85 percent of college students attend state universities whose curricula and liberal-arts faculties are as monolithic, intellectually deficient, and politically perverse as Columbia’s. For example, a course at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is described in the official catalogue in these exact words: “The goal of this seminar is to learn how to organize a revolution.” The course description goes on to explain that this would be an anti-capitalist revolution. Kathy Boudin would feel right at home there. In fact, her colleagues Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who organized the terrorist Weather Underground in which Kathy Boudin was a soldier, were not adjunct faculty members like Boudin but full-fledged professors (at Northwestern and the University of Illinois). Ayers, a Columbia graduate, is an iconic figure at Columbia’s Teachers College (a third professional school at Columbia that is an ongoing disgrace) and has edited its series of classroom guides on how to use subjects like Mathematics to teach “social justice” — which, as Ayers understands and articulates it, is indistinguishable from the principles of the Communist gulags that the Cold War disposed of.
But of course it is terribly outrĂ© to mention all this, and those of us who do are marginalized not only by the academic profession but by the editorial supporters of political bomb throwers at institutions that function as the arbiters of the intellectual culture — such as the New York Times, which played an active role in securing Boudin’s undeserved release from a federal prison. These are sad times for our country, and the hour is late.
 David Horowitz is author of Radicals: Portaits of a Destructive Passion.

(For the record I don’t care about Bill Ayers or anti-capitalists.  My issue is with this nasty woman.)   --- JB

This is a letter written by a PBA member with a slightly different view.


Rockland County Police Benevolent Association President James Kelly has written an open letter to Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger, asking him to fire Kathy Boudin, the former American terrorist the Ivy League university currently employs as a professor.
Boudin was convicted in a Rockland-area robbery that left two police officers dead.
President Lee C. Bollinger,
Last week we learned that Kathy Boudin was recently employed by Columbia University as an adjunct professor at the School of Social Work.  On behalf of the hundreds of police officers serving in Rockland County and the thousands of police officers residing in Rockland County, I feel compelled to comment on this very poor decision to hire Kathy Boudin.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Kathy Boudin was a radical member of the terrorist organization called Weather Underground. This terrorist group was, among other atrocities, responsible for the bombings of the Pentagon, US Capitol, the New York Police Benevolent Association and the New York Board of Corrections.
In 1981, Kathy Boudin along with several members of the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Party robbed a Brinks armored car at the Nanuet Mall and killed Sgt. Edward O’Grady, Police Officer Waverly Brown, and Brink’s guard Peter Paige. Boudin was the operator of the U-Haul getaway vehicle and her actions immediately following the car stop directly led to the murders of O’Grady and Brown and changed the lives of these two families forever.
Boudin exited the vehicle with her hands raised under the ruse that she was surrendering. She was able to distract the officers attention long enough to let her six cohorts, exit the rear of the truck armed with automatic weapons,  and murder Sgt. O’Grady and Officer Brown. Kathy Boudin was sentenced to a term of 20 years to life under a plea agreement which included one count of murder.
Mr. Bollinger, my question to you is why? Why would you employ a radical terrorist who was directly responsible for the deaths of two police officers? Why would you remotely believe that letting a convicted murderer not only revel amongst your students, but guide and shape young, impressionable minds, to be a responsible decision for a college administrator?
Why do you feel it necessary to tarnish the memory of these heroic men by hiring a murderer? Why would you needlessly cause the families of these brave men any more pain and suffering than they have already endured?
I implore you to do the honorable thing and fire Kathy Boudin. If you won’t do it for the family and friends of these true American heroes then at least do it for your student body. Please do not let the future leaders of this great country be subjected to the brainwashing of a radical, murdering terrorist!
In conclusion Mr. Bollinger, I wish to extend to you an invitation each and every October 20 to attend the memorial honoring Sgt. Edward O’Grady, PO Waverly Brown, and Brinks guard Peter Paige. I would like you to attend and after over 30 years, witness the pain and grief still etched on the faces of their family, friends, and co- workers.
Please come and hear the stories from the men who were there that fateful afternoon speaking of the truly heroic efforts Sgt. O’Grady, PO Brown, guard Peter Paige.  Finally come to the memorial to hear of the absolutely deplorable acts that your newly hired employee committed that directly led to the murder of these three men, and ask yourself ” Would I want my child being taught by this or any radical, murdering terrorist?”
James J. Kelly
Rockland County PBA

To bring this point home, here is a photo of the two dead police officers:

Perhaps it was because police officers were killed during this action that I am so sensitive to it.  Paul asked if the woman had actually “pulled the trigger”.  But being a lawyer, he immediately caught his mistake and realized it didn't matter.  There is a law called "felony murder," which makes it murder to be involved in any way in a crime where someone is killed by violence.  So in a bank robbery it doesn't matter if someone pulls the trigger or drives a car, they are both guilty of murder should someone die as a result of that attempt.

People like to point out the technicalities and law about how criminals walk free, but that is a two-edged sword.  There are technicalities that swing in favor of the criminal justice system and public safety.

Paul then asked me if I would care if this convicted felon were hired to work in the cafeteria of Columbia.  It was an interesting and unexpected question, to which I had to give a little thought before I said, "No, I would not care if she were to the cafeteria."

Of course he asked me why.  And my gut reaction is that I don't want this convicted killer being able to influence young people in the classroom.  But there is more.  Here is a person who did something terrible.  I am sure there are Social Work PHds who are qualified and have lived lives of great sacrifice and never have been arrested let alone convicted.  Why aren’t they used as an example? 

Paul's response was that he liked the idea of her bringing a completely different perspective to the school of social work where she teaches.  I get it.  That is valid, I just disagree with it.

The conclusion of this discussion did not make me dislike Paul or raise my voice, or call him a Nazi or Communist or racist or moron or any other nasty term.  We just disagreed.  What happened to just disagreeing with each other?  There are so many subjects today we can't even discuss because they are too sensitive and people would immediately jump to crazy conclusions.

Before we restarted this blog, the six of us had a discussion about the pros and cons.  I said that it was time consuming and I didn't think I could contribute on a regular basis.  The fact that this is only my second post since we restarted shows that I was right. 

I was going to close with my typical wise cracks, but the heart of the this blog is too serious.  People died.  They were murdered.  I was raised to have good manners and respect women.  That is the only reason I am not using some vile term for this woman.  She may be a mother and grandmother, but there are too many kids who didn’t have the benefit of their fathers because of her actions.  Sorry to turn so serious, but sometimes that’s what life throws at us.  If Boston didn't remind us of that, nothing will.

But Paul is still my friend and I value his opinions. 

What do you think?  Should Columbia have hired this person?

Monday, May 06, 2013

Of Cat Fountains and Killer Snails

Patty here...

Here are a few things I’m fretting about:

Killer Snails: 
You can imagine my panic when I opened the Saturday Los Angeles Times and found this disturbing article:  

Florida fights stucco-eating snails
"The state is struggling to contain an invasion of the giant African land snail, a species that thrives in hot and wet tropical climates. These gooey and destructive mollusks grow up to 8.5 inches long, feast on 500 different types of plants and nibble on calcium-rich stucco, which they use to construct their cone-shaped shells. The snails are originally from East Africa but can now be found throughout the world. Aside from destroying plants and buildings, they can also be carriers of a type of meningitis."

STUCCO???!!!! Florida has hurricanes, palmetto bugs, alligators, Burmese pythons, and voter suppression and now this. Makes L.A.’s wildfires, mudslides and earthquakes pale by comparison. Urgent message to Paulie and James O: Get out while you can!

Cat Fountains:
I’m a neophyte cat owner, so when I got my precious Siberian Forest kitties Scooter and Riley I learned that "inside" cats who eat mostly dry food need a running fountain in order to get adequate water. Kidney failure. Ack! I rushed out to buy the most expensive fountain I could find. It was esthetically pleasing. My cat Riley loved it. Her sister Scooter didn’t actually drink out of it but she loved to float her toys in the bowl's swirling water.

When I first plugged in the contraption, the motor hummed quietly but the filter leached charcoal particles into the water. I rinsed out the filter but more particles materialized, so I removed the filter and opted to clean the motor each day. However, each time I unplugged the unit, the motor wouldn’t start again without Herculean cajoling. Within weeks the motor got louder and Louder and LOUDER, so loud, my girls wouldn’t go near the fountain. I unplugged it and kicked it into the back of a closet.

I bought a second cheaper and less esthetic fountain. Within three weeks the motor became louder and Louder and LOUDER. And then it started S-C-R-E-A-C-H-I-N-G! This time I took it back to the pet store. I’m no engineer but I have convinced myself that I can make a better one myself. Stay tuned for the "patent pending" notice.

As some of you may remember, I have resisted Facebook for eons. However, a few days ago I finally bit the bullet and created a page. Facebook wanted access to my address book to find me some “friends” but I declined their offer. A few of my buddies in the writing community took pity and “friended” me. After that, Facebook presented me with a scrolling list of people who were friends of  friends. I knew most of them, so I began ambushing people with friend requests. Only two people I didn’t know asked for my friendship. I thought: What the heck? Bad move.

Within minutes, I got a frantic message from one of my actual friends, asking me to call him immediately. Apparently, one of those two unknown people I’d friended was a “spam bot.” She/it had already sent a message to Actual Friend, asking for his cell phone number so they could sext. The perils of being a Facebook virgin.

Funny Pet Video: 
After all that fretting, I needed something to cheer me up. If you are one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t seen this, check it out because it's Monday and who doesn't need a good laugh?