Monthly Archives: November 2015



1891 Sidney Paget Strand portrait of Holmes for "The Man with the Twisted Lip"

1891 Sidney Paget Strand portrait of Holmes for “The Man with the Twisted Lip”

I don’t watch a lot of television—the news and weather, NCIS, and Elementary. At least two are mysteries. The weather is usally a mystery, and the news—well, to be a real mystery, you need clues, and most newscasters are clueless.

Elementary, BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, and House, MD are all essentially the same genre with the same skeletal structure. The hero is a brilliant man, addicted to opioids, who is able to quickly solve mysteries, but only takes on cases that interest him. His roommate is a doctor who served in Afghanistan, but was wounded. Dr. Watson is an intelligent and educated man, but is amazed at Holmes’s powers of deduction.

Holmes originally appeared in installments as a column, to use the modern vernacular, in The Strand, a monthly magazine. Having written monthly articles, I can understand Conan-Doyle’s fascination, and the dread of dealing with recurring deadlines. He eventually tried killing Holmes off—plunging to his death over a waterfall along with his arch-rival Moriarty—but the public wouldn’t stand for it. With a lame excuse of Jiu-Jitsu, Homes reappeared, to Conan-Doyle’s displeasure, but the approval of the readers who didn’t care HOW Holmes escaped–just that he did.

As a writer, I’m intrigued by such circumstance: a great lead character, a narrator who’s also part of the story, and an ensemble from poor Inspector Lestrade to Holmes’s smarter brother, Mycroft. And, yes, “The Woman,” Irene Adler.

I was going to write more, but instead I’m going to go and re-read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes yet again.


Wise Advice


(I had written this a few days ago, but life got in the way of posting it.)

Speeches, especially speeches by politicians tend to have a powerful opening and a powerful close. The rare speech is powerful throughout; even rarer, it is short..

On this day (19 November) in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In school, many of us had to memorize that speech, but too few of us could appreciate it at such a young age. Sadly, too few adults appreciate it either. I’d like to comment on two sentences in the middle of the speech, which was only two paragraphs. The first is the last sentence of the first paragraph:

The world will little heed, nor long remember, what we say here; but it will not forget what they did here.

Did Lincoln believe this? It’s quite possible given that these were merely a few words he spoke at a cemetery dedication. Maybe he believed that much of what he did went unnoticed, and that is true of all great men. History has a habit of airbrushing PhotoShopping the warts and frailties of its heroes so the person more accurately resembles the marble busts in hallowed halls; others, history relegates to the footnotes.* Hero or not, recognized or not, a great man or a great woman does what they know to be right regardless of the consequences. The truly great tend not to be on the covers of magazines or offered reality television programs. The truly great understand that there are things greater than them, so they stand by their ideals, and stand in the shadows behind them.

As it turns out, the world did heed and remember Lincoln’s address. It also remembers the important choices the man made. When some began to revise history after the Civil War, Robert Todd Lincoln, his son, charged the president’s two secretaries–who handled his communication and sat in on most meetings–to write the factual history before it was forgotten or corrupted.

The second and final paragraph began:

It is for us rather, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried forward.

That was not a charge merely to those close enough to hear President Lincoln’s speech, nor merely those in attendance, or even those alive in 1863. It is meant for all of us; we are all to continue the work of upholding the ideals of a democratic republic; To continue to view all people as deserving respect. We may be a nation of laws, but the laws are intended to provide order for the citizens. Some forget “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Surrounded by death, in the middle of a war that had split the Union, certain that he would not survive his time in office, Lincoln’s focus was to focus on the living, including us, and remind us to keep this precious gift alive.

* e.g. Millard Filmore

Pure Evil


Some people claim that God was created in man’s image and likeness. I tend to find this point of view insulting and bordering on the blasphemous—in most cases. However, when bipedal life forms (I hesitate to refer to them as people or humans) slaughter innocent people, screaming “God is great” I think that they’ve attempted to create a god in a likeness that suits them.

I wouldn’t normally speak for God, but I truly believe that if I were the one doing the screaming and killing, I would not be greeted in the next world with, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I suspect that those responsible for all the death and destruction in pursuit of an Islamic caliphate are in for an unpleasant surprise when they leave this world. Seventy-two virgins? Really? This from a group who believes that rape is a form of prayer. Not just a loophole, but actually prayer.

And what do they expect to accomplish with all their violence? When they attacked Paris, did they believe that the French would roll over and play dead? Do they believe that with enough senseless violence people will be inclined to embrace sharia?

That by killing a planeload of Russian tourists Vladimir Putin will be swayed? Have they ever even read a newspaper story about Putin? Former KGB. Never voted Mr. Congeniality. Not real particular about following international law. Personally I believe he’s “mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore.” Might not have been ISIS’s smartest move.

Bottom line? These wackheads have merely managed to get a whole lot of people pissed off.

And God just might be one of them,

Ghost Fleet


I found another great book, with an interesting story behind it

Peter W. Singer is a strategist and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, was formerly the youngest fellow at the Brookings Institute, along with many other interesting credentials. He founded NeoLuddite (I love the name), a technology advisory firm, and has written a number of books, including Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, and Children at War, which explores the use of children-soldiers. Mr. Singer consults for policy makers on these and other important issues.

However, Mr. Singer believed that such information was not getting the attention it needed, so he decided to team up with another writer and present his ideas via a technothriller a la Tom Clancy. The result is Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. I downloaded the eBook to my Kindle Tuesday morning. By Wednesday evening, interrupted by a 600+ mile drive and a college campus tour with my son, I had finished the book. Here are a few highlights.

The United States and China are strong trading partners, every bit as strong as Germany and Great Britain in 1910. Relations between China and Russia are tense. From America’s viewpoint, things look fine (and quite familiar) until the Russian cosmonauts lock the American astronaut outside the International Space Station. The Chinese have, by this time, orbited their own space station and have covertly installed weaponry. They destroy key American satellites. We’re suddenly at war, and it’s obvious that the Chinese have seriously studied our past to avoid the mistakes made by others; their attack on Pearl Harbor is much better executed and totally successful. The relationship between Russia and China is not tense, but instead they have formed an alliance to allow China and Russia to recapture their positions of power.

The Chinese have one significant advantage–almost every high tech American weapons platform has Chinese manufactured electronics, either because we allowed it, or in some cases because sub-sub-contractors substituted cheaper Chinese components for those specified. Embedded malware in the components renders most of our weapons unreliable if not totally useless. America no longer has the manufacturing base it did in the Second World War, and what capacity it does have has substantial foreign ownership interested in return on investment, not America’s survival.

Our only option is to drag out the old ships in the West Coast “ghost fleet;” obsolete vessels awaiting sale for scrap and some experimental that didn’t quite work out. Similarly, planes stored in the Air Force’s desert boneyard are pieced together, scavenging from several to get one aircraft reasonably operational. Kind of like the “hillbilly upgrades” soldiers did to Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a desperate move, but these has-beens and never-weres all predate the use of Chinese components.

Oh, and you’ll never guess how Wal-Mart figures into the story.

The book is a wonderful mix of scary fact and intriguing fiction with interesting characters. It is truly difficult to put down.

If you liked “The Martian,” you’ll love this.

Cross-contaminated Art

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

My daughter played in a symphonic concert this weekend, and I was the designated (volunteer) photographer. I used to do a lot of photography in my younger days and still remember a thing or two. Of course that pales in comparison to what I’ve forgotten (e.g. if you own multiple digital cameras, put different lenses on them rather than trying to juggle two lenses at the same time).

Taking the pictures is the easier part, and while darkrooms are rare, many of the darkroom techniques have migrated to computer. So, when I got home, I sorted the photos. I then dodged and burned images, adjusted framing just like the old days, but without getting my hands wet. I’ve gotten used to this by taking the pictures at my kids’ soccer games. However, I began to think (always dangerous) that while sports photos are an American tradition requirement, photos of a concert are a bit different.

When you think about it, it just seems odd to use one artistic medium to share another. It’s true that music can reflect other arts—Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is an excellent example. However, it seems more difficult to work in the opposite direction. I don’t think that even a masterpiece painting could reflect a particular piece of music such that the viewer would recognize the melody. I suspect even the greatest choreographer could not create a dance that causes the audience to taste peanut butter. Mixing media is like writing a haiku explaining hockey—it just doesn’t work.*

So, my photos may not transmit, explain, or even reflect the melody, the harmony, the counterpoint, or even the thematic chords that were performed, but it does give the parents a chance to see their kids on stage.

Sometimes that’s enough.

* Although my son wrote his college entrance essay on soccer and its comparison to international relations.

Does It Ever Get Easier?

It’s funny, or maybe just a sign of the times that a number of people—including myself—have asked this very question. You work hard, you try to play by the rules, and you try to treat others fairly, but it just doesn’t seem to get any easier. Why?

What would easier be like, anyway? I suppose my job could be easier—like the guys working on an assembly line fifty years ago; there’d be no need to think, just repeat the same motions over and over. Boooring!

Maybe easier means that I’d make more money and could afford to buy the boat I’ve always wanted. But is there ever enough money? I read about the billionaires do all kinds of outrageous things to make even more or to pay less taxes. Even when you have billions, it still isn’t enough.

Maybe easier means that I’d have more free time in the evening and on weekends so I could—what? I’m not the type to sit still and watch a lot of television. Maybe I would putter around with my various projects, like when my dad retired. He puttered around the house, eventually got everything just the way he wanted, then he and mom would sell the house and move so he could start over. I don’t like to putter that much.

The problem is that easier doesn’t really exist. Things change but we never see it as easier. When we were young we couldn’t wait to be adults, because we knew life would be better. It wasn’t, in fact, we’re paralleling the much of what we experienced back then.

THEN: The school project that is coming due that I haven’t done or really even gotten started.

NOW: Income tax time

THEN: Agonizing over acne and waiting for that growth spurt that will make me tall and thin.

NOW: Agonizing over wrinkles and grey hair, and hoping I don’t gain any more weight or lose any more height.

THEN: Being overly concerned about how the other kids treat me.

NOW: Being overly concerned about how my own kids treat me.

Easy? No. Different? Yes. Better or worse? Whichever I choose.

A Communications Drill

There was an emergency drill in Virginia this weekend, which simulated a group of boy scouts stuck at about 5,000 feet as the weather deteriorated. (Virginia has mountains as well as seashore). This was complicated with widespread power loss in the same area. Although the “event” was several hundred miles away from my location, the entire state participated.

In my years in healthcare, many times I’d see disaster planning and disaster drills with a lot of “wishology.” People would believe (wish) that power would stay on, and think that they had to budget for power. What needs to be kept operating? What should be shut down? Obviously the surgical facilities and patients with respirators need power. The televisions and the fancy fountain in the lobby—not so much.

The same is true about communications. I remember one hospital telling me (when the technology was new) that they had a satellite telephone.

“Great,” I replied. “Who are you going to call?”

They hadn’t thought about that.

In this drill, we focused on the fact that if the Red Cross needed cots, that meant they had used all they could get their hands on—their stock, the next few counties’ stock, etc. The only place to get more cots was from a distant location. The same held true for hospitals; if they needed supplies, or even doctors, they too had used up all the local resources. Although we were using ham radio as the means to tie the state together, it was really less about radio and more about the ability to convey a message to someone who can respond to it, and getting a response.

Imagine if that was what drove communications at home, work, on the television, etc. It might be better for everybody.