Thursday, January 29, 2009


Groucho once said: "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


No doubt there are many, many secrets floating around in the "dark underground" concerning terrorist activity around the world. The recent revelation (in the press) that dozens of Somali teenagers raised in the United States have been recruited and are being trained by Al Quida affiliated organizations should give one pause. One has to be amazed by the seriousness and difficulty of the task handed to American counterintelligence officers in keeping murderers at bay. It will likely be decades before much of the story of the current battle comes to light in memoirs and histories. Recently I read Fred Burton's Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. Burton was a member of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), which is tasked with protecting our State Department personnel (including ambassadors) as well as visiting diplomats. Burton was given the early assignment of investigating attacks and activities of Middle Eastern terrorists, even before Bin Laden became a household word. For the most part, this volume concentrates on events preceeding and up to the first attack on the WTC. He was active in tracking the abductions of Americans in Lebanon, investigating the assassination of President Zia of Pakistan, working on the bombng of the Lockerbie Pan-Am flight, and finding the original bombers of the WTC.

The book provides a lot of interesting information. Spycraft. I was very interested in the Zia story, having recently finished Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes. It was quite an eye-opening tale of cooperation/antagonism between Pakistni and American agents. Burton's conclusion that the most likely culprit in downing Zia's plane (in which his army staff and the US ambassador also perished) was the Soviet Union, rings true. I loved the give and take between adversaries. I also think that anyone who assumes that terrorists, and especially members of foreign spying agencies, are dumb, better think twice.

Like so many government/military people, he is critical of the media, though clearly he relied on it, and now in a way is a reporter of a sort himself, providing to the world an inside look into a secretive agency. I wondered if he told too much, though, of evasion tactics and other spy procedure. Still, you can be certain that there was an equal amount of intel that he did not give up. Those bodies are undoubtedly still buried deep. He hinted that he knew a lot more about some events. . .teased the reader, I should say.

I was surprised at his candor in revealing some of his agency's failures, such as the inability to detect long-running surveillance carried out by Ramsi Youself on diplomatic motorcades (some of which he himself was a part of). You would think these admissions would have notched down a little of the bravado, as when he states that should an attack happen, "I have fifteen rounds. And I will make every one count." More likely, had an attack come, many agents, even himself, would not have had as much of a chance as they thought. Thankfully, no attack came.

Burton is really giving more than an account of his service. It is a warning, that America has to be more vigilant, creative, intuitive, and flexible in approaching the challenges of terrorism. Future attacks will happen. We have to take out the miscreants. I just hope that this can be achieved without destroying our national character and beliefs and done within legal boundaries. Yes, I know. . .the other guy isn't playing fair. But I don't want our people to be like them; I want ours to better than them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I am probably violating some copyright law, but I wanted to record my favorite part of President Obama's (doesn't that sound nice?) inaugural speech:

"With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. [emphasis mine] To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Monday, January 19, 2009


Aren't they the cutest? This is just after the eldest one finished performing in his fifth show of the ballet Nutcracker and we were about to make the long walk across town to catch the last bus back to our home.


Don't you just love our hats? Boating in South Florida.


I love art, especially painting and sculpture. I enjoy almost all of it, though I tend to like realist painters and sculpters the most, and one of the greatest American realists died this weekend. He was one of my favorites. I will mourn the passing of Andrew Wyeth, but what a collection he left behind. Art critics may squabble, but I think he will be remembered as one of this country's greatest.

Some say his work was drab and boring, and I can understand their criticisms. I doubt anyone ever used browns the way he did, though, to show the world he came from. He was great at showing the wear on people's faces. His best-known painting, Christina's World, wonderfully captures just about everything one needs to know about his style (if you were allowed only one painting in which to judge a master's style). For me, the picture just brings a smile to my face, as I wonder about how this woman felt as she looks over the wide expanse (with homestead). You see her from behind, but you get the sense that she has mixed emotions---a love and feeling of comfort, but a sense of longing too, perhaps.

But Wyeth painting hundreds. How can one not love the delicate window drapes fluttering in the breeze in Wind From the Sea? Or not want to cuddle with the white dog laying on a white bedspread in Master Bedroom? And all those Helga portraits. . .scandalous and beautiful. His landscapes flow---they aren't jagged or majestic.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


It was just a break in the road
gaping, defying, sneering its
refusal to allow normal traffic
smooth pavement ripped like
some old plastic seat covering
revealing wet stained stuffing.
No easy traverse was in sight,
so I turned, and went back.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I found what I had hoped would be a promising blog or website the other day. It had some search engine that promised to provide good suggestions for future reading. Just type in your book title and it claimed it would match it with books similar enough in orientation to interest you. Well, I already use Goodreads for this function, though one does have to search a bit, which is no problem---and I do enjoy perusing people's reading lists. I also browse through several other sites that have reviews, suggested readings, and such, as well as a few specialty sites. But I thought that having another avenue for discovering books to read would not be a bad thing. I was disappointed however. I put in a book title (Papillion, as it happened), just to see what would come up. . .and I got a small list that included a romance novel, a historical novel from a widely divergent time period, Dune, and several other odd choices. I was befuddled. So I looked back into the web, and it had the caveat that people who read your book could make suggestions or recommendations. My friends, if you are going to participate in these sites. . .please try to take them seriously and make recommendations that fit. Of course, the managers of the site should do a little better job policing their site as well. Sadly, I had to delete the site from my favorites, after its tenure of less than a day.

Friday, January 9, 2009


I just love a sharp, witty critique of a book (even if it is off the mark). I wish I had an acid touch like that sometimes. I admire people who can concoct biting barbs off the top of their head (although these may have been ruminating a lot longer than we know). I present here two that I like:

"The covers of this book are too far apart." --- Ambrose Bierce

"Once you put it down you can't pick it up." ---Mark Twain

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I am frustrated by blogs. More accurately, some of the bloggers. Not the reading of blogs, but the interaction that they often seem to offer then often deny.

I often slip quietly (right, as if there were any sound) into blogs to find out what an individual's interests are or what makes the author tick. Sometimes I just try blogs randomly, usually clicking back out of the ones that are too oriented toward family (more like a myspace) or are too juvenile. When I find one I think will be intereseting I actually get excited. Frequently I am enchanted by what I read or am introduced to new ideas or situations. I tend to like to read blogs by people who are very smart, or offer a vastly different viewpoint, or new insights to different places or experiences. For instance, one blogger suffers from a certain illness, and her insights are interesting. I prefer most of all those blogs that have some aspect about them revolving around books, history, and the humanities. Quite often I utilize the webpage links provided in the profiles on Goodreads, and many of them have been very engaging.

And, of course, I have my own blog (no duh, you think). But mine must not be being read often, or visited frequently (I do not know how one keeps track of visitations), because there are hardly ever any comments (other than those left by my friend Jen) on my blog. I worry that I my writing is too boring (or that the writing is poor). Some bloggers seem like naturals, and others have special areas of interest and expertise that makes it easy for them, I guess. Some writers, though, seem to overdo it, trying to artificially spice up their blogs or attempting too hard to be "eloquent" or shocking. Other blogs are on topics that chase me away: crafts, for instance. I do like the ones where the insights are raw and direct and from the heart---personal yet probing. But each blog is different.

I don't really have a lot that I check regularly, though there are a few. When I leave comments more often than not they are not responded to (although they usually are posted, so I guess that is a bit of a victory). I guess in a way it is like meeting people at a crowded bar, asking a few questions, making introductions, only to get a dismissive reply or a blank stare, or even worse the "avoidance." I hated going out to bars. If I asked a person to dance, and was rebuffed, that was it for me usually. Wouldn't ask anyone else that night. I had to work my courage up, and was more easier deflated that a helium balloon landing on a campfire. I don't take rejection that well. So I didn't try often. I am better now, though deep down I am not much changed from that nerdy, awkward guy. Socially inept (though friendly). One of the advantages of internet, in a way, is the anonymity it provides.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Next to my bed now sits a strange-looking lump of glowing rock called a Himalayan salt lamp. Mostly yellow with orange splashes imbedded in the crystal, this lamp supposedly attracts dust and viruses and helps to cleanse the air in my room. How accurate this claim is I don’t know, but I do seem to be breathing better. My sister gave this one to me from her collection at home. She must have about a half dozen or more around the house. These lamps give off a very pleasant glow, though I am still unused to having such a large nightlight so close to my bed. Nevertheless, I am getting used to its presence. I have looked them up and all the sites claim they are very beneficial to one’s health. Another thing for me to keep my eyes open for on garage sale hunts. I wonder if they come in colors outside the "fire" range? Like blue or green. My sister swears by hers. So now I am the lucky owner of one. . .a convert.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


The trip back to Columbia from Tampa allowed for quiet reflection on the wonderful week of sunny enjoyment the boys and I had down on the Gulf. I didn't get to write too many blogs while I was down there, so this one will fill in the blanks. First I have to thank my sister for her generous gift of room, board, and transportation down to her home. The bus trip was long, but not too bad. It was a bit disconcerting on the trip back when a side door just in front of me swung open when we stopped at a light coming into Savannah. The poor guy next to the door wasn't sitting there when we resumed. Thanks too to my niece Falon, and to Beth's boyfriend Wayne for all they did to make the trip fun. With the exception of the Gamecock debacle against Iowa and the aborted trip to Busch Gardens (which was not a big deal since the boys went several times a little over a year ago), the trip was almost perfect. The following will be out of chronological order, but who cares.

The best part of the trip was sitting on the gulf in a small fishing boat with a pod of porpoises swimming around us, and under the craft, surfacing, and playing, even showing their bellies. I really enjoyed it. Could have stayed there for a long time watching those beautiful creatures. I tried to take a few pictures, but I am not sure they are going to come out. We had reached a sandbar a couple of miles off New Port Richey and the dolphins were swimming about. It appeared that there were a few young ones in the mix too. After staying there a while we were off. Crashing through the waves was better than a flume ride. We had planned to do some fishing, but the bait shops were closed, so we instead landed on the nearly deserted Anclote Key, where we discovered an empty beach brimming with shells. . .and almost literally covered with sand dollars. So many, in fact, that we could be choosy about the ones we wanted to keep. We gathered some small conchs and other shells as well. We spent the entire afternoon there and started a small fire. If the weather had cooperated just a little (this long cloud refused to allow the sunlight to warm things up) we surely would have gone swimming. I enjoyed just walking up and down the beach. I found a small scorpion, which surprised me. . .I didn't know they lived on these islands. The place was covered with racoon tracks. I was told that the place also had a lot of rattlesnakes.

Another wonderful experience during the visit was taking the boys to Lowry Park Zoo. The layout is not quite as friendly as Riverbanks, but there were some excellent exhibits. The best part was getting to touch stingrays. Amazingly smooth they were. . .like velvet. They look pretty interesting close up, too. Some seemed to want to be touched. Joey was particularly entranced, though it took a little longer to get Chimo into it. We also got to see manatees, which is why I took them there in the first place. They had a nice collection of animals native to Florida: otters, black bear, whopping crane, Florida panther, skunks, etc. Joey loved the snapping turtle exhibit. (He spent a lot of time chasing lizards, and even found a few gopher turtles during the visit). I was a little disappointed that the place seemed to be set up to filch as many dollars out of the attendees as possible.

The boys and I visited Tarpon Springs one day. The historical society and museum in the restored old train depot was very nice. Hit a few antiques stores, walked down to Green Cove and watched the fishermen (this is where they throw the cross into the water), went over to the sponge docks. We ended up enjoying Cuban sandwiches from a little shop no bigger than a closet, but the food was great (Chimo wasn't happy with the cigar smoke, however). Watched people cruise by; a drunk couple in the throws of passion were amusing, until the proprietors finally separated them and someone came by and picked them up. We had scoops of ice cream, and some young lady flirted with me. . .she thought I was 31! That made me smile for the day.

Falon and I went thrift shopping one afternoon. That was fun, though I didn't find any real treasures. Did pick up a few things she needed. We ate at a place, I think called Barnhill Buffet, that was awful. Simply awful. Terrible food. One other place we ate at while we were there was also pretty bad. . .China Pearl restaurant on Dale Mabry (food was watery, cold, tasteless).

I took the boys to CDBs restaurant near the University of South Florida one evening. I recommend it to anyone who likes Italian food. Their hardhat grinder is excellent, the pizzas very good, and the antipasto salad the best that I know of. They used to have really good spinach salad too. The boys liked it, though they were not too happy with vegetables in the CDB special pizza. They haven't changed the decor much either. . .warm wood.

I got to visit with a few friends and catch up. I missed seeing Keith Robertson, but did have a nice visit with his wife (and an old friend of mine as well) Kat. We walked over to a nearby park and let the boys play while we chatted. I visited Haydee Marquez, who retired not to long ago from a career with the Tampa Fire Department. Had to resort to a short telephone chat with her daughter Yvette (though Marlene's son David came by). I caught up with Lois Koch Draper (hadn't heard from her in a while and I was worried); she is as crazy as ever. Missed out on seeing Crystal.

Visited with Falon's Pat and the girls (Gabby and Kara) at their home (which used to belong to Beth), and played some video games on their new system. Their dog made a racket, but he finally warmed up a little to me.

The boys went to Simms Park. Really nice play area.

We enjoyed chicken curry when we arrived. I love those curry dinners. We enjoyed quite a few cuban sandwiches while we were down there. Tried several different places, and the boys loved them (as I expected). Soon they will be getting cravings. . .

I drove around and showed the boys the town. Some of my old schools. Places I hung out. Drove down Dale Mabry. We tried to go to jai lai, but they have torn down the fronton. I showed them the old Tampa Bay Hotel (now University of Tampa). I thought about trying Canalside, but since it was New Year's Eve, thought better of it. Lack of funds kept us from doing a few things. But it didn't matter. We slept in late almost every day, lazed about. Relaxed. The boys played. We walked around the neighborhood (really nice area covered with oaks). I enjoyed driving Beth's little jeep.

Joey and Chimo must have said a dozen times on the trip home that they wish they could stay. It was a most excellent vacation. Thanks Beth.