Monday, November 28, 2016

Three Days Left for This Fund Raiser
Every day Morgan stands outside the men's dome on MUM campus, selling cookies and seeking donations for her course fee to learn the TM-Sidhis program. She's been doing this for over a month.

Imagine Morgan standing at attention behind her stool, holding a pie plate of cookies, her hood up, the faux-fur ruff whipped by the wind. Or don't imagine but head out at dawn to see her on duty.

In the rain. Surrounded by a white hard frost. Wind-blown and red-nosed.

I call this perseverance, and I hope Morgan Potts can receive the funds she needs to achieve her goal. Anyone who wants to contribute to her goal can do so at her Go Fund Me site.

Here is the online link:

As of today, Monday, she has three days left!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Words of Thanks

I wake in the early AM of this Thanksgiving Day.

In the dark enveloping warmth of bed, there are no responsibilities, nothing to do. I float in darkness, in nothingness, in consciousness. I'm surrounded by space, am space. I breathe--in, out. Such a simple expression of life.

I remember how a word, a phrase would come to me, and I would close my eyes and sink into those words, surrounded by space, the words becoming transparent, permeated by space, expressions of the ultimate essence of space. Just the words, the meaning, the being behind the meaning, being expressing qualities of itself.

I remember how my first wife Barbara would say, "Breathe, Tom. Remember to breathe."

Such practical, funny advice, including a bit of a poke with the sharp tip of the blade.

Breathe. Breath.

The meaning of the word inspiration: to take in spirit. To take in spirit, to express spirit. To be truly ourselves.

This is the nature of life. This is our purpose in life.

On this Thanksgiving Day, remember to breathe. Enjoy simplicity.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Review: Prince of Outcasts

Prince of Outcasts, by S.M. Stirling, is the third book in the third cycle of his Change alter-reality, post apocalyptic fiction series. He's sixteen novels into the series now, where the laws of nature change and time/space is fractured.

Three novels--Island in the Sea of Time, Against the Tide of Years, and On the Oceans of Eternity, form a set about how Nantucket Island is sent back in time or into another time dimension. The remaining thirteen novels center on our known universe and world that has Changed, with electricity and a few other laws of nature being neutralized, and how the world fares. The first three books, beginning with Dies the Fire, follow the lives of those who live through the Change from Day 1. The next seven novels, beginning with The Sunrise Lands, chronicle the lives and events of the second generation of survivors, notably the character Rudy Mackenzie. The last three novels (and more to come, no doubt) follow the third generation.

Here are the ratings for the last three novels (linked to my reviews):
So, why three stars (a so-so rating) for Prince of Outcasts?

My evaluation of this novel is much the same as for The Golden Princess. Stirling is going to publish a Change novel once a year for a long time--so what's the rush? He is now not so much writing novels but an extended (and extensive) chronicle of an alternative reality. Sure, there's a story line, stuff happens, but there's also all that interesting anthropological detail about the development of ecosystems and cultures after the change. Let's include that, because if someone's read all the other books (including a short story anthology by various authors, The Change), then we've got 'em hooked. Right?

Prince of Outcasts, avoiding spoilers, is about Asia, post-apocalypse, and about bonny Prince John Arminger Mackenzie, who we can assume is the "outcast." There is an alternative storyline about Princess Orlaith, John's sister, and a Japanese princess/queen. And the anthropological detail is interesting, so thank you, S.M.

However, sometimes the detail is too detailed, so to speak, and the storyline drags. Six pages of description about when the two princesses hit town and what the town looks like are just too much. I could give more examples (too many more), but one gets the idea. There are places where the story's momentum bogs down.

Good and new elements have been added to the Change tome, though.

Pip, a descendant of British royalty stranded in Blackout Australia, is a scrappy and original addition to the series' characters, as is her protector/sidekick Toa, who appears to be a Maori warrior. The good ship Tarshish Queen and captain and crew provide good sailing adventure.  There are some episodes of good action and magical storm.

Personally, I found Stirling's development of the Far East setting rather bland, and his Eastern evil characters rather diffuse. And, to be honest, the protagonist, Prince John, is a bit of a bore--a young man just coming into his own time, and not quite there.

Ultimately, this novel is another transition piece, introducing new settings, new characters, and new conflicts. It is much like the introductory novel of the third cycle of the Change novels, The Golden Princess. If you've read the other novels, you'll enjoy Prince of Outcasts for some good moments interspersed with new places and people. If this were the only novel in the series you were to read, though, your reaction would be as the Beatles said in "Daytripper": you "took me half the way there now," S.M., you big teaser.

The novel even ends with a cliffhanger.

In all fairness, the second novel in this third Change cycle, The Desert and the Blade, was an excellent read that held up on its own and moved along at a reasonable clip.

OK, so I've read sixteen novels and one short story anthology about the Change (or, as they say in Oz, the Blackout). As a fan, I hope things work out for the descendants of the Change. As a writer, I hope things work out for Stirling and he cranks out another five-star novel with his next in the series. As a reader, I hope the next novel is a real page turner. This one, meh, wasn't that.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Vote Gandy for Jefferson County Supervisor

I recently received an email regarding the local Jefferson County Board of Supervisors election. The letter urged me to “split my ticket” in the election by voting for one Democratic candidate and for one Republican candidate, excluding one Democratic candidate, Paul Gandy.

I was surprised, as I have known Paul for fifteen years--and have known him to be a good community member and a person of integrity. The letter listed reasons why Gandy was not endorsed, focusing on CAFOs. Well, I just contacted Paul, forwarded the letter to him, and asked for his responses.

I happen to think that voting for a Republican in the current political climate should be a very hard sell. Given Paul Gandy’s credentials--and given the fact that I am a lifelong Democrat--I am not planning on "splitting" my ticket and voting for a Republican. More to the point, I was not convinced by the letter, and believe that Paul Gandy and Marg Dwyer, Democrats both, are the best choices for Board of Supervisors. 

Sometimes as good people we go so far out of our way to be "fair" that we miss the obvious truth right in front of our face. Paul Gandy is a perfectly fine candidate for Supervisor, with sterling qualities. 

Based on Paul’s responses (which were of the high caliber I expected), I plan to vote for Paul Gandy for County Supervisor.

Here is a quotation from the “split ticket” letter:
We face a growing onslaught of factory hog farms (CAFOs) and other dangers to our quality of life – much of that driven by outside corporate interests. We need Supervisors who will make it a top priority to protect our soil, water, and air, and to look for sustainable solutions. We also need Supervisors who will face the social challenges of our community, including our unacceptable levels of hunger and poverty (higher than average in Iowa). And we need Supervisors who are committed to Strategic Planning, to create a more positive future for all county citizens.
I think this description fits Paul perfectly. Below I’ve posted a few points from Paul’s comprehensive Facebook post that list reasons to support Paul’s candidacy.
  1. Paul supports JFAN and has done so for years.Please also show caution with any group asking their supporters to disregard or circumvent the rule of law in suggesting to you that a best course of action is to somehow separate your community from state and country. I believe this is a dangerous and unnecessary direction. In Jefferson County we already have an advocacy group that has been quite effective in limiting the siting and expansion of CAFOs. Let their work continue.”
  2. Paul will bring his skills as an attorney to the Board. He understands the law. “[D]on’t be led to overestimate the power of the County Board of Supervisors. The scope of authority of the BOS is defined by state statute. If you want to expand the BOS role (e.g. local control and siting authority of CAFOs)—the level of government at which to effect change is the state legislature. That’s where attention should be placed for this kind of change.”
  3. Paul respects farmers and will sort out the ethical from those who break the law. “Good farmers are good business people. In any type of business, however, there are people who bend and break the rules. Please don’t confuse my listening to both sides of an issue as me not expecting CAFO operators to be held accountable. While I support governing with a ‘light hand,’ that doesn’t mean not governing. They are, like all of us, bound to act within the law.”
  4. Paul understands the emotional and financial impact policy decisions can have on county residents.For over 25 years, I’ve dedicated the majority of my law practice to serving people in extreme financial distress, successfully helping over 2,000 individuals and families get a fresh financial start. From first responders to factory workers, teachers to truckers, seniors to single parents, and pharmacists to farmers—I understand the financial impact of small and large businesses on families and communities. I also understand that county policies today affect lives tomorrow, and so do county administrators. Tomorrow is now.”

If you have any questions regarding whom to vote for in the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors race, Paul urges you to attend the County Supervisor Candidate Forum hosted by the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Fairfield Economic Development Association at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center’s Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, October 11th, 2016, at 7pm. The doors open at 6:45pm. All four candidates will participate in the question and answer forum. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mom, Almost 92, Is Still Teaching Me

Yes, I have been 2,000 miles away from home for a month. Yes, I miss my wife, my children, my grandchildren. Yes, in all honesty, there is a part of me that would like to be somewhere else rather than sleeping on the sofa in my mother and brother's mobile home, taking care of my mother's age-related infirmities and my brother's broken (again) leg. 

Part of accepting who we are is honesty. 

It's a funny thing, though, spending time with Mom. With her recent time in the hospital, she's received a concrete indication that her heart is weakening. At ninety-one years of age, no one needed to tell her that she was in her sunset years, that the first stars are already lighting the sky. She's lain in the hospital bed, though, lain there in the solitude of night, listening to the dark bustle of the night nurses, a former nurse now an elderly patient. 

I've been there with her; I'm here with her now. 

"When it's your time, then not all the doctors in the world can save you. That's what Dr. Clay says. When it's your time, it's your time," Mom says.

And I listen. 

And I hear acceptance, and courage, and peace--and even a wry humor. I hear love and gratitude, patience and perseverance. Wisdom. 

I am a long way from home, but on this journey, who could ask for a better traveling companion? We are all travelers, and all travels end. With love and gratitude, with patience and perseverance, Mom is showing me the path, reminding me to watch my step, to be a good son, and to please enjoy the journey. 

(Written and posted with iPhone 6+)