Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Photo by Franz Gstattner, Studhofstiege, Vienna, Austria, 2005
Was it snowing then
Was it sunny
What was the sky like
Pink at sunrise
Red at the end of day
Grey, as it is now
I remember her smile
I remember the way she walked
Was I dreaming
Oh, if I am dreaming now

Sunday, December 19, 2010

From The Lion and the Sun

Balakirev glanced sideways at Conte. They kept walking. The Rathaus came into view, its four spires and soaring campanile lit by floodlights, the square in front filled with booths and milling people. The whole effect like a combination outdoor sale, flea market, and county fair all garbed in Christmas decorations.

For a while Conte and Balakirev just strolled about looking at the cured meats and Austrian cheeses in one booth, and the hand-painted eggs in another. A group of young men went by holding large cups of beer, laughing and singing what sounded like soccer chants, “Wir sind Zecken, asoziale Zecken, wir leben unter Brücken oder in der Bahnhofsmission!”

The two men followed the aroma of meat grilling and stopped at a booth selling bratwurst on Kaiser rolls. They smothered their sandwiches in hot Austrian mustard and walked on, wolfing them down and looking for someplace to buy beer.

Conte finished his bratwurst and walked to a trashcan to throw out the paper tray. A young girl, perhaps 16 or 17, maybe older, it was hard to tell, was digging through the trash. She was wearing what had once been a white evening gown, and had a dirty, cream-colored scarf wrapped around her neck and shoulders. The girl came out with a half eaten piece of roll, ate it and licked the mustard from the paper in which it had been wrapped. Her eyes darted here and there, and then came to rest on Conte. She pointed at him, smiled and put her index finger to her pursed lips.

Balakirev had stopped at a booth selling gluwein. He held the hot, steaming cup of spiced wine in his hands and blew on it. He looked up as Conte came over to him. “Something to warm us up” he said, pointing to a cup he’d purchased for Conte.

They walked across the front of the Rathaus and turned down Lichtenfelsgasse, sipping their gluwein as they went. Conte asked Balakirev whether Russia was going ahead with the sale of laser isotope separation technology to Iranian laboratories.
“It’s a matter under discussion,” he said, without elaboration.
Conte stopped walking and waited until Balakirev turned and looked at him. “I’ll say it again; that technology could be used for nuclear weapons development purposes.”
“We discuss these things, Daniel, and sometimes certain incentives are offered, oil for example, then we discuss them again, and finally we offer something else.”
"You're going to repair Bushehr?"
Balakirev smiled.
They started walking again.
“What condition is Bushehr in now?”

Bushehr was a nuclear power plant that Iran had started building in 1975. Iraq bombed the plant during the 1980-88 war with Iran. Intelligence suggested that Iran was negotiating with the Russians to repair and finish the plant after the Germans had backed out of the deal.

“Bushehr isn’t too bad. We can fix it,” Balakirev answered.
“Are you going to?”
“What is the expression so popular in the Arab World? Inshalla."

Pond off the 10th Fairway

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pasta With Tomatoes, Capers, Olives and Breadcrumbs


Published: December 6, 2010 in the New York Times

Bread crumbs, crisped in olive oil with garlic, make a flavorful addition to just about any pasta. Make your own bread crumbs if you’ve got bread that’s drying out, and keep them in the freezer.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, 2 sliced, 1 minced
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup green or black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (2 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound spaghetti, preferably a good whole-wheat brand
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
1. Begin heating a large pot of water for the pasta. Meanwhile, combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the sliced garlic over medium-low heat in a medium saucepan or skillet. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic turns golden, about two minutes. Do not let it take on any more color than this. Remove the garlic slices with a slotted spoon and discard, then add the bread crumbs to the pan. Turn the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until the bread crumbs are crisp. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
2. Return the pan to medium heat, and add the remaining olive oil, the red pepper flakes and the minced garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds until the garlic smells fragrant, and add the tomatoes, capers and olives. Bring to a simmer, and simmer until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the spaghetti. Cook al dente, following the cooking recommendations on the package but checking about a minute before the suggested time. Drain, and toss with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and parsley on top, toss again briefly and serve, passing the Parmesan at the table.
Yield: Serves four.
Advance preparation: You can make the recipe through Step 2 several hours before cooking the pasta. The bread crumbs will keep for a couple of weeks in the freezer. Reheat and crisp in a dry pan over medium heat. The tomato sauce will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.
Nutritional information per serving: 450 calories; 14 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 70 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams dietary fiber; 718 milligrams sodium (does not include salt added during preparation); 12 grams protein.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Love in Retrospect

He stood looking out across the Stadt Park; back in Vienna after so many years. He remembered it had been about this time of year. The skies were overcast, and a fine mist meandered through the park. The damp cold seemed to find ways to seep through his sweats as he jogged along the wet path, hop-scotching puddles. Russian crows were strutting through the carpet of leaves bordering the footpath. They flew to bare branches complaining in loud cacaws at his intrusion. He had stopped, hands on knees, catching his breath. He couldn’t stop thinking of her despite trying to run himself into unconsciousness.
Back at the K&K Hotel, he'd showered and dressed. He was early. She’d invited him to dinner . “Christmas dinner,” she’d said, although it wasn’t yet Christmas, and they wouldn’t spend Christmas together, ever, as it turned out. He'd paced the room for as long as he could stand it, and then left for her flat on Operngasse.
Garlands of lights were being strung across Kartnerstrasse. A tree had already been placed in the middle of the broad walk. On the Graben, workmen were struggling to erect a set of huge stars. The up-scale stores were setting up their Christmas decorations. He’d be leaving Vienna for Istanbul first thing in the morning. He'd miss the displays, the Kris Kringle Markt, and the caroling. And although he didn't know it at the time, he'd never again see the only woman he’d ever truly loved.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What's "Real" in the Story, Double Blind?

In my short story, Double Blind, the father of Jason, the boy afflicted with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, is a senior optomechanical engineer from CALTECH, who is fascinated with something called Bell’s Theorem, which is described in the story as, "a highly esoteric mathematical proof showing that if the statistical predictions of quantum theory are correct, then some of mankind’s commonsense ideas about the world are profoundly mistaken."

In our perception of physical reality, action on one particle of a widely separated entangled pair cannot instantaneously alter the physical state of the faraway partner particle. This “locality” is a condition requiring the value assigned to an operator associated with an individual particle or constituent of a composite system to be independent of what is measured on any other particle or constituent. More simply, locality is the principle that an event which happens at one place can not instantaneously affect an event someplace else. But John S. Bell, a staff member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) proved otherwise in a ground-breaking paper published in 1964.

Several years after quantum mechanics had been developed, Einstein, Poldolsky, and Rosen published a paper showing that under certain circumstances quantum mechanics predicted the breakdown of locality (the 1935 paper has become known by the initials of its authors, EPR). Bell later proved this to be the case and locality ceased to exist -- what happens somewhere in space-time can instantaneously affect what happens somewhere else in space time. Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance,” and indeed, it is.

So Bell's Theorem is real. Why did I include it in the story? Because something happened to Jason during his wanderings in the shrub stepp that cannot be explained within our common understanding of reality. We just can't accept the idea that Jason's encounter in the shrub steppe could be the result of "entangled particles," one effecting the other simultaneously in space-time. But there's clearly a lot about "reality" that we know very little about.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jabberwock, by Lewis Carroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Swallowed by the Darkness

Clumps of grey cloud scudded across a metallic sky
In the west, ribbons of brilliant pink and orange slashed the sky like fire
I walked towards a faint light in the sky where the moon tried to escape
An encroaching embrace of dark clouds
Only to be finally swallowed by the darkness

My breath came in strangled gasps as I tried to increase my pace
But something -- weeds in the overgrown yard perhaps
Seemed to grab at my feet and ankles
Bare feet, cold in the grey mud
Leeches dropping from the chartreuse canopy to slither down my neck
And puncture my pulsating arteries

I paused at the steps, staring up at the grey shamble of a porch
The front screen door swung wildly in the wind
Banging and screeching like some trapped beast
On the Eastern Front, gigantic elk stood
Silhouetted against artillery flashes
I ran at them swinging my scythe at their obscene racks

Struggling up the steps
I reached out to stop the screen crashing
Ragged edges of screen tore the skin from my hand
And I watched as swollen blue veins on the top of my hand
Spurted fresh, red blood, along my forearm
So much blood
The steely smell of it
Its thick, gooey feel

My heart slammed against my chest
And great gouts of sweat burned my eyes
I knew I would go in there
And I did
And there I am
Swallowed by the darkness

Thursday, October 7, 2010

All is Vanity

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.

I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing Contest -- Just in time for Halloween

The NPR-sponsored contest is called, "Three Minute Fiction." The winner will have his/her story read on air. The idea is to keep the story short enough so that it can be read in its entirety in three minutes.

This is an on-going contest. Round Five seems designed for Halloween. The story is to start with the sentence, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and end with "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

Let's try some openings.

Some people swore that the house was haunted. I was one of them, of course. After all, I was haunting the house. Why? It's a long story, but let's just say I was angry, really angry, and I wasn't going away until I'd had my revenge.

Some people swore that the house was haunted. It was mostly kids, but some adults seemed to believe it, too. If not, why were parents always warning their kids to stay away from the place? That's what Jake was thinking as he approached the ram shackled hulk of a house.

Some people swore that the house was haunted. The stories had been embellished over the years. The prevailing myth was that Mr. Kovalski had murdered his young wife and buried her in the crawl space. The singing that people claimed to have heard was poor Mattie Kovalski lamenting her fate. But there was singing. Jacob heard it now, as he made his way through the overgrown yard towards the house. He'd heard it before. That's why he was here. He needed to know. You see, Mattie had been his mother.

Now to the endings.

And then he saw her. And she came to him, gliding effortlessly across the floor. And he opened his arms. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

He tried not to open his mouth. The great, gray thing looming above him held the pulsating, sickly green blob over his face, pushing it at him. Kostya jerked his head one way and then the other, but the ghastly, rank-smelling horror pinned his head and smashed its rotting paw over his nose and Kostya, his lungs about to burst, gasped for breath. The green blob was pushed into his mouth and he took it deep into his lungs. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

"Don't listen to the singing," his mother warned. "Whatever you do, don't listen." She held his face and stared into his eyes, large now with fright. "Promise me?" He stammered out a promise. A promise he couldn't keep. The singing was so beautiful. A woman's voice, a young woman, perhaps a girl, her lovely voice floated out across the meadow delicately, like butterflies, painting the air with lovely colors. The words were strange, a language he didn't understand, but felt, felt deep, deep inside. He listened. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Papal Visit

"Science flies you to the moon; religion flies you into buildings."
Sign at a protest during Pope Benedict's visit to the UK.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In Memory

We have but faith
We cannot know
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee
A beam in darkness
Let it grow*

from Tennyson, In Memoriam

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Untouchable

"All that gloom and soulfulness could only be the result of an upbringing among compound words." From The Untouchable, 1998, by John Banville.

A brilliant, engaging, and highly literate espionage-cum-existential novel, John Banville's The Untouchable concerns the suddenly-exposed double agent Victor Maskell, a character based on the real Cambridge intellectual elites who famously spied on the United Kingdom in the middle of the 20th century. But Maskell--scholar, adventurer, soldier, art curator, and more--respected and still living in England well past his retirement from espionage, looked like he was going to get away with it when suddenly, in his 70s and sick with cancer, he is unmasked. The question of why, and by whom is not as important for Maskell as the larger question of who finally he himself really is, why he spied in the first place, and whether his many-faceted existence adds up to an authentic life. (Amazon.com Review)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Four Legged Chickens

Zoran saw the chicken too late to stop his speeding car from clipping it with the right front fender. He pulled over to the side of the road to check on the chicken. The bird had looked odd as it crossed the road. The farmer sauntered over as Zoran was standing over the dead chicken.
"It's dead, is it?" the farmer said.
"Yes, yes, it's dead alright."
The farmer leaned in to get a better look at the dead chicken. He made a low clucking sound in his throat.
Zoran looked at the farmer. "Please," he said, "can you tell me about this chicken?"
"What about it?" the farmer said.
"Well, it has four legs," Zoran said.
"Oh that," said the farmer. "Well everybody around here has grown to love barbecued chicken legs."
Zoran looked at the farmer. "And?"
"And we crossed the chickens with rabbits and got four legged chickens."
"Oh, I see," said Zoran. "Very clever. And how do they taste?"
"Don't know," said the farmer. "Never able to catch one until now."

Well, we aren’t seeing farmers cross-breeding rabbits with chickens, but a Massachusetts company says it's on the verge of receiving federal approval to market a quick-growing Atlantic salmon that's been genetically modified with help from a Pacific Chinook salmon. If approved by the FDA, this fast growing salmon will be the first transgenic animal headed for our dinner tables.

Transgenic? Is that anything like transgender, you might ask. No. It’s a genetically engineered organism that has inserted DNA that originated in a different species. According to an article by Les Blumenthal (McClatchy), researchers have added a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon as well as an on-switch gene from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon, to a normal Atlantic salmon's roughly 40,000 genes. Salmon normally feed only during the spring and summer, but when the on-switch from the pout's gene is triggered, they eat year round. Like us. The result is a transgenic salmon that grows to market size in about half the time as a normal salmon — 16 to 18 months, rather than three years. Just the way we grow to over sized in about the same length of time. I wonder if there’s a gene that can turn off my desire for ice cream?

Genetic engineering of our food crops has been going on for some time, but this will be the first time an animal that we commonly eat will undergo the procedure. Unless you eat mice, that is. The majority of transgenic animals produced so far are mice. In fact, they pioneered the technology; the clever little cuties.

Rabbits, pigs, sheep, and cattle have also undergone the procedure experimentally, but we aren’t eating them – as far as I know.

Are there any dangers involved in genetically engineering stuff we eat? None whatsoever. Just as there’s no danger in deep-ocean drilling for oil...oh, yeah. I forgot.
Well, let's exam the pros and cons of genetically engineering these fast growing salmon and see what conclusions we can draw generally. We’ll do that in a future post on An Unexpected Error. For now, bon appetite.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Will

Dad had opened the garage door for me so that I could come in through the door to the laundry room. This was his regular routine and I had long ago stopped asking him why he didn’t just let me use my key and come in through the front door. I walked past the space heater he had going in the garage to keep his plants warm during the winter. Another subject I no longer bothered to debate.

I found dad in the TV room sitting on the couch with his head down wringing his hands. I sat down next to him, put my hand on his shoulder, “What’s the problem, Dad?”

“I’m shaky,” he said in a high, squeaky voice.
“Why are you shaky?”
“I don’t have a will,” he croaked. “What’s going to happen when I die?”
This business of the will came out of left field, because he and mom had made out their wills long ago, and then updated them when they’d moved up here to be close to us.
“You have a will, dad,” I said, in what I hoped was a reassuring voice.
Dad glared at me and waved his index finger at me like I was a naughty boy. “No I don’t!” he shot back.
“Well, let’s just check,” I said. I went to the desk where my mom had organized all their important documents and quickly found the will.
Dad hardly looked at the will when I brought it over to him.
“Your mom was very organized,” he said.
“Did we leave any money to Joey’s kids?” Dad asked.
“Joey’s kids?”
“You know, the gambler, and the…”
“The alcoholic?” I finished the sentence for him. Joey, Dad’s long deceased second cousin from New York, had two children, Chuckie, a compulsive gambler, and Dominick, an unreformed alcoholic.
Dad looked at me. “Yeah,” he said, uncertainly.
“You think that’s a good idea, Dad; giving the gambler and the alcoholic money?”
Dad switched gears without blinking an eye.
“What about that guy, Corlini?”
“Yeah. He’s been nice to us.”
“Wasn’t he the guy that you gave the jewelry to on consignment?”
“Yeah, that’s the guy. Your mother liked him.”
“Dad, he disappeared with that jewelry.”
Dad squinted at me through smeary bifocals.
“Anyone else we should leave money to?”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sagebrush Pen

Typical farmers' market, not ours, we don't have tomatoes yet and our location doesn't have those nice trees.

The Kennewick Farmers' Market has been moved from downtown Kennewick out south here to an area called Southridge. There are ambitious long-range plans for developing Southridge, but as one "farmer" told me today, "There's not much out here." This lady was selling Chelan Cherries, which she informed me came in earlier than the I was hoping for. She pushed a bucket of purple cherries toward me and told me to try one. "Don't worry about that," she said, gesturing to the dun-colored powder on the cherries, "That's just dust."

It was windy this afternoon and the farmers' market is set up in a parking lot next to an expanse of land that's being leveled for construction. Dust devils whirled over the parking lot and tented awnings flapped energetically in the wind. The cherry lady was stocky and immovable in the wind, although her should-length, straw-colored hair flew about like Saint Vitus. I bought a pound-and-a-half of cherries and moved on.

I had been looking for gifts for some Slovenian friends we'll see next week and came across a table filled with pens labeled "Sagebrush Pens." I stopped to inspect the pens. A diminutive, bright-eyed older man wearing dog tags and a baseball cap with "U.S. Air Force" written across the front was looking up at the tent he had constructed over his display table. "I may have to take this down," he said. I asked him about the pens. "Made with sagebrush," he said. He gave me his card. It said "DICKS fancy WOODS" and under that his name, "Dick Rambo."

Dick was from Pasco and had been hand making wood products, pens, belt buckles, key rings, etc., since his retirement from the Air Force in 1971. His card said "Wood from your History, Transformed." I asked him about that. "A lot of these things are made from the wood flooring that was torn up from Richland High School during its renovation," he told me. I bought a pen made of sagebrush and told him it was a gift for a friend from Slovenia. "That's a first," he said.

I took my cherries and my pen back to the car and drove away from the flapping tents in the Kennewick Southridge Farmers' Market. A sign at the highway tells me to expect "Burger Bob's soon." It's been there for several months. The farmers will be glad when it finally arrives.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Waiting for my Prescription

I handed Bethany, the pharmacist clerk, my prescription. She held it up to within a few inches of her face and squinted at it.
“Where are your glasses, Bethany?” I asked.
“They're down there gettin fixed,” she said canting her head in the direction of Kroger’s eye clinic.
“Well, are you sure you can read that?” I said. I was used to seeing her with glasses that made her gray eyes look huge.
“Protonix,” she said.
“You’re guessing,” I said. It was the only prescription medication I took and I picked it up every month.
Bethany gave me a rueful little smile and told me it would be ten to fifteen minutes. “You wanna wait?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, turned, and walked over to a bench and sat next to a stocky, middle-aged woman wearing a hoodie, jeans, and work boots. She smiled at me.
“They are a tad busy this morning,” she said.
“Tuesday,” I said.
“Oh, yah?” she said, puzzled.
“The day the retirement homes bring in their people to shop and pick up prescriptions.”
“Oh, yah,” she said. “They do that on Mondays in Saint Cloud.”
“I thought I noticed an accent. You from Minnesota?”
“Born and raised,” she said. “But we don’t have an accent.” Her smile made her look younger.
“Are you living here, now?” I asked.
“I moved out here in 1973 with my husband. He was a dry land wheat farmer."
I raised my eyebrows. “That’s a hard life.”
“Before that, I lived on a farm near Saint Cloud, so I was used to farm living. We raised eight kids, two boys and six girls.”
She began digging around in one of her shopping bags.
I checked my watch and glanced at the pharmacy counter.
“My father raised chickens,” the woman said, a piece of candy stuck in the side of her mouth. “We ate a lot of chicken.”
She held the candy roll out to me.
I took one and smiled. “So, where are your kids now?”
“Mostly in Minnesota, but one son lives in Alaska. Both boys hunt and fish. They get together now and then. They were gonna ice fish last year, but it was too warm. The vans were falling through the ice, don’cha know.”
“Global warming,” I said.
She grimaced and shook her head. “I don't know about that,” she said.
“So what kind of hunting do your sons do?” I said, not wanting to get into a discussion about how warm the earth was getting with a person from St. Cloud, Minnesota.
“Deer, moose, stuff like that,” she said.
“Moose?” I said.
“Oh, yah. I ate some once or twice. Gives me gas.”
I saw Bethany motioning to me.
“Looks like my prescription is ready.” I got up. “Nice talking with you. And by the way, be sure to check that you get the right medication.”
The woman smiled up at me. “Check out the sign at the sushi counter,” she said.
“The sushi counter,” she said, pointing over towards the deli section.
I nodded, wondering what the hell she was talking about.
On my way out I went by the deli and stopped at the sushi counter. They had their usual assortment of sushi and sashimi in neat little throw-away boxes, with pickled ginger and wasabi. There on the counter was a display of their California Roll. Next to it was a sign that said, “For your own safety, please don’t eat our display.”

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I saved a Killdeer chick today

I was on my way to the Amon Basin to take photographs when I saw a Killdeer in the street next to the curb. It had one wing draped over a chick that had fallen into the street and was cowering against the curb as cars whizzed past. The chick panicked, left it's mother's protecting wing, and wobbled along the curb on spindly legs. I made a U-turn, parked, and dodging cars, went across to rescue the chick. The mother bird began to cry out and flopped along the ground faking a broken wing. Suddenly the father bird swooped down and circled my head. I reached down and made a basket of my hands just in front of the running chick. It jumped right in and I scooped it up over the curb and into the prairie grass. I stepped back and watched as the mother herded her chick into the protective cover of a big sagebrush. I heard her saying, "I told you to stay out of the street!" Some chicks never learn.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Review of Three Women in Luxor

"Without fanfare, Richard Badalamente drops the reader into the lives of three women visiting Egypt, the events of the past infusing the stories with poignancy, awareness, and irony. Each story opens into a subtly awakening awareness: the clamor of Luxor as backdrop, the rising tension of unnamed events, and the shifting energies as the stories unfold to reveal characters from two very different cultures. Badalamente brings the stories along with a deft hand, dialogue and narrative alternating with a spareness that allows the reader to fully experience the nuance of humor and detail."

S. Moon, on Amazon.com

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Publication: Three Women in Luxor

I just published a collection of very short fiction, titled "Three Women in Luxor."

Elizabeth has come to Luxor at her husband Brian’s suggestion. He thought a vacation in an exotic place like Egypt would help them deal with the loss of their young daughter, Molly. Brian “dealt with” things. Elizabeth wasn’t sure she could. And certainly not here in Luxor, in the Valley of the Dead.

Sandra looked for love in all the wrong places. Here she was in Luxor, Egypt, hurrying to meet Khalid on the steps of the Winter Palace Hotel. She was about to get something she hadn’t bargained for; at least not yet.

Helen’s husband had been dead for a year, killed by an acronym, the deadly IED. Now here she was in another desert, Egypt, trying to start a formulaic new life. Trying to please the Army psychologist, who seemed so earnest. But what beckoned to her here in Luxor was not new life, but old death. And she found it welcoming.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reviews of The Starving

If you like horror in the style of the fabled H.P. Lovecraft, check out The Starving. This short story puts an even more horrific spin on an already grim historical incident involving Captain John Smith, but Disney's Pocahontas this is not! Instead, it's a well-researched -- and imagined -- tale of gruesome and supernatural goings-on at Jamestown, told in the classic journal entry-style of Stoker or the aforementioned Lovecraft. Author Richard Badalamente knows both his history and his genre fiction, and this is a creepy, intelligent homage, finely calibrated and concluding on just the right note. Subtle, spooky fun for the discriminating lover of chills that sneak up in the night, teeth bared. Pull your feet up under the covers when you read. Frank Booth

If you want to get your bit of horror shiver along with your education try this short story "The Starving". Mr. Badalamente combines some good academics in using original journals as a source for some revelations about our forefathers at Jamestown during the winter of 1609-10, called "the time of starving" with some good story telling. If your're squeamish you might want to pass up this story as some of the detail reporting from our ancestors, although written under earlier spelling rules, is graphic. I'd say if you ever ate brains and eggs, you'd do ok with the read. Betty J. Roop

The Starving, by Richard Badalamente, is a short novel that draws the reader in quickly through the author's comfortable writing style and a story that incites the reader's interest from the start. Based on historical accounts and written in a journal style appropriate for the times, the novel transports the reader to this place and time and, for this reader, produced dual/competing feelings of horror and curiosity. I suspect that most readers -- like myself -- would really like to find out more about what really happened in 1609-1610 Jamestown! While this book is certainly not for children, I wouldn't be surprised if it could become popular with high school kids because of its incorporation of the spirit world into the story.... Who knows: In the process, the book might also generate an interest in anthropology and forensics! Frank L. Greitzer

Wow! What a story! "The Starving" is a haunting and scary story. It would be especially appropriate for Halloween, but It would be timely at any time one wants to read in the suspenseful style of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1840).

Those who know of the early colonial settlement that took place at Jamestown, Virginia, will find that its archeology, history, and physical anthropology ring true in "The Starving." The structure of the story is sound. The characters are engaging, except for the sadly vindictive ghost. But her pain and frustration are understandable. The narrative is certainly an interesting one, and it fits the horror of starvation. A once sweet and caring woman becomes a horrible, revengeful creature as a ghost.

Picking it up, I was fascinated with the story and stayed with it to the end. Its finale I fear might continue to haunt me. I am careful about my thoughts before going to sleep at night in the hope of positively, rather than negatively, influencing whatever dreams I might have. I do not want that ghost to visit me. But if she does, could we negotiate? I have full sympathy with her suffering. I have empathy!

Captain John Smith, and no doubt other Jamestown leaders, would seem to have had a lot for which to answer. Did the brutality of Smith's ethnocentrism in European-Indian relations lead to starvation? Why did he not do all he could to get along with the relevant American Indians - for food, if nothing else? Common sense seems to have been greatly lacking. It was scarce.

Read "The Starving"and be haunted. Read it and be frightened. Read it, and you may think of Edgar Allan Poe. That would not be surprising, as I have said. The Poe comparison is a tribute to the author of "The Starving," Richard Badalamente. Read it, and you will enjoy it because it certainly is a good, hair-raising read. Larry Van Horn, Ph.D., Cultural Anthropologist, Littleton, Colorado, USA

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Art Imitates Life -- Again

In a confidential report to be presented to its governing board in March 2010, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will voice its concern that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon. It’s unusual for the IAEA to be so blunt when it comes to the nuclear programs of its member states -- Iran became a member state in 1958.

Japanese lawyer and diplomat, Yukiya Amano, is the new Director General of the IAEA.

Iran's Safeguards Agreement came into effect in May 1974, under which Iran, as party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), agreed to declare its nuclear activities and allow inspections by IAEA inspectors.

Iran has violated its agreement and the subsidiary arrangements associated with it on a number of occasions that we know about. The most recent discovery was the enrichment facility being built near Qom on a mountaintop missile site of the former Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Construction on the secret facility probably started in mid-2006.

Iran’s decades long nuclear weapons development efforts are the backdrop for my novel, The Lion and the Sun. The primary action takes place in 1994, when, believe it or not, we already knew a lot about Iran’s nuclear weapons sites. The latest revelations about the enrichment facility northeast of Qom are not really revelations at all. This was also a period when ‘loose nucs’ in the Former Soviet Union were an urgent concern of the US Intelligence Community. The action in The Lion and the Sun begins with the discovery that a plutonium pit, the key component of a nuclear warhead, is missing from a Russian weapons lab.

There are flash backs in the novel to 1978-79, when the novel’s protagonist, Daniel Conte, a CIA operative, was working under cover as a member of a US Military Assistance Advisory Group. He was lucky to escape being taken hostage during the takeover of the American Embassy by Iranian militants. Not everyone was so lucky, including a young woman Conte recruited as an intelligence asset and with whom he was having an affair. Conte is haunted by the incident.

An epilogue brings the story up to 2008, when Conte discovers the fate of an MI6 agent with whom he worked to thwart the terrorist plot to obtain the nuclear weapons component.

Although on its surface, The Lion and the Sun is a story about espionage, it is really the story about a person beginning to question the sacrifices he’s made in the name of duty, honor, country. It is a story of intrigue, betrayal, and regret set against the threat of nuclear terrorism. It is a story that could be taken from today’s headlines, if only one could read between the lines.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Starving Published on Kindle

Cover for The Starving,
from a photo I took in the Everglades

I've written previously about my short story, "The Starving," and my attempts to have it published. I finally took the matter into my own hands and self-published using Amazon.com's Digital Text Platform (DTP).

My journey to publishing on DTP started with receiving a Kindle-2 for Christmas last year (it seems like only yesterday that it was 2009). I really like the device, and find reading on it better in many ways than reading a hard cover or paperback book. One big advantage is that you don't have to hold pages open, so you can sit and eat lunch and read -- "look ma, no hands!" Of course the main advantage is being able to carry thousands of books around with you wherever you go -- books you buy much cheaper. This can be a big deal for folks like Peace Corps Volunteers, missionaries, foreign service workers, and the cruising class.

You can read a good critique of the Kindle -2 in the Linux Journal.

Publishing on DPT is covered well on Amazon.com's web site here. Obviously, you have to have an Amazon.com account. Anyone who has purchased a book or anything else (e.g., a Kindle) through Amazon.com already has one. It helps to know a little HTML, but since DTP converts your files to HTML and lets you preview the result before publishing, it's not a big issue.

Go ahead, try it!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rattlesnake Mountain

Rattlesnake Mountain from the Yakima River Delta, Washington, January 22, 2010

Engineer's Arrest Exposes US Pursuit of Iranians

Iran's Nuclear Sites, from NTI

In an earlier post I discussed my novel, The Lion and the Sun, which deals with nuclear smuggling and Iran's drive towards the development of nuclear weapons. The plot includes material about the illegal transfer of weapons technology. The following story by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, filed at 8:20 a.m. ET, January 22, 2010, details an actual case concerning such technology transfer. I have summarized it below.

PARIS (AP) -- The Iranian engineer flew to Paris with his wife, intending to see the Eiffel Tower and other tourist sites. Instead, he was arrested at the airport under a U.S. warrant -- suspected of evading export controls to buy U.S. technology for Iran's military.

The case of Majid Kakavand, accused of purchasing American electronics online and routing it to Iran via Malaysia, has shed light on increasing U.S. attempts to crack down on people outside American borders suspected of illegally buying U.S. supplies for Iran military programs.

The case is also pushing the justice system in France, which has grown increasingly tough on Iran's nuclear ambitions but also has trade and oil interests in the country, toward a stand that could have deep diplomatic and economic repercussions.

Kakavand's future could be decided at a Feb. 17 Paris hearing on whether to extradite him to the United States.

Iran's government spoke out about the case for the first time this week, accusing France of linking Kakavand's fate to that of a young French academic on trial in Iran. It says Kakavand is innocent and suggests he is being used as a bargaining chip in the diplomatic tug-of-war over 24-year-old Clotilde Reiss.

The United States says Kakavand, 37, and two colleagues ordered U.S. electronics -- including capacitors, inductors, resistors, sensors and connectors -- and had them shipped to Malaysia, from which they were dispatched to Iran without export licenses required by U.S. authorities.

Documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern California said they had set up a company called Evertop Services in Malaysia that dispatched the goods to its two main customers, Iran Electronics Industries and Iran Communication Industries.

Both companies ''were designated in 2008 by the United States for their role in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program,'' according to a summary of the case from the Department of Justice.

Kakavand is accused of conspiracy to export to an embargoed country, money laundering, smuggling goods and other counts.

Kakavand's lawyer acknowledges the company sold merchandise to the IEI and ICI, as they are known. But she denies he has any other ties to the Iranian military or nuclear industries. ''In trade, you purchase, you resell -- it's a normal trade act,'' lawyer Diane Francois said.

In many cases, suspects accused of violating the U.S. embargo on Iran have been apprehended in the United States. But some, including Kakavand and a man taken into custody in Germany last week, have been nabbed overseas. Kakavand has never set foot in the United States, his lawyer said -- all his U.S. business dealings were conducted via e-mail.

France under outspoken President Nicolas Sarkozy has helped lead Western efforts over the past two years to rein in Iran's nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect aims to produce weapons. Iran says the program is for peaceful energy production.

Iran released a list earlier this month of 11 Iranians it says are being held in the United States -- including a nuclear scientist who disappeared in Saudi Arabia and a former Defense Ministry official who vanished in Turkey.

The list also includes an Iranian arrested in Canada on charges of trying to obtain nuclear technology, as well as an Iranian who was arrested in the Caucasus nation of Georgia, handed over to the United States and convicted in a U.S. court in December on charges of plotting to ship sensitive U.S. military technology to Iran.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thinking Like a Mountain

by Aldo Leopold

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.

Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is considered the father of wildlife ecology. He was a renowned scientist and scholar, exceptional teacher, philosopher, and gifted writer. Leopold is perhaps best known for his book, A Sand County Almanac, often acclaimed as the century's literary landmark in conservation. His writing melds exceptional poetic prose with keen observations of the natural world.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A New Way to Self Publish

I'm not ready YET to give up having my novel published in the traditional manner, i.e., by an established publisher/press. But the probability of that happening is, I think, diminishing. My rejections have now come full circle. Initially, the plot was considered "unlikely," but the writing was good. Now the plot is good, but "we're not fond of the narrative voice."

It has always been difficult for a new writer to get an agent and/or publisher interested in taking them on, and for good reason -- it's a financial risk. Now, with the publishing business struggling as print media compete with all the other stimuli impinging on people's consciousness (usually as they try to drive), making a profit on book sales is even more chancy. Publishers are reading the tea leaves (apparently one of the few things they're reading), in the form of studies like that of the National Endowment for the Arts (2007), which reported that levels of reading among young people have plummeted over the last two decades. Alarmingly, Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 state that they almost never read for pleasure (except for the texts sent to their smart phones).

The other development that is giving publishers pause, is the growing popularity of e-books. Faced with the prospect of having to formulate a new business model -- one that requires publishers to ask what they can do for authors, instead of vice-versa -- publishers have run right out and claimed e-book rights for the works of authors they have published. E-book rights weren't mentioned in the agonizingly complex, convoluted, and copious contracts that authors were forced to sign, but not to worry, they were "understood."

What publishers should consider is that writers really don't need them any more, especially given the increasing burden for marketing that cash-strapped publishers have pushed to their authors. Hey, if I'm going to market my book, I can damn well self-publish it, too.

Publishers will continue to promote the myth that only traditionally published (read "published by us") authors are real authors, but the truth, as we've always known, but fail sometimes to acknowledge, is that real authors are people whose books are read.

My plan is to have my book read on the Kindle. I got one for Christmas and I love it! Amazon has a process for allowing authors to self-publish their work on the Kindle. It's called the Digital Text Platform, and it sounds awesome.

I'll keep you posted as I go down this path. Literally.