Month: May 2013

Review: “Knight’s Blood” by Julianne Lee

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Alex MacNeil is an F-18 pilot, flying combat patrol over the Iraq-Iran border. He’s also a knight, fighting for Scottish independence under Robert the Bruce. You see, Alex was taken back in time by the impish elfin king Nemed, along with Lindsay, a journalist who was flying with him when his plane got caught in Nemed’s spell.

Alex and Lindsay got married and when they were returned to the future, she was already pregnant. When the baby is kidnapped, both Alex and Lindsay travel back to the past to rescue him. The adventures they experience and the people they encounter are the stuff of legend.

Julianne Lee’s Knight’s Blood is a rollicking adventure tale, filled with action and human drama, and a touch of Mark Twain-like humor as we follow twenty-first century humans who find themselves thrust hundreds of years into the past. Believable dialogue and credible action mark this author’s second Tenebrae story. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

Review: “Fade to Black” by Jeffrey Wilson

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English: Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5, ...
English: Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5, transport a non-ambulatory patient via litter, outside of Fallujah, Iraq in 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fade to Black by Jeffrey Wilson is a hard book to categorize. Realistic, gritty combat action opens the story with Marine sergeant Casey Stillman and his men penned down by militants in Fallujah, fighting against impossible odds in their effort to just stay alive. We’re then quickly zipped into the mind of Jack, a school teacher who deeply loves his wife and daughter, but who is troubled by uber-realistic dreams of himself in combat.

Fast-paced action and no-holds-barred dialogue whip the reader the along as Jack tries to determine whether or not he’s going crazy. Wilson puts you there, whether it’s the dusty villages where radicals are trying to blow you away, or a middle class school campus whose occupants have no understanding of the stark reality of life or death combat.

The ending will blow you away, and that’s all I’ll say about it, other than you just have to read this book.

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Dearborn, Michigan: American History on Display

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Dearborn, Michigan, one of the many small towns that gird Detroit, is the world headquarters of Ford Motor Company. Little known to many outside the Great Lakes area except for the occasional news story about clashes between fundamentalist Christian outsiders and the town’s Middle Eastern community, it might not make the short list for vacation spots. And, that’s really too bad, because it’s actually quite a nice place to visit.

The bus that Rosa Parks rode in when she refused to give up her seat to a white man.
The bus that Rosa Parks rode in when she refused to give up her seat to a white man.

Dearborn, in its present incarnation, came into being on January 9, 1929, when voters approved a charter consolidating the towns of Fordson and Dearborn. The new, enlarged Dearborn was on the way to becoming one of the major cities in Michigan. As might be intuited from the ‘Fordson’ name, even then this area was dominated by Ford, which is why, even with a population of only around 250,000, the city still looms large in state affairs.

Located astride I-64, and abutting Detroit’s southwest, Dearborn is only fifteen minutes from Detroit Metro Airport, making it easy to get to be plane or by car.  Once there, you’ll find yourself immersed in history like never before – and, that is the main reason this city is a must for your summer vacation itinerary.

An historical starting point for a stay in Dearborn is the Dearborn Inn, located at 20301 Oakwood Boulevard.  On 23 acres of landscaped grounds, this colonial-style hotel was the first airport hotel in America, built to serve passengers at the now-defunct Ford Airport, which was located across the street on what is now part of the expansive Ford Motor Company campus. A fireplace in the large lobby, complete with oil paintings and period furniture, evoke images of upscale life at the turn of the century. The Edison Room offers modern dining, but still has the table reserved for Henry Ford’s visits.  The spacious rooms, overlooking the tree-covered grounds, have large screen HD TV and wireless internet for today’s business traveler.

Presidential limos: from Teddy Roosevelt's horse-drawn carriage to Ronald Reagan's armored car. On display at the Henry Ford Museum.
Presidential limos: from Teddy Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage to Ronald Reagan’s armored car. On display at the Henry Ford Museum.

Within walking distance of Dearborn Inn, are the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The Henry Ford is a 12-acre museum, built by Ford in 1929 to showcase Yankee ingenuity. Exhibits include Thomas Edison’s laboratory and the bus upon which started civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Exhibits from the various world fairs show the visionary musings of past eras in America, and the country’s journey from an agrarian to an industrialized society.  Adjacent to the Henry Ford is Greenfield Village, where many of the actual buildings and shops that figured in American history are on display. At the village, you can take a ride on a steam of diesel train, be chauffeured around in a vintage Model T, a horse-drawn carriage ride, or ride on a hundred-year-old carousel. Volunteers in period costumes operate a farm, workshops, and stores. Admission to the museum and village is a bit expensive, but worth the price for the exposure to aspects of American history that are often left out of school curricula, and the fun for children from eight to eighty.

One doesn’t have to be in Dearborn long to realize that it’s a company town – and, the company is Ford. Members of the Ford family are immortalized in street names, school names, and plaques all over. But, it’s a company town with a difference, reflecting the personality of Henry Ford, a farmer at heart who liked to build things. As Ford built his auto empire (which also included aircraft manufacture before World War II), he provided employment to all regardless of race, nationality, or religion (although Henry Ford was thought to be somewhat anti-Semitic, he also employed Jews in his plants). The most notable community, though, is from the Middle East. Dearborn is home to more Arab-speaking people than anywhere else outside the Middle East. To get a look at this community, a visit to the Arab-American National Museum is a must.

Take a ride in a vintage Ford at Greenfield Village.
Take a ride in a vintage Ford at Greenfield Village.

From the affluent west and south sides to town to the more working class neighborhoods of the north and east, near Ford’s Rouge River Plant, Dearborn has a small-town atmosphere; where people say hello as they pass on the street; with big city convenience. As might be expected, because of the large Arab population from diverse regions of the Arab world, there is an astonishing selection of Middle Eastern restaurants.

Cameroon’s Primate Sanctuary Attempts to Prevent Extinction of Apes

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For many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, tourism offers the hope of economic development to deal with poverty and overpopulation, but in many cases, development of the tourism sector is hampered by increasing reductions in the very resources that attract tourists. Species of animals are hunted and poached to the brink of extinction, and habitats are destroyed through deforestation and human encroachment.

Some countries are taking steps to reverse this unfortunate trend – small steps, but necessary if the cycle of poverty on the continent is ever to be broken.

One such project, in the West-Central nation of Cameroon, is the Primate Sanctuary at Mefou National Park, south of the capital city of Yaounde. The park was created in 1999, and is currently devoted entirely to the sanctuary project, which is attempting to halt the destruction of monkey and ape species such as the red-capped mangabey, the mandrills, chimpanzees, and gorillas.  Managed by a British NGO, Ape Action Africa, and supported by the Cameroonian government and international donors, the sanctuary cars for 250 primates at Mefou and another 150 at the zoo in Yaounde.

276Most of the animals have been orphaned when their mothers were killed or captured by poachers. Animals are poached for local consumption, either as traditional food or for ritualistic purposes, and for international markets such as Southeast Asia where certain animal parts are used for medicinal purposes. While some of the devastation of primate species is due to animals damaging crops, most of the poaching, according to a guide at Mefou, takes place in primary forests far from human settlements. Poaching has resulted in the virtual extinction of many of the country’s native primates

In addition to providing care and treatment for the animals, the sanctuary conducts education programs to introduce wildlife conservation to young Cameroonians and show the interrelationship between humans and animals. A motto prominently displayed at the Mefou site says, “Where will the great apes be without man? Where will man be without the apes?”234

Mefou is about an hour or so drive from Yaounde, with the last several kilometers over a bumpy dirt road. A knowledgeable guide conducts a walking tour of the facility, which takes nearly two hours and covers more than a kilometer as each species is given an amount of area suitable to its needs. Among the species currently at the sanctuary are gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, and some smaller monkeys, such as the agile mangabey and the red-capped mangabey.

Restoring Cameroon’s primate population is a monumental task, and probably beyond the capacity of one sanctuary, but one has to applaud the effort. If nothing else, it goes a long way toward helping mitigate the damage humans are doing to their own environment.

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Did You Miss Me?

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I’ll be disappointed if no one noticed that I’ve been strangely silent for the past week. I spent the week in Cameroon, in West-Central Africa, as part of a Canadian-US media delegation that attended the country’s national day. Just got back home early today. We also had a chance to visit some of the tourist spots around Yaounde and along the Atlantic coast. I’ll be doing more detailed articles here on the blog and on Yahoo, but here are a few of the phot

Lobe Waterfall.
Lobe Waterfall.

os I took while there.

Chimpanzee at primate sanctuary south of Yaounde.
Chimpanzee at primate sanctuary south of Yaounde.
Boat on the Atlantic beach south of the port city of Douala.
Boat on the Atlantic beach south of the port city of Douala.

Angel Thunder: An Exercise in Life Saving

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http://www.dialogo-americas.com/en_GB/articles/rmisa/features/special_reports/2013/05/13/feature-ex-4143

Colombian, Brazilian, and Chilean forces disembark from Chinook flown by Singaporean pilots.
Colombian, Brazilian, and Chilean forces disembark from Chinook flown by Singaporean pilots.

Daily Post: Hi, Mom!

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What better illustration of motherhood than this photo? Mosey over to Daily Prompt and check out this week’s challenge. Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day!

Hi, mom; hello, daughter.
Hi, mom; hello, daughter.
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Gun Violence in America: Are We Abdicating Our Moral Responsibility?

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Your NRA, exploiting a tragedy to advance a pr...
Your NRA, exploiting a tragedy to advance a pre-existing political and economic agenda (Photo credit: Patrick Feller)

Members of Congress cowed by the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying power, and its extensive war chest, which it uses unashamedly against legislators deemed ‘soft’ on gun control issues, continue to do the association’s bidding. The ‘Gang of Fear’ came together recently to defeat proposed legislation for enhanced background checks for gun purchasers. As it does with all legislation designed to bring rationality to the purchase and possession of firearms, the NRA’s knee-jerk reaction to the proposed law was that it was a ‘first step to confiscation of our firearms.’

This argument seems to presuppose that there is, somewhere in government, a group that sits in a room plotting to relieve ALL Americans of ALL of their guns. Shudder! A truly scary thought; except that it’s so far from the reality of how our chaotic, short-term focus bureaucratic and political systems work, it’s laughable. Anyone who thinks the U.S. Government does this kind of long term planning has only to look at our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, I digress. Let’s get back to background checks. The intent of the legislation, as I understand it, was to establish procedures that would go a long way to keep guns out of the hands of felons, the emotionally or mentally disabled, etc.  News reports and surveys indicate that over 80% of the American public, including a significant number of NRA members, supported the proposed law. One has to wonder, then, why the leadership of NRA and the Gang of Fear so adamantly opposed it. But, I’ll leave that for others or for another time.

Right now, I’d like to put another issue on the table – one that I’ve not seen discussed – liability. Are those who block rules that would curb access to guns by people who clearly should not be allowed to have them liable for the harm such people cause? Now, I seriously doubt such an argument would stand up in a court of law. After all, efforts to hold gun manufacturers liable have gone nowhere, so a case like this is unlikely to ever be brought. But, it does raise an interesting ethical and moral issue. Are you morally and ethically responsible if your actions help create conditions that inflict harm on others?

English: United States Congresswoman Gabrielle...
English: United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at her desk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Would it have been useful to have enhanced background checks that would have limited the ability of Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho, who had been previously diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, from obtaining the weapons he used on April 16, 2007 to kill 32 people and wound 17 others on the school campus?  Or Jared Loughner, a disturbed young man who bought ammunition on the same day he attempted to kill U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords during a constituent meeting in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona, near Tucson. The January 8, 2011 shooting claimed the lives of six people, including a nine-year-old girl.

Going back further in time, would stiffer backgrounds have made it more difficult for Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme, a member of the disciple of murderous cult leader Charles Manson, get her hands on the .45 caliber automatic which she waved at former president Gerald Ford in Sacramento in April 1975, or Sara Jane Moore, who shot at Ford 17 days later in San Francisco? We might never know, because those opposed to rational controls over gun ownership also try to block debate and discussion of the issue, hiding behind the Second Amendment.

Assassination attempt of U.S. President Gerald...
Assassination attempt of U.S. President Gerald R. Ford by Sara Jane Moore. Location: San Francisco, CA. Description: Reaction of Secret Service agents, police, and bystanders approximately one second after Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford. 22 September 1975 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are but a few of the incidents of clearly disturbed individuals being able to acquire arms and ammunition under our current regime of lax and haphazardly applied controls.

It’s not a Second Amendment issue. In my humble opinion, it’s an issue of stepping up to the plate and assuming moral and ethical responsibility for the violence that has become endemic in our society. More than 80% of the American public gets it. When will the Gang of Fear?

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Review: “Framed: A Historical Novel about the revolt of the Luddites” by Christy Fearn

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In the 19th century, English textile workers, known as the Luddites, protested the labor-saving machines that had been introduced into factories, enabling the hiring of less-skilled, lower-wage laborers, leaving them unemployed. No one is completely sure of the origin of the name Luddite, but it’s generally believed to be after Ned Ludd, a young man who in 1781, allegedly smashed two stocking frames in the factory in which he worked. Rather than being anti-technology, as is commonly believed today, the Luddites were really protesting chronic underemployment and exploitation of workers by the capitalists who controlled the factories.

In Framed: A Historical Novel about the Revolt of the Luddites, Christy Fearn gives us a look at the so-called Luddite revolution through the eyes of one family. Facing the possibility of unemployment because of the introduction of new machinery, they decide to take matters into their own hands – and the smashing begins. Fearn does a good job of showing how individuals might have reacted to the chaotic economic conditions of the time. She has her textile workers using French on occasion, and while I can’t say this would have been the case in 1811, it comes across as credible, given the way she describes them. There is also a lot in Framed about clashes between the militia and the rebels; again, showing the human side of it. After all, most of the soldiers came from the same socio-economic background.

A novel of action and suspense, of manners, and of great psychological depth, that goes beneath the surface of setting and characters, revealing what lies beneath. If you like historical fiction that rings true, you’ll like reading Framed.

Review of “Scotland’s Guardian” by Katherina Gerlach

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Bassenthwaite and Scotland from the top of Dodd
Bassenthwaite and Scotland from the top of Dodd (Photo credit: Ed.ward)

Fourteen-year-old Bryanna McConnaichie, while riding a bus home, receives a cryptic warning from a strange woman with webbed hands, “Your father’s time is running out.” She doesn’t understand why her father, cryptozoologist Angus McConnaichie, should be in danger until he’s kidnapped by another strange woman right before her eyes. In her quest to rescue him, Bryanna finds herself moving between Scotland and Alba, and encountering strange creatures that, until that time, she had thought to be mere figments of her active imagination. During her search, she learns that her father is the Guardian protecting Scotland and the ‘other’ worlds from all manner of evil, and that she’s a half-blood with magical powers. She encounters Kaylee, another half-blood, who might be a friend – but, who also might be a deadly enemy.

In Scotland’s Guardian, by German writer Katherina Gerlach, you’ll find non-stop action from page one, written in an engaging and entertaining manner that will keep you on the edge of our chair. Gerlach brings creatures from Scotland’s rich history of mythology to life in a way that makes you believe in them. Her characters are believable, and, even the bad guys elicit sympathy.

A crisp tale, told in Gerlach’s unique style, this is a definite must-read for anyone interested in fantasy and myth. In fact, it just might be the book to interest those who’ve never read a fantasy novel before.

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Watching Over Her Flock

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Shona Village Spirit Medium
A village spirit medium at the traditional Shona village at Great Zimbabwe, stands on the ridge near her hut, watching over the village, much as she would have done centuries ago.
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“The Cambria” – A HIFA Highlight

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Author’s Note:  This is a post I wrote at the end of the last HIFA. I’m sharing it again because HIFA is just taking place in Zimbabwe and I’m not there to see the great performances. I wanted to share this with my readers so they, too, can know what wonders there can be even in a country that is as troubled sometimes as Zimbabwe is.  Comments and feedback are welcomed.

Today is the final day of the 2012 Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).  This year’s festival has been marked by some first-rate performances, domestic and international, and the closing day is usually the day the headline acts show their best.  For me, though, the highlight of HIFA is an Irish play, The Cambria, which tells of the American abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglas’s flight to Ireland and England in August 1847 aboard The Cambria, a paddle steamer that was the flagship of the Cunard Line.

Douglas was an escaped slave, subject to being captured and returned to bondage, but when his famous and popular biography was published, making him a potent symbol of the northern abolitionist movement, slaveholders put a large bounty on his head – dead or alive.  Supporters assisted him in getting passage on The Cambria, where he traveled under an assumed name.  In England and Ireland, he appeared as a speaker, sharing the podium with the noted anti-slavery activist Daniel O’Connell.  In a letter Douglas wrote from Ireland in 1845, he said, “. . . people here in Ireland measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the colour of their skin.”  This is also the closing line of the play, and for history buffs, the similarity to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream that one day in America, people will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin,” resonates in a deeply stirring manner.

Writer-performer Donal O’Kelly and performer Sorcha Fox give absolutely stunning performances as they play multiple roles, transporting audiences to the decks, cabins, and holds of The Cambria, complete with the ominous fog of the North Atlantic.  Due to an foot injury Fox suffered after coming to Harare, making it difficult for her to walk, last minute adjustments had to be made with the two seated throughout the two-act play.  If I hadn’t been told this I would never have known.

The essence of good drama, as with good writing, is getting an audience to suspend disbelief.  O’Kelly and Fox are masters at doing this.  The transformation as O’Kelly switches from Douglas, a black character, to the slave owner Dodd, is nothing short of magical, and Fox plays adult and child characters effectively, and even comes across credibly when she’s representing male characters.

Only someone with a heart of granite could sit through this performance without being moved – to tears even – so profound is the story and so flawless the acting.  This is Irish drama at its very best; great script, good direction, but most of all, top level performances by two of Ireland’s finest.  The Cambriahas played to rave reviews on the New York stage, and now it has come to Harare and HIFA.  Five stars to the performers, five stars to the material, and thanks to the organizers who had the foresight to bring this great play here.

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during...
Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during the 1963 March on Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Lookout

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Foraging Birds

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