Friday, June 30, 2017

Dr. Robert Henry Lawrence, first black astronaut 1967

Dr. Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. was the first black astronaut, June 30, 1967 when he was selected by the US Air Force in their Manned Orbital Laboratory program.  This makes him the first black astronaut although he never made it to space.  Later that same year, Dr. Lawrence was killed when the F-104 Starfighter, whose pilot he was instructing crashed at Edwards AFB in California, December 8.

He had a PhD in Physical Chemistry, too!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed 3123 BC

According to a Cuneiform clay tablet known as the "Planisphere", an asteroid struck Kofels, Austria June 29, 3123 BC.  The tablet was discovered approximately 150 years ago and finally, researchers have managed to decode its information.  It is a copy of a Sumerian astronomer's night diary and contains drawings of known constellations.

The amount of destruction and the timing of the catastrophe may account for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It came in a very low angle, approximately 6° and clipped the mountain Gamskogel, which caused it to explode.  Therefore, there is no impact crater but it did cause an enormous landslide.

The "back plume" would have bent over the Mediterranean Sea, re-entering the atmosphere over Sinai and Northern Egypt. This would have cuased any flammable material, including human hair and clothing to ignite.

Of course, nothing has been proven but the Biblical passage of raining sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah fits nicely with the asteroid theory.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

First Polish cosmonaut, launches with Soyuz 30 1978

Cosmonaut Miroslaw Hermaszewski

June 27, 1978, Miroslaw Hermaszewski became the first Polish national in space, when he took off in Soyuz 30 with Commander Pyotr Klimuk.  The Soyuz 30 crew docked with the space station Salyut 6 and spent almost 8 days conducting experiements with the Soyuz 29 crew.  Hermaszewski and Klimuk returned to Earth July 5.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Happy birthday, Astronaut Bernard Harris!

Astronaut Bernard Harris, born June 26, 1956 in Temple, Texas, became the first black astronaut to perform an EVA.  His first mission was STS-55, in April 1993 on board the  Space Shuttle Columbia where he was a payload specialist.   His second flight was STS-63 in February 1995 aboard Discovery, the first mission of the US/Russia Shuttle/Mir program.  Harris performed an EVA with Michael Foale, who performed the first EVA for a British astronaut.  It was also the first time a Shuttle was piloted by a female, Eileen Collins.

My latest "The Wooden Samurai" is now available from JMS Books!

My latest story The Wooden Samurai is now available from JSM Books!

In 1708 Japan, Hirata, a samurai serving Lord Takarada, is enjoying his elevated status in the daimyo’s army when he finds a gift, a wooden carving of a samurai on a horse.  Hirata realizes he has a secret admirer but who is it?  He discovers it is Matsuda, a young archer in Takarada’s retinue, who has taken a liking to Hirata.

But Hirata is not ready for a relationship with a man and refuses Matsuda.  After his rejection, Hirata realizes that he does love Matsuda, but now the archer is far away with Lord Takarada in Edo Castle and he does not know when they will return.

Hirata decides on a plan to convince Matsuda that he is ready, but before he can put it into action, an earthquake and a tsunami destroy the daimyo’s manor.

Hirata becomes frantic, since he has no idea if Matsuda is alive and if he will ever see him again?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Trump's EPA does not consider people, only oil and gas industries

The Donald's EPA has taken steps in the past few days to demonstrate its commitment to the oil and gas industry.  And they aren't even trying to hide it.

Monday, TEPA Admin Scott Pruitt appointed Jeff Holmstead, a lobbyist for the oil industry, as his No. 2 man.  Holmstead even testified before Congress last year:

“My biggest clients are utilities, refineries, a coal producer, and several oil and gas companies.”

Holmstead was a top EPA official during Shrub's administration and helped roll back regulations placed on the oil and gas industry to protect our clean water and clean air.  He will continue to pursue The Donald's ruinous agenda, to the detriment of Americans' health.

Tuesday, many of the scientists on advisory boards that their employment will not be renewed.  This comes after last month's dismissal of half the key scientists on 200 advisory panels, leaving the ranks of TEPA frighteningly low of scientists.  With so many seats now available, it is no stretch of the imagination to predict what is coming.  Pruitt and Holmstead, both in the pay of the oil and gas industry, will appoint like-minded people, and ignore the pollution released by these industries and its harmful effects on people.

We are doomed.

Happy birthday, Toyohiro Akiyama, first Japanese in space

Toyohiro Akiyama, born in June 22, 1942 Tokyo, Japan, is the first person of Japanese descent to travel into space.  He flew aboard Soyuz TM-11, launched December 2, 1990 and spent almost 8 days in space, giving live reports daily from Mir.  He returned to Earth on Soyuz TM-10 December 10.

Unfortunately, Akiyama had to evacuate his farm which was affected by the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rick Perry is as stupid and greedy as Scott Pruitt and The Donald

The Donald's plan to gut the EPA, and roll back any regulation that protects our clean air and clean water is well on its way.  By appointing nay-sayers to the right positions, he can eliminate any and all barriers to his own oil and gas interests.  This was made clear when he appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier with absolutely no experience in science, to head the EPA.  He also appointed ex-governor of Texas Rick Perry (a Bush flunkee) as Energy Secretary.

Like Pruitt, Perry is a global-warming denier and wasted no time in proving his ineptitude and plain ol' stupidness.  He said earlier this week he does not "believe" carbon dioxide from human activities is a main contributor to climate change.  As if he hadn't emphasized his lack of education enough, he went on to blame climate change on the oceans:

According to AP reporter Matthew Daly:

Asked on CNBC's "Squawk Box" whether carbon emissions are primarily responsible for climate change, Perry said no, adding that"most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in."

So the "good ol' boy" train rolls along.  We've known for a while that Pruitt has been on his knees among the oil and gas industries, but now we find out who's been hanging it out for him.  Or maybe Perry's on his knees, too.  Both of them have a reason to poison the environment:  to make more money!  

Just like The Donald!

Perry also said skepticism is a sign of being a "wise, intellectually engaged person."  That might be correct, Perry, but in your case, it's a sign of being a total moron.

Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-57) 1993

Front row (L-R) Pilot Brian Duffy, Commander Ronald J. Grabe
Back row (L-R): Mission Specialist 3 Peter J. Wisoff, Mission Specialist 2 Nancy J. Sherlock, Mission Specialist 4 Janice E. Voss, and Mission Specialist 1 G. David Low

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted off from Kennedy Space Center June 21, 1993.  The 10-day mission involved six astronauts, numerous biomedical and materials science experiments, one EVA, five stars (insignia), one satellite retrieval, one to two inches increase in height (due to spine lengthening in space) and about 4.1 million miles.

Pretty routine stuff, but in space, they don't much care for the non-routine stuff.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Wooden Samurai to be released June 24!

My latest story, The Wooden Samurai, will be available this Saturday, June 24 from JMS Books!

In 1708 Japan, Hirata, a samurai serving Lord Takarada, is enjoying his elevated status in the daimyo’s army when he finds a gift, a wooden carving of a samurai on a horse.  Hirata realizes he has a secret admirer but who is it?  He discovers it is Matsuda, a young archer in Takarada’s retinue, who has taken a liking to Hirata.

But Hirata is not ready for a relationship with a man and refuses Matsuda.  After his rejection, Hirata realizes that he does love Matsuda, but now the archer is far away with Lord Takarada in Edo Castle and he does not know when they will return.

Hirata decides on a plan to convince Matsuda that he is ready, but before he can put it into action, an earthquake and a tsunami destroy the daimyo’s manor.

Hirata becomes frantic, since he has no idea if Matsuda is alive and if he will ever see him again.

Hirata entered the barracks, walking to the room he shared with eleven other samurai officers to shed his traveling cloak before the mid-day meal. Because of his rank, he did not have to bunk with dozens of men to a room, like the unranked warriors.  It gave him a little more room and enough space to keep a small chest for personal belongings, like his cloak.  He took it off as he approached the threshold to his room, since he would not need it again until he rode out with the next patrol that afternoon.
Hirata came to a stop in the doorway. Something wrapped in a rough cloth sat in the middle of his cot.
What is that?  Is it dangerous? His samurai instincts warned him to be cautious and wary of anything out of place.
His first inclination was to throw the thing as far away into the ocean as he could, but he couldn't think of anyone who would want to do him harm.  But if someone was trying to destroy the daimyo, an inside job would be most effective.  Ruin the lord by decimating his loyal subjects and making it look like inner turmoil, rather than an outside influence.
I had better see what it is before I try to destroy it.
Hirata strode to his bed and snatched up the package. He tore off the wrapping and his breath caught in his throat. The cloth fell away to reveal an elaborate wooden carving of a samurai on a horse.
Hirata gaped at it, admiring its beauty and detail.  He turned it over and over in his hands.
Who could have crafted something so exquisite? Or who could afford to buy something so expensive?
A samurai’s pay did not allow for such extravagant purchases so whoever bought it must have sacrificed at least three month’s salary.
Noises outside indicated men approaching. Hirata re-wrapped the figure in the cloth and put it in his small chest with his other precious items. He had just slid the chest under his bed when three of his friends appeared in the doorway.
"It is time for the mid-day meal, Hirata-san," Kenji said, a burly samurai with thick beard and hair pulled into a knot on the top of his head. "We must hurry or else it will all be eaten by the time we get there."
"You could certainly do without a meal or two," Hirata said with a laugh.
"Do not be fooled," Kenji said with the gap-toothed grin, rubbing his belly. "It is all muscle."
All of them laughed as they left the barracks. Despite his outward appearance of good humor, Hirata still wondered who had given him such an expensive gift. As he walked toward the great hall for the mid-day meal, he glanced at the faces of the servants, retainers, samurai and the rest of the daimyo’s subjects.
Could it be one of them? None of them could afford such an item.  And certainly not one of Lord Takarada’s daughters, who were older than Hirata or granddaughters who were too young, but they were only ones who had that kind of wealth.
As they approached the hall, movement on the roof covering the border fence caught Hirata’s eye. The sentries and archers stationed in lookout towers were changing shifts, replacing the men who had been up there since midnight. One of the archers glanced in his direction as he approached the ladder, and their eyes met for an instant. Even with a broad hat shading the man’s face, Hirata caught his gaze for a second.  An unspoken message passed between them. The archer turned to descend.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Viktor Patsayev, cosmonaut, born 1933

USSR stamp Viktor Patsayev cropped.jpg

Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev, born June 19, 1933, was a cosmonaut for the Soviet Space program.  He died June 30, 1971 when the Soyuz 11 spacecraft depressurized prematurely, suffocating him and his fellow cosmonauts, Georgy Dobrovolsky and Vladislav Volkov.  The moon crater Patsaev and the minor planet 1791 Patsayev are both named for him.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book review - "Catilina's Riddle" by Steven Saylor

The third installment of Steve Saylor’s series featuring Gordianus the Finder, Catilina’s Riddle, reads more of a history lesson on Ancient Rome as opposed to a whodunit. Perhaps Saylor feels by giving what would be dry, laborious reading material to most people a mysterious subplot, history comes a bit more interesting.

Gordianus has retired to the country, with his wife, daughter Diana and son Meto, glad to leave the politics and danger of Rome far behind.  His son Eco has stayed behind and has taken over his father’s business.  However, with Gordianus, intrigue and danger are never far away.  The country is not as relaxing as it should be and his neighbors are anything but neighborly.

Soon, he receives a message from a friend asking for a huge favor.  Cicero is asking him to host Catilina, a controversial candidate running for consulship in Rome. 

The election and the politics surrounding it are the basis for Saylor’s novel.  Cicero makes flowery speeches, in which he spins wild tales of Catilina’s conspiracies and his plans for bloody revolts.  But how much of those tales are true?  Saylor paints a humane picture of Catilina, as seen from Gordianus’ point of view. 

The mystery portion of the book, Gordianus keeps finding headless bodies on his property, takes a back seat to Roman history.  Saylor recreates Cicero’s speeches, Catilina’s speeches, everybody’s speeches.  At times it gets tedious, because one wonders where these pages and pages are taking the story.  The conclusion of who’s been leaving decapitated corpses on Gordianus’ property almost seems like an afterthought. 

If you enjoy ancient Roman history, you will enjoy this book.

I give it 3 Jupiter’s lightning bolts (~~~) out of 5.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Psycho" premieres 1960

The poster features a large image of a young woman in white underwear. The names of the main actors are featured down the right side of the poster. Smaller images of Anthony Perkins and John Gavin are above the words, written in large print, "Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho".

One of the best, scariest movies of all time premiered June 16, 1960.  Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starred Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles and Janet Leigh.

Voted the #1 horror film of all time by
Ranked #14 on the AFI 100 Years... 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition, up 4 places from #18 in 1997
Psycho (1960) features in both the American and British Film Institutes' Top 100 lists.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #14 Greatest Movie of All Time
This was voted the seventh scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly
Ranked #1 on the AFI 100 Years... 100 Thrills film series
The movie's line "A boy's best friend is his mother." was voted as the #56 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100)
The strings-only music by Bernard Herrmann is ranked #4 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Out of Luck - Corey Shaw novels #3 and #4 available from Lethe Press!

Invisible Curtain and Legacy of Hephaestus, the third and fourth Corey Shaw novels respectively, are available as Out of Luck from Lethe Press!

Blurb for Invisible Curtain:

Paranormal sleuth Corey Shaw is enjoying vacation with his family in the Baltic Sea when terrorists bomb restaurants hosting World Cup parties in London and Copenhagen. On each occasion the explosion coincides with the cruise ship leaving port.  Although the United States isn’t attacked directly, Corey and his colleagues are unavoidably drawn into the investigation with or without the blessing of international intelligence agencies. When a third bomb goes off in St. Petersburg, Russia, Corey is convinced the answer lies aboard his ship.

He must use all his psionic abilities to protect his family, and his friends, and keep the world safe from this worrying upsurge in international terrorism.

Blurb for Legacy of Hephaestus:

Paranormal sleuth Corey Shaw is wrapping up what’s left of his European vacation by enjoying the beautiful men in Europe. During his visit, the largest yellow diamond in the world is stolen from a factory in Amsterdam. On his way home, an attempt is made on his life, and his house is broken into upon his arrival home in Boston. Just as Corey finds the “Lava Diamond”, a professor from Boston College disappears while on sabbatical at Bergen University in Norway.

Drawn into the fray, Corey travels back across the Atlantic to search for the professor only to discover a connection between the missing prof and the “Lava Diamond”.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pan, Saturn's moon, looks like a UFO

Pan, Saturn's small moon, was photographed back in 1980 by Voyager 2, but wasn't officially discovered until 1990 by Mark Showalter analyzing old pictures.  Recently, the Cassini spacecraft studying Saturn and its moons has sent back images showing the moon to look like a UFO.

The tiny moon is only 35km across and 23km wide, but it keeps the Encke Gap (within Saturn's A Ring) clear of ring particles.

Venera 10, spacecraft to Venus, launched 1975

June 14, 1975, the Soviet Union launched Venera 10, which contained an orbiter and a lander.  The orbiter's job was to serve as a communications relay fr the lander, and to explore cloud layers and atmospheric parameters.

The lander touched down October 25 between Beta Regio and Hyndia Regio, just 3 days after Venera 9 landed and 2200 kilometers away.  Venera 10 operated for 65 minutes, but it could not take panoramic pictures because one of the two camera lens failed to detach, so they had to settle for 180° panorama.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trump cancels protection for endangered wildlife and national parks

In the past few days, The Donald and his administration have gone ape-shit, hell-bent on destroying our natural resources, flora and fauna.  First, The Donald and the U.S. Forest Service are considering a proposal to allow Arch Coal, the country's second largest coal producer to mine 1700 acres of teh Gunnison National Forest in Colorado, pristine wilderness, for coal!  Environmental groups are already taking action to the destruction of public lands for the oil and gas industry.

If that wasn't enough, U.S. Dept of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took the first official step yesterday to strip Utah's Bears Ears National Monument of its federal protection.  When President Obama first made Bears Ears a national monument, Utah Republicans were furious.  Why?  Because think of all the mining and fossil fuel drilling that can be done there!  The Donald does not care about the indigenous people who consider that land sacred to their tribes.  He wants their land so he can make more money.  

Also yesterday (The Donald was a busy boy Monday!), his administration threw out a new rule in place since 2016 proposed by the Pacific Fisher Management Council that sought to limit the numbers of endangered whales and sea turtles getting caught in fishing nets off the West Coast.  The rule applied to endangered fin, humpback and sperm whales, short-fin pilots whales, bottlenose dolphins, leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, olife-ridley sea turtles and green sea turtles.

Why, The Donald?  What have you against endangered species?

Dorothy L. Sayers, mystery writer, born 1893

Dorothy Leigh Sayers, born June 13, 1893, is probably best know for her mystery series featuring aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey.  She began her professional career as a copywriter at S. H. Benson's advertising agency which was the largest in England at the time.  She collaborated with an artist, John Gilroy, on Guiness' Zoo campaign, for which she was quite successful.  It was at her advertising agency where she started getting the ideas for a mystery series.

Lord Peter Wimsey's first adventure Whose Body? was published in 1923 and became a successful serires with 11 novels 2 sets of short stories.

Sayers passed away December 17, 1957 from a coronary thrombosis.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Donald's EPA caught illegally rescinding Mercury rule

One of The Donald's first acts after purchasing the White House in January was:
"to “immediately withdraw” final rules sent to the Office of the Federal Register but not yet published in the Federal Register."
Although not yet under Pruitt's despotism, the TEPA (Trump's EPA) rescinded the Mercury Effluent Rule, which had been finalized December 15, 2016.  The EPA is required to give public notice and an opportunity to comment, but did not.

The National Resources Defense Council acted quickly and sued the EPA for acting illegally and potentially putting millions at risk.  Mercury is a neurotoxin and dental offices are the main source of mercury discharges to municipal wastewater treatment plants, since excess amalgam from new cavitgy fillings or old amalgam fillings being replaced are flushed down the drain.   However, coal-fired power plants (quelle surprise!) industrial boilers, and cement plants and mining sites can discharge mercury into the environment.

Mercury is especially dangerous to pregnant women, babies and toddlers.  Even tiny amounts of exposure can disrupt brain function and harm the nervous system.  The Mercury Effluent Rule reduces the annual discharge of mercury by 5.1 tons to publicly owned WWTPs.  And dental offices are in support of this rule.  Mercury is hard to remove from wastewater streams so this is why it is so important to stem the discharge of the metal to the environment.

What part of this does The Donald and Pruitt not understand?

Fortunately, the NRDC was successful and June 9, the EPA restored the rule.

Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Timescape" airs 1993

June 12, 1993, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired the episode Timescape, one of my favorite episodes of the series.  Captain Picard, Data, Geordi and Counselor Troi are returning to the USS Enterprise when they discover the ship and a Romulan vessel apparently attacking each other but frozen in time.  It takes some Geordi ingenuity to help Picard, Data and Troi board the Enterprise and stop a warp breach in progress.

Happy birthday, Godzilla actress Yumiko Shaku!

Beautiful Yumiko Shaku, born June 12, 1978, starred as Akane Yashiro in Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002) and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Oklahoman: People are being mean to poor, innocent Trump

Oklahoma's daily rag, the Oklahoman, has never been one to focus on facts and doesn't bother with the truth, as demonstrated in an editorial published yesterday, claiming vile attacks against The Donald are now "par for the course".

Now that may actually be true, but the opinion seems at a loss as to why this has happened.  Yet, they cannot even come up with reasons why we should NOT attack The Donald.

Look at one example:

"Following Trump's decision last week to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, billionaire Tom Steyer called it “a traitorous act of war against the American people.” Bette Middler tweeted that there has “never in US history been such a destructive megalomanic in the WH. Thank you to US press and other numbskulls who put him there.” (That's especially rich — blaming the press for Trump's victory.)"

Why should The Donald not be criticized for a decision to pull us out of an agreement that nearly ever other country in the world supports, the majority of Americans supports, and is working to save our global environment. People have said "It's unfair to America!" The Oklahoman did not even mention that part of the argument.

Here's another:
"Criticism of Trump's impulsiveness is often merited, and was in this case. He shouldn't have tweeted about his policy preference so soon after what occurred in London. But that doesn't justify Aslan, who called Trump is “a piece of s---“ and said he was “not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He's an embarrassment to humankind.”
I think we all the viral video of Eric Trump defending attacks against his papa, criticizing people's use of profanity, and name-calling.  Only to see clips of Trump, during his campaigning, using profanity (e.g. "a piece of s---") and name-calling.

Here's the last great one:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview that his party's top priority “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He was speaking in a political context — GOP goals clearly weren't going to be realized with Obama in the White House...
He was speaking in a political context, all right.  But his message was clear:  We are not going to do the job we were elected to do.  We are going to focus on what WE want to do.  McConnell has shown himself to be the most hypocritical person in the Senate, which is saying quite a bit.

Editors at the Oklahoman:  Pull your head out of your asses...well, out of Trump's ass at least.  You can't even defend your own opinion.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Malcolm Boyd (pastor/gay activist) born 1923

Malcolm Boyd was an Episcopal priest and a gay activist, born June 8, 1923.  He authored the book Are You Running With Me, Jesus?, which I read during the time I was struggling with coming out.  He was also a minister in the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's, supporting integration and voting rights.  He came out in 1977, becoming one of the first prominent American clergymen to announce his homosexuality.

He passed away at 91, February 27, 2015 of complications from pneumonia.

Billy Joel wins a Tony for "Movin' Out" 2003

My man Billy Joel won a Tony Award for Best Orchestration June 8, 2003 for Movin' Out, a musical based on his music.  Movin' Out was also up for Best Musical but lost to Hairspray starring Harvey Fierstein.

Def Leppard released "Euphoria" 1999

Def Leppard released their seventh studio album Euphoria June 8, 1999.  Three years after Slang, it was a breath of fresh air.  It reached #11 on Billboards 200 and went gold in the U.S., Canada and Japan.

My favorite track is Paper Sun, which was written about the car bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Soyuz 11 launched 1971

Soyuz 11 crew: Dobrovolsky, Volkov, Patsayev

Soyuz 11, launched June 6, 1971, was manned by Commander Georgy Dobrovolsky, Flight Engineer Vladislav Volkov and Test Engineer Viktor Patsayev.  They docked with Salyut 1 but had to replace part of the ventilation system before they could board her.

Upon re-entry, the capsule depressurized too early, killing the crew.  They are the only known humans to have died in space.

Book review - The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

I started reading this twice before but always got side-tracked or some other excuse, and put it aside.  So after reading two previous non-fiction books which take place during the same generation.  I decided to tackle Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time.  This work centers on the 1930’s Dust Bowl, where over-plowing and careless use of resources created one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters ever.

In the late 1920’s and early 30’s, people swarmed to the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, northeast New Mexico, southwest Kansas and southeast Colorado.  The native Americans had been routed from the area (again) and “great American hunters” had decimated the bison almost to extinction.  The path was paved for white farmers to make their way to endless free land, grasslands for miles with no trees in sight.

It seemed like a boon to anyone trying to get rich and establish a huge farm spread.  Then acres of land were being plowed and turned over by the millions.  An area half the size of England had been turned into wheat farms.

It was good while it lasted, maybe two years.  Then the rains stopped and the stock market crashed.  All of a sudden, wheat sold at a fraction of its cost to harvest it.  Bumper crops in Russia and elsewhere helped drive the price down as well.  At the start of the 1930’s, people in the northeast starved while tons of grain rotted on the ground in Oklahoma.

This was just the beginning of the Dust Bowl.  The destruction of the top soil and the hearty grasses that could withstand extremes in weather holding it in place left soil open to the wind and elements.  Egan’s description of the years of drought, frequent sandstorms that blotted out the sun, and the desperation of the people as they watched family members suffer and die from dust pneumonia is heart-wrenching and the reader can almost feel grit between his teeth.

Egan’s book is also a testament to the human spirit, determined to go on, not letting the fury of Mother Nature’s revenge run them out of their homestead.  He took first-hand accounts from the survivors of the Dust Bowl who remember those terrible years as if they were last week.

Book review - Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

One of the comments on the dust jacket of this book describes it as “emotionally devastating” and I found that to be an understatement.  David Grann’s book covers the 1920’s northeast Oklahoma when the Osage Indians were sitting on one of the richest oil reserves in the world.  Just two or three generations prior, the government relocated hundreds of thousands of native Americans to Oklahoma, the infamous Trail of Tears.

The idea was to move the native Americans to an area of the country where it was arid, rocky, hilly and the soil was not conducive to growing crops.  No one else wanted it so why not give it to the “Indians”?

It sounded like a good idea to the American government and white people until oil was discovered on this land.  Soon the Osages were riding in chauffeured limousines, building huge houses and turning small towns such as Gray Horse and Fairfax into thriving cities.

But wealth like that is going to draw trouble.  With the help of corrupt the American and Oklahoma governments, the white people began scheming on how they could get their hands on all that money.  Although plots were woven to inherit or control Osage lands, some decided to take a faster route and resorted to murder.

Molly Burkhart’s sister disappeared suddenly.  Her body was found several days later, badly decomposed.  The cause of death was determined to be a bullet fired into the back of her skull.  Despite no exit wound, the bullet was never located. 

More Osages were killed in this manner, but others were poisoned.  Whether the plan was outright violence or more insidious, the goal was the same.  The Osage had little help from law enforcement and virtually from the government.  Here is where the emotional devastation comes in, as the extreme injustice is allowed to flourish with impunity.  Corruption was everywhere and the Osage powerless to defend themselves, robbed of their wealth.

Grann unravels the most diabolical schemes that involved Molly Burkhart, her sisters, mother and even her children.  Grann’s book begins to read like an Agatha Christie novel with twists, turns and surprises that would impress the Queen of Mystery herself.

The bad part is this is no cozy mystery.  It is a documented story of greed, racism and murder.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"Turnabout Intruder" last episode of Star Trek airs 1969

Turnabout Intruder, the final episode of the original Star Trek series, aired June 3, 1969. It was supposed to have aired March 28 but got preempted because of Dwight D. Eisenhower's death, so it didn't air until June 3.  Nurse Chapel's hair is brown, which has always been blond up to this point.  Lieutenant Uhura does not appear in this episode.

This episode takes place 4 years before the events in Star Trek: The Motion Picture although they were released ten years apart.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Happy birthday, Ensign Travis Mayweather!

Anthony Montgomery, born June 2, 1971, is best known to us Trekkies as Ensign Travis Mayweather on Star Trek: Enterprise.  He auditioned for a regular part on Star Trek: Voyager but didn't get it.  He was brought back to audition for Tuvok's son for an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, didn't get it.

He was remembered for those auditions and brought in for Star Trek: Enterprise, which he got!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book review - In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

🔯🔯🔯🔯 (out of 5)

A friend bought this book for me after we visited the new Holocaust Memorial in Dallas, Texas.  When he recommended it to me, I mentioned I was familiar with Erik Larson, having read several of his works.  I had not read this one simply because I was not interested in pre-World War II history.  It was important enough to him that I read it so he bought it for me.  I’m glad he did because I always enjoy Larson but also the book tells a different point of view of Germany under Hitler’s reign just prior to the Holocaust and WWII.

The subjects of In the Garden of Beasts are American Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany William Dodd and his daughter Martha.  Dodd’s wife Mattie is mentioned very little and seemingly played no role in any events, except as bystander, in the book.  The son Bill Jr. is not much more involved.
Much of the book is devoted to the daughter Martha and her sexual exploits, as she enjoys the perks of being the U.S. Ambassador’s daughter.  Life is one big party and she cannot imagine the atrocities being committed against the Jews by the Nazis.  A little anti-Semitic herself, Martha enjoys several lovers and playing them against each other.

I was confused as to Lawson’s choice of Ambassador Dodd as the main subject matter.  Dodd’s appointment, although controversial, was not scandalous.  It seemed the main reason he gained enemies in Washington was because he couldn’t force Germany to pay back the money the U.S.  The State Department could not, or would not, believe the reports of attacks against the Jews in Berlin, despite repeated efforts by Dodd to enlighten them to the horrors he knew to be factual.

Other than this, there is nothing spectacular about Dodd and his family, besides being helpless witnesses to the events unfolding around them and being unable to convince anyone in the U.S. that the worst was yet to come.

As with all of Larson’s books, In the Garden of Beasts contains intimate details of the events, gleaned from hundreds of resources.  You can imagine you’re standing in the Tiergarten area of Berlin watching soldiers march by, and feeling the underlying terror of the city.

I give it 4 (Jewish) stars out of 5 since the main character only provided a minor portal to a majorly important time in history.