Friday, November 27, 2015

The Train is Coming!

An Excerpt from The 25th Hour (Book One in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Tucker Bryant darted to the rear of this bus and tugged on the lever. He grunted. “It’s wedged in there tight. I can’t move it.”

Vanessa Carlyle screamed. The red crossing gate lights flashed and the warning bell had sounded, signaling the approach of a train. The red and white striped wooden crossing gate swooped down, smashing onto the front of the school bus, before breaking off. “I see the train!” Vanessa cried. “It’s coming right toward us.”

The train’s shrill whistle pierced their ears each time it sounded.

Mackenzie gazed out the window. “It’s half a mile away. He won’t be able to stop in time. That’s why he keeps blowing the whistle. He wants us off the track.”

Tucker grunted, as he pulled the lever. “This won’t budge. Even if we could get it open, there’s no way we’re getting seventy kids off this bus in a few minutes.”

“Break the windows,” Marlene suggested.

“With what?” Tucker asked.

“We can’t squeeze through the windows,” a girl in the row in front of Marlene said. “Besides, the broken glass would slice us up.”

The train whistle blew three more times, momentarily drowning out the ringing crossing gate alarm.

Mackenzie turned to Marlene. “There’s only one thing left.”

“You can’t,” Marlene said. “Your hour’s up.”

Mackenzie gritted his teeth. “I can bypass the safeguard.”

“You can’t risk it, Mac.” There was panic in Marlene’s voice. “You don’t know what will happen. The watch might explode… or age you… or kill you.”

Available in paperback or Kindle exclusively on

Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

If Turkeys Could Speak…

As you sit down for dinner this Thanksgiving, pause for a moment to ponder the meaning of the holiday. If you are a Millennial, a recent Pew poll suggests 40 percent of you are clueless as to why we should be thankful this day.

One of the first Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in the American colonies, in Plymouth Colony (now Southeast Massachusetts) in 1621 when the Pilgrims shared an autumn harvest feast with the Wampanoag Indians. The Indians brought deer, not turkey, so venison was the main course. But the first true Thanksgiving came two years later, when the Pilgrims’ prayers were answered: rain brought an end to the drought that was destroying their crops, and Captain Miles Standish landed bearing new and much needed supplies.

But who were these Pilgrims who had settled the Plymouth Colony? They were men and women fleeing religious persecution by the English Crown, emigrating first to the Netherlands and then to the American colonies. They sought freedom of religion, which encompasses two other freedoms: the right to express ones’ self and the right to gather with others who share this expression. A century and a half later, the American colonists upon declaring their independence from England would consider all three rights to be necessary, fundamental freedoms and combine them in the First Amendment to the new nation’s Constitution.

The First Amendment is arguably more important and essential to democracy than the other nine amendments comprising the Bill of Rights or even the Constitution itself. It’s all about freedom of expression. It guarantees it through what you say (freedom of speech), what you write (freedom of the press), what you believe and the practice of those beliefs (freedom of religion), and the right to share such expressions with others (freedom of assembly).

Of course, not everyone will agree with what you say, or write, or even how you express yourself. Some may even be offended. That is the cost of, and a necessary corollary of, free expression. While there is an explicit guarantee of the right to free speech in our nation’s Constitution, there is no corresponding right not to be offended by others. Democracy will survive, and even flourish, amidst offensive words – the most bountiful plants flourish when manure is heaped upon them. But democracy cannot survive when speech and other forms of expression are forbidden by the government.

That is why it is so shocking and downright frightening to read the results of the Pew poll in which 40 percent of Millennials – those aged 18-to-34 – say they want the government to censor statements that are offensive to minority groups. America was founded on the concept of fundamental freedoms, and that the government could not be allowed to censor its citizens, in part because the government was “of, by, and for the people.” We are not governed by a dictator or king’s edicts but rather by those we choose from among us. We are our government and therefore shall not censor ourselves. That’s what made America different from all the other nations from which its future citizens would emigrate. Once we allow the government to decide what we may or may not say, we have surrendered our democracy. Once we permit offensive speech to be proscribed, the next question becomes ‘Who decides which words or statements are deemed offensive?’ Our freedom decreases in direct proportion to the expansiveness of the definition of the word “offensive”.

Freedom of speech must not be curtailed in the name of political correctness. Americans should cherish the First Amendment and not carve it up along with their turkey.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Interview with a Terrorist

Q:  First off, I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you.
A:  It is my pleasure to speak to the Americans and other Westerners through you so that they may learn how we have plotted their destruction.

Q: When you say “we”, you’re referring to ISIS I presume?
A: We are the Islamic State – al-Dawla al-Islamiya.

Q: How long have you been a member of ISIS; excuse me, I mean the Islamic State?
A: For many years now. At one time, we were known as al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Q: I want to hear your viewpoint on current events involving terrorism. There is a lot of fear in America right now. Americans are afraid you want us dead.
A: Of course we want you Americans dead. I would kill you right now if I did not need you to get my message out to your fellow infidels.

Q: But why? That’s what we want to know. What did we do to you to make you hate us enough to want to kill us all?
A: You did not have to do anything, other than exist. You are not believers; you are infidels, and therefore you must be cleansed from the earth.

Q: So the Paris attacks weren’t retaliation for some perceived affront? You killed those innocent people because they weren’t like you and therefore didn’t deserve to live?
A: Exactly.

Q: Our intelligence community estimates there are 200,000 Islamic State members. There are 320 million Americans. We outnumber you by 1,600-to-1. Don’t you think your plan to kill all of us is a bit optimistic?
A: (laughter). We do not plan to kill you; our plan is to destroy you. More specifically, our plan is to make you destroy yourselves.

Q: That sounds even more optimistic, or delusional. Why are you smiling?
A: Because we have already won and you simply haven’t realized yet.

Q: What do you mean?
A: What is America? The legendary land of individual freedom; a melting pot of people from all races, nationalities, and religions who have come for generations from across the world in search of the so-called American Dream. We have taken it from you and in so doing we have destroyed America.

Q: I don’t understand.
A: What did your nation do after the first terrorist attack on your soil on September 11th? It curtailed all of your individual freedoms: your government spies on your phone calls and emails and tracks the Websites you visit. It passed the PATRIOT Act, which was anything but patriotic, further curtailing your individual liberties in the name of “security”. Americans may now be detained indefinitely in military jails without being charged with any crime. Your government may now demand any personal records held by any source, including your doctor, employer, accountant, or even a library, if it claims it is related to an investigation into “terrorism.” It may now conduct secret searches and wiretaps in your home or office without having to show probable cause.

Q: Granted, the PATRIOT Act was a knee-jerk reaction… An outrageous overreaction that Congress has inexplicably and repeatedly renewed, but nonetheless it’s been 14 years since 9/11 and America is still here.
A: But it is not the same America. It is no longer Home of the Free, and now, thanks to us, it is no longer Home of the Brave, either. The cowardly French are even braver than you Americans. We attacked Paris, the heart of France, and made it bleed. Yet France is increasing the number of Syrian refugees it is taking in, from 24,000 to 30,000, while you Americans refuse to accept a mere 10,000 of the four million Syrian refugees.

Q: Not all Americans feel that way. Only 56 percent of the country, 31 governors of the 50 states, and the majority of the House of Representatives.
A: That’s more than half of your nation’s people and its leaders. America, land of immigrants? Bah! No more. Thanks to the Islamic State, the American dream is dead. We have made you destroy everything you stood for. You should tear down your Statue of Liberty and replace it with a guard tower.

Q: Yes, I saw the same NBC News/Survey Monkey poll. But Americans are good people and will do the right thing in the end.
A: (laughter). You are naïve. We follow your presidential campaign closely. Have you heard what your future leaders are saying? Presidential candidate Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs” whom you wouldn't want near your children. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz want a religious test for refugees, in violation of your own U.S. Constitution. Donald Trump said he would deport any Syrian refugees President Obama allows in even though half of the 2,000 already in the U.S. are children and another quarter are more than 60 years old. Trump also said he would consider warrantless searches of Muslims, issuing them identity cards, and forcing them to register in a database. Isn’t that what the Nazis did to Jews when they made them wear yellow stars to identify themselves as Jews?

Q: Well, yes but…
A: And did not Trump – the likely Republican nominee for president of your country – say yesterday, “Certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago”?

Q: Well, yes but…
A: Adolf Hitler rose to power saying the same things. Is this still your America? Or do you realize now that we have already won?

Q: Look, a lot of crazy things get said in the heat of a presidential race.
A: Then what about your governors and mayors? Yesterday, David A. Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, talking about the Syrian refugees cited the use of concentration camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Is that your America?

Q: Again, that’s just one man, even if he is a government official.
A: Are you blind? Yesterday, your House of Representatives voted to stop the Syrian refugee program that would have admitted 10,000 refugees. That pleases me. Perhaps I will see my Badia again when the unwanted refugees are forced to return to the war-torn land they once called home.

Q: Who is Badia?
A: A very pretty girl – nine years old. We captured her family on a raid. I beheaded her father in front of her and her mother. My friends took turns raping her mother before they killed her, but I kept Badia alive so I could rape her. Unfortunately, she fled with other refugees, but thanks to your wonderful country she may soon be forced to return.

Q: Don’t count on it. You’re referring to H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed by a 289-to-137 vote. But before it becomes a law that bill still has to pass the Senate, and even if it does, President Obama has vowed to veto it.
A: But you know it is an unrealistic law designed solely to end the refugee program. It mandates the heads of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence, personally certify that each of the 10,000 refugees being allowed into the U.S. does not pose a security threat. If it does pass, the Islamic State will look forward to watching your three top security leaders spend all of their time doing nothing else but examining each refugee while we plot more terrorist acts.

Q: Admittedly that is a rather stupid requirement that would be impossible to enforce because, as you say, the heads of our intelligence agencies have more important things to do, like putting an end to your organization. But the bill is very popular because people think it will keep them safe.
A: Safe from whom? The poor refugees who are running from us? Women and children like Badia, who have been abused and seen their loved ones murdered? This is whom you fear?

Q: It’s true that 2,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States since 2001 and not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges. But after the Paris attacks, Americans fear Syrian terrorists might…
A: The Paris attacks were carried out by French and Belgian recruits, not Syrians.

Q: … Pretend to be refugees to sneak into the United States.
A: (laughter). Why would we do that? The Islamic State is not stupid. Refugees must wait 18-to-24 months before being allowed to enter the United States, and then only after they have passed rigorous and thorough security background checks.

Q: But…
A: It is much easier for us to enter your country through the Visa Waiver Program. Every year, 20 million people do so with minimal screening. We can leave from a European country and be in the United States legally with no vetting within 24 hours. Once we are in America, we can buy all the guns and weapons we want, legally. We can even speak out publicly against America and not be arrested.

Q: Maybe the Syrian refugees are simply frightened children and their families, fleeing butchers like you. But surely you can understand why Americans would fear them?
A: Of course. It is simple fear-mongering and bigotry. What puzzles me is why you would fear them so much while accepting your nation’s homegrown terrorists shooting up schools, shopping centers, and movie theaters. You already have terrorists on American soil, but their faces are American, not Syrian.

Q: So in conclusion, you’re saying by using terror to make us fear you, you’ve forced us to change our values and our laws, destroying everything America has stood for since its founding?
A: Now you understand. We have already won. This interview is over. There is nothing more to say.

What Would You Do?

An Excerpt from The 25th Hour (Book One in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Mackenzie watched the school parking lot disappear in the rear window of the yellow school bus. “You know what this means, Marlene?”

Marlene shot him a quizzical look. “What?”

Mackenzie grinned. “An extra day to finish our English term paper. Field trips are awesome.” He opened his brown bag. “Ham and cheese. What’d you get?”

Marlene peered inside hers. “PB and J.”

“Trade you halves.” He handed her half of his sandwich and she gave him half of hers. Mackenzie eyed her bag. “Chocolate chip cookies? You know, those are really unhealthy for you.” He pulled an apple from his bag. “Since you’re my BFF, I should let you have my apple.”

Marlene grinned. “I suppose you’ll be happy to dispose of these unhealthy cookies for me?”

Mackenzie flashed a boyish smile. “It’s the least I could do.”

Marlene knew he hated fruit and had a sweet tooth. As much as she liked chocolate chip cookies, she liked Mackenzie Mortimer more. She passed him her cookies.

Available in paperback or Kindle exclusively on

Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Another Shameful Day in U.S. History

A few days ago, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, I wrote: “But don’t go off on a Xenophobic rant against allowing refugees into our country. Not everyone from the Middle East is a terrorist. For most of them, terrorist attacks like the ones in Paris we’ve seen this week are part of their daily lives. They are fleeing their homelands because they are fleeing terrorism. They are scared, literally frightened for their lives, to the point where they have left their homes and belongings and fled their country merely for the chance to survive. These people are not our enemies; they are running away from our enemies. We need to recognize the difference. It was the French people who gave us the Statue of Liberty, which has always served as a symbolic beacon guiding the oppressed to our shores. It would be a sad irony if the attacks on Paris caused America to turn its back on all the Statue of Liberty stands for.”

Apparently more than half of the U.S. governors do not subscribe to my blog. These troglodytes have publicly declared that they will not allow any Syrian refugees into their states. Never mind that governors do not have the legal authority to prevent refugees from entering their states. Never mind that the U.S. has committed to accepting only 10,000 of the estimated four million Syrian refugees. Never mind that seven of the eight Parisian attack terrorists were homegrown French residents – ISIS’s current strategy is to indoctrinate natives and turn them against their own country. Never mind that terrorists can cross the U.S. borders legally and illegally without resorting to subterfuge by pretending to be refugees. Never mind that the majority of refugees are women and children. Never mind that the terrorists win when we allow fear to cloud our judgment. Never mind common sense when a knee-jerk reaction and a podium can turn a meaningless sound bite into political fodder.

On May 13 1939, the S.S. St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany carrying nearly a thousand Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany. Most had applied for U.S. visas and planned to stay in Cuba until they could be admitted to the United States, the Cuban government allowed only 22 Jews on shore. The remaining refugees appealed to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to allow them to enter the United States. But American public opinion strongly favored immigration restrictions. It would have been bad politics, so President Roosevelt turned away a steamship filled with Jewish refugees. The more than 900 frightened men, women, and children were denied sanctuary from the Nazis and sent back to Germany to their own deaths. Three months earlier, Congress had refused to pass a bill that would have admitted 20,000 Jewish children hoping to escape Nazi Germany.

Of course, they weren’t the first Jewish refugees to be turned away. Two thousand years ago, a pair of Jewish refugees refused admittance to an inn ultimately sought sanctuary in a manger. Perhaps the 27 American governors and those American citizens supporting their compassionless policy would think differently if we had a holiday devoted to Middle Eastern people refused refuge by the heartless.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Trigger Warning: Hold on to Your Teddy Bear

Has America raised a generation of wimps? 

College campuses are awash with a series of innovations designed to mollycoddle university students who are old enough to vote but not old enough to step out into the big bad world of college without “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”. At the same time, the most privileged generation of minority students – who never in their lives experienced the terrible racism that was a daily part of their grandparents’ lives – angrily protest so-called “white privilege” on campuses across the country.

Apparently, attending college is no longer about broadening one’s mind or horizons, lest the poor, sensitive students stumble across a book or an idea that upsets or offends them. Teachers are now asked to warn students in their course syllabi of any required textbooks that might contain disturbing material, so that sensitive students may drop the class rather than be exposed to such content. I guess that means no more history courses, because history is full of disturbing material, like war and genocide. So is literature, so we can strike both subjects from the course catalog. 

The problem, of course, is that history and literature are based on life itself, which is also filled with its fair share of disturbing and offensive events. A sensitive student might prefer not to read Anne Frank’s disturbing firsthand account of life under Nazi occupation. Unfortunately for many students like Anne herself, they did not have the option to exempt themselves because life doesn’t come with a trigger warning. Some things are supposed to disturb you, upset you, and offend you. They carry messages, not trigger warnings, and usually the messages are important. Such content should not be eschewed but rather embraced. Learning only occurs when one has stepped outside one’s comfort zone.

The concept of creating “safe spaces” on campuses has resulted in the exclusion of students who are not members of the protected class that are deemed to need such protection, as well as in the abridgment of the right of freedom of speech by anyone whose words might offend such protected class members. This can extend to colleges having to retract invitations to guest lecturers or even comedians because the content of their speech might be offensive to selected groups of individuals. Instead of becoming a marketplace for the exchange of ideas, college campuses have become bastions of censorship and groupthink. The New York Times reports one student retreated to a campus safe space from a lecture because “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.” This runs counter to the entire purpose of college as an institution which students attend precisely to encounter new ideas and challenge preconceived notions. The historical equivalent would be to repeal the Enlightenment and usher in a return to the Dark Ages.

The real world doesn’t have safe spaces. College is a transition for young adults leaving their parents’ home yet not quite ready to begin their own homes and careers. It is the ideal time to prepare for the big, bad, and extremely unsafe world out there, not to go scurrying off into a safe space hugging your teddy bear. Someone said something you didn’t like? Deal with it. It’s going to happen a lot over the next 60 or so years. Grow a pair. Confront reality, don’t avoid it by creating your own unreality.