Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Grim Reaper Brings Down His Scythe on 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, I think it fitting we reflect on the enormous loss of talented individuals the Grim Reaper has seen fit to take from us. The year began with the death of Arkansas Gov. (1971–75) and Sen. (1975–99) Dale Bumpers, 90, on January 1. Six days later, character actors Douglas Greer, 94 (Our Gang) and Pat Harrington, Jr., 86 (the building superintendent “Schneider” on One Day at a Time) died. But the first major death of the year came on January 10 with loss of iconic androgynous glitter rock pop star David Bowie, 69, the English singer-songwriter, musician, and actor (The Man Who Fell to Earth). His death was followed by those of British actor Alan Rickman, 69 (“Severus Snape” in the Harry Potter films and “Hans Gruber” in Die Hard) on January 14; American songwriter, musician (The Eagles) and actor (Jerry Maguire) Glenn Frey, 67, on January 18; American actor Abe Vigoda, 94 (The Godfather, Lt. Fish on Barney Miller) on January 26; and on January 28, American musician (Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship)  Paul Kantner, 74, and American actor Mike Minor, 75 (“Steve Eliot” on Petticoat Junction).

Only two days into February, American comedian (Bob and Ray) and actor (Get a Life) Bob Elliott, 92, died. The next day, Maurice White, 74, musician-songwriter and founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire died. On February 13, the political world was rocked by the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79. Three days later, the world mourned the death of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 93, an Egyptian politician and diplomat turned Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992–96). On February 19, fans of the television series Dark Shadows mourned the death of actor Humbert Allen Astredo, 86 (“Nicholas Blair”) as the literary world lost To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, 89. The final day of February saw the death of Oscar-winning American actor George Kennedy, 91.

But 2016 was only getting started. March was a particularly fatal month, beginning on March 6 with the death of American First Lady and former actress Nancy Reagan, 94. Emerson, Lake & Palmer keyboardist Keith Emerson, 71, died on March 10, and the music industry lost another talented singer and actor, Frank Sinatra, Jr., 72, on March 16. That same day, Saudi royal Prince Bandar bin Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90, died. Rob Ford, 46, the controversial mayor of Toronto, Canada (2010–2014) died on March 22. Joe Garagiola Sr., 90, American baseball player (St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and New York Giants), Hall of Fame sportscaster, and World Series champion (1946) died on March 23, as did American actor Ken Howard, 71 (The White Shadow). The next day, American television writer and producer (Falcon Crest, The Waltons, and The Twilight Zone) Earl Hamner, Jr., 92 and American comedian, actor, and writer Garry Shandling, 66, died. The month ended with the death of Patty Duke, 69, an American actress (The Miracle Worker, The Patty Duke Show, and Valley of the Dolls), Oscar winner (1962), and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) president (1985–88), on March 29.

If March came in like a deadly lion, then April was more of a lamb with far fewer notable deaths. American singer-songwriter Merle Haggard, 79, died on April 6 but the death that shocked music fans the world over was that of rock star Prince, 57, an American musician, songwriter, and composer (“Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette”), Oscar-winning actor (1984) and four-time Grammy winner (1984, 1986, 2004, 2007). The music industry was still reeling from Prince’s death when singer Billy Paul, 81 (who won a Grammy for “Me and Mrs. Jones”) died on April 24.

Only months after her death, Patty Duke’s co-star, renowned character actor William Schallert, 93 (The Patty Duke Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and In the Heat of the Night) and SAG President (1979–81) died on May 7. Canadian comic book artist (“Catwoman”, “DC: The New Frontier”) Darwyn Cooke, 53, died on May 14. Five days later, Canadian-born American journalist Morley Safer, 84 (60 Minutes) and actor Alan Young, 96 (“Wilbur” on Mister Ed) died. Cartoonists Mell Lazarus, 89 (“Miss Peach”, “Momma”) died on May 24. And as I’ve written about earlier in this blog, on May 28, Harambe, a 17-year-old American-bred Western lowland gorilla was shot to death at the Cincinnati Zoo.

June 3 brought the death of boxing icon Muhammad Ali, 74, an Olympic gold medalist (1960) and three-time WBC world heavyweight champion (1964, 1974, 1978). American songwriter (“(Hey, Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”) and Grammy winner (1976) Chips Moman, 79, died on June 13. Soviet-born American actor (Star Trek 2009) Anton Yelchin, 27, died on June 19. American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler, 87 (Future Shock, and The Third Wave) died on June 27.

On July 2, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, 87, a Romanian-born American writer (Night), political activist, and Nobel Laureate (1986) died. The next day, American actress Noel Neill, 95, (“Lois Lane” on The Adventures of Superman) died. Two days later, Belgian cartoonist Nine Culliford, 86 (“The Smurfs”) died. On July 19, the entertainment industry lost both Garry Marshall, 81, an American director, producer, writer, and actor (Happy Days, Pretty Woman, and Murphy Brown) and Jack Davis, 91, American cartoonist and illustrator (“Tales from the Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror”) who co-founded Mad magazine. The month closed with the death of American actor Jerry Doyle, 60 (Babylon 5) on July 27.

August saw the deaths of four distinctive actors: Kenny Baker, 81, (“R2-D2” in Star Wars; Time Bandits; and Flash Gordon) on August 13; Fyvush Finkel, 93 (Picket Fences, Boston Public, and A Serious Man), and Emmy winner (1994) on August 14; Jack Riley, 80 (The Bob Newhart Show, Rugrats, and Spaceballs) on August 19; and Gene Wilder, 83 (The Producers, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and Young Frankenstein) – who was also a screenwriter and author – on August 29.

On September 5, actor Hugh O'Brian, 91, and American conservative activist and author Phyllis Schlafly, 92, died. Edward Albee, 88, an American playwright (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Tony award (1963, 2002) and Pulitzer Prize award (1967, 1975, 1994) winner died on September 16. American Hall of Fame professional golfer Arnold Palmer, 87, died on September 25. On September 28, American television soap operas lost one of its most prolific writers and producers, Agnes Nixon, 93 (One Life to Live, All My Children, and The Guiding Light), while Israel lost Polish-born Nobel Laureate (1994) Shimon Peres, 93, who had served as the nation’s president (2007–14) and prime minister (1977, 1984–86, 1995–96).

October began with the death of American comic book writer (“Baker Street”) Gary Reed, 60 on the second day of the month. Later, on October 20, Michael Massee, 64, the actor who fired the gun on the set of The Crow that accidentally killed Brandon Lee in 1993, died. British comic book artist (“Preacher” and “Judge Dredd”) Steve Dillon, 54, died on October 22.  His death was followed a day later by that of Tom Hayden, 76, an American writer, politician, peace activist (the Chicago Seven) once married to actress Jane Fonda, and California State Senator. The next day, American pop singer (“Take Good Care of My Baby” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes”) Bobby Vee, 73, died. The month closed with the death of actor Don Marshall, 80 (“Dan Erickson” on Land of the Giants) on October 30.

The death toll mounted in November. U.S. Attorney General (1993–2001) Janet Reno, 78 died on November 9. On November 13, actor Robert Vaughn, 83 (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and Leon Russell, 74, an American pianist, guitarist, songwriter, and bandleader both died. The next day, American Peabody Award-winning journalist, television newscaster, and author Gwen Ifill, 61, died. A co-host of PBS NewsHour and moderator of Washington Week, Ifill co-moderated a Democratic primary presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016. Wisconsin Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Defense (1969–73) Melvin Laird, 94, who oversaw the drawdown of American forces in Vietnam, died on November 16. On November 23, German-born British actor Andrew Sachs, 86, (“Manuel, the waiter from Barcelona” on the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers) died on November 23, as did Jerry Tucker, 91, an American child actor (Our Gang). Actress and singer Florence Henderson, 82, (“Carol” on The Brady Bunch) died the next day. On November 25, Cuban Prime Minister (1959–76) and President (1976–2008) Fidel Castro, 90, died. On that same day, British photographer David Hamilton, 83, and American actor Ron Glass, 71, (Barney Miller and Firefly) died. American actor Van Williams, 82 (The Green Hornet) died on November 28, as did American television executive Grant Tinker, 90, who was Chairman and CEO of NBC (1981–86) and married to Mary Tyler Moore (1962-81). November ended with the death of American actress Alice Drummond, 88, on the last day of the month.

December could not come soon enough. The Grim Reaper’s deadly scythe had cut down politicians, jurists, world leaders, journalists, artists, writers, actors, musicians, sportsmen, royalty, and even a gorilla. But there were more to fall before its deadly blade. On December 7, Greg Lake, 69, of the band Emerson, Lake & Palmer died. The next day, U.S. astronaut and (Ohio, 1974–99) Sen. John Glenn, 95 – the first American to orbit the Earth – died. On December 13, Alan Thicke, 69, a songwriter, game and talk show host, and Canadian actor (“Jason Seaver” on Growing Pains) died. Two days later, the mustachioed actor Bernard Fox, 89 (“Dr. Bombay” on Bewitched and “Col. Crittendon” on Hogan's Heroes) died. On December 17, pollster Louis Harris, 95, and Dr. Henry Heimlich, 96, inventor of the Heimlich maneuver, died. December 18 brought the death of Hungarian-born American actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99. The next day, Andrei Karlov, 62, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated on television. With Christmas Eve came the death of Richard Adams, 96, author of the children’s classic Watership Down. On Christmas day, George Michael, 53, a British singer and former member of the duo Wham! died. Surely the Grim Reaper had had his fill? Yet less than two weeks from the premiere of Rogue One, the latest Star Wars film, Carrie Fisher, 60 (“ Princess Leia” in Star Wars) – an actress, author, advocate, and daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds – suffered a stroke on an airplane and died days later on December 27. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, 84, – an actress, singer, businesswoman, film historian, and humanitarian – died the following day. On the last day of 2016, actor William Christopher, 84 ("Father Mulcahy" in M*A*S*H) died.

These were only some of the more notable deaths in 2016. There were hundreds more, including that of Canadian singer, songwriter, musician, poet, novelist, and painter Leonard Cohen, 82, who died on November 7. Far too many to list here. I call these notable deaths because these individuals through their life’s work touched millions around the world, including myself. Even though few of us ever met them, we were moved by their talent, their efforts, and the contributions they left behind and therefore impacted by their deaths. I was personally acquainted with several individuals on this list so in those cases I feel the impact even more profoundly. But these were not the only deaths in 2016. Millions of individuals died this year, most unknown to all but a small number of people, but to those they left behind their deaths were certainly notable.

As lengthy as this post is, it is composed of only brief mentions of those decedents who left behind a lifetime of accomplishments we should acknowledge with their passing, before moving on to 2017. No matter how long you may live, life is always too short. Make the most of it and consider your legacy – what you will leave behind for others to remember you by.


R.I.P.  Zsa Zsa Gabor, Noel Neill, Gary Reed




Saturday, December 10, 2016

Bad Little Bloggers

Book Riot “editor” Kelly Jensen attacked pseudonymous author Arthur C. Gackley and his publisher Abrams Books, writing: “Abrams, along with Gackley, and the editorial team behind this – who are all listed right in the copyright page of the book – should be ashamed to publish and promote this kind of racist dreck. We don’t live in a world where humour like this is acceptable.”


I don’t know what Book Riot is (apparently it’s a blog), nor do I know who Kelly Jensen is but based on her statement she has no business writing about books, let alone advocating censorship of them. Fortunately, she is misinformed in her politically correct view and we do indeed live in a world where humor of any kind is acceptable. Humor, especially satire, is often employed to focus attention on matters of social or political concern. It’s not supposed to be politically correct, and if it is, it’s probably not doing a good job of contributing to the social debate.

I echo the National Coalition Against Censorship’s statement: “We support Abrams’ decision to publish this, or any other book, even if it offends some readers. We urge the company not to accede to pressure to withdraw the book, but to stand for the proposition that it is the right of authors to write as they choose and of individuals to decide for themselves what to read.” Political correctness and censorship are anathema to all writers and readers. A writer whose work contains nothing offensive to some potential reader is not worth reading; and a reader who is “triggered” by leaving her comfort zone should retreat back to her “safe space” like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand ignoring the world.

I have not read Gackley’s book, Bad Little Children’s Books. I don’t know if it’s funny or utter crap. The marketplace will decide whether the book is actually humorous or so offensive that no one will wish to purchase it. That decision must be made by the readers in a free society, not by self-appointed guardians like Kelly Jensen, who must change her title from “editor” to the more accurate “aspiring censor.”

While the publisher appeared willing to fight this tyrannical attempt at censorship, according to the NCAC: “The author, however, decided it wasn’t worth it after receiving thousands of angry messages, and has asked the publisher not to reprint the book, which is nearly sold out.”  NCAS said the book garnered positive reviews when published in September, “however, in early December a blogger attacked the book as racist in a post that sharply criticized the author and Abrams. This provoked widespread criticism of the book and its publisher on Twitter and other online platforms, with critics calling for the book's removal and a boycott of the publisher.”

Free expression means standing up for all speech including that whose content we might not agree with or approve of. Artists and writers require an environment free of censorship. In a world in which Mein Kampf is found on library shelves and Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs are displayed in museums there is surely room for Bad Little Children’s Books.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Adios, Fidel

There is one less dictator in the world. The man who betrayed his own revolution and his people is finally dead. Yet another Castro still rules Cuba. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Russia is at it again, paying a lot of unemployed trolls from India to post “fake news” tributes to the late Fidel Castro, 90, who died on November 25. Make no mistake, Castro was a vile, brutal dictator whose place in Hell has been reserved for him for 50 years. There is a reason why so many Cuban refugees fled their homeland to escape Castro’s oppression and barbarism. He overthrew Fulgencio Batista, the previous Cuban dictator, in 1959 only to become one himself and a pawn of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He stayed alive long enough to cede power to his brother and become an irrelevant old man. Thus his death, while symbolic and full of sound and fury, signifies nothing.

Many millennial American neoliberals and progressives have taken to social media to praise Castro, a dictator and ruthless murderer, unaware of the oppressiveness and brutality of his 49-year rule in Cuba. The fault lies with the American education system, which has shifted its focus to math and science and away from history and current events, leaving Millennials to form opinions based only on biased social media posts.

The truth is Castro ruthlessly persecuted dissidents, jailed homosexuals, and deported or murdered his opponents. The Castro government used surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and “acts of repudiation” (in which Cubans considered to be counter-revolutionary are verbally abused, intimidated, or physically assaulted) to create a “pervasive climate of fear,” according to Amnesty International. Castro suppressed free speech and used Draconian rule to repress dissent and dissidents.

How bad was life under Castro? More than 1.1 million Cubans fled the island nation, whose population has now grown to 11 million, risking and sometimes losing their lives clinging to makeshift rafts, hoping to reach the United States and freedom once they learned Castro’s overthrow of Batista was merely trading one brutal dictator for another. It wasn’t until 1980 that the Cuban people again had the opportunity to flee en masse during the Mariel Boatlift in which 125,000 desperate Cubans boarded anything that would float to reach the coast of Florida 90 miles away. Unfortunately, up to 15,000 of these refugees had been released by Castro from Cuba’s prisons and insane asylums, unleashing a wave of criminals and madmen on South Florida. The United States finally had to stop admitting Cuban immigrants, ending the boatlift.

In an effort to export his brand of Marxism, Castro intervened politically and militarily in the affairs of many African nations, most notably sending thousands of Cuban troops armed with Soviet weapons to fight in the oil-rich southern African nation of Angola in the 1970s.

Castro claimed his totalitarian government was a success, touting Cuba’s free medical care and high literacy rate. But Cuba’s doctors received meager wages and were forced to go wherever Castro sent them, including to overseas hotspots, while increased literacy rates do little good when the government controls what one may or may not read. Despite Castro’s claims, his Marxist state was an economic failure; had it not been propped up by the Soviet Union’s continual financing of up to $5 billion a year it would have collapsed decades ago. Cuba survived after the fall of the Soviet Union by opening its country to foreign investment and tourism, along with the flood of international dollars it brings; and by its decision in 1993 to accept the U.S. dollar which meant Cuban exiles in America were now free to send money to their relatives in Cuba. Cuba now receives $3 billion annually from such transfers.

Castro’s greatest threat to the United States came during the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16–28, 1962). In response to the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Castro's request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. After Air Force U-2 spy planes revealed missile sites had been constructed, U.S. President John F. Kennedy responded with a blockade of Cuba, and warning: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba or against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The world was never closer to nuclear war. After a tense 13 days, the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle the missile facilities in Cuba in exchange for an American promise never to invade Cuba and to dismantle its missiles in Italy and Turkey.

From freedom fighter to dictator, Castro was a master of public relations. He was zealous, idealistic, educated, and courageous – traits he could exploit to burnish his public image. Yet even as the young revolutionary took power in Cuba, he began his regime by executing 500 men, confiscating privately-owned land, and nationalizing foreign industrial holdings within Cuba. Despite Castro’s much touted “improvements” many forget Cuba had been one of the most economically advanced nations in the Caribbean prior to Castro coming to power.

Any opposition to Castro's rule, like the Escambray Revolt (1959-1965) was crushed by Castro’s army. Castro’s supporters who later criticized him, like Huber Matos, who had fought alongside him in the Sierra Maestra, were jailed, deported, or killed. Matos was arrested and charged with treason; he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. “I differed from Fidel Castro because the original objective of our revolution was ‘Freedom or Death;’ once Castro had power, he began to kill freedom,” Matos said. The non-profit think tank Cuba Archive counts more than 3,100 political executions by firing squad.


While it is true Castro improved education and healthcare for Cubans, he also deprived them of free speech and economic opportunity, and set up local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution that urged citizens to inform on neighbors. Castro rounded up thousands of dissidents and homosexuals, sentencing them to prison or forced labor. Yet many left-leaning politicians who should know better, like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, have praised Castro in death.  “Sure, you did not lose a loved one to an execution squad; you did not lose a loved one to the gulags in Cuba,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in response to Trudeau’s comments. The first Cuban-American elected to Congress, Ros-Lehtinen fled Cuba with her family when she was eight years old. "The only thing that Fidel has been successful in, has not been health nor education, or human rights or democracy, it's been holding onto power -- which is easy to do when you don't have elections," she added. “With the death of Fidel Castro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. Opportunist and Green Party U.S. presidential candidate Jill Stein shamefully said “Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!” Unfortunately her young, impressionable Millennial followers may buy into the revisionism of a ruthless dictator who should be reviled. 



Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Pipeline of Tears

Last year, I witnessed something amazing. A group of Syrian refugee children was being bussed to an American town. Their bus was surrounded by angry, hateful protesters who did not want refugees in their community. Television cameras captured the terror in the children’s faces as they peered out the bus windows at the angry mob screaming at them in a language they couldn’t understand and for reasons neither they nor I could comprehend. And then, an even angrier man approached the crowd.

The lone man was armed only with righteous indignation. He was an American Indian and he yelled back at the crowd countering their anti-immigrant rants with one of his own. He shouted to the angry men and women how enraged he was that people from another country had come into his people’s land, killed the buffalo they depended on for food, murdered his people and forced the survivors from their homes onto reservations. The Indian was angry that gas stations and shopping malls now covered the sacred land where his ancestors were buried. He walked up and down the line of protesters, reflecting their own words and anger back at them. And that’s when the amazing thing happened.

Surprisingly, the angry mob when confronted by an infuriated opponent, did not turn violent. Instead, they grew silent, unable to find the words to reply. They lowered their heads as the Indian passed them, unable to look him in the eye. What had once been an angry mob dissipated. One by one, the humbled protesters broke off from the pack and slinked away. Without firing a shot or making a threat, this one man dispersed an angry mob by shaming them.

The U.S. government made more than 500 treaties with the Indian tribes that lived on American soil long before the first white man set foot on it. The federal government then proceeded to break every single treaty it had signed. The U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which was signed into law by populist President Andrew Jackson, who had gained fame as an Indian killer during the Creek War (1814). Jackson called Indians “savages” and those of mixed heritage “half-breeds.” Much of his prejudice against Indians stemmed from boyhood tales of Indian violence toward settlers in the 1770s. Under Jackson and his successor President Martin Van Buren, between 45,000 and 100,000 American Indians were forcibly relocated along the “Trail of Tears” from the Southeastern United States to an area west of the Mississippi River. Fifteen thousand died from cold and hunger along the way. The U.S. government received 100 million acres of Indian land for about $68 million.

American Indians are used to mistreatment by the government. It never seems to end. The great irony is today, as Americans gather with their families to celebrate Thanksgiving -- the holiday commemorating the Indians welcoming the white settlers to their land -- the government is once again attacking American Indians. This time, a militarized police force is firing projectiles and rubber bullets at Indians and their supporters at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota protesting the planned Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline would cut through sacred burial grounds and also threaten to contaminate the Indians’ drinking water. Reminiscent of police unleashing water hoses on blacks and civil rights protesters in 1960s Alabama, police in North Dakota are firing water cannons on Indian and non-Indian protesters, dousing them in subfreezing winter temperatures. More than a dozen have been hospitalized, many with hypothermia. Twenty-one-year-old protester Sophia Wilansky was struck and wounded by a concussion grenade and may lose her arm as a result.

More protesters are needed – both on the scene and online through social media -- not to respond to violence with violence but to use the most effective weapon there is; the weapon shown to us by that lone American Indian last year: Shame. It is a powerful force and its effect cannot be overstated.

Dee Brown, in 1970, wrote Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, an historical account of the forced displacement of, and war waged against, American Indians by the government. The bestseller was named for the 1890 massacre of the Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. Perhaps someone will write a sequel, Bury My Conscience at Standing Rock. In the meantime, we can turn on our televisions and watch Indians fired upon with rubber bullets and sprayed with water in freezing temperatures as they protest their burial grounds being dug up and their drinking water threatened with contamination, while the rest of us eat our turkey to celebrate the day we first took the land from the Indians. Pass the gravy, please.

The Real Turkeys

“I see turkeys… they’re everywhere!” Sorry, I must be channeling the holiday spirit of Haley Joel Osment. But I really do see turkeys everywhere, and I’m not talking about the kind stuffed on your dining room table. No, I’m referring to the taller ones flocking to stores and malls on this Black Friday, which in typical Wal-Mart fashion has been rolled back to 6 AM Thursday.

Otherwise (presumably) rational people line up six or eight hours before the stores open to take advantage of discounted merchandise, or expecting to be one of the six customers in the line to obtain a store’s Door-Buster Special (amazingly, even though the store has only six in stock, the 100th person in line still believes he or she has a chance to snag the item advertised at a ridiculously low price). These same people, who on Election Day refuse to wait 90 minutes on a voting line to decide the fate of our democracy, will gladly arrive hours before dawn and stand in the freezing cold of winter, rain, or snow for a 25% discount (remember, the Door-Busters are gone in the first three minutes) off the regularly inflated price of an item they don’t need.

If they had needed it, they would’ve bought it long before Thanksgiving. No, Black Friday sales, which focus heavily on electronic toys (from TVs to iPads), are hyping impulse items mass-market retailers want consumers to think they need. It’s all about getting consumers to think they need a product they really don’t, and then each year convincing them to upgrade to a newer or larger version. Bought the 52-inch TV last year? That was so 2013; you need a 60-inch this year. Already have an iPhone 5? The new iPhone 6 comes in gold.

The truth is, you really don’t need any of the things the marketers and retailers are hawking this weekend. What you need, is to understand the difference between a “need” and a “want”. A need is something critical that you cannot live without (food, water, a roof over your head). A want is something you desire (a PlayStation, a cruise, a yacht) but can live without.

If you need something, there are two ways to buy it: with money you have, or with credit (borrowing the money with the intent to pay it back later). If you want something, but do not need it, then you should only buy it with the money you have, and not go into debt to purchase something you don’t really need. If you don’t have enough money to buy it (which is another way of saying you can’t afford it), then you should not buy it. What you should do is put away a small amount each month towards savings and use those earmarked funds to purchase your “wants” without having to go into debt to a credit card company at 29% interest.

It’s a trap, because once those credit card statements arrive in your mail in January, you’ll be paying interest at usurious rates on your Black Friday impulse purchases through the next Turkey Day. There’s even a holiday for consumers who fall for this trap. It’s celebrated every April 1. Can you guess its name?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reality Quake

Day Three of the alternate reality. I think back to third grade when we learned the earth’s crust was made up of a dozen enormous tectonic plates that are always moving, usually slowly and imperceptibly, but sometimes with such force they create earthquakes that cannot be ignored. I was much older when I learned about parallel universes but the concept was the same. Infinite universes existing in the same physical space but vibrating at a different dimensional frequency-- a frequency constantly changing, usually slowly and imperceptibly, but sometimes with such force that a reality quake occurs and if you’re standing in the wrong place at the wrong moment you might slip through into one of these parallel universes.

As with earthquakes when the tectonic plates shift, there’s no advance warning of a reality quake. Maybe you hear the rumbling when it occurs. It only lasts a few seconds and then life goes on the same as before… Yet different. There was still one moon in the sky last night. The sun rose in the east this morning and will set in the west as it usually does, in most of the parallel universes. I glance at the kitchen counter and see the unbroken coffee cup, which I had dropped last week and watched shatter on the floor. I always liked that cup; I suppose there are some benefits to shifting realities.

I flip on the TV and watch President-elect Donald Trump touring the White House. In the alternate universe I was living in before the last reality quake, it would’ve been Hillary Clinton in his place. I run my hand through the air searching for some invisible seam between the universes. I try jumping up and down, which is completely illogical because that wouldn’t even cause an earthquake let alone a reality quake, but since no one knows how to cause a reality quake anyway, I figure it can’t hurt. But it doesn’t help, either. I open my eyes and I’m still in the same new reality and the TV screen now shows Trump walking through the Oval Office.

I close my eyes, envisioning the previous reality in which Clinton was elected. I realize I have about as much chance of returning to that reality as I do shifting into the alternate universe in which President-elect Bernie Sanders is unveiling his new universal healthcare program. No, I have to accept that the universes have shifted and I’ve fallen through a crack into what is now my new reality. Of course, new realities are created all the time. Whenever a single momentous decision is made, the path we are on forks into two potential universes. In a few months, when that crazy short dictator in North Korea insults President Trump, this universe I’m presently in will split into one in which Trump ignores the insult and another in which he nukes North Korea and they retaliate launching nuclear missiles onto the California coast. I wonder which of those parallel universes I’ll be in.

Months pass and Donald J. Trump is inaugurated as the forty-fifth president of the United States. People cheer as they round up the Muslims. Surprisingly, it takes less time than I had imagined it would. Totalitarianism is incredibly efficient compared to democracy. Rounding up the gays and lesbians is even quicker. I expect it will take longer to round up all the Latinos. Maybe that’s why some of them are cheering as the blacks are rounded up; if you cheer with the crowd, maybe you can blend in and become part of the crowd. Blending in is good these days; no one wants to stand out and be noticed. It’s hard not to be noticed when your skin is darker or your accent is thick. But eventually, they’ll come for everyone who differs from them, whether they blend in or not. The Jews know this; they’ve been here before.

It’s been three years now since the last reality quake. I’m shaken from my reverie by a knock on the door. The knock. I know what that means. Looking through the peephole, I see the men in their starched Brownshirts. The irony occurs to me the shirts were probably manufactured in China. Before opening the door, I take a final look at my home. My hands fumble through the air one more time, vainly searching for the invisible seam between parallel universes, that I might rip through it and return to my reality.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Halloween Treat - The Pandora Chronicles


A special Halloween treat! Read the lead-in to the Fangs & Fur fantasy series free!

Then buy your copies of Flashbacks (Book 1) and Nightstalkers (Book 2)!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Another Brick in the Wall

There’s a framed poster that hangs over my staircase. I bought it thirty-five years ago in a museum gift shop outside Checkpoint Charlie, one of several crossing points between West and East Berlin. Berlin was a divided city after Germany’s defeat in World War II with the Western powers controlling West Berlin and the Soviet Union controlling East Berlin. In August of 1961, the East Germans erected a barbed wire barricade which was to become the Berlin Wall. The wall was actually a series of barbed wire barriers and concrete walls with trenches and guard towers in-between, forming what has been called a “death strip”.

In 1981, twenty years after the construction of the Berlin Wall, I stood before it, standing in the American section at Checkpoint Charlie. I walked right up to the barbed wire and photographed the wall but when I got too close a Communist soldier in a guard tower pivoted and pointed his rifle at me. He was in his 20s, possibly younger than me at the time. I didn’t think he would shoot an American and precipitate an international incident. Then again, young men often don’t think with a broader, mature perspective. He might well have shot me. I took one last picture and backed away. Yet it is an eerie feeling to have been singled out and targeted by a rifleman.

The wall was built to keep East Germans inside East Germany. Despite emigration restrictions, 3.5 million East Germans had defected, crossing into West Germany before the wall was constructed. The initial barriers literally went up overnight. Families in different parts of the city were separated once Berlin became a divided city. Children were separated from their parents. The poster I purchased in the gift shop after my encounter with the Communist guard was of a photograph taken the day after the wall went up. A child, perhaps five years old, stands behind the barbed wire trying to reunite with his family on the other side. A teenaged East German soldier violates his orders not to let anyone cross the border, parting the barbed wire with his bare hands so the boy can crawl through. But he’s not looking at the boy or the sharp barbs cutting into his hands. He’s looking away to his right to see if anyone spots what he’s doing. The photograph doesn’t need any words because the expression on his face tells everything you need to know. His face is contorted in a paroxysm of fear. The stark terror in his eyes is palpable. He knew what he was doing. He knew the risk he was taking.

A museum guide told me the boy made it across to rejoin his family, and that the young soldier was caught and executed. This was what Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was all about. This was why America was the philosophical enemy of the Soviet Union. Freedom was one of America’s most important foundational values. Separating families, preventing citizens from leaving, barbed wire, armed guards, building a border wall, and executing a teenager for letting a little boy rejoin his family – these were antithetical to American values. I bought the poster, framed it, and hung it on my wall above my staircase where I see it several times every day going up and down the stairs. It is a constant reminder that freedom isn’t free, and that many brave individuals risked -- and like that unknown East German soldier -- sacrificed their lives for the freedom of others. It is a reminder not to take for granted the freedom we have enjoyed in this country, which is not universally shared.

Six years after I visited the Berlin Wall a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, called on the leader of the Soviet Union to “tear down this wall”. Two years after that, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.

I pass that poster every time I go downstairs to watch TV. I turn on the news and listen to the current Republican presidential nominee talk about building a wall around our border. It will undoubtedly separate families. Will the wall have barbed wire? Will there be guard towers? I wonder who will guard the wall. Will these guards shoot young children trying to cross the wall to be reunited with their families? Or will they in turn be shot if they aid the children like the brave young East German soldier in the poster? What has happened to our American values that the Republican Party’s battle cry would go from “tear down that wall” to “we’re going to build a wall”? Guard towers and barbed wire are the tools of dictators, Nazis, Communists, and totalitarians. They are not the symbols of freedom and certainly not the symbols of America. In two weeks, Americans will, both individually and collectively, be presented with the opportunity to define or redefine American values. On November 8, the world will be watching.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Free Halloween Books: Urban Fantasy and Paranormal via Instafreebie


This Halloween, get your Urban Fantasy and Paranormal reading FREE thanks to Instafreebie. We have stories with vampires, ghosts, werewolves, necromancers, zombies, and more! Just click on the image above to claim the free books of your choice. Free Halloween books, special just for you!*

* In cooperation with InstaFreebie and Justin Sloan

Friday, October 7, 2016

Imaginarium Convention - October 7-9

I'll be a guest at the Imaginarium Convention, a 3-day event in Louisville, KY centered around creative writing, from October 7-9. The convention will feature extensive programming with panels and workshops covering the craft of writing.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Let Them Eat Cake

Lawrence O’Donnell said something absolutely remarkable on Morning Joe just a few moments ago… and he didn’t even realize he had said it.

To put it in context, he was talking about the line on Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return that showed the billionaire reported income of $3.4 million. “That’s not so much,” O’Donnell said. “That’s less than a local New York TV anchor makes.”

Stop and think about this for a minute. Never mind O’Donnell’s intent, that a billionaire should be making billions, not millions. Never mind the obvious difference between gross income and net income after deductions. Focus on what’s really important in what O’Donnell let slip: a local television anchorman earns at least $3.4 million a year.

Okay, maybe a TV anchorman in Des Moines, Iowa makes less. But we’re talking about a talking head who shows up on your screen for an hour five nights a week bringing home more than three million dollars a year. I realize that’s not a lot of money to someone like Lawrence O’Donnell who makes $4 million a year in a business where his peers —  TV anchors on the national scene — make even higher annual salaries: Fox’s Shepard Smith ($10 million); ABC’s Anderson Cooper ($11 million); Fox’s Bill O’Reilly ($18 million); and NBC’s Matt Lauer ($25 million). That’s not money earned after a lifetime of hard work; that’s annual income. You can do the math and figure out their net worths.

I’m not picking on TV journalists. Actor Jim Parsons’ 2016 salary was $25.5 million. Basketball player LeBron James’ 2016 salary was $31 million. Movie actor Bruce Willis charges $1 million a day to appear in a film and “walked away” from an offer of “$3 million to spend four days on the set of the third Expendables movie” when he didn’t get his demanded $4 million, according to Vanity Fair.

These numbers are staggering. Do you have any idea what a million of anything really is? How long would it take you to count a million grains of sand? Now, think about what these people actually do to earn these enormous sums. Lawrence O’Donnell appears on television, usually from the chest up, seated, and… talks into the television camera… For an hour. He is watched on TV by working-class Americans, like the ditch digger who has spent all day sweating in the hot sun digging ditches for an annual salary of $19,900. His hands are calloused from his shoveling and his muscles ache and he comes home to flip on his TV and watch Lawrence O’Donnell sit in his air-conditioned studio and chat for sixty minutes and draw his $4 million salary.

Think about the emergency room physician, working all hours of the night, facing life or death situations on a moment’s notice who earns $249,000 a year. Or the high school teacher who is tasked with educating America’s children who will lead our country into the future: perhaps the most important job of all. For this, high school teachers earn $47,000 per year.

Now think about America’s elderly citizens, retirees, and disabled. Sixty-five million Americans – and that number is growing as Baby Boomers age – receive Social Security income. Many of them can no longer work and must live on a fixed income. The average monthly Social Security check is $1,347 (some are as low as $700). The average annual income for an elderly or disabled person living on Social Security is $16,000. To put that in perspective, the federal poverty level is $11,770. Many people can only stretch their fixed income so far and often have to choose between expensive medicine and food.

These are not lazy people. These are men and women who worked their whole lives until they grew too old or became too disabled to work any further. They worked hard doing the jobs large and small that benefited society. They dug ditches to lay telephone cables and sewage pipes; they taught unruly children to read and write; and they worked feverishly to save lives in hospital emergency rooms. They are the “99 Percent”.

You won’t find the talking heads among them. Any one of us would be set for life with what they make in a single year. Our retirements and our old age would be assured, as theirs already are. They are the “One Percent”. When Lawrence O’Donnell says $3.4 million is “not so much; that’s less than a local New York TV anchor makes” he is giving us a glimpse into the world and the mindset of the “One Percent”. It is a world ordinary Americans cannot fathom, any more than its denizens can understand ours. Lawrence O’Donnell will never have to choose between purchasing a prescription refill or dinner. He will never have to worry about not having enough money to pay this month’s electric bill. Most Americans struggle to make car payments; some own their cars outright. Jay Leno owns 130 automobiles, including a $1.2-million McLaren. It’s a totally different world.

As mind-staggeringly rich as the One Percent is, the Uber-Rich are even wealthier. The top ‘one-tenth of one percent’ owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. This is what Bernie Sanders was talking about when he said “The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral and political issue of our time.” People are waking up to this. People who grew up in white picket fenced suburban homes with working fathers and housewife mothers, who now live in a time where they cannot afford to buy such a home themselves, where both husbands and wives require two incomes merely to survive and must often work far longer than their father’s 40-hour work week or supplement their income with second or third jobs. They see the disparity between their lives and the lives of the TV news anchors who “only make $3.4 million a year” and they are filled, not with envy, but with resentment. Of such stuff are revolutions born.

These frustrated people – the 99 Percent – are on the verge of revolting. Bernie Sanders supporters were drawn to his message of a political revolution. Donald Trump has tapped into this frustration drawing support from people hungry for change who view Hillary Clinton as a continuation of the status quo – a status quo that benefits the One Percent and not them. It is ironic that the poster child for the One Percent – a man who owns his own Boeing 757 plane and a Fifth Avenue penthouse with solid gold furnishings – has been adopted as the savior by so many of the working class, who believe he will advance their interests ahead of his own or those of his fellow One Percenters. Regardless of who wins the presidency in 2016, this incredible, unprecedented, and unfair wealth and income disparity will continue and when the masses can no longer bear the burden it will lead to a revolution, if not political, then one as violent and bloody as the French Revolution. On that day, guillotines will line the streets and talking heads will roll.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Off the Rails

Early Thursday morning, September 29, 2016, a commuter train crashed into a train station in Hoboken New Jersey, killing one woman and injuring 108 passengers and commuters waiting at the station. The train, packed with passengers and barreling at an excessive speed, struck a bumper block at 8:45 a.m. and flew off the rails, killing 34-year-old Fabiola Bittar de Kroon who had just dropped her 18-month-old daughter Julia off at daycare.

Julia will grow up never knowing her mother. It didn’t have to be this way.

If computer systems can autopilot airplanes and navigate driverless cars, why can’t a centralized computer system monitor train speeds and slow them down if they go too fast? Why isn’t there a system in place to do this? It turns out there is. It’s called Positive Train Control (PTC) and it’s been around for more than two decades.

PTC monitors trains in transit and hits the train brakes if the engineer misses a signal to stop. You would think this would be an excellent system to require on all U.S. trains. Congress thought so too; that’s why it mandated PTC in September 2008, exactly eight years ago. Congress created the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, providing $35 billion in federal funds to lend money at low interest rates for railroads to improve their infrastructure. It enables the Federal Railroad Administration to offer direct loans or loan guarantees of up to $3.5 billion to state or local governments.

RIFF is not new. It was first authorized in 1976. Today, RIFF has $35 billion available to states and local governments to develop and improve railway infrastructure. So far, since 1998, only $1 billion of that amount has been claimed. This is not a case of not having enough money available for infrastructure improvement; it’s just sitting there waiting for takers.

So why isn’t it being used? Last year, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority received nearly $1 billion in federal loans to implement PTC on its two commuter lines. But NJ Transit has not installed PTC in Hoboken or elsewhere on its train network – despite a previous crash at the Hoboken station in 2011 when another commuter train also hit the bumper block and injured 30 commuters. Despite the fact NJ Transit ranks second in the nation in train accident reports: 271 accidents, or 18% of the total train accidents in America.

NJ Sen. Cory Booker introduced a  bill to update and improve RIFF a year and a half ago – about the time baby Julia was born – and stated, “New Jerseyans deserve safe and reliable public transit options. I am encouraged that Amtrak and commuter rail ridership continues to grow in New Jersey, and I am committed to advocating for long-term investments in the economic strength, stability, and vitality of the Northeast Corridor rail system.” According to govtrack.us, which tracks the status of bills introduced in Congress, the bill was introduced on March 19, 2015 and referred to a congressional committee on the same day “which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate.” It's still languishing there, a year and a half later, according to Govtrack.us.

“Until we know the cause of the accident we're not going to be able to know what steps we can take in the future to avoid an accident like this," NJ Gov. Chris Christie said.

I have a suggestion for you, Gov. Christie. You can begin by using the federal funds available to implement PTC on all New Jersey trains, as should every state in the country. Public transportation should be safe and it is your primary job as governor to ensure the safety of your citizens. That goes for every governor in every state, and every representative and senator in Congress. The safety of Americans is your number one priority.

America’s crumbling infrastructure – its roads, bridges, and transportation systems – are one of the most important public issues we face… But you wouldn’t know it to listen to any of the political debate going on in this country right now, 30 days before an election. Our entire political system has gone off the rails. It is time for the American people to focus on this important priority and to insist that our politicians, both elected and running for office, do the same. We need to create programs and authorize funding to develop and improve American infrastructure – and then we need to actually use those funds and programs. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to Fabiola Bittar de Kroon. Most importantly, we owe it to baby Julia and her generation that will inherit our crumbling infrastructure.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Imaginarium Convention - October 7-9

I'll be a guest at the Imaginarium Convention, a 3-day event in Louisville, KY centered around creative writing, from October 7-9. The convention will feature extensive programming with panels and workshops covering the craft of writing.


Friday, September 9, 2016

The Voyage of Discovery

With a new school year approaching, this is an appropriate excerpt from my book, Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger:



When we gaze into a classroom, we see the faces of 30 young students endowed with differing innate abilities and skills. They were not all designed to work the same way. Our educational system teaches them as if they were monolithic, or at least fungible entities. But they are not. One might be good with his hands, capable of creating fine pottery or crafts; a second might be a thinker; a third, a strategic planner; yet another, an artist or poet. One might be good with numbers, while another able to conceptualize complex theories.

It is distressing to see our leaders place their entire educational emphasis on science and math, ignoring the importance of history, writing (communication and expression), philosophy, and the arts (art, music, and literature). A society needs citizens grounded in a sense of history, for those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat its errors. Those citizens need the ability to communicate and express their thoughts and ideas in an articulate, cogent manner, free from emotional argument ad hominem. And as we have learned from the relics of all great civilizations -- from Ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome forward -- societies need beauty. From the Great Pyramids, to Michelangelo’s “The David”, to William Shakespeare’s oeuvre, a civilization is inspired by, and defined by, its art.

Science and math have their place. Societies have always needed ship builders and navigators, be it the Greeks to design and pilot their penteconters; the Spanish, their galleons; or the Chinese, their junks. From galleys to spacecrafts, math and science have played an integral role in man’s ability to free himself from landlocked constraints and set forth on voyages of exploration. But while important, science and math are not the only disciplines our children must be taught.

Civilizations need thinkers. Philosophers. Individuals who contemplate, as well as those who plan. The de-emphasis of the disciplines of philosophy, history, and the arts, in both our schools and our culture, explains the sorry state of our society today and the Weltschmerz that permeates us. We live in a culture of corporate greed, where individualistic selfishness has replaced altruism, idealism, and principles. But now more than ever, we need thinkers and philosophers to express their thoughts and communicate their ideas, as much or more than we need a nation of scientists and mathematicians, because while it’s important to build the ships that will take us across vast oceans or galaxies, it's more important to know where we're going and why.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Issues in Internet Law - Download Now for School!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, and more! Save up to $35 off the print edition price! Download the 10th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource !




The 10th edition of Issues In Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law has been updated for 2016 with the latest cases and trends in Internet Law. The new edition not only has an expanded glossary, and expanded statute and case indexes but a new chapter devoted to the NSA's spying on Internet users and a first look at the European Union's Right to be Forgotten court ruling and its aftermath.

Topics include:
Privacy: Invasion of Privacy, Public Records, Workplace Privacy, Employer & ISP Monitoring, Data Collection, Data Retention, Data Breaches, the Right to be Forgotten, E-Mail & Chat Room Privacy, Web Site Privacy Policies, Behavioral Marketing, Flash Cookies, Device Fingerprinting, Privacy & Children, Metadata, Border Searches, FISA & the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA, FISA Court, PRISM, XKeyscore;

Free Speech: Defamation, SLAPPs, Gripe Sites, Revenge Porn Sites, Mugshot Sites, Blogs & Vlogs, Obscenity & Pornography, Harassment & Hate Speech, Prior Restraint, Repression, Student Speech, CDA, Anonymous Speech, Commercial Speech, Expressive Conduct;

Social Media: Misuse, Ownership, Coerced Access, the Courts;

Cybercrimes: Spam, Phishing, Identity Theft, Spyware & Malware, Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying, Computer Trespass, Wardriving, Virtual Crime;

Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secrets, Creative Commons, Linking, Framing, File-Sharing, Fair Use, Public Domain, Work-Made-For-Hire, DMCA, VARA, Domain Name Disputes, Keyword Advertising, America Invents Act;

Business & the Internet: Internet Taxation, Internet Interstate Commerce, Web Contracts, e-Discovery, Corporate Securities, Crowdfunding, Reg A, Reg D;

Also: Cloud Computing; Digital Currency; Right of Publicity; Web Accessibility; Net Neutrality; Online Reputation Management; Social Media Monitoring; Podcasts; Geofiltering; Digital Journalism; Hyper Local Web Sites, Digital Estate Planning; Sexting; E-Books and many more subjects.

Concisely written and covering a broad range of topics, this is the most current book of its kind!


Reviews:

“Concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

“Although it deals with the complex legal issues surrounding the Internet, it is written in layman’s terms and illustrated with ‘ripped from the headlines’ court cases.” (Amazon)

“The concepts and issues are presented in a way that is sufficiently rigorous but very easy to read, making the book one I can recommend.” (Computing Reviews) * “A valuable resource, well-researched and well presented.”

“I want a copy on my bookshelf always within arm’s reach.”

“The anecdotal nature made it easy to understand the underlying legal concepts.”

“It is imperative that schools adopt this book in a way which would help young students gain knowledge about the various issues involving the Internet.” (Indian Journal of Intellectual Property Law)

“Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law will be a welcome addition in both academic and public law libraries… It should be acquired by libraries for its concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Secret of Bullies

I talked about bullying in my previous blog post, but I didn’t really talk about bullies. Bullies are not big, tough, and powerful. Their strength comes from projecting an image that they are. And they do that by reaching out to those they perceive as weaker and defenseless. You never see a bully pick on the football quarterback, or the high school wrestler, or the toughest kid in the class. School really is a blackboard jungle and the rules of the jungle apply. When predators select their prey, they aren’t looking for a fight and they certainly aren’t looking for one they could lose. Coyotes don’t attack chickens because they want a fair fight; they select the prey that will offer the least resistance.

Those are the two things you need to know about bullies. Bullies are terrorists because their strength comes from instilling terror in their targeted victims. And bullies are cowards, because they only prey on those weaker than them. The way to beat a bully is to deprive him of his strength and actually turn it against him.

I was picked on all through grade school. In junior high, one bully went so far as to extort my lunch money from me for two weeks. Rather than get into a fight, I simply handed it over each day. But one day, in art class, he stabbed the papier-mâché elephant I had created multiple times with his pencil. This was different. He was attacking something I had created. Now that I’m a writer, creating with words instead of papier-mâché, I suppose it would have been equivalent to someone tossing my manuscript into the fireplace. I was livid and fought back. My mother got a phone call at 8 o’clock that morning to come pick me up from school because I’d been suspended for fighting. On the bright side, the bully never got another dime from me.

By the time I was in 10th grade, it was well known I was a pacifist. As a rule, I didn’t get into fights. I’d ignore the insults hurled at me; the shoving; the snide, hurtful remarks and nicknames, and the derisive laughter. In a few years, I’d be in college and maybe it would be different. Kids can be cruel but eventually we all have to grow up. All I had to do was wait it out. But, even at a new school I found a new bully who enjoyed taunting me, especially in PE. Each day, our  physical education class began with us running a lap around the school track. The last three kids to finally complete the lap were always the same: a fat kid named Mike, a foreign kid named Frank, and me. We became friends for that one hour each day simply because we belonged to a special coterie – the physically inept losers that no one wanted on their team.

We would all line up and the team captains would take turns selecting from the lineup. The final three choices would, of course, be Mike, Frank, and me. It would always be a toss-up between Frank and me as to whom would be chosen first; the other captain would choose the other one of us, and then there would be a mutual groan from the other team because they would be stuck with the fat kid, Mike. Had Frank and Mike not existed, I would have become the most unpopular kid by default. (Ironically, Frank and Mike were two of the nicest kids I knew in high school but that was unfortunately probably one of the best-kept secrets).

But one day in PE changed everything and taught me all I ever needed to know about bullies… And about my classmates. The bully began taunting me on the basketball court while we were waiting for the coach to come out from the locker room. I ignored his taunts and the shoving until he said one thing. I won’t tell you what he said; I doubt he  even realized its significance, but he was waving a red flag at a bull. There was probably nothing worse he could have said to me. In seconds, I was on top of him. He was on his back on the asphalt and my fists were flying. He didn’t even try to fight back; he was in too much shock. It had never occurred to him that the kid he had been picking on all year would ever fight back. Like I said, bullies are cowards; they don’t pick on people they think will fight back.

The other kids on the basketball court crowded around us in a circle. No one tried to break up the fight. They were probably just as astonished as the bully. They were stunned that the loser, the perennial victim, the wimp was fighting back. And they were absolutely gobsmacked that I was winning. I was whaling the tar out of the bully and he was just lying there taking it. The coach finally came out and pulled me off him. Then it was time to select teams. That’s when something truly amazing happened. The school’s top athlete picked me for his team… First. I still couldn’t run fast, catch a baseball, or make a basket… But he chose me for his team ahead of all the other kids. I guess I had earned his respect. Then all the other kids got chosen, and eventually Frank and Mike were selected. One boy remained standing on the basketball court. The very last boy to be chosen was the bully. By standing up to him, I had taken away his strength – he could no longer instill terror in me or anyone else ever again – and I had revealed him for what he was.


For the next couple of weeks, people in school treated me differently. I got nods in the hallway and hellos when they passed. It didn’t last, of course. I had mixed feelings. By fighting, I had betrayed my own pacifist beliefs. It took me years to reconcile that. I still believe reasonable men should solve their disagreements without resorting to violence; however, I now accept that bullies and terrorists are not reasonable men. I enjoyed, however briefly, having the respect of my classmates but that wasn’t how I wanted to earn it. And it made me question what their values were, that they could only respect me as an equal now and not for the kind of person that I, or Mike, or Frank had always been.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Issues in Internet Law - Download Now for School!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, and more! Save up to $35 off the print edition price! Download the 10th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource !




The 10th edition of Issues In Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law has been updated for 2016 with the latest cases and trends in Internet Law. The new edition not only has an expanded glossary, and expanded statute and case indexes but a new chapter devoted to the NSA's spying on Internet users and a first look at the European Union's Right to be Forgotten court ruling and its aftermath.

Topics include:
Privacy: Invasion of Privacy, Public Records, Workplace Privacy, Employer & ISP Monitoring, Data Collection, Data Retention, Data Breaches, the Right to be Forgotten, E-Mail & Chat Room Privacy, Web Site Privacy Policies, Behavioral Marketing, Flash Cookies, Device Fingerprinting, Privacy & Children, Metadata, Border Searches, FISA & the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA, FISA Court, PRISM, XKeyscore;

Free Speech: Defamation, SLAPPs, Gripe Sites, Revenge Porn Sites, Mugshot Sites, Blogs & Vlogs, Obscenity & Pornography, Harassment & Hate Speech, Prior Restraint, Repression, Student Speech, CDA, Anonymous Speech, Commercial Speech, Expressive Conduct;

Social Media: Misuse, Ownership, Coerced Access, the Courts;

Cybercrimes: Spam, Phishing, Identity Theft, Spyware & Malware, Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying, Computer Trespass, Wardriving, Virtual Crime;

Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secrets, Creative Commons, Linking, Framing, File-Sharing, Fair Use, Public Domain, Work-Made-For-Hire, DMCA, VARA, Domain Name Disputes, Keyword Advertising, America Invents Act;

Business & the Internet: Internet Taxation, Internet Interstate Commerce, Web Contracts, e-Discovery, Corporate Securities, Crowdfunding, Reg A, Reg D;

Also: Cloud Computing; Digital Currency; Right of Publicity; Web Accessibility; Net Neutrality; Online Reputation Management; Social Media Monitoring; Podcasts; Geofiltering; Digital Journalism; Hyper Local Web Sites, Digital Estate Planning; Sexting; E-Books and many more subjects.

Concisely written and covering a broad range of topics, this is the most current book of its kind!


Reviews:

“Concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

“Although it deals with the complex legal issues surrounding the Internet, it is written in layman’s terms and illustrated with ‘ripped from the headlines’ court cases.” (Amazon)

“The concepts and issues are presented in a way that is sufficiently rigorous but very easy to read, making the book one I can recommend.” (Computing Reviews) * “A valuable resource, well-researched and well presented.”

“I want a copy on my bookshelf always within arm’s reach.”

“The anecdotal nature made it easy to understand the underlying legal concepts.”

“It is imperative that schools adopt this book in a way which would help young students gain knowledge about the various issues involving the Internet.” (Indian Journal of Intellectual Property Law)

“Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law will be a welcome addition in both academic and public law libraries… It should be acquired by libraries for its concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

Monday, August 29, 2016

You’re Dead Meat!

We hear a lot about bullying these days. It’s trending in the news and the media and the Millennials act as if they’ve just discovered it. The truth is, bullying has been around for a very long time. As a kid, I was bullied in school just about every day. I had two perennial bullies who were the bane of my school years, but there were others who came and went— predators who recognized weakness when they saw it and who took gleeful pleasure in causing pain in those they knew wouldn’t or couldn’t fight back.

Most of them were little boys my age who didn’t look particularly terrifying to any adults, who wouldn’t have recognized them as bullies. In the world of kids and grown-ups, they were the Eddie Haskells of our world – the unctuous troublemaker teen on TV’s “Leave It toBeaver” who would always say “yes sir” and “you look lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver” to the parents, never hinting at his true nature. I say most: some were girls and they could be just as cruel as the boys. Worse, back then we were taught never to hit a girl – that would be a cardinal sin, so girls had carte blanche to bully as much as they wanted without fear of any consequences.

I was thinking about my grade school classmate Joseph Marchetti today. I wish I could call him a friend, but in truth, I didn’t really have many friends growing up. I didn’t hang out with other kids, I didn’t go to parties with them, I didn’t go to their houses after school, I didn’t do the things friends do, so when I met Joseph I really didn’t know how to be a friend. But I was always pleasant to him and I even looked up to him. He was one of the Italian boys at our school and back then that meant he was a decent kid who came from a family steeped in strong morals and values. It also meant he knew how to take care of himself, if he had to, in a fight. I, on the other hand, was an avowed pacifist. I was against the ongoing Vietnam War and all wars in general. I thought fighting was wrong and rational people should be able to solve their differences peacefully. That made me a wimp in the eyes of many, with a target painted on my back.

One day, Joseph observed a boy bullying me. He told me at lunchtime, the next time the bully did that, I should tell him “Joseph said that if you do it again, you’re dead meat.” I had no idea what “dead meat” was, but to my 12-year-old ears it sounded awesome. Later, in the schoolyard, the bully approached me and I relayed Joseph’s message to him, word for word. He looked up, glanced across the yard, and saw Joseph nodding at him. I think Joseph even smacked his fist into his palm one time. The bully released my shirt collar and slowly backed away. That particular bully never bothered me again.


I don’t recall if I ever thanked Joseph. I probably did, but if not, I’m doing it now, 45 years late. I’m sure Joseph doesn’t remember that day, and probably doesn’t even remember me, but I never forgot him or his act of kindness. He didn’t have to fight the bully or even say a single word to him, yet he made a difference, eloquently and powerfully. When I wrote The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer coming-of-age trilogy, one of its defining precepts was “If you have the power to make a difference when no one else can, then you have a moral obligation to do so.” It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever written. A 12-year-old boy named Joseph understood this; if we can teach this to other kids and maybe even to their parents, we can make the world a better place, beginning by eliminating bullying.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Download Issues in Internet Law!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, and more! Save up to $35 off the print edition price! Download the 10th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource !




The 10th edition of Issues In Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law has been updated for 2016 with the latest cases and trends in Internet Law. The new edition not only has an expanded glossary, and expanded statute and case indexes but a new chapter devoted to the NSA's spying on Internet users and a first look at the European Union's Right to be Forgotten court ruling and its aftermath.

Topics include:
Privacy: Invasion of Privacy, Public Records, Workplace Privacy, Employer & ISP Monitoring, Data Collection, Data Retention, Data Breaches, the Right to be Forgotten, E-Mail & Chat Room Privacy, Web Site Privacy Policies, Behavioral Marketing, Flash Cookies, Device Fingerprinting, Privacy & Children, Metadata, Border Searches, FISA & the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA, FISA Court, PRISM, XKeyscore;

Free Speech: Defamation, SLAPPs, Gripe Sites, Revenge Porn Sites, Mugshot Sites, Blogs & Vlogs, Obscenity & Pornography, Harassment & Hate Speech, Prior Restraint, Repression, Student Speech, CDA, Anonymous Speech, Commercial Speech, Expressive Conduct;

Social Media: Misuse, Ownership, Coerced Access, the Courts;

Cybercrimes: Spam, Phishing, Identity Theft, Spyware & Malware, Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying, Computer Trespass, Wardriving, Virtual Crime;

Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secrets, Creative Commons, Linking, Framing, File-Sharing, Fair Use, Public Domain, Work-Made-For-Hire, DMCA, VARA, Domain Name Disputes, Keyword Advertising, America Invents Act;

Business & the Internet: Internet Taxation, Internet Interstate Commerce, Web Contracts, e-Discovery, Corporate Securities, Crowdfunding, Reg A, Reg D;

Also: Cloud Computing; Digital Currency; Right of Publicity; Web Accessibility; Net Neutrality; Online Reputation Management; Social Media Monitoring; Podcasts; Geofiltering; Digital Journalism; Hyper Local Web Sites, Digital Estate Planning; Sexting; E-Books and many more subjects.

Concisely written and covering a broad range of topics, this is the most current book of its kind!


Reviews:

“Concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

“Although it deals with the complex legal issues surrounding the Internet, it is written in layman’s terms and illustrated with ‘ripped from the headlines’ court cases.” (Amazon)

“The concepts and issues are presented in a way that is sufficiently rigorous but very easy to read, making the book one I can recommend.” (Computing Reviews) * “A valuable resource, well-researched and well presented.”

“I want a copy on my bookshelf always within arm’s reach.”

“The anecdotal nature made it easy to understand the underlying legal concepts.”

“It is imperative that schools adopt this book in a way which would help young students gain knowledge about the various issues involving the Internet.” (Indian Journal of Intellectual Property Law)

“Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law will be a welcome addition in both academic and public law libraries… It should be acquired by libraries for its concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Download the 10th Edition of Issues in Internet Law!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, and more! Save up to $35 off the print edition price! Download the 10th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource !

The 10th edition of Issues In Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law has been updated for 2016 with the latest cases and trends in Internet Law. The new edition not only has an expanded glossary, and expanded statute and case indexes but a new chapter devoted to the NSA's spying on Internet users and a first look at the European Union's Right to be Forgotten court ruling and its aftermath.

Topics include:
Privacy: Invasion of Privacy, Public Records, Workplace Privacy, Employer & ISP Monitoring, Data Collection, Data Retention, Data Breaches, the Right to be Forgotten, E-Mail & Chat Room Privacy, Web Site Privacy Policies, Behavioral Marketing, Flash Cookies, Device Fingerprinting, Privacy & Children, Metadata, Border Searches, FISA & the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA, FISA Court, PRISM, XKeyscore;

Free Speech: Defamation, SLAPPs, Gripe Sites, Revenge Porn Sites, Mugshot Sites, Blogs & Vlogs, Obscenity & Pornography, Harassment & Hate Speech, Prior Restraint, Repression, Student Speech, CDA, Anonymous Speech, Commercial Speech, Expressive Conduct;

Social Media: Misuse, Ownership, Coerced Access, the Courts;

Cybercrimes: Spam, Phishing, Identity Theft, Spyware & Malware, Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying, Computer Trespass, Wardriving, Virtual Crime;

Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secrets, Creative Commons, Linking, Framing, File-Sharing, Fair Use, Public Domain, Work-Made-For-Hire, DMCA, VARA, Domain Name Disputes, Keyword Advertising, America Invents Act;

Business & the Internet: Internet Taxation, Internet Interstate Commerce, Web Contracts, e-Discovery, Corporate Securities, Crowdfunding, Reg A, Reg D;

Also: Cloud Computing; Digital Currency; Right of Publicity; Web Accessibility; Net Neutrality; Online Reputation Management; Social Media Monitoring; Podcasts; Geofiltering; Digital Journalism; Hyper Local Web Sites, Digital Estate Planning; Sexting; E-Books and many more subjects.

Concisely written and covering a broad range of topics, this is the most current book of its kind!


Reviews:

“Concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

“Although it deals with the complex legal issues surrounding the Internet, it is written in layman’s terms and illustrated with ‘ripped from the headlines’ court cases.” (Amazon)

“The concepts and issues are presented in a way that is sufficiently rigorous but very easy to read, making the book one I can recommend.” (Computing Reviews) * “A valuable resource, well-researched and well presented.”

“I want a copy on my bookshelf always within arm’s reach.”

“The anecdotal nature made it easy to understand the underlying legal concepts.”

“It is imperative that schools adopt this book in a way which would help young students gain knowledge about the various issues involving the Internet.” (Indian Journal of Intellectual Property Law)

“Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law will be a welcome addition in both academic and public law libraries… It should be acquired by libraries for its concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to Write a Book Review

I write a lot of different things – articles, novels, textbooks, short stories – but the one thing I don’t write is book reviews. Why? Because I’m simply not qualified to write a book review. A book review is different from a comment or opinion. Opinion is subjective: I may like or dislike a book, a painting, or a song and not even be able to tell you why. That’s just how I feel about it and others may agree or disagree and none of us is right or wrong. That’s the very definition of art. But craft is different. Craft deals with technique; it is objective, not subjective, and there are standards by which performance can be measured. Was the singer off-key? Is the anatomy in the drawing incorrect? Is the book filled with grammatical errors? Those are objective and quantifiable qualities that can be judged.

However, in rare cases, a creator will put an artistic twist to his craft creating a hybrid that purposely breaks the rules of the art form changing objective craft into subjective art. Tiny Tim and his ukulele would have been a music teacher’s nightmare but his act became a freak success. Pablo Picasso's abstract art style challenged conventional forms of representation, such as perspective, which had been the standard since the Renaissance. Had he been an art student, his teachers would have flunked him. Poet e.e. cummings eschewed capitalization and would cavalierly disregard punctuation when it suited him. Arthur Rimbaud turned the world of poetry on its collective head. Edgar Allan Poe was a central figure of Romanticism, one of America's first short story authors, and regarded as the inventor of the detective fiction genre. Today he is an acclaimed writer read by every school child. Yet, he was never able to earn a decent living from his writing and died in poverty. When art and craft combine, the masses – including critics and reviewers – cannot always recognize the wheat from the chaff.

I don’t have the hubris to claim that ability so I do not choose to be a reviewer. Sure, I’ll offer my opinion on whether I like a song, a painting, or a book. But I don’t want to embarrass myself like my third grade classmate who gave his book report on George Orwell’s Animal Farm summing it up as a rather boring book about farm animals. I first read it when I was seven years old, and then again at age 15. The teenaged me discovered I was reading a completely different novel, a brilliant allegory about the Bolshevik Revolution. I was amazed at how perspective – acquired through maturity and life experience – could change one’s interpretation of an artistic work like a novel. How could I ever review a novel? All I might do is offer my limited perspective of how I viewed it through my life experience and educational background. I had no idea how the same words might resonate differently with someone else who had grown up in a completely different world or who read these same words through a prism of a much broader education then I had received. How much might I have been missing because I didn’t study history, linguistics, or philosophy? How many books might I have judged poorly because I only saw the farm animals and not the philosophical allegories that lay behind them? How many bad reviews might I have written based on my own shortcomings and not on any failings of the writer?

If you just want to comment on a book you've read or leave an opinion, then you should treat it like a third grade book report. Begin by listing the title, the author’s full name (make sure you spell it correctly), the genre, and a brief description or summary of the book, being careful not to give away any spoilers or the ending. You don’t want to spoil your audience’s pleasure in reading this book by ruining it for them. The whole idea of the book report (or review) is to pique your audience’s interest and entice them to read the book and form their own opinions. Conclude with your opinion but always acknowledge, whether you loved it or hated it, that this is merely your own opinion and you recognize other readers may or may not agree with you. Don’t state your opinion as fact. Let your audience come to their own conclusions.

To do that, help the audience find the book. List the ISBN: this is a unique identifying number for every book published. Think of it as a Social Security number for books. With that ISBN, any reader can walk into a bookstore and ask the store to order the book for them if they don’t have it on the shelf. They can search for that ISBN online and find sites that sell the book. Libraries can locate a book using the ISBN. Every edition of a book has its own unique ISBN, so you can immediately refer to an earlier or later printing, an annotated edition, or one using large type.

Tell your readers what formats the book is available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, EPUB, Audiobook, etc. Include a picture of the cover with a link to where they can buy copies. (If you’re making money when people click the link as an affiliate, include a disclaimer to reveal that). Add a link to the author’s Website or blog. If you wish, you can also note the publisher, the book’s dimensions, and the page count (or word count if it’s an ebook).

Now if you really want to write a book review, let’s turn to the  elements you should include in your review.
 1. Plot: Is it formulaic and cookie-cutter (”Save the Cat”) or original and creative? Is it hard to follow? Does it make sense? Are there subplots interwoven?
2. Characters: Are they well-defined? Are they 3-dimensional or do they come across as cardboard figures? Do they have individual personalities or could the dialogue between characters be interchangeable? Are these real people with human failings?
3. Dialogue: Does the dialogue fit each character? Does that sound like something a character with that personality and life experience would really say? Is the eight-year-old using a college-level vocabulary? Is the southern sharecropper suddenly extremely knowledgeable about commodities trading? Is the sociopath displaying empathy? Does the dialogue move the story along or is it merely filler, or worse, serving as an info dump? Is there an appropriate balance of dialogue versus exposition?
4. Pacing: Does the story flow smoothly? Are there action scenes to break up the monotony? Are there moments of suspense? Or does the story drag on like one long, boring monotone?

5. Theme: Does the work contain one or more themes? What are they and how are they represented? Is there a message within the story?
6. Symbolism: Is there an underlying meaning  to the author's tale (remember Animal Farm), or in the selection of character names? Often names will have symbolic meanings.
7. Avant-garde: Did the author break any established literature or writing rules or conventions? You may find this annoying and disconcerting because the author is doing something unexpected. The question is, Was this done on purpose, for effect, or because the writer was a novice who didn't know any better? A good writer always knows the rules and then sometimes goes on to break them on purpose. If that’s the case, don’t rush to judgment to hold a writer’s innovation and creativity against him or her. Personally, I’d rather a writer take chances, even if they don’t pan out quite the way the author wished, then to read the same boring cookie-cutter material.

8. Professionalism: Has the writer learned his or her craft? Here I’m talking about technique, not artistic vision. Is the writing style consistent? Does the author use foreshadowing, irony, symbolism, allusion, and metaphor? Does the author establish the setting for each scene or just launch into dialogue? Is the writing concise and crisp, or filled with redundancies and clichés? Does the author use simple declarative sentences, or multiple compound sentences and run-on sentences? Is there a proper balance of exposition and dialogue or does the author rely too heavily on one and not the other? While adverbs and adjectives are essential parts of speech, does the author overuse or misuse them? Is the prose overfilled with unnecessary details? Is the writing filled with exclamation marks? Does the writer properly use “said” for most of his dialogue attribution tags or does he amateurishly substitute anything but (e.g., implored, opined, or my favorite I caught once- ejaculated). Even better, does the writer use a beat of action in lieu of the tag? You can’t giggle, laugh, sigh, or smile spoken words; those are actions. The characters must say words, not smile them. Are there spelling, diction, grammar, or punctuation errors? In other words, was the editor out to lunch, or in the case of self-published novels, was there even an editor?

9. Layout: If it is a self-published book, is the layout professional? Are there unacceptable widows and orphans on the pages? Sufficient margins? Proper leading between lines? Readable type font and size? Proper formatting?
10. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Finally, what do you feel were the strengths of the book? Its weaknesses? Books are like people; none of them is perfect. They all have their strengths and weaknesses; their good points and their bad. The question is, when you add them up, is this person or book someone you would want to befriend or avoid?
11. Accuracy: Is your review factually accurate? The best way to look like an amateur reviewer is to get your facts wrong. I have had reviewers quote things that never appeared in my books; or confuse my main protagonist with someone else in such a way that it showed they hadn’t even read the book. In fact, I had one reviewer admit in the review he had never opened the book before he went on to review it. Another reviewer filmed a video book review: she held up the book to the camera, mispronounced the title, and flipped through the pages, presumably to show that it was, in fact, a real book— That was it. The entire review lasted nine seconds. I even had one reviewer who told me she had intended to leave a five-star review but cut it down to three stars because she thought my depiction of a torture chamber showed I must’ve been a terribly depraved and perverse individual to have dreamed up all those devices; I explained none of what offended her had come from my warped mind but rather from the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition. I’m simply not that creative.

Here’s a final test. Get in touch with your old English teacher. (Never lose contact with your English teachers; they are the most valuable friends you may ever make as a writer). Give her your book review and ask her to grade it. If she gives it an “A”, post that sucker. Anything less, take it back to the drawing board and work on it. Not only will you end up posting a dynamite review, but you’ll learn how it feels to be both the critic and the critiqued.