Monday, September 28, 2015

“If I Only Had A Brain…”

You can’t make this stuff up. As an author, when I write fiction I have to abide by the rule of believability. Sure, I may be writing about vampires or a story set on a distant planet, but there’s a limit to what the readers may be asked to accept before exceeding how much they’re willing to suspend their disbelief. But when it comes to reality, Kim Davis and her entourage have redefined the boundary of absurdity.

Davis is a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. “As county clerk I am responsible for providing many services to the people of Rowan county,” Davis states on her Website: “These duties include general categories of clerical duties of the fiscal court: issuing and registering, recording and keeping various legal records, registering and purging voter rolls, and conducting election duties and tax duties.” But apparently, Davis believes she can exclude homosexuals from the definition of “the people of Rowan County” since she has steadfastly refused to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians despite the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that the U.S. Constitution guarantees marriage rights to homosexual couples.

 The court wrote: “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that. States must issue marriage licenses to gay couples requesting them. Period. Kim Davis refused to do so. A judge held her in contempt of court and sent her to jail for refusing to obey a court order to perform her duty. The same duty she admits on her own Website that she was elected to do: issue marriage licenses to the people of Rowan County, Kentucky. All of the people of Rowan County, including the gay ones.

That’s when the circus came to town. Presidential aspirants Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, and their media entourages, descended on Rowan County like a biblical plague of locusts. Huckabee planned a rally to free Kim Davis from her jail cell, unaware the judge had released her hours earlier. The rally went on anyway, with the former Arizona governor displaying contempt for the nation’s system of jurisprudence by declaring “Five, unelected Supreme Court lawyers did not and cannot make law. They can only make rulings.” Well, Gov. Huckabee, Supreme Court rulings are considered the law of the land. It’s called case law and it is as valid and enforceable as statutory law that arises from legislative bodies. Apparently Huckabee read the section on separation of powers in his high school civics book but failed to read any further. While it is true that the legislatures make the laws and the courts interpret them, our legal system is based to a far greater extent on the interpretation of those laws rather than solely on the underlying statutes themselves. As a former chief executive of a state, Huckabee should know this. To deny it, he is being either disingenuous or dishonest.

Huckabee continued his grandstanding by declaring to the crowd, “If somebody needs to go to jail, I'm willing to go in her place,” knowing full well that in this country one cannot serve prison time on behalf of another person convicted of a crime. It was pure pandering: a hollow gesture offered only to secure votes in the next presidential election. Then, Kim Davis joined him on stage, stepping onto the dais to the accompaniment of the song, “Eye of the Tiger.” (The band Survivor has since threatened legal action, as no one affiliated with the rally had asked its permission to use its copyrighted song.) A tall man in a straw hat and denim overalls towered above Davis and Huckabee, looking like a cross between the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz and a refugee from a Chex cereal commercial. He turned out to be Davis’ husband, his attire adding comic relief to an already absurd scene. He described himself to the Associated Press as “an old redneck hillbilly.” Actually, Joe Davis is Kim’s fourth husband; she not only issues marriage licenses to others, but has collected several herself.

Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses to couples she finds morally objectionable based on her religious beliefs. Never mind the hypocrisy that she has admitted in court under oath to having committed adultery, presumably also against her religious beliefs. Davis’ hypocrisy is irrelevant because her beliefs, whatever they may be, are irrelevant. The issue is not about who should be entitled to a marriage license. That question has been settled repeatedly by the Supreme Court: in 2015, allowing same-sex marriages, and earlier in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia allowing interracial marriages. The concept is a simple one: people should be allowed to marry whomever they love and states cannot prevent them from doing so.

When one acts as an agent of the government, he or she must abide by the law of the land, as expressed in both statutes and case law. Clerks must perform their ministerial duties based solely on the law, not on any personal beliefs they may hold and if they feel they cannot perform their duties then they must resign. This is not about whether or not you believe homosexuals should be allowed to marry. It’s not about faith or religion. It’s about doing your job regardless of your personal beliefs or feelings. One need look no further than Republican icon Bristol Palin, currently expecting her second out-of-wedlock child, who became a millionaire by lecturing on sexual abstinence to teenagers. If Bristol can do her job, then Kim Davis and all the county clerks like her can hold their noses and do the jobs they were elected or appointed to do. And if they truly find serving the people of their counties – ALL the people of their counties – to be so repugnant that they cannot perform the duties of their jobs then they need to resign, put down their Bibles, and pick up the Help Wanted section of the newspaper.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Ship was Made Fifty Years from Now!

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

The nine-year-old showed her the wooden ship in a bottle he was perusing. “It’s the ship Mac gave me.”

“The one he got the night we were at the Lobster Shack?”

Zigs nodded. “He knew I collected them.”

“That was nice of Mac. He’s a sweet boy. I hope you thanked him.”

“Of course I did.” Zigs studied the ship. “I like him better than the other guys you’ve gone out with.”

Vanessa chuckled. “That’s because he’s the only one to give you presents.”

“No, I’d still like him if he hadn’t given me the ship. He’s into lots of cool stuff and he’s really smart. He doesn’t treat me like a pest, like some of your friends do. He’s got cool friends, too, like Marlene.”

“The tomboy? I can see where you two would have a lot in common.”

Zigs nodded. “She likes models and role-playing games, and she doesn’t wear girly dresses.”

Vanessa chuckled. “When you’re older, you’ll find those girly dresses much more attractive.”

“Yuck.” He made a gagging motion and returned to examining the ship. “This one’s different from any in my collection. I found out something about it. I left it on the windowsill in the sunlight all day yesterday and now look at it.” Zigs passed his hand over the bottle and the portholes inside the ship lit up.

“It must have solar powered cells inside. Leaving it in the sunlight charged its batteries.”

Zigs frowned. “But how does it work? How does it know to light up when I pass my hand over it?”

Vanessa shrugged. “Sensors, I guess, like the food cases at the supermarket.”

“That’s what makes it so cool. I know every bottled ship out there, and there’s nothing like this on the market.”

“I’m sure you can find some online. Did you look up the manufacturer?”

“The company’s name is stamped on the bottom of the stand, but when I searched for it, there was no record of the company on the Internet. It’s like it doesn’t exist.”

“That’s impossible. Every business is on the Internet.”

“I know, but not this one. That’s not the only weird thing. It has a patent number, but the date is all funny.”

“What do you mean, ‘funny’?”

He turned the bottle upside down, pointing the stand at his sister. “According to this, the ship was made fifty years from now.”

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pope & the Hedge Fund Manager

In an ironic twist, the pope is visiting America at the same time the Antichrist has arisen. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate slightly. Martin Shkreli, the founder and chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, is not the Antichrist. But he does a damn good impression.

Shkreli is a former hedge fund manager, which is about as far from altruism as one can get. Picture a mirror image of Pope Francis: gaze deeply enough into Maleficent’s evil looking glass and you’ll see the 32-year-old Shkreli with a permanent smirk etched on his youthful face. Pope Francis has come to America with his message excoriating  the excesses of capitalism and condemning its concomitant greed. He criticizes the corporate greed that has diverted capitalism from creating fairness, equity, and dignified livelihoods for the poor.

Enter Shkreli, who epitomizes all that is evil about unrestrained capitalism. Shkreli’s company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the rights to Daraprim, a 55-year-old drug used to treat toxoplasmosis – a life-threatening parasitic infection that can occur in infants, AIDS patients, and cancer patients. Daraprim has long been out of patent protection and sold for as little as $1 a tablet, although the price gradually increased to $13.50 as different pharmaceutical companies acquired the drug. Upon purchasing the rights, Shkreli announced he was raising the price from $13.50 to $750 per tablet – a roughly 5500 percent price increase for a drug that may literally mean the difference between life and death for those who need but can no longer afford it.

People will die because of Shkreli’s greed. “This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business,” Shkreli told the press, his plastered smirk never leaving his face. And grass is blue, and the sky is green, and black is white. Of course it is about greed. Pure unadulterated greed. Naked lust for the almighty dollar with absolutely no thought for the poor people whose lives depend on that medicine or for the Almighty Himself. If not the Antichrist, then perhaps we might refer to Shkreli as the anti-Pope Francis.

Maybe there is a divine purpose in the timing of these two contrasting events. Shkreli’s 5500 percent price gouging is merely the most egregious and unconscionable example of the pharmaceutical industry’s penchant for a greed driven business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced “specialty drugs”. I’ve written about this before, most recently this past April. Maybe now people will wake up and pay attention, and insist Congress pass legislation to regulate the cost of medication. There is no reason why any single pill or tablet should be priced above a dollar. Even at one dollar, a daily dose of one pill would cost $30 per month. Factoring in that the sick and elderly usually take multiple medications, or multiple doses of the same medication, and live on fixed incomes or no income (because they are sick, disabled, or retired) even that modest cost might exceed their ability to purchase the medicine they need.

Pharmaceutical companies should, and certainly do, make a profit. But there’s a difference between profiting and profiteering. There are legitimate research and development costs inherent in the development of new drugs, although that is not the case with the 55-year-old Daraprim or the similar high-priced “specialty drugs”. The preamble to our Constitution states: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The Founders established this country with the notion that it was the government’s job not merely to provide for the common defense, on which it currently spends trillions of dollars, but to promote the general welfare as well. If some of those trillions were spent to subsidize the cost of pharmaceutical research and development instead of new weapons systems, then the drug companies would be able to provide inexpensive medicine to Americans while still making a profit. There might even be an additional benefit to increased government spending on medical research and development in the form of newly discovered cures to diseases like cancer. Some might see this as a miracle, but to quote Pope Francis, “I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Gas Tank Erupted in Flames

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

The needle on the speedometer passed 85 mph. The engine roared and the black SUV had begun to vibrate. “Dexter, slow down,” Margo Walston pleaded.

The 16-year-old driver gulped another swig from the beer bottle. “Relax, babe. I’ve got this.”

In the back seat of the speeding SUV, Zigs Carlyle turned to Marlene Prentice. The nine-year-old made no attempt to hide the wet spot on his pants. “I’m scared, Marlene. Make him stop.”

The thin white stripe painted on the side of the black SUV remained constant, but the white line painted on the street appeared to come alive in a sinuous fashion, as the vehicle barreled down the two-lane road, swerving across both lanes. “Watch this.” Dexter Brannigan kicked off his shoe and placed his left foot on the steering wheel. “Look Ma, no hands.” He chug-a-lugged the beer and pressed his right foot on the accelerator.

“This isn’t a game, Dexter,” Margo said. “Pull over and let me drive; you’re drunk.”

Marlene gazed through the windshield. “That light up ahead…” Her heart raced. “A car’s coming.”

“That’s not a car, it’s an eighteen-wheeler,” Zigs said.

Margo turned from the boy to the road in front of them. “Dexter!” she screamed. “You’re in the wrong lane.”

The speedometer rolled passed 100 mph. The lights from the oncoming truck blinded the SUV’s passengers.

“Look out!” Marlene screamed.

The truck slammed into the SUV, flipping the smaller vehicle like a child’s toy. It tumbled across the road, breaking through a guardrail, and plunging into a ravine. Dexter’s body, unrestrained by a seatbelt, was propelled through the windshield. Shards of glass shredded Margo’s face and sliced through her jugular vein. The SUV landed upside down, causing Zigs to strike his head and lose consciousness. Several empty beer bottles rolled past Marlene’s head. The gas tank erupted in flames. Marlene tugged on her seatbelt, attempting to free herself, but the belt was snagged. Seconds later, the SUV exploded. 

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

Friday, September 11, 2015

Furry Distraction

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

“You’re going on the Internet to chat? What about Vanessa? She’s been missing for five hours. I was sure you’d want to look for her.”

“I do. But I want to see what the local chatter is. News of Vanessa’s kidnapping might not have hit the state news, yet, but every kid who was at the mall has heard rumors.” He scanned his feed. “Yep, every kid at Serenity Valley Junior High is talking about it. Except Susan Baxter; she’s posting pictures of her hamster.”

“Hey, he’s cute.”


“Sorry. Furry distraction.”

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

Friday, September 4, 2015

I’m Tired and I’m Scared. I Don’t Want to Die.

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

“It’s like cigarettes or alcohol. It’s a drug, Marlene. Using it is exciting and exhilarating. The more you use it, the more you want to use it again. But like a drug, it’s deadly. Cigarettes destroy your lungs, alcohol eats away your liver, and the pocket watch’s chronal energy consumes your body.”

“But think of all the good you can do with the watch. You’ve already saved many lives. You’re a hero, Mac. Just like in your comic books. That watch gives you your own superpower. For some reason, the universe entrusted you with it. But with great power—”

“Comes great responsibility. I know. Spider-Man said that in Amazing Fantasy number fifteen. I’m a comic book geek, remember? But I’m not ready for responsibility. I don’t want it, either. I’m just a kid, with my whole life ahead of me. I won’t let it get eaten up by this watch.” Mackenzie tossed the pocket watch onto his desk. He resolved to dispose of the watch so neither he nor anyone else would ever be at risk from it.  

“I didn’t mean to shout at you, Marlene. I’m tired and I’m scared. I don’t want to die. The thought terrifies me. Sometimes, I have nightmares about the old man disintegrating. I wonder if it’s me, and I wake up screaming. Like you said yesterday, I haven’t come to grips with my own mortality… except at night, in dreams.”

She embraced the trembling boy. “You look like you need a hug.”

He sniffed her neck as she pulled him closer. “Are you wearing perfume… and makeup?”

Marlene nodded.

“I know why you’re doing this. The perfume, the makeup, the dress. You’re doing this for me, aren’t you?”

Marlene’s heart raced. She had dreamed of a day when Mackenzie would see her, not simply as a best bud, but as a young woman. Margo had been right, all she needed to do was dress the part to open his eyes.

“Margo helped you do this, right?”

Marlene nodded. She was flushed with so many new emotions and was searching for the words to express them.

“I thought so. Margo’s clever. She’s helping you fit in with Vanessa’s crowd so you can get tight with her and talk me up to her. Once Vanessa accepts you into her clique, you can pave the way for me with her. You’re awesome for doing all the for me, Marlene. I can’t thank you enough. It means a lot to me. And I promise, I won’t even make fun of you for wearing a dress.”

Marlene felt as if an icy dagger had ripped through her heart. She wanted the earth to split open and swallow her. She gulped. “You know I’d do anything for you, Mac.”

“I’d do anything for you too, Marlene. You’re my best friend. You’ll always be my best friend.”

The young girl choked back her tears. She nodded. “I’ll always be your best friend,” she repeated the affirmation and cruel curse. “I have to go.” She released Mackenzie from her embrace and fled.

Mackenzie put the watch in his pocket. He flipped off the room light and walked to the garage. He found the shovel next to the rake, in the corner by some fishing poles. He grabbed it and left.

He walked for several blocks and cut through the woods. When he heard the train whistle, he followed the sound to the railway trestle. He gazed down at the white stone beneath the trestle. This is a good spot, he thought. Mackenzie plunged the shovel into the ground, pushing the blade through the stony soil. The small mound of dirt he dug up, deposited by his ankle, steadily grew. As twilight fell, a full moon shone on the hole he had carved from the earth. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pocket watch. He addressed it, as if the watch required an explanation for this act of betrayal. “I’m not a hero. I’m just a kid. All I want is a normal life. A long, normal life.” Mackenzie dropped the pocket watch into the hole. It vanished under the first shovelful of dirt. When the last shovelful had been cast, Mackenzie gazed up at the moon, which bathed him in its melancholy glow. The boy returned home, not realizing how much he had given up that evening.

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Save Money on your Textbooks!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, and more! Save $23 or more off the print edition price! Download the 9th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Are You Over-Paying for Textbooks?

Since it's Back to School time I thought I'd post a few Public Service Announcements to save you money and keep you from being ripped off. We now have the latest (9th edition) of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law available in downloadable electronic format priced at $89.95, FAR LESS then the print version ($112.95). But be careful where you order it: eCampus is selling it ABOVE the list price for $107.94 while VitalSource offers the same download for $89.95. Link: