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Coming Back Soon!

With the publication of my 4th Gabe McKenna Mystery, MIDNIGHT BLUES, on October 9th, I am planning to return to blogging on this site after an absence of nearly six years. During that time I have been churning out Award-winning mysteries for Suspense Publishing in Los Angeles.

So much has happened to this country over that time, it will be like starting all over again…

book bob

Much Ado About Nothing?

Yesterday was the four billion dollar ZERO. Both campaigns spent that amount, trying to convince the American people that their party, their candidates were somehow uniquely qualified to lead our country out of the current malaise. It changed nothing.

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The next few days, weeks — hell, the next few months —  will unfortunately be filled with post mortems, dissecting the election in nauseating detail. Statistical analysis of voting patterns will provide fodder for columnists, analysts, bloggers, and political junkies.

But the one number that jumps out at me is this: 14,000,000.That’s how many Americans who voted in 2008 stayed home yesterday. And no, it wasn’t Storm Sandy, this drop-off in participation was nationwide.

Think about it for a minute. Fourteen million Americans basically checked out of the game. Fourteen million people are no longer playing. I guess they are the electoral equivalent of the millions of Americans who have stopped looking for work. It would figure.

So tell me, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, John Boehner – what exactly are you celebrating today? We have a lot of deep problems in this country right now. But I have one important question for you all:

How do you get people to believe, once they have lost their faith?

In Praise of Hubert Sumlin (1931-2011)

In American we pay attention to the stars and the superstars. Less time is spent appreciating the side men, the back up band, or the supporting characters. Which is why the death of Hubert Sumlin less than two months ago went generally unreported and unnoticed.

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Who was Hubert Sumlin? Far more people heard Hubert than heard of him. If you ever listen to Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, you hear Hubert Sumlin’s exploding Gibson Les Paul Goldtop defining the background. He spent most of his time in the background, you see. When you listen to Eric Clapton or Keith Richard you are hearing Hubert Sumlin. His licks and stylings are found in so many blues-rock performances these days that contemporary rock musicians should wear a Hubert Sumlin patch on their shirts the way NASCAR drivers display their sponsors’ logos.

Like so many blues sidemen, Hubert’s contributions to American music went largely unacknowledged except by true blues afficionados. And like many blues greats, he died quietly. The end of Hubert Sumlin’s road came in Wayne, New Jersey on December 4, 2011. His funeral expenses were paid by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, who knew a great one when they heard him play.

Here’s to Hubert Sumlin, who gave dignity and stature to all sidemen, everywhere.

Watch Hubert show you how it is done…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPCPm0FPNk8

Here’s another link from the American Blues Festival in 1964 where you see how a young Sumlin (who is seen only on the side) keeps the music rolling behind Howlin’ Wolf’s great vocal (Wolf’s backup guitar is unamplified). The definition of a perfect side man:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex3nc0Km77g&feature=related

R.I.P. Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

The Velvet poet has died, perhaps fittingly in this time of the year when believers celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. Vaclav Havel was a revolutionary man of Peace, a man with the courage to take on the oppression of Communism and fight this battle armed only with his pen and with his words. He brought forth a new birth of freedom and liberty to the land of my ancestors and enhanced the dignity of all Humanity.

God rest you,  merry gentleman!

Fighting Words: The Legacy of Christopher Hitchens

The world is a poorer place today, a less erudite, insightful, interesting, thoughtful, reflective, and outrageous place today. Christopher Hitchens passed away after losing his long twilight battle with cancer.

Hitchens was one of the most brilliant minds and greatest rhetoricians of his time. Volumes could be filled with his greatest insights and deadliest retorts. I, like many, stood in awe of that intellect and of his strength in facing and annotating the step by step inevitability of his own death while never letting go of his will to write in the face of it all.

As a writer, I know that one of the great ones has left us. Hitchens’ greatness as a writer was not simply a product of his intellect, erudition, or his absolute fearlessness in taking on any topic or anybody at any time. His greatness came in his embrace of the necessity for him to say, and do, and write the things he did. In his own words, he said it best, as always:

“I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life.”

Hitchens was engaging even when he was being outrageous. Even when he went around skewering Mother Teresa I couldn’t dislike him. He was at times most likable when being his most frivolous self, in his embrace of his own vices, and in his flouting the laws and platitudes of over-serious micromanaging authority. As he once said,

“The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.”

As a man of faith myself, I could not share in his atheism, nor applaud the anger he often expressed toward modern religion. But you had to respect both his humanism and his humanity. I will remember him most for his love of democracy, his high regard for words and their power, his loathing of militant Islam and the courage he showed speaking out against it, and for his respect for the First Principles of the enlightened men who came up with the audacious idea of America itself, Christopher’s adopted country.

I know Christopher Hitchens ferociously denied himself the possibility of an afterlife. In this, I hope he has been proven spectacularly wrong. And so I can only wonder in wonder at what Christopher might be saying to Thomas Paine tonight.

Black Friday – Our New Holy Day of Shopping Obligation

It’s bad enough that Christmas has been largely stripped of its spiritual dimension. Now Americans are in the process of reducing Thanksgiving to a similarly empty materialistic exercise. Thanksgiving, as the word implies, involves pausing to express our gratitude for the people, gifts, and blessings that give meaning and depth to our lives.

Over the past few years this aspect of the Holiday has taken a back seat to a new phenomenon – Black Friday. In fact, television commercials and Internet ads seem to breeze past Thursday entirely, pointing us to the day after and creating a National Shoppers’ Day. This artificial commercial construct and the hyping it receives contain a pernicious message for all: you are defined by what you own. So be thankful that there is no problem in your life that can’t be solved by the purchase of this year’s “must have” items; be thankful that you live in a society where your most materialistic impulses can enjoy immediate gratification.

Of course, biologically and sociologically speaking, instant gratification is the domain of the infant. And this eternal infant in all of us, whether we are 3 years old or 53 years old, is the target of the Black Friday assault.

It’s an interesting holiday recipe: start with a cup of envy, add a half stick of greed, flavor it all with a sense of personal insufficiency. Baste frequently with false promises of easy fulfillment through material acquisition. Sprinkle with easy credit every 15 minutes. Simmer over constant low heat until it all comes to a boil of artificially created shoppers’ hysteria. Then open the doors around midnight and get out of the way.

Look, if people want to fall for this I guess they will. I just think it’s a shame. And a sham.

Here’s what is REALLY going on: In our lousy economy, retailers are concerned that people will be sufficiently hesitant about going even deeper into debt that they will pull back in their holiday spending to more responsible levels. But – if they can be sufficiently seduced at the start of the shopping “season” – they will part with their money early on, and you still have four more weeks to convince them they still haven’t spent enough in their inexorable march toward insolvency.

An overstatement? I hardly think so. Americans are merely employing on the family level the behaviors our government is practicing on the national level.