The Flame

This is a short story coming in the collection for the holidays. I seldom post stories here; they belong on John Maberry’s Writing. I’m making an exception this time. All the writers out there will understand. Plus it’s a break from politics–hurray!

The Flame

Carson sipped Irish coffee, bundled against the chill wind of a late October day on the Outer Banks. He sat on the third floor deck for its view beyond the barrier dune, rising 15 feet above the sand. The swimmers and sunbathers had gone. Only the beachcombers and solitude seekers remained this late in the season. He was among the latter. With the kids away at college and Sharon at her sister’s to “think about us,” he couldn’t face the empty house in Alexandria. Reading the backlog of beach books almost kept thoughts of Sharon’s surprise announcement away. He had just put down a thriller when he looked out to see a fiery column rising above the waves. It must have been a mile or two offshore. Only the bright yellow plume could be seen, even with the high-powered binoculars. No ship. No people. Nothing. What the hell is that? There’s no gas line out there. The sight had him baffled.

He called the Coast Guard at Hatteras Inlet. “Coast Guard, Petty Officer Harris speaking. Is this a boating emergency call?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m looking offshore from Buxton, seeing a bright flame coming up from the water.”

“How far out is it? Have you seen any ships in the area?”

“A mile and a half, maybe more. Hard to tell from the shore with no landmarks to go by. No ships out there or anything else that I can see. The plume looks about the size of a power pole from here and goes up fifty or sixty feet from the surface.”

“Ok, we’ll send a boat to check it out. Thank you for letting us know. Please give us a call if anything changes.”

“Sure. Oh, and I didn’t hear any explosions or anything. One more thing—the flame isn’t bending much in the wind; looks like it’s under pressure. It’s yellow, by the way.”


Carson figured at least 45 minutes, more like an hour before they showed up. They’d have to come around the inlet to the oceanside and through Diamond Shoals, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for all the ships that sank there over the centuries.

While waiting for the Coast Guard, Carson refreshed his Irish coffee. Barely three PM and he was on his third drink. The caffeine kept him up enough and the whiskey dulled the pain. The pain of not selling a book in ten years. Sharon’s billable hours at the DC law firm kept them financially flush. She’d made partner just after his last book sold. No coincidence his writing suffered after that. It took a toll on the marriage.

“So you think the booze will help the stories along, Carson?” That’s what she said, more than once, when she found him staring at a blank monitor slurping a drink.

“Hey, it worked for some of the greats,” he’d laugh before slamming down the glass. “I don’t know what will help. I’m trying; the ideas aren’t there—the words won’t appear without them.” That’s when the blowups came. Hurricane force words flying between them, loud as a storm screaming through the room. She once was his muse. No more.

Continue reading The Flame

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Trump vs Buffett–the Tax Dodger Picks on the Wrong Taxpayer

Cropped image of Titanic sinking painting by Stower
The Trumptanic is sinking

Trump will never release his taxes, everyone knows that. But that’s just part of his constant stream of lies. He projects all his faults and foibles onto everyone else. He assumes Warren Buffett, being a much, much richer billionaire than himself (assuming Trump is one at all) must also be avoiding paying federal taxes just he does. WRONG!, as Trump would say. If you don’t have facts, just make them up–that’s what Trump does on a daily basis. He probably never expected a public statement correcting this erroneous statement during the Presidential Debate on October 9:

“Many of her [Hillary Clinton] friends took bigger deductions. Warren Buffett took a massive deduction.”

Here’s what Buffett had to say in his statement:

My 2015 return shows adjusted gross income of $11,563,931. My deductions totaled $5,477,694, of which allowable charitable contributions were $3,469,179. All but $36,037 of the remainder was for state income taxes.

The total charitable contributions I made during the year were $2,858,057,970, of which more than $2.85 billion were not taken as deductions and never will be. Tax law properly limits charitable deductions.

My federal income tax for the year was $1,845,557. Returns for previous years are of a similar nature in respect to contributions, deductions and tax rates.

I have paid federal income tax every year since 1944, when I was 13. (Though, being a slow starter, I owed only $7 in tax that year.) I have copies of all 72 of my returns and none uses a carryforward.

Although we can’t be sure, because he won’t release his tax returns, Trump is unlikely to be a generous charitable giver–assuming he gives away anything at all. Buffett, Bill Gates and others have pledged to give away their wealth to charity before death or in their wills. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is, unlike the Trump “Foundation,” is an actual benevolent group giving millions away annually.

Incidentally, Gates and Buffett also are unlikely to spend much, if any, time in “locker room banter,”


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The Fat Lady Is Warming Up

Elephant, feet in air

The Trump party is coming to an end soon, on a network near you. Maybe as soon as Sunday night in St. Louis. Listen for the Fat Lady singing.


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Aleppo–a Time to Act

Damaged buildings in Syria, from CNN website
Damaged buildings in Syria, from CNN website

ISIS/ISIL, Bashar al Assad, Russia, rebels of every stripe, the U.S. and the UN. Just some of the players in Syria. The problem has been finding rebels to support that might take down Assad but that weren’t ISIS or Al Qaeda. And to avoid what happened in Iraq–getting rid of Assad without leaving the country in worse shape after all. ISIS may be on the run, but now with Russia aiding Assad more and more, atrocities in Aleppo (and no doubt elsewhere) get worse. See this article from Gayle Tzemach Lemmon on CNN.

When war crimes are happening daily, can the world afford to wait? As a Buddhist and a person who values diplomacy over war, I am loathe to suggest more U.S. military involvement. But can we expect the UN to help? Not in time. Can we just let Russia roll? One has to believe that Sergei Lavrov has been playing John Kerry for a fool on the cease-fire. I camped on the Mall in Washington, DC with Kerry when he was a leader of the Vietnam Vets Against the War. Many years after that I included my antiwar sentiments into a memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland, that also explained how I came to accept the responsibility to change myself in order to make the world a better and more peaceful place. But Buddhism doesn’t indulge the “turn the other cheek” principle of Christianity. Self-defense and defense of others is always a legitimate thing in Buddhism.

Perhaps President Obama is waiting until after November 8th, when his lame duck status is not only certain but won’t inconvenience Hillary Clinton. Were she in office right now, she would likely institute a no-fly zone over Aleppo and might be willing to challenge Russian and Syrian aircraft who violate it. We can assume Trump would do no such thing and would let Russia aid Syria until all opposition to that brutal dictator and war criminal Assad was crushed and he regained complete control of Syria.

The children and the citizens of Aleppo can’t wait. If the U.S. needs to shoot down some Russian planes (or believably threaten to do so) then so be it. We need to tell Putin we are ready to hack every computer system in Russia until it’s power grid, its infrastructure and its communication system fails or is completely crippled. Will he believe it? Can Obama bluff him? He’s been calling our bluff for some time. Now we need to call his and do it–NOW. His government hackers have been doing their best to get Trump elected. That interference has to stop. Is that a declaration of war? Probably close to it, but I prefer to call it defense of others. A believable threat has to move him. Putin will only go as far as he thinks he can get away with. He’s not sitting at a console ready to launch nukes. Do you think so? I don’t.

Congress is not in session. Calling them back will likely result in no approval. The UN Security Council won’t approve such action because Russia will veto it. So it’s more than a big political gamble. It could result in big problems for Clinton before the election. Or then again, maybe not. THEN we can sort out who needs to be supported in Syria. Obama can then exit and hand over the mess to Hillary Clinton, who is capable of handling it even if he isn’t willing or able to do it. Enough is enough.

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Fermented Fruit Falls from the Trump Tree

TImage of rotten applehe apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, people say. In the Trump family tree, it’s fermented fruit—before it even hits the ground. Or perhaps rotten apples are more descriptive. Just as racist, just as uninformed, just as lying—well, you get the idea. The tagline of this blog says, Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions. So today’s post isn’t just about politics, it’s about the sad truth of the Trump family.

It’s a family unlike that of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or other rich but charitable people. It’s also unlike the Bush or Clinton families as well. Trump’s children follow in his footsteps–get richer anyway you can. Spend those riches on yourselves. Use OPM (other people’s money) to give to charity–not your own. Run for the White House on both narcissistic motives and to further feather the family fortunes. To do so, Trump, Sr. has appealed to the basest instincts of America, lied continually as he does in his private business dealings and offered illegal or impractical solutions to nonexistent problems. Why bring up the family? Because they’re adults, involved in the campaign and will be both the beneficiaries and the managers of family’s ill-gotten wealth.

First up, Donald Trump, Jr. Rotten apple number one. He recently tweeted a meme comparing Syrian refugees to poison skittles. You have no doubt seen the graphic.

Graphic from tweet--Syrian refugees may be terrorists
This image says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first. #trump2016 — Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) Sept. 19, 2016

Seriously? All part and parcel of the Trumps’  core xenophobic trope that immigrants, especially Muslim ones, are dangerous terrorists. No, they’re not. But facts and logic mean nothing to the Trump family. Here’s the reality, from a Cato Institute report dated September 13, 2016 (The Institute is a Libertarian think tank funded by the very conservative Koch brothers).

“The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year.  . . The hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists are not large enough to warrant extreme actions like a moratorium on all immigration or tourism.”

The twitterverse and the web erupted in outrage at Junior’s terrible tweet. The refugees, of course, are the victims of the war in Syria–not terrorists. They may be Christians or members of any number of faiths other than Muslim. Some have been injured by ISIS, more probably by Bashar Al Assad’s forces and many no doubt injured  by Russian airstrikes ordered by the Trump BFF Putin.  Here’s just one example of the massive critical response. This one comes from Jon Favreau, President Obama’s chief speechwriter.

Injured Syrian boy
Not a skittle

Continue reading Fermented Fruit Falls from the Trump Tree

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The Debates Are Coming–Super Bowl or Blowout

The debates are a just a week away. The race has tightened. I’m not sanguine but neither am I trembling in fear. Which Trump will be at the debates? The submissive one that fears dominant women or the bully that insults everyone? Click To Tweet Will he dare call Hillary crooked or a liar to her face? He bullies her at his peril but I think he’s too cowardly to do so. But can he be calm enough to woo any undecideds? In the GOP debates and on Twitter he mocked and insulted all his opponents—with one exception, Carly Fiorina. Before the debates, he asked if hers was face of a President. During the first debate, he backed down and said she had a beautiful face. He did protest her interrupting others in the 2nd debate–hardly up to his usual insults. He tweeted terrible things about Megyn Kelly but couldn’t behave that way with her in person. More recently, in the United Methodist Church in Flint, Michigan, he meekly accepted Pastor Faith Green Timmons interrupting him to let him know that he couldn’t make a political speech. Later he tweeted a blast calling her a nervous mess and falsely claiming people in the church were enthusiastic about his talk.

It’s not only strong women Trump has problems with either; it’s world leaders as well. Ironic after all his vile rhetoric about Mexican immigrants and the government that he should diffidently offer praise of the country and its president Enrique Pena Nieto In his news conference after their meeting. The mild mannered Trump said the matter of the wall didn’t come up. But the Mexican President tweeted out that it had and that he told Trump in no uncertain terms that Mexico would not be paying for any wall. Trump went on a rampage that night in Arizona during his immigration policy speech and tweeted back rude comments to the Mexican President.

This is part of Trump’s bombastic bully routine. He confidently insults and belittles others out of their presence. When in person, he bullies only when he thinks them inferior. He is afraid of women, especially strong American women. Which probably has something to do with why he has had three Eastern European wives. So how will or how should Hillary respond to Trump? Trump (and his lame-brained running mate Pence) wants to paint the Apprentice host as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Not hardly! On the contrary, “there you go again,” worked very well for Reagan against Jimmy Carter attacks. When Trump offers insults, lies or nonsense, I suggest Clinton chuckle and ask “Seriously?” Click To Tweet It might even pick up some Millennials or at least Gen Xers. Maybe too snarky for Clinton or not her style. But with humor, maybe it’s the right response to “bomb the s—t out of them” or that Obama and she are the “co-founders of ISIS”.

Unfortunately, given the sexism of many male Americans, Clinton has a fine line to walk in being assertive and not “bitchy.” That’s where smiles and humor may be effective. She can do as she does in the many ads her campaign has run—use his own words against him. She can offer specific, pragmatic policies to Trumps vague and glib generalities—especially his “secret plan.” Whichever Trump shows up, it will probably be the real one. The one whose America First pronouncement harkens back to Nazi sympathizers before the start of World War II. The one whose “Make America Great Again” slogan suggests the 1920s, before the Great Depression and when the KKK marched in Manhattan. Or even all the way back to the Know Nothing party of the 1850s in another anti-immigrant time in America. The con man. The corrupt capitalist. The racist. The man who may have a future hosting a reality TV show on RT, the Russian network where Larry King interviewed him—maybe a show like The Apparatchik.

OK, enough on the debate. Let’s end this with some one-liners from long ago that fit well on a man who lives in America’s past.

  • Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. (Oh well, too late for that, isn’t it.) Which leads right into the next one.

  • He has constipation of the brain and diarrhea of the mouth. (Or in Trump’s case, perhaps it’s diarrhea of the keyboard for twitter.)

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The Clinton Foundation–Doing Good and NOT a Political BFD

Clinton Foundation logoSo, 85 of 154 non-governmental meetings Hillary Clinton had were with donors to the Clinton Foundation, according to an AP story. If so, SO WHAT! Pay for play? NO! Quid pro quo? NO! Illegality? NO! More political theater as Trump goes off the rails asking for a special prosecutor etc.

  • She had 1,700 other meetings–during her time as Secretary of State
  • She drew no salary from the Foundation
  • She received no money, gifts or other favors from those she met with
  • There is no indication that any of these meetings resulted in the donors benefitting personally in any way
  • The Foundation is well-regarded by charity watchdog groups–getting an A from Charity Watch and a platinum rating from GuideStar
  • It IS a nonprofit organization; it’s not set up to make money for any member of the Clinton family
  • The Foundation has done great work around the world and in the US since its creation–as detailed in this story on CNN:
In more than 70 countries, according to the foundation, it helps 11.5 million people, including 800,000 children, with HIV/AIDS get their medication at 90% lower cost — more than half the adults and three-quarters of the children getting treatment in the world today.
But it does all kinds of other work as well. For instance, it helps East African farmers get better seeds and fertilizers. It supported Nepal’s reconstruction after the 2015 earthquakes. And it has connected more than 500,000 Latin Americans to job training and entrepreneurship opportunities.
The Clinton Foundation does tons of work in the US, too. Some examples: It has a school program that operates in every state, affecting more than 31,000 schools and 18 million students by its count. That program is to improve physical education, child nutrition, health education and staff wellness programs. They also work on prescription drug addiction. The foundation wants to halve the number of opioid overdoses — right now those drugs kill more Americans than car accidents.


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Quantum Computer Cybersecurity Issues Coming

Kiplinger’s Tech Alerts has some interesting news in today’s letter. In addition to the threat posed by the advent of quantum computing, the issue has these items:  A turning point for the computer chip industry. Free advice on ransomware attacks. Tech stocks continue to please Wall Street. Africa set to add a quarter-billion web users. The U.K.’s tech sector takes a hit.

So what’s a quantum computer? You don’t really want to know the details of the what, but here’s a simple answer: It’s no longer just binary (0 or 1) but like the quantum state, it can be both. It stores data in qubits.  So? Well it will make today’s supercomputers seem as slow as the PCs that ran Windows 3.1.

What’s the risk? Code cracking; note that astronomical speed increase. As the article points out,

A working quantum computer could break the world’s best digital security software, which is widely used to protect financial transactions, medical data, online communications and much more. Quantum computers use the unique properties of subatomic particles to help speed up computations of huge amounts of data.

It will be years before they are available and even then at very high prices. So it won’t be your typical hacker that uses them but those that have the resources to make use of them–governments or very large but criminal corporations. In the meantime, hackers could store encrypted data they stole and wait for the quantum computers that will enable them to break the codes. So the race is on to develop more robust defenses.

Read the article for more on this and the other topics.

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Fixing WordPress when Jetpack Is Being Difficult

Hurray, NO politics today (here anyway)! Jetpack fun instead. No telling why the “display recent posts” widget couldn’t get posts from my John Maberry’s Writing site to this one or to  my Eagle Peak Press site. If YOU have a similar problem, here’s a workaround. Use the RSS widget (another Jetpack item) to grab a feed (you have to have one–Google now owns/runs Feedburner but there are others) from one of your sites to put on another one. Worked here.   😎

happy computerWant to post excerpts? Use the Jetpack “text widget” to insert script from your feed (Feedburner “BuzzBoost” will get you that; no doubt other RSS feeds will do so as well) to put them wherever you like. I used that for Eagle Peak Press. You will see the excerpts from John Maberry’s Writings in column 2 of the black background bottom area of that site.

The WordPress forum, while responsive, couldn’t find the problem with the display recent posts. Nor could Jetpack support resolve it. So I did it myself (picture me patting myself on my back).  😆

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Make Gotham Great Again?

So much anger. So much hatred. So much blame. Four days of the Republican National Convention. With only a few glimmers of light or hope. In his dystopian view of America Donald J. Trump sees the entire Country as Gotham.  A lawless place where terrorists from Islamic countries, murderers and rapists from Mexico, Black Lives Matters-inspired cop shooters and other evildoers  roam the streets preying on innocent Americans. Fear no more–Trump and the GOP (at least many of the delegates at the Republican National Convention who are office holders) will quickly make it safe again!

But how?

Well, in the minds of Trump, Congressional Republicans and many of the attendees at the convention, the rise of terrorism is all the fault of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The two Democrats probably recruited Osama bin Laden to organize the 9/11 attacks just to make George Bush look bad! So the first step is locking up Hillary Clinton, as the Rudelicans at the convention yelled over and over again. Or she could be shot by a firing squad if Al Baldasaro, Trump supporter and New Hampshire state representative has his way. Or she could be hung on the Mall in Washington, DC, if United Airlines pilot and member of the West Virginia House of Delegates Michael Folk has his way. United Airlines suspended Folk from flying. The Secret Service is investigating Baldasaro. If Trump is elected, Obama will be gone, of course, and Trump will change everything on Inaugural Day, January 20, 2017–instantaneously!

Seems unlikely at best but read on. The plans will come later of course; just trust him–but how can we when he lies cheats and steals so much (more on that later) and can’t even run as important an event as his own convention without screwing up so many things. Like Melania’s plagiarism, Ted Cruz taking his revenge for the Donald’s slander of Ted’s wife and father–just to mention a couple of the biggies. So if he couldn’t get this four-day event for himself right, how can he lead the country? Anyway, based on what we know now and what we might imagine could be on tap, here’s what to expect. Continue reading Make Gotham Great Again?

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Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions

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