Column of Fire by Ken Follett – Book

Column of Fire by Ken Follett is the third book in the Kingsbridge Series and my least favorite of the three. It’s not that it was difficult or did not tell a story. It was not so terrible that it made me set it aside or stop reading. I liked the fictional characters placed among the actual historical figures enough to wonder what would happen to them but I did not feel strongly invested in them. I always realized they were fictional and there to involve the reader in the events occurring in the mid 1500’s and beyond in England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands.

Religion was the key issue of these times after the declarations of Martin Luther and the beginnings of a Protestant movement that was growing and alarming Catholics. Protestants thought they could talk directly to God without a priest as intermediary. They published Bibles in national languages, rather than Latin, so people could read the Bible by themselves or in church services. They did not feel any allegiance to the Pope in Rome. Catholics saw Protestants as heretics and felt it their religious duty to crush them and their interpretation of Christianity. As Column of Fire begins Protestants are hunted by Catholics, considered criminals by royals, and must practice their religion in secrecy. But this book also covers the pivotal moment when events, especially in England, turned this dynamic around. By the end of the story Catholics are on the defensive and, at least in England, Protestants can worship without fear.

Since England had recently lost Queen Mary Tudor, a strongly Catholic queen, there were two women who could possible take the throne, Elizabeth Tudor, tolerant of Protestantism, and Mary Queen of Scots, strongly Catholic. The story of how Elizabeth took the throne and how she held it against Catholic sympathizers who stood to lose both their brand of religion and lots of power and money has fascinated readers for centuries. Elizabeth held her throne with the help of talented spies and one of these spies was William Cecil.

Ned Willard becomes one of Cecil’s spies, moving in and out of France, with family in Spain for a while (Barney Willard), who later becomes a shipper and a ship’s captain adding more clout to Ned Willard’s information network. There is a villain, in fact there are two and they are just about as hateful as you would like them to be. Pierre Armande de Guise is an ambitious, soulless creature who uses information he steals through his first wife Sylvie Palot, a list of important Protestants in Paris, to ingratiate himself with the de Guise family and to realize his life time ambition of being a royal (however tangentially). Rollo Fitzgerald, brother of Ned’s first love Margery trains a group of sinister priests and hides them in English households for when Mary Queen of Scots takes the throne from Elizabeth, and an invasion plan is afoot.

Even with the historical drama of this critical time in Europe the book never really taps into that drama. Women are expendable and are damaged by the villains but few men are and there is just little tension and fright in most of the telling of this story. Fortunes do switch from the Catholic Fitzgeralds to the Protestant Willards but Ned is never in any real danger and seems more like a nice guy than a spy. So, what we get in Column of Fire by Ken Follett is a good story, but not a great story.

Our Free Speech Conundrum

Our Free Speech Conundrum

Fox News and right wing media (Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, Alex Jones and Info Wars, et al) are broadcasting fear and hate to anyone who will listen. They bear a huge share of responsibility for the current attack on our Democracy.


Since we believe in our 1st Amendment, since we treasure free speech, even if it is propaganda, lies, skewed “facts”, and conspiracy theories, we believe that such speech must be tolerated and we expect citizens to see through and ignore it. It’s our free speech conundrum.

It seems the speech on the right is carefully designed by intelligent, although twisted, people who have been able to analyze the unhappiness, disappointment and anger of people who got shafted by a changing economy and to use this negativity to foment anti-government sentiment (and anti-liberal sentiment), to whip up once-complacent middle class white folks to accept a twisted interpretation of those economic changes that shocked them.

The Real Long Con

It was really a massive con job to get “extraneous” Americans to blame the liberal agenda (the safety net, the regulations, the unions, the human rights laws, the protections of undocumented immigrants, the acceptance of rights for women and same-sex marriage, and much more) for deeds that were perpetrated by the wealthy (The Great Factory Migration, The Great Recession). To me this truly is the greatest long con of all, the one that prepared the way for this “President for the haters and the frightened, and the dispossessed”, and this Republican party who only intend to sideline the middle class and the poor even more than they already have been.

It is a terrible irony that the right-wing media gets to exploit the left wing’s passion for protecting free speech and other rights that are cornerstones of a democracy, of our Republic. The right wing is, meanwhile, using free speech to take away free speech and freedom of religion and human rights, and to steal money from the poor to give to the rich. The right wing also has convinced a segment of Americans that redistribution of wealth down the ladder is wrong (socialism), but redistribution of wealth to the wealthy will somehow benefit us all.

If we lose our Democracy because we love it so much that we have no offense against lies and propaganda, will that be sad, or patriotic? Are there any strategies Dems could use that do not trample on our rights but will stop this assault on the American government and the American people by the right-wing media and the entire Conservative-Republican bloc? The Dems are playing defense, not offense while the GOP is aiming, for some unfathomable reason (money, religion, fear) to dismantle our Democracy and sell it to the highest bidders on the right.

Defense or Offense

Dems are on offense in terms of finding fresh American folks who will run for office in 2018 and there is a strong grassroots resistance — but the right-wing media is a powerful force, continuously pumping skewed information, that we have not found a way to combat. This right-wing media now energizes the Trumpers who are aggressive and arrogant, who feel entitled, and who bash anyone who gives voice to “liberal” speech. They feel no compunctions about depriving others of free speech because, apparently, à la Animal Farm (George Orwell), they feel some speech is better than other speech.

The Trumpers love to turn liberal complaints about the right back at the person who levels the complaint (I’m rubber, you’re glue; everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.) It is like arguing with a toddler. You cannot converse with a right winger because they refuse to engage and only spew brainwashed nonsense and that brings us back to the right-wing media.

The right-wing media should, of course, be able to speak, but they should not have the right to dominate the conversation. They should not have such a giant chunk of network time and they should not be allowed to call the propaganda they broadcast “news.” 45 is trying to shut up mainstream news because it does not skew as far to the right as he would like. This is one front that requires that the left brainstorm to create an effective strategy of offense. We are losing the propaganda war but we are correct in not wanting to use more propaganda to win the war. If we can’t cheat by employing mind control strategies, can we at least stop the President’s campaign to proliferate right wing news and denigrate any other news? Is just calling the real “fake news” out whenever we see it going to be enough to counteract it? Do we have any laws on our side now that the FCC is obviously in “enemy” hands?

Fail and Die: Survive and Live

New TV Reality Show

The American Middle Class is now starring in a new TV reality series based on that old method tough Dads use to teach their children to swim; the old sink-or-swim technique.

The premise of the show is that the wealthy will commandeer all the money, except a pittance. They will take away benefits in the safety net and healthcare programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

The inflation that follows from a monetary policy that intends to prove that the American economy is flourishing (even if only for perhaps, generously, 10% of the population) will make whatever money middle class folks still have seem like much less.

Then the wealthy will observe and report what happens on this very popular TV show.

This show will be a sort of mashup between Survivor and Thunderdome.

It will turn the middle class into entertainment for the wealthy. Even the middle class will watch with horrified fascination when some other middle class family (not theirs) is in the headlights.

The show could be called “Culling the Herd” but that title does not test as well as the one we have chosen.

Our new goal is to find a way to produce this reality show internationally, especially in some of the countries where problems with overpopulation threaten the quality of life on the planet and our enjoyment of all our wealth.

Having our planet all to ourselves will be if gift we give ourselves for being so successful.



Koch Brothers and Putin – Venn Diagrams

Venn Diagrams

Multiple Choice


What do the Koch brothers feel about Putin?
















Which diagram best expresses the relationships between these 4 political entities?


Your answer__________


Explanation for your answer (if you wish):

Internet Writing: Long or Short Forms


Writing: Why I write

I had two goals when I started blogging. I knew that I wanted to write and that I wanted to write about something meaningful. Then one day I tuned into Glenn Beck going off on Obama and I knew that I had found my subject. As I learned more and more about the Tea Party and the Conservative think tanks and foundations, about Grover Norquist, and the NRA, and the Koch brothers, and ALEC (and more), I decided to become a cheerleader for Obama and for our democracy. Since that time in 2008* I have never lacked for subject matter. I do not see this as an advantage of being born in such contentious times, in this transitional era, because there has been too much propaganda, too much rhetoric, too much hate. I was never a conservative or a Republican but I did not feel that the party or the ideologues were unwilling to compromise or that they were totally tone deaf to the needs of we the people as I began to feel during those days after Obama’s election.

Racism has existed in our America since the founding but the racial hatred seems to ebb and peak. Obama’s Presidency happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voting Rights Act was also enacted 50 years ago. But what should have been a celebration of the triumph of humanism became a sad testimony to how many Americans had merely tucked away their racial animosity and their white supremacy and had let the one fester and given free rein to the other.

Guns and hate speech began to be quite common, especially when Trayvon Martin was killed walking home from a trip to a store for snacks and we became aware that this instance of black jeopardy was not an isolated occurrence.  Soon trolling on the internet was considered by many to be either great fun or an art form of ever escalating derogatory attacks. The attackers were mostly on the right; the defenders on the left. It certainly was demoralizing to realize that we had never actually moved on from the Civil War. However, for writers it was a rich mine for passion and verbal activism. Then, after Obama served his two terms, we elected a white supremacist. Hard not to just keep  and writing.

Getting a Message across: Long Forms or Short Forms?

Recently though, I have begun to question whether my desire to be a writer may be at odds with my hope that I can make points that perhaps drill through the fog of ideology and change someone’s mind about an important matter. If my readers were the people who like to read long-form media such as we find in The Atlantic or Salon or even the mainstream newspapers then I would need to keep practicing my written expression to meet the quality of those publications.

But I speak from the “cheap seats”. I have access to a family of 80 and the friends of this very large family and I am often aware that we do not all have the same views on politics. They always say that they hate politics, or they have no opinions about politics and yet they express what are some rather strong opinions on a variety of political issues. This gives me a kind of focus group I can tap into and, oddly enough, almost none of them agree with me. They have been listening to Fox News and have internalized that media outlet’s anti-deadbeat-white nationalist propaganda because they are white and, even though all the factories have left us, they are not poor anymore (although they were poor as children).

I have noticed that Donald Trump is not the only modern person who likes information delivered in the shortest form possible. I have noticed that on the internet the old truth that “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true for even this modern form of communication, the internet. Infographics are popular because they condense complex information into simple memes and charts and lists and include as many pictures as possible. Most entries on social media are quite short. Instagram uses pictures almost exclusively, snapchat uses both pictures and words (as few as possible), Facebook entries fit in a standard square frame although they often contain links to longer media within the frame. You can like or express anger at an entry without necessarily following the link. Friends who post memes, which are basically pithy comments overlaid on pictures, always get many more “clicks” than my posts get. Usually these memes are not even created by the friend who posts them but they are reaching more “readers” than I am.



Since my main objective is often to try to get someone to entertain a point of view that they may not have encountered in their “ideological bubble” I have begun to experiment with articles and other forms of expression that are a closer match to entries on social media. There will be a learning curve and I will probably subject readers to some near-failures before I perfect my short forms. You will be my guinea pigs. It will be an experiment to see if more people begin to pay attention to my posts. Of course, it is easier to dismiss a short-form meme if it does not suit your “tribe” so perhaps it is still impossible to reach outside your bubble, whether your posts are long and writerly or short and pictorial. For the record, I do not intend to give up writing longer form articles either because I can’t help myself.

*My current blog post archives only go back to 2010 but I had a blog on Microsoft Live for two years before 2010.



Voting Against Your Own Interests – Tax Reform


If you think your representative should vote for the tax reform and jobs bill when it comes out of committee –

did you realize that

you are asking him/her to vote against your own interests?


The bill sounds OK. It sounds as if the middle class and even the lower middle class will get a tax cut.

Who doesn’t like more money in his/her pocket?



Ed Wexler / Cagle Cartoons

But did you know that your government, the government of we the people, is planning to

give you a tax cut in one bill and take it back

in the same bill and also in the budget bill that they plan

to follow up with.



If this tax bill passes up to 13 million Americans

could lose their health insurance.

Even if that is not you, the loss will affect everyone

because these folks will either

avoid doctors or use the emergency room

for primary care. Our past experiences tell us that

this will cost all of us in indirect ways.




GOP Congressmen and women also intend to incur a

1.5 trillion addition to the deficit by cutting

corporate taxes a lot

but they need to offset that somehow. They

plan to do that by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (they will call it something else, perhaps

block grants, or privatizing, or a voucher plan).



Here’s how the wealthy will look after this tax plan

is passed.


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, right, and his wife Louise Linton, hold up a sheet of new $1 bills, the first currency notes bearing his and U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza’s signatures, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) in Washington. The Mnuchin-Carranza notes, which are a new series of 2017, 50-subject $1 notes, will be sent to the Federal Reserve to issue into circulation. At left is BEP Director Leonard Olijar. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)


This is how we the people will look if

They pass this tax (and jobs) plan.

(The jobs are produced by magical thinking.)


How to Look Guilty

I have spent two days making this movie. I started in Power Point and it did have audio in that format. The visuals transferred but the audio did not. So here is a kind of do-it-yourself movie that you read for yourself. I will keep trying to figure out how to add voice over to this.

Try the pdf if you have a reader; it’s easier and goes at your own pace.


How to Look Guilty

Side Shows

This administration, the orange one, is so difficult to mount a resistance against because so much happens under the radar as side shows while some big show is going on in the main ring. In that main ring some part of our democracy is being set on fire, this time it is income inequality, growing due to a bad tax reform bill. David Leonhardt in today’s NYT’s tells the resistance that this tax reform, if passed, will not be a big deal. It can be rewritten when the opposition regains power and it won’t have negative outcomes that are immediately perceivable. It will not, he says, be as big a problem for Americans as repeal of the ACA would have been. Whether you agree with him or not, I assume you do agree that recently the resistance has been focused on trying to put out that fire.

But while a fire threatens in the main ring there are all kinds of side shows (little fires) around the big show which erode policies slowly and yet are persistent enough that in the end real damage will be done. The hallowing out of the State Department is one of these things that should be drawing more of our attention than it is. Of course, how would the resistance find a tactic to reverse this? With so many intelligent, angry, and creative people I’m sure some in the movement are working on this. We keep reminding the administration that we can see what they’re doing, but they don’t seem to be shaking in their boots or stopping the decimation.

I don’t think it is at all clear if the outcomes of overturning environmental protection laws, another side act we watch but from which we keep getting distracted, will be as reversible as Mr. Leonhardt seems to believe the tax reforms will be (and the budget cuts?) In the December 6, 2017 edition of the New York Times is one of those useful end-of-the-year summaries which goes back over all that has occurred in the environmental arena in the first year of “The 45 Show” (The Year in Climate Change). Downloading this article and saving it will give you access to an array of climate information about climate events, changes to climate laws, and some of the possible solutions other nations are considering.


Topics covered:


Six Maps Showing How Americans Think About Climate Change

Greenland is Melting – Where is the Water Going?

Answers to Complex Climate Questions

95 Degree Days – Spreading of Extreme Heat

Summers are Getting Hotter

Southern States Will Suffer More

Carbon Rising even as Emissions Stabilize

50 Years of Melting Ice in Glacier National Park

The Crack in the Antarctic Ice Shelf

Looming Floods Threaten Cities

Miles of Ice Collapsing Into the Sea

Finding Answers in Ice

Vikings Razed the Forests – Can Iceland Regrow Them?

Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing

The US – Biggest Carbon Polluter – Walked Away from Paris Climate Deal (June)

How GOP Leaders Came to View Climate Change as Fake Science (June)

How Rollbacks at Scott Pruitt’s EPA are a Boon to Oil and Gas (May)

52 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump (Oct)

Very Bad for Disaster Planners – That Trump Ignores Climate Change (Nov)

US Climate Change Policy: Made in California (Sept)

America’s Heartland – Discuss Climate Change without saying Climate Change (Jan)


Changing Climate, Changing Cities


Mexico City (Feb)

China (April)

Dutch Solutions (June)

Houston and Harvey (Nov)


Solutions and Setbacks


How Far is the World from Meeting Climate Goals? (Nov)

Tokyo flood preparations (Oct)

Rooftop Solar Dims under Pressure from Utility Lobbyists (July)

Things that, if Fixed, Fix a Piece of Climate Puzzle (July)

Seed Bank Almost Lost in Syria’s War Could Help Feed Warming Planet (Oct)

Amazon Deforestation Surges Again (Feb)

Building Better Coral Reefs (April)


You can find these environmental articles in one place, at this link:


Even after we tune in to this climate change “side show” it hits our senses as a series of so many small assaults that it is difficult to mount a counterattack. We get to the point where we just decide that we will sit back until something occurs on the environmental front that is so big that what was once a little side show becomes the next act in the main ring.

Climate change is not the only side act. Our ringleader likes to keep our senses fully occupied and therefore distracts us by announcing new acts every day, or even several times a day. Will our hostilities with North Korea escalate? Let’s name Jerusalem the capital of Israel today – fun! Will we have a government shutdown? Don’t think about Russia and the 2016 election – old news, fake news. Don’t think about my misogyny or even the likely pedophilia of Roy Moore. However, we are encouraged to focus on Democrats who mistreated women – throw them out of Congress, even as we welcome Roy Moore in. Immigration, DACA cannot get our undivided attention even though the travel ban decisions from a biased court will stand because our Supreme Court is also biased. Yikes, this is how you divide the focus of what looked to be a promising resistance movement.

I never was a circus fan but, at least, a normal circus is simply an entertainment. The circus going on in Washington, DC in the orange administration is like a circus in a science fiction story. The acts are not simply entertainment, they will affect Americans and living things around the world, possibly for many years to come. The GOP (and 45) have made certain predictions about what will happen in the future because of these “acts”. They predict that the results will “make America great again”. But if they are wrong we could all pay “bigly”. It is a “yuge” risk for one party, out of a rather extreme ideology to force events to conform to their vision. Of course, we will know who to blame, but that could end up being a small consolation.