April 30, 2011

Cover Art

I've just finished putting together a small collection of  essays from my climate change web site, Planet Restart. Two of the more tedious tasks associated with self-publishing are coming up with a title and the cover art.

For some reason I have a lot of trouble coming up with titles. I took the title for this e-book from one of the essays, following a practice I have seen many other authors use. It has the virtue of making clear the subject--global warming--while at the same time creating a little question in the reader's mind. Fifty years? Why that?

Cover art is more like writing in that a certain level of creativity is required. But as with the title, form must not overpower function. The function of the cover is to plainly show the title down to a fairly small image size, while at the same time providing some visual hints about the topic of the book. This cover shows the title, it shows a picture of earth, and it gives a sense of heat from the color gradient.

I use a piece of freeware called Paint.net to create my graphics. I've been doing simple things like this for several years now. I have learned to live within my artistic limitations and to keep it basic. Beginners may find graphics packages a bit frustrating at first. But there are plenty of web and YouTube tutorials out there. The more you can do for yourself, the more control you have, the faster things get done, and the more pleasure you get from it.

April 26, 2011

Smoking Guns

Well, I've given up on the self-help book for the moment. Instead, I am compiling essays from a blog I wrote for a couple of years. The blog was called Planet Restart, and it dealt with climate change and global warming. I started it for my grandchildren, as a way of getting them prepared for the world they would be living in, a world that would be very different from the one we see around us today.

In the course of looking over the content, I came across a reference to World Wars I and II, along with all the other wars, great and small, that blighted the 20th Century. World War II especially put the Industrial Revolution into overdrive. Huge amounts of pollutants were pumped into the atmosphere with zero thought as to the long-range consequences.

All those factories produced a lot of smoking guns--literally. Picture any battlefield and what do you see: clouds of gun smoke rising up into the air. I just wonder how much did that impact the trend of global warming? It's an interesting question, one I intend to do some research on. Maybe this is just another case of an axiom I formulated based on what veterans experience in the aftermath of their service: the war never stops trying to kill you.

April 23, 2011

Lost

I recently saw a photo taken by the Hubble Telescope. The image was filled with smudges and blurs, each one a distant galaxy from the oldest part of the universe seen to date.

I got to thinking about how big and vast the universe is. Astronomers tell us there are maybe 100 thousand million stars just in the Milky Way, which is but one of MILLIONS of galaxies.

Out of all those millions upon billions of stars, the number of planets that could support life of any kind has to make up a very small percentage of the total universe, even under the most optimistic of scenarios.

That’s a lot of real estate to keep track of, even for a God. Maybe it is too much. I know we are taught to believe that God knows all and sees all, but whose word do we have for that besides . . . well, us?

Suppose that for just a mini-milli-microsecond of time God lost track of us. And now He is trying to find us, a single teardrop in an incomprehensibly vast ocean. I am haunted by this image of God stepping out of eternity to search for his lost children.

Or maybe the search has been called off. Maybe God has moved on, found closure. Where does that leave us?

April 22, 2011

Hemingway's List

Ernest Hemingway said there are four things you must do before you die:
  • Plant a tree
  • Fight a bull
  • Write a novel
  • Raise a child
Well, three out of four ain't bad, I guess. Actually, the last on the list was originally "Father a son." To me, gender doesn't matter. And it ain't enough to be a sperm donor. You have to be around to raise the child. And that can be harder (and more dangerous) than fighting a bull.

April 18, 2011

A Not-So-Simple Question

Every so often I like to reread sections of my novel, "The Magpie's Secret," to keep it fresh in my mind as I begin drafting the sequel. I came across this question that was asked by Adam Meadows, a major character who is running for U.S. Congress:
"How do we get back to the simple values that built this country while still living in a world that is more complicated, that is coming at our kids faster and faster, and that is too often guided by bean counters whose only allegiance is to a bottom line that seems to have no bottom to it?"
If you ask me, it's a pretty good question, one for which I have no ready answer. How about you?

April 16, 2011

Mission Creep

Found this in The Independent, a British newspaper, dateline April 16:
The international mission in Libya appeared to be running out of momentum yesterday as Barack Obama admitted the situation on the ground had reached a military "stalemate" and France conceded a new UN resolution might be necessary to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power.
 As the regime's rockets continued to hit the beleaguered rebel town of Misrata and Nato forces struck Colonel Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, France and Britain were still struggling to persuade other members of the organisation to provide additional warplanes. A meeting of member countries in Berlin yesterday broke up without any guarantee that military leaders would get the new resources they have asked for.

 President Obama insisted that Colonel Gaddafi would ultimately be forced from power. But France's call for attacks to begin on strategic logistical targets that have previously been off-limits emphasised that parts of the coalition have become resigned to the idea that the status quo offers no prospect of the rapid victory that had been hoped for.

The French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet's suggestion that a new resolution would be necessary to achieve Nato's goals threatened further to anger opponents of the conflict. Arguing that ousting Colonel Gaddafi would "certainly" be beyond the scope of the current resolution, Mr Longuet said that the position outlined in a joint editorial by Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Mr Obama, insisting that they would fight until Colonel Gaddafi was forced out, required a new agreement.
 Hate to say I told you so, but in 50 years or so of watching various wars and near wars unfold, this has to be one of the most--if not the most--ill-defined, ill-conceived, and ill-executed missions ever foisted off on an unsuspecting public. The so-called "rebels" cannot possible prevail without massive support from Western governments, the same Western governments who just a few years back reached a rapprochement with Gaddafi, choosing to forgive and forget Lockerbie in exchange for his supporting the war on terror and his promise not to go nuclear.

The promise of a quick win has faded. We are faced yet again with another protracted war. And for what? To give a few tribes in Libya the chance to break away from Libya's central government to form yet another political entity that can't organize or sustain itself? Good for them, but not exactly vital to our national interest.

Meanwhile, the rest of the region continues to be roiled by populist anti-government demonstrations and movements. While we fiddle away in Libya, the rest of the region burns. And we all know how that ends.

April 11, 2011

Limiting Global Warming Is Nearly Mission Impossible

Let's start with an excerpt from a piece I posted a couple of years back on Planet Restart. It deals with three climate change scenarios taken from a book entitled Climatic Cataclysm, written by Kurt. M. Campbell.
Expected Climate Change Over the Next 30 Years: Average global temperature rises 1.3 C (2.3 F) as compared to 1990. Global mean sea level rises 0.23 meter (.75 foot). This is bad news for folks in low-lying coastal areas and anyone already experiencing water shortages or extreme weather events, both of which will worsen. 
Severe Climate Change Over the Next 30 Years: Average global temperature rises 2.6 C (4.7 F) as compared to 1990. Global mean sea level rises 0.52 meter (1.7 feet). This is really bad news for just about everyone. Melting ice sheets guarantee enormous rises  in sea levels over the next few centuries. Water shortages will affect about 2 billion people. Agriculture and fisheries are adversely affected. The developing nations are the most severely affected, but even the developed world feels the strain of diverting resources to deal with the problems. 
Catastrophic Climate Change Over The Next 100 Years: Average global temperature rises 5.6 C (10.1 F) as compared to 1990. Global mean sea level rises 2 meters (6.6 feet). This is really ugly. Many low-lying areas are uninhabitable. The Gulf Stream has collapsed. Weather extremes prevail. Agriculture is severely compromised by reduced rainfall. The southwestern United States, much of South America, Central America and northern Mexico are no longer livable.
Fast forward to last month when the Canadian government released a study suggesting that the goal of keeping the rise in average global temperature to 2˚C was a lost cause. The study found that the only way to meet that goal is to immediately stop producing carbon emissions and to develop methods by 2050 for sopping up the carbon already in the atmosphere. Yeah, right. Like that's going to happen.

Co-author Ken Denman, an oceanographer at the University of Victoria in Canada, feels that "maybe we'll have to live with 3 or 4 degrees of warming." That would put us somewhere over Severe and just under Catastrophic. Geez Louise. If that's the best we can hope for, then we are in some pretty scary country.

They keep telling us believers in global warming to stop being alarmists. Hey, I'll be happy to, just as soon as the science starts telling me otherwise. Until then, I'll stay worried.

April 10, 2011

For What It's Worth

I've been toiling away at my latest oeuvre, a look back at things I have learned over the last lifetime or so of working and playing and raising a family. I call it "For What It's Worth," because I honestly don't know what it's worth. I'm hoping at least 99 cents. LOL

I suppose I have reached that tiresome stage in life where the grandchildren cringe whenever I pause before speaking, knowing that some lengthy parable of how things were thirty years ago is about to follow. But what greater obligation do we--the seasoned veterans of life's vicissitudes--have than to try and help our children and grandchildren avoid the mistakes we made, or that we think we made?

The medicine will be given in small doses, a couple of hundred words or less. There won't be any guru-speak, no false hopes that success can be found on Facebook or Twitter. Just the often promised but rarely delivered straight talk that we all say we want but rarely appreciate when we do get it.

Here's a small sample of what you will find in "For What It's Worth." As you can see, this isn't your mother talking here. 

You can’t BS your way through life. Lot’s of people try, and you know what? Everyone knows exactly who they are. Letʼs begin with this cold hard truth. No matter how many tips for success you read, nothing replaces competence. Granted, some jobs are nine parts BS and one part competence, but most of those are already taken. You, puppy, will have to work for a living, so reconcile yourself to the fact that you had best be doing something you know how to do as well or better than anyone else.
It takes about six months to even begin to understand a new job. Don’t obsess over mistakes; learn from them. If at the end of a year you still aren’t feeling comfortable in the job, then maybe it’s time to think about looking for a better fit within your current organization or somewhere else . . . before the boss decides for you.
As I said, I have no idea how this will be received. But I think that the average reader will find at least one Aha! moment in here. I'm hoping people will ask themselves, "How much is that worth?"

April 9, 2011

Mark Twain on Writing

Wandering around the internet, I came across Mark Twain's Rules for Writing. I will keep these right next to my Strunk and White:

1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.
8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.
9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.
An author should
12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.

Heading Home

Our week at the Outer Banks is drawing to a close. Cue the frowny-face emoticon! The emotional balance of the universe will be restored. The pleasure of arriving here will be offest by the dismay at having to go back to my other life, the so-called real world. And the first order of business when I get back will be to apply for Social Security. Wonderful.

At least the government will be there to accept my paperwork. Sitting on the beach, listening to the waves roar, the bellowing of politicians from Washington seemed but a distant rumor of discord. And as expected, the sound and fury yielded the inevitable. Still, the drama had to unfold, the players given their moment of strutting on the national stage. But now the tents will strike and the circus will move on to the next crisis.

And I head back home to the demands of work and family, to put in my time until I can return to my beloved Outer Banks and again taste the divine key lime pie at the Kill Devil Grille. Next year will be different, I tell myself. And who knows, maybe it will.

April 5, 2011

A Nook By The Sea

I am spending a week at Kitty Hawk, NC, on the Outer Banks. If you have never visited this area, you should add that trip to your bucket list. This time of year is especially nice because there are so few other tourists. The weather is a bit unpredictable, but that's part of the fun. A little uncertainty is a good thing . . . sometimes.

Yesterday, my wife and I went down to put in a little beach time, which for us consists of reading and watching the waves and the shore birds. Out just past the wave line, a large flock of seagulls was dive-bombing a school of fish. You could see white flashes as the gulls wheeled and plummeted from the sky into the water, the splash as they hit the water clearly visible from where we were sitting. Last year we saw dolphins about thirty feet off-shore. Maybe we will see them again this year.

I took my Nook e-book reader with me to see how easy it was to read in the sun. The results astounded me. Not only was the text absolutely clear, it was easier to read than a paper book. Absolutely no glare at all. Plus there were no pages to flap around in the strong winds that were cutting across the area yesterday.

I opened up Moby Dick and began re-reading it for the umpteenth time. How good is that? Reading one of the greatest books ever written about the sea while sitting on the beach, listening to the roar of the waves and the plaintive cries of the seagulls. The only thing better would be to see a whale cruising serenely along the horizon line, its spout providing the exclamation point for a remarkable day.

April 3, 2011

The Buzz On Bee Deaths


The U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP) has issued a new report warning about the world-wide decline in manged bee colonies. Bees play a vital role in food production. The Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that "out of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated. In Europe alone, 84% of the 264 crop species are animal pollinated and 4 000 vegetable varieties exist thanks to pollination by bees."

Colonies have been declining in Europe since 1965, with a notable uptick since 1998. In North America, the report paints a grimmer picture: "Losses of honey bee colonies since 2004 has left North America with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the last 50 years. In this region, honey bees pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruits such as almonds, avocados, cranberries and apples, as well as crops like soybeans."

Why is this happening? The report cites several factors including habitat loss, disease, invasive species, pollution, pesticides and global warming. All of this is taking place within the context of a wider global extinction event that is resulting in the loss of between one and ten percent of biodiversity per decade.

The report concludes that it is hard to pin down the extent of the crisis, if indeed there is one. Overall hives have increased nearly 50 percent over the last fifty years, there have been significant declines in more recent years, especially in North America. More importantly, during that same 50 years, agricultural production requiring animal pollination has increased four-fold.

We need to think about this the next time we see honeybees darting amongst a sea of wildflowers. The natural world is beautiful, but it is also essential to our survival as a species.  Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, noted that, "Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature's services in a world of close to seven billion people."