Monday, December 29, 2014

Added to my bookshelf ... "Futures Near and Far

More than once I have added a book to my shelf after reading one of Lisa Hura's reviews on the "When Falls the Coliseum" blog. "Sure would be neat to do something like that," I thought ... so here we go ...

We all have our reasons for reading science fiction. Me? I have at least a couple, and I found them both - well, eventually, at least - in Dave Smeds' collection of short stories, Futures Near and Far. The title is appropriate, really, since some of the futures Smeds presents are far-off indeed, while others are quite near ... maybe a little TOO near for comfort.

When I read science fiction, I look forward to a chance to sit back and speculate on "what if?" Where might future developments in science and technology take us, and will we better for the direction and the distance S&T takes us into the future? Smeds' stories offered plenty upon which to speculate upon the first point, with a look at a variety of possible developments ... though with a particular emphasis on nanotechnology.

As for the second (the "we") part, though, I found myself less-than-encouraged by the people who populate these speculative futures. By book's end, however, Smeds' words had me thinking that humans will probably be a mixed bag then (as they are now) ... and that in the end, things will be alright ... that the violent beatings our world will take from extreme cage fighters and callous corporate lawyers will be more than offset by a mother's love, by the support of a dedicated sensei, and by the awakened spirit of an interstellar homesteader, among others.

If only we could dispense with the introductions to the stories! Some are short, some are long, and none seem to contribute much to the story that is to follow. Don't get me wrong ... introductions CAN be useful, and add to the enjoyment of the story ... Arthur Clarke proved that in Tales from the White Hart, and Isaac Asimov did as well in his HUGO Award Anthologies. Such is NOT the case in Futures Near and Far. But in the end, that is a small thing, really ... and I highly recommend the stories themselves.

One more thing ... Two of Smeds' stories, which revolve around the future of martial arts and artists, their practice and competition, get high marks from my son, who has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do ... sugo ha shasim nida! 

ADDED NOTE: Futures Near and Far was added to my virtual bookshelf as a free Early Reviewers Copy from

Thursday, December 25, 2014

THE Christmas tradition ... Luke transcribed it, Linus shared it, I believe it

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2
King James Version (KJV)

And now a word from ...

White House Image
• Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady

Ezra Mechaber

WASHINGTON, D.C. In this week's address, the President and First Lady wished Americans a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and thanked our brave troops for their service ... The President and First Lady asked everyone to take some time this holiday season to visit and find out how to give back to the men and women in uniform who have given so much for all of us.

"Our family will join millions across the country in celebrating the birth of Jesus – the birth not just of a baby in a manger, but of a message that has changed the world: to reach out to the sick; the hungry; the troubled; and above all else, to love one another as we would be loved ourselves ..."

Read the full text of the President and First Lady's message, and watch a video ...

BBC Image
• Queen's Christmas speech emphasises reconciliation

Staff Report
BBC News

LONDON, ENGLAND The Queen has used her Christmas Day broadcast to highlight the importance of reconciliation between people.

She spoke of the impact of the Scottish independence referendum, and also paid tribute to the moment German and British soldiers put down their weapons and met on Christmas Day 1914.

"Sometimes it seems reconciliation stands little chance... but the Christmas truce reminds us peace and goodwill have lasting power," she said ...

... The Queen described how the life of Jesus Christ was an "inspiration and an anchor in my life".

"Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none," she said ...

Read the rest of this BBC report and watch a video of the Queen's message ...

Vatican Photo
• Pope condemns religious violence in Christmas address

Staff Report
BBC News

VATICAN CITY Pope Francis has denounced the "brutal persecution" of religious and ethnic minorities, in his traditional Christmas Day address.

In his second "Urbi et Orbi" - to the city and the world - Christmas message, the pontiff highlighted the plight of victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq.

"Too many people are being held hostage or massacred" in Nigeria, he added.

Pope Francis also urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and condemned Taliban attacks in Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter's Square to hear the Argentine Pope deliver his annual message ...

Read the rest of this BBC report ...
Read the full text of the Pope's message, and watch a video ...

However you mark this day, a very Merry Christmas! May this find you and yours happy and healthy, this holiday season and in the new year to come!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Did you know ...

That today was "Four Chaplains Day" in the United States?

No? Well, you're not alone. The 71st anniversary of that fateful night when four U.S. Army chaplains gave their lives that others might live, caused barely a ripple today. It has come and gone quietly, and largely unmarked ... including by yours truly.

And I might have remained ignorant fo the fact were it not for a stop by Wikipedia's home page, where I perused their "This Day in History" column. A link in that column took me to a Wikipedia page where I learned that, in 1988, the United States Congress established February 3 as "Four Chaplains Day." And get this ... Congress acted unanimously in doing so ....ah, those were the good ol' days!

The page went on to note that some state or city officials commemorate the day with official proclamations, sometimes including the order that flags fly at half-mast in memory of the fallen chaplains. In some cases, official proclamations establish observances at other times: for example, North Dakota legislation requests that the Governor issue an annual proclamation establishing the first Sunday in February as "Four Chaplains Sunday."

Notice the frequent use use of some variation or another of the word "some."

The day is also observed as the "Day of the Dorchester Chaplains" in the lectionary cycle of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. And there are memorials to the four chaplains - one Catholic, two Protestant, and one Jewish - in a variety of media around the country ... stained glass windows, stone monuments, postage stamps, building and chapel names ... and wax ... at least once upon a time.

I was reminded of a visit my family made to Washington, D.C. back in the sixties, while my father was posted to nearby Quantico, Virginia. One of our stops that day was to the National Historic Wax Museum. I don't recall the other exhibits ... but I remember the one devoted to the four chaplains, their commitment to their faith and their answer to their calling. It was a large exhibit, with the movement and noise that suggested a ship at sea, all set in a pool of water. The display - and the museum itself - is long gone. But I did find a picture ... ya gotta love the internet!

It is reported by the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation that during the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the USAT Dorchester was torpedoed by a German submarine in the North Atlantic. The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks.

The foundation reports goes on to note that the chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

As I post this, there's less than five hours left of Four Chaplains Day 2014. Yet there's something about their story that could be/should be observed, cherished and shared with others throughout the year. May we never find ourselves in the desperate situation they faced ... but may we have at least a small portion of their courage, their love and their devotion for whatever life brings us. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Men of faith, men of steel

Earlier this week, in the course of an evening prayer gathering with @dreampcusa on Twitter, one of our partners offered up a prayer for the priests in Kiev. We joined in with that request, of course ... but part of me was wondering, "what's that about?" Once our gathering closed, I went and Googled "priests Kiev," then clicked on the 'News' option for search results ... and I found out exactly what he was talking about, and praying for.

The fact that there were protests in Ukraine in recent weeks was not news ... but it seems that the story had receded under the onslaught of more pressing news items ... Mr. Sherman's AFC Championship rant ... Justin Bieber's Miami vice ... the latest political scandals or rumors-of-scandal ... and, YES, some genuinely serious news items as well.

My Google search at that time produced few reports, the best of which appears below. In the last couple of days, a LOT more stories and images have appeared ... and that's a good thing. These are stories and images of people with the courage to step between warring factions, and stand firmly-but-peacefully between them, separating them at least for a moment, urging everyone in the streets of Kiev to listen to 'the better angels of their nature.'

Priest moves to stop Ukranian protester from
throwing Molotov cocktail at riot police.
The images being generated by the priests' intervention on the streets - and the emotions they generate within us - would be the stuff of dreams for  Hollywood directors, who would be hard-pressed to capture the setting of a battered and burning street scene, the flickering light of bonfires, the hoarse screams of protesters, and the lines in the faces of a bearded, cassocked priest with crucifix in hand (looking for all the world like a centuries-old icon) who has kept watch through a freezing night, praying and chanting, and keeping wtch over the opposing battle lines. It is something far, FAR removed from West Texas ... but very, VERY close to the Christian heart! To borrow from that now-ubiquitous phrase ... we can talk the talk, but can we walk the walk? Can we walk into harm's way as they are, with eyes and hearts open?

And honestly ... I don't think you have to be a person of faith and/or religion to admire the courage being shown by these men … and there are some women, too, doing this on the streets of Kiev.

God bless them, and keep them ... in Jesus' name ... Amen.

Orthodox priests in Ukraine step into line of fire to stop deadly protests

By Carol Kuruvilla
New York Daily News

KIEV, UKRAINE - Holy nerves of steel. A group of Orthodox priests stepped right into the line of fire to stop clashes between protesters and police in Ukraine.

The priests braved bullets and walked into no-man’s land between pro-European Union integration protesters and President Viktor Yanukovych’s riot police. ‘I’m here to placate the violence,’ an Orthodox priest said.

read the rest of this story, with photos