July 29, 2015

'The Sixth Extinction' - and guess who is causing it?

WATKINS GLEN, New York - The Sixth Extinction (2014) is about an in-process event on a our planet that likely eventually spells the end of civilization as we know it.

Nice thought for a summer day, right?


It's also attempts to explain earlier mass extinctions, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, perhaps the most familiar of all such events taught in schools.

For the record, what we learned in sixth grade science about that extinction is probably dead-ass wrong.

Amazingly, by the time you are done reading New Yorker magazine writer Elizabeth Kolbert's work, it's  not so frightening. Species - all life - comes and goes in waves on our planet just as it has for the last, oh, half a billion years. And that ebb and flow likely will continue.

This time around, of course, humans are using ever-clever brains to hurry the extinction process along. But if humans are a natural part of earth (and not dropped here via some intergalactic space shuttle), then what's going on - will go on - is really just natural. Right?


The book looks closely at science, some politics, and specific instances in the world, present and past where species have died out. Kolbert explains why frogs are important bellwethers and why big mammals with slow reproductive rates go extinct so fast.

It's a complicated book, but still an easy read for the most part.

And it also has some revelations that are pretty startling. For example, you almost surely have some Neanderthal genes lurking in you. Really.

The Sixth Extinction is well-worth reading and is on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

July 26, 2015

"The Daylight Marriage" - a troubling family potboiler

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Heidi Pitlor's novel The Daylight Marriage chronicles a troubled marriage that explodes in the early chapters.

But the novel is only partly about the relationship between the wife and husband. It also looks at a teenage daughter, a young son and a community.

The Daylight Marriage is the second book of its type I've picked up recently from the shelf at the Watkins Glen library's browsing section. I'm not sure if there are more of these - or if the writing is so good I can't pass them up.

Maybe both.

Pitlor's book uses the familiar technique of chapters bouncing back and forth between the major characters as they go about their way through the novel. It works well and builds the tension quickly.

The novel becomes a page turner when the wife leaves home one morning after going through a bruising psychological battle with her husband the night before.

Heidi Pitlor
And she stays gone.

The missing wife - and she is missing as in call-the-police missing - sets up a family-community drama that is impossible to look away from. Like a car wreck.

The Daylight Marriage has a surprise ending, too. It seems obvious in hindsight, but not so much as the final chapters unfolded.

The novel on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen library.

July 8, 2015

Town of Reading Chair shuts down Crestwood comments

TOWN OF READING, New York - What started as a demonstration of citizen civility and democracy in the parking lot of the Town of Reading Town Hall Wednesday devolved inside when the Town Board chair declared no comments about a controversial project to store 88 million gallons of propane in salt caverns would be allowed.

Press conference outside Reading Town Hall
A crowd of about 40 people,  most of whom were there to comment and/or support the notion that the proposal by Crestwood Midstream of Houston is lunacy, were stunned by the chairman's comments.

Just prior to the meeting, a press conference was held at which citizens outlined their concerns and mentioned two earlier, very civil conversations with the Town Board.

But Wednesday night the balance of the town board members were mute while chairman Marvin Switzer became visibly angry when a member of the Concerned Reading Residents tried to update the board on their activities.

Later in the meeting he read a note handed to him from a resident who asked for him to publicly state his reasons for shutting down public comments. He never said why and stalked out of the room after the meeting. He declined to answer questions from reporters, also.

By the way, the limiting of the comments is illegal... Click here for the LINK that explains why...

And here's a short video with some meeting highlights:

Jill Essbaum's 'Hausfrau' is as fascinating as it is unsettling.

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Jill Alexander's Essbaum's Hausfrau is a book as fascinating as it is unsettling.

Set in Switzerland (Who doesn't love the Swiss?) it details the life of a housewife (thus the title) named Anna who seems to sleepwalk through life with her husband, Bruno Benz.

If he's any relation to the automobile Benz's, it's not apparent. And the primary mode of transportation in the book are trains. Pay attention to the trains. They begin and end the book like, well, bookends.

The Benz family is well off with three children and should, by most measures, be happy. Or at least content. But the family, the friends, the social fabric is harboring a major problem, most of it related to hausfrau Anna.

The book has received mixed reviews, perhaps because of its dreamlike quality. It might also be getting some thumbs-down assessments because Anna has a weakness for men - other than her husband.

A New York Times review by Janet Maslin was particularly savage:

"Here’s a sampling of Ms. Essbaum’s prose, which can have all 
the charm of a sink full of dishwater: “Anna examined herself in the mirror. 
She was neither too tall nor too short, neither too fat nor too thin. Her hair fell in easy but shaggy shoulder-length waves. It was the color of top dirt and it was graying around her forehead (she dyed it). What do they see in me, men? 
She wasn’t being modest. She truly didn’t know.”

The charm of a sink full of dishwater? Kee-rist, Janet Maslin, I would use the paragraph you hate in a creative writing seminar as an example of excellent prose. Perhaps it's because Ms. Essbaum is best known as an award-winning poet, that has Maslin's knickers so twisted.

The unraveling of Anna's life is difficult to watch, but irresistible. Yes, it's exactly like watching a slow-motion train wreck, if I can be allowed to drag out the train metaphor one more time.
Jill Alexander Essbaum

There are also plenty of sometimes unnerving cross-cultural, social, psychological and language-based threads scattered through the book. They keep the plot moving briskly while the reader is lulled into thinking things are not really changing all that much. They are.

An intriguing book worth reading. But if a few sex scenes or issues of adulterous behavior bother you, don't dive into it.

On the bookshelves of the Watkins Glen Public Library. Hausfrau is also available online and in audiobook format.

July 4, 2015

First phase of the VPYC rebuild done - next the bar!

VALOIS, New York - The first bit of rebuilding the Valois Point Yacht Club was completed this afternoon, just ahead of a thunderstorm, if I am reading the weather radar correctly. (Santo Crappo!)

We will have shade
It was just such a thunderstorm last summer that cleaned the VPYC "clubhouse" right off the end of the dock - bar, bar stools, chairs, shade structure - even the owl that was supposed to keep the seagulls from landing on the dock.

He didn't do a very good job. Half the time I looked down from the overlook, a seagull would be sitting on its head.

Tomorrow some barstools, chairs and various summer equipment will be put out for members and guests.

The rebuilding of the bar will take a bit, but hopefully in place by Tuesday afternoon when cousin Kathleen McAvoy arrives for a visit.

Let the summer begin! (Finally...)

June 30, 2015

'Doing the Devil's Work' - a novel with good and bad cops

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana - Female characters sometimes suffer badly at the hands of male authors. It's something I am struggling with right now, drafting a novel called Jack's Boat. The first half of the book centers around a female character, the second half a male lead.

It's complicated.

But in Bill Loehfelm's Doing the Devil's Work, he pulls it off nicely with a female police officer in New Orleans who is tough, human, and above all honest. It's hard to imagine Maureen Coughlin involved in any of the wildly awful incidents we see posted on YouTube too often of police going rogue.

The character of Maureen Coughlin made her first appearance in Loehflem's earlier book, The Devil She Knows, a novel on my list to read soon.

But in Doing the Devil's Work the author has Coughlin fight against police corruption, racism, militants, cop haters and ultra-wealthy socialites of post Katrina New Orleans who believe they can do no wrong. There's drugs, money, danger, and definitely some violence.

It is a mystery cop book.

What makes the main character so intriguing is that she is flawed but recognizes it. Her struggles become the reader's as you make your way through the chapters.

Bill Loehflem

I wish she smoked fewer cigarettes, but that's part of that flaw thing.

Several times in Doing the Devil's Work, I thought that the author might be making his female cop just a little too tough - too male. But just as I thought that, the scene would shift and it would become obvious that any cop - male or female - would have to be that tough to survive.

Recommended reading. And on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

June 24, 2015

'This Changes Everything' changes, well, everything

VALOIS, New York - This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate is a fascinating book to read from a journalist's standpoint, full of amazing details about what we can expect - and not expect - in future years as humans grapple (and don't grapple) with the fallout of man-made changes from climate change.

From the standpoint of a citizen of earth, it's the kind of book that makes a person want to throw up their hands and give up.

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein's book isn't without hope for humankind. But her descriptions of the obstacles we face to slowing down the warming of the earth from excess CO2 emissions nearly defy description.

But I will try, of course.

Right out of the publishing blocks, Klein jumps into her central thesis. Capitalism, with its madcap drive for growth (and increasingly voracious appetite for energy) is largely to blame for our current overhearing environmental predicament. Most of all, she blames the world's faith in the market to save the planet. The free market, she argues, is what got us into this mess - and continues to keep us from implementing solutions.

There are solutions to provide alternative energy and stop the aggressive expansion of fossil fuel extraction (and use). But she cites examples of how anytime these solutions get close to touching any kind of negative impact on corporate profits they disappear as quickly as trees and animals in the tar sands area of Alberta, Canada.

Klein also takes a solid whack at many of the supposedly green organizations which, it turns out, are heavily invested in oil and gas company stocks as part of their portfolios. And in most cases they defend the investments because of what they tout as the overall good service they are performing.

But Klein's most frightening - and depressing - section is about the potential use of geoengineering to solve the climate change crisis. Rather than try to lower emissions and use less heat-inducing technologies (like solar panels or wind turbines), many governments (and scientists) are exploring incredibly wild technological schemes that would make probably Gene Roddenberry (creator of the original Star Trek TV series) blush with disbelief.

These schemes are being considered seriously and quietly. But if I read Klein correctly, when we start experiencing even more severe weather events and climate-related catastrophes, expect to hear, for example, about shooting particles into the atmosphere to block the sun's rays and slow down warming.

What could possibly go wrong with that idea?

Klein's book is detailed, footnoted and written in a clever enough style that even though it sometimes can cause the reader to gasp with disbelief, it's never dull. Depression-inducing, absolutely. But never dull.

I liked the book enough that I ordered a copy to have in my library. Which means I will reread it so I can mark it up with a highlighter. I think some parts of it are likely to become part of my talk, "Fracking Fiction: You Can't Make This Stuff Up."

The book is on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

June 23, 2015

Jon Krakauer's 'Missoula' - powerful and disturbing

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Jon Krakauer's latest book, Missoula, is a disturbing tale about justice and injustice in the Montana town from which the title of the book is taken.

Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air, Into the Wild and my personal favorite, Under the Banner of Heaven, has done a stellar job of capturing the events and emotions surrounding a rash of rapes of young women - and the fallout for the community and everyone involved.

In telling the story, the author takes no prisoners and uses documents, news accounts and interviews to weave his narrative. But he includes plenty of his own observations demonstrating how most of these cases were badly bungled.

It's a stinging indictment of Missoula, the University of Montana, and the football culture that seems to dominate the town.

Jon Krakauer
It's a sad tale, too, as Krakauer relates many of the horrible outcomes and repercussions - for the female victims - even those cases where, in theory, justice has been done.

Missoula is a disturbing book - but important. It should be required reading for every university administrator on the planet.

Missoula is on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen, NY public library and available through Amazon.com at this link: MISSOULA.

June 16, 2015

The thrill of victory, the agony of da feet

WATKINS GLEN, New York - The Green Festival in Washington D.C. had an amazing array of weird gadgets and paraphernalia, all environmentally friendly, of course.

And in our wanderings around the festival after I gave my talk, "Fracking Fiction: You Can't Make This Stuff Up," Admiral Sylvia Fox and I discovered a shoe product that turned out to be also feet-friendly.

They are called massaging insoles, made by a Florida company (where else?) called Best Sole.

And damn! They work.

For years, no matter how good my shoes were, 15 minutes of standing relatively still on concrete floors guaranteed my lower back would start to hurt. Really hurt.

And so I would find a chair or barstool (I am partial barstools, but that's another issue) to keep my back from getting out of control.

Now, 10 days into wearing these shoe inserts I can report that I can stand  on a concrete floor for, well, I haven't timed it, exactly. But I haven't felt the need to grab a chair or barstool when we are out socializing.

So there it is for folks who don't like to stand on concrete. Massaging insoles.

Oh, one more thing.

When you first put these things in your shoes, you think there might be rocks in your socks. Give it a minute and walk a little. It feels weird, but good.

June 11, 2015

Town of Reading meeting - and attorney - overheats

TOWN OF READING, Reading Center, NY - Going to meetings as a journalist is a lot more fun than going as a participant.

I knew this before I went to the Town of Reading Board meeting Wednesday night. But I never envisioned getting into a verbal altercation with the board's attorney - actually telling him that he was "out of order" when he interrupted my comments to the board. (More details on that imbroglio later including an audio file.)

My participation at the meeting as a citizen - as opposed to a newspaper columnist for the Finger Lakes Times - was because a friend asked me to personally deliver 10 copies of my newly released novel Fracking Justice to the members of the board.

Some people seeing this have already finished reading the novel - or are closing in on the explosive ending. Those folks understand the significance of book and relevance to the proposed storage of liquid propane gas in unlined salt caverns adjacent to beautiful Seneca Lake.

At the meeting I submitted a two-page letter of concern to the Town Board members and spoke briefly. I urged them to write a letter to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, reserving the Town's right to ultimately say no to the Texas-based company (Crestwood Midstream of Houston) that wants to cram (under great pressure) 88 million gallons of explosive propane in the salt caverns.

Presenting Fracking Justice to the Reading Town Board
After I spoke, many others opposed to the LPG storage spoke, too.

And the evening wore on. (I've been waiting to write that line forever... So there it is.)

After the last of the public comments, the attorney for the Town of Reading (Thomas Bowes of Painted Post, formerly with NY Congressman Tom Reed's law office) spoke. He started out slowly, sort-of even-handedly explaining the situation legally to the town board. He reminded me of an algebra tutor I had in high school, patient, but losing patience with every word.

Then he went off the rails by referring to Crestwood as if it was a person (a la Mitt Romney's famous quote that "corporations are people, my friend"). He essentially told the Town Board letters to the DEC and the things suggested by the audience were for all intent and purposes, probably moot.

That got a rise out of the audience, prompting me to walk up to the front of the meeting, where I asked the chair to recognize me again, even though the official public comment period was over.

I had barely begun when the Town of Reading's attorney launched into a diatribe cutting me off cold. And so, I told him he was "out of order."

Thomas Bowes
I quickly added that the chair of the Town Board really should be the one to rule the Bowes out of order. My blurting out "out of order" was a complete reflex after God-only-knows how many meetings at my university as a department chair and chair of the faculty.

I ruled a lot of people out of order at meetings in my university career. And they usually deserved it.

But my offhand, out-of-order comment lit the rocket of attorney Bowes. He blew up faster and hotter than I have ever seen an attorney do in a public meeting. Usually when attorneys are sitting as a paid legal consultant to a municipality, they seem so calm, you wonder if they might be on tranquilizers.

Bowes wasn't. Particularly when he barked this at me:
"You can sit down."

I think I might have said "Ooooooooo." Not all that professional of me, either, I suppose. But it just kind of slipped out. I heard a couple of "Oooooooooo" remarks from the audience, too.

I started speaking again, quickly made my point (even as Bowes made grumbling remarks in the background). Then I thanked the chair for allowing me the time to speak.

Outside the meeting, the folks who had spoken - and who were hopeful the board would take a position against the LPG storage last night - were disappointed. The board said it needed more time to ponder the situation before members would make a decision.

That pondering might have included the long, closed-door session with attorney Bowes that occurred right after the regular meeting ended.

I just hope none of the Town Board members stood up without permission.

Standing room only at the Town of Reading board meeting Wednesday night