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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Oblivion: A Novel Place to Live by Hank Bruce is a refreshingly wonderful book.
 It's part mystical, fantasy, historical, whimsical, and a hard book to put down and at the end you want the story to go on forever. It is a novel place to live, in that it's a different and unique town that also happens to be in a novel.

Oblivion is a ghost town in New Mexico. Belinda is a burned out advertising executive that leaves the office, buys clothes from thrift store, gets on a bicycle and rides away. On a whim when she sees an old faded wooden sign that says Oblivion decides to check it out. She meets Ben, who's an artist that lives a few miles away. They enjoy each other's company, spend the night together platonically and go their separate ways. Then the story gets interesting.
Ben has some friends who he tells about Belinda, they decide the only way he can get her back is to buy Oblivion, which just happens to be for sale. They grab some of his paintings and at an open air market make nearly two thousand dollars. He wins the bid and now owns a ghost town.
Belinda meets a woman who has mystical powers. The woman convinces her to come back to Oblivion and when a biker gang starts to harass them suddenly there's a thunder storm that drives the bad guys away and they go on.
The homeless in Santa Fe flock to the town, start cleaning it up and fixing up houses for their families. Scientists from the University of New Mexico decide to make a social experiment of the town and built wind turbines and solar panels for electricity. They built solar toilets that bake human waste into bricks that they can then use for fuel.
Naturally there's the rancher who was outbid for the town and offers thousands more for it, which is refused. He needs the town because it has the underground water he's been using for his ranch.
Meanwhile Belinda becomes a poet, Ben is not equipped to run a town. He just wants to paint.
An old Indian comes and takes over the spiritual side of things telling everyone that this is a town built around love. When the rancher tries to have his road crew block of the only road leading into the town, which is land he owns. The mystic woman sends a swarm of bees to drive them away.
A lot goes on in this book. It's not all peace and harmony in the town without proper structure. The rancher sees to it that government agencies snoop around and want to shut the town down for not complying with rules and regulations.
The plot is intriguing in and of itself, but Hank's prose and poetry is what really makes the book memorable. I'm reminded of Bridges of Madison County. The way the book was worded is what made the book.
This is definitely a book everyone should enjoy.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Batann Memorial Park

Bataan Memorial Park

I was waiting for a Walgreens pharmacy to open in order to get a prescription for my mother, yesterday. Across the street is Bataan Memorial Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Every year on Memorial Day there is a gathering of those few still alive who were in the Bataan Death March at the park. There are honor guards from different branches of the military present, speakers and the playing of taps.

This day there was a church gathering for an open-air meeting. A few guys were setting up boundaries for a game of flag football. A few people were walking their dogs around the edges. On the south side next to a circular wall a homeless man was sleeping on flattened boxes.

I ate a couple of Egg McMuffins, giving the last bite of each of them to my Jack Russell mix dog, named Sammie. The table where I was eating used to have a WWII five-inch gun, the barrel properly capped. Kids used to climb over it and use it like a jungle gym. I noticed a partial amphitheater on the south side that was facing north. To the side of the circle of benches were pillars of granite. It’s been there awhile, but not when I lived by the park.

I tossed the trash and walked Sammie to look at the pillars of granite. They listed the names of those from New Mexico who fought on Corregidor, the Bataan Peninsula and died during the infamous death march. The first column listed the names of officers. Then each column listed those who were from different cities in New Mexico: Clovis, Gallup, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.

  I looked at each granite pillar, about eight feet high and the names etched on both sides. I found the names ending in S and checked them. I passed a number of columns until I found the name I sought. Spensely.

 I never knew him. It was the first time I knew his whole name. Tears filled my eyes as I was transported back to when we bought the house a few blocks away from the park in 1971.

It’s complicated

My father was finishing up his teaching degree at the University of New Mexico (UNM). My mother was a secretary in an insurance company. A fellow female student sat next to my father, and he was always a rather outgoing type of guy. Nancy Spensely was a former high school cheerleader and never met a stranger. She confided in Dad that she needed a job after she graduated as she was getting married. He knew Mom’s office was needing a receptionist. He told her to apply. She got the job.

Mom and Nancy got along well and gave her advice on planning the wedding. Mom mentioned that we needed a bigger house. Nancy mentioned after the wedding her grandmother would be left alone in a huge house and couldn’t take care of it.

We looked into buying the house from her, but at the time couldn’t afford it. For two years Mrs. Spensely waited until my father finished his student teaching and started teaching third grade. In the Spring of 1971 we moved into a three-bedroom, one bath, with a converted coal room as a basement house. It also sat on a quarter acre lot surrounded by huge Elm trees.

The house and neighborhood were built in 1926. My mother’s boss told her we didn’t buy a house we bought a project. While living there they reroofed, rewired, replumbed, replaced the gas heater, put in solar panels and a swamp cooler. They needed to cut down a few of the elm trees.

When moving into my bedroom, the first time to have a room without my brother, in the closet I got up on a stool to clean the shelf above the clothes bar. It was rather dusty. I came across some papers that were underneath the dust. Pulling them out I noticed there was an envelope and outside of it a telegram. I read the words, “The United States Army regrets to inform you…” the last name was Spensely.

I took it to my mother and asked what to do with it. It wasn’t like junk mail that got left behind. She told me where Mrs. Spensely was living, which wasn’t too far and to take it to her.

The kind lady waited two years for us to be able to buy the house from her and we thought the world of her. I didn’t want to bring up an old wound. It was thirty years since she received it. Would she want to see it again?

Putting the telegram into the envelope, I drove to her new house, nocked on the door. She opened it and I gave the envelope to her. She thanked me and I left. I never had contact with her again.

Memories of the Park

Back in that day, the park was just grass up to the curbs with a dirt track worn by joggers and the Duke City Dashers (girls track team before Title IX) who trained there. There was a flag and some flowers around it on the south side which was next to Lomas Blvd. with a plague giving the name. On the eastern side was a five-inch gun like the ones used by the battery division that was mostly made up of soldiers from New Mexico and Arizona stationed in the Philippines before Pearl Harbor. It was mostly a forgotten park.

I used to take Harvey, our German Shepherd/Collie mix and run around the park in the evenings and Saturdays. On Sundays before leaving for college I’d meet up with a bunch of other guys and played touch football. The summer I left for college I joined a pick-up game of football. A 440 runner from a rival high school lived across from the park. I was on his teem and he was the QB. I went out long and he threw it at me. I thought I was at the end of his range and waited for the ball to come down. It sailed over my head by ten feet and just kept on going. That’s when I remembered he was also the school’s quarterback. He never threw it my way again.

Across a side street on the east of the park was Russel’s bakery, where Dad would go every Saturday for donuts and coffee. Gil’s Runners World sat on the corner of Carlisle and Lomas across from the bakery,,Hallmark shop and ceramic shop that extended west from the bakery. My mother and sister would make ceramic pieces, fire them and bring them home.

 Around the corner was a small space that looked directly across the park. A fantastic lady opened up a children’s bookstore there named Trespasser’s William.

I left for college on a track scholarship in 1972. I’d come home over the summer and ran with Harvey to stay in shape for cross-country season. When I returned from exile in Texas (four years in Plainview and a year in Fort Worth), I met Gwen Shultz and her bookstore. She also sold science fiction and fantasy.

I was living at home and going through a divorce. Gwen sold me a few books by Harlan Ellison. The first one I read was Death Bird Stories. This has to be about the most disturbing and depressing book ever written. Ellison (may he rest in perpetual battle like he did in life) even put in a warning not to read it in one setting. It sounds counterintuitive, but Ellison put into words the emotions I was feeling and it lifted me out of my depression. I went crazy reading just about anything I could find by Harlan and have fallen far short of the body of work he did in his lifetime. See previous posts concerning him.

I remarried, started a family, became a teacher of English and History. While teaching 7th and 8th grade English. Gwen would hold book fairs and any APS school willing to let her come and show her children’s books.

She moved away from the park and the suffocating smell coming from the bakery. In the middle of summer and it’s 100+ degrees the aroma of baked bread is awful. There was a time or two I could only last a few minutes in the store. I don’t know how she spent 12 hours six days a week for years there.

When she would hold a book fair at my school it was always nice to stay in touch. I moved from middle school to high school and other than driving by her new location further up Lomas Blvd. she was off my radar.

My only other round about way of contact with the Spensely’s was my father-in-law. Mrs. Spensely’s husband was a dentist. He was the one who pulled all of Ed’s teeth and made his dentures.

When I retired in 2010, I started sponsoring a writer’s group for west side Albuquerque writers. Before starting one of the sessions a lady mentioned that Gwen Shultz passed away. She’d moved to Colorado.

My parents sold the house and moved across the river to the west side. My family followed shortly after. For years the park was off our radar.

Our house and the telegram were a distant memory. My son graduated from high school in 1999. He enlisted in the Air Force. While waiting for the paperwork and orders to come for him to leave for basic training, we watched Saving Private Ryan on video. I’d heard that the opening sequence was rather gruesome and it was. It was when the telegrams were delivered to Mrs. Ryan and she fell on the floor that the memory of a real one hit me like a ton of bricks.

It reenacted what must have happened when Mrs. Spensely received hers. My son couldn’t understand why I was crying at that scene. After we finished the movie I told him about it.

In 2012 after the attack on the twin towers there was a resurgence of patriotism. The city decided to upgrade Bataan Memorial Park and removed the gun, put in concrete walks around some of it and wood chip covered edges around others. They planted more flowers on the south side and added the amphitheater and pillars. They started holding events on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Flag Day. I mostly knew about it from TV news.

Dad passed away in 2007. They were living in Texas. My mother returned to Albuquerque and bought a townhouse not far from ours. A few years ago, my mother sold the house and moved into independent living not far from the park. She gets her prescriptions there. I usually have to take her to pick them up or get them for her like this last Sunday. Normally its get in, get out. The park is just there.

This time I had to wait an hour and finally went to see the pillars. It struck me as I saw the name of a man who I died years before I was born, that he would still have an effect on me. Somehow knowing his mother and niece, living for years in the house he grew up in, and the memorial to him and all those who died some now 70 years later has given me a connection more than a name on a granite pillar or reading about it in a history book. The name of Homer V. Spensely has meaning and the sacrifice he made helped make the future for me and my family.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Leaving the church

Terry Austin, a fellow Wayland alum, he was '75 I was '76, and FB friend asked for someone to review his latest book. I've already reviewed another of his books. This one hits home with me.
As Terry says in this book (picture left), "I didn't leave the Church, the Church left me."
I'm going to post a review on Amazon, but I didn't want to intrude my thoughts on the matter there.
In the book Terry explains many years helping churches fund building projects. The term is stewardship. He came to the conclusion that buildings detract from the purpose and message of trying to reach the lost to Christ. Instead of all believers spreading the good news of Jesus as we are going; we simply ask them to come to church. Let the pastor evangelize them. He explains his growth in the Lord to see the difference in today's focus on building bigger and bigger churches as contrasted to the first century church with its emphasis on helping each other and loving each other in homes or public places.
 He goes into detail about the high cost of buildings in construction, maintenance, utilities, Pastor and staff. This doesn't leave much for helping the poor in the community. One of Christ's directives for the church.
His second major point is that this makes the church a business with pastor as CEO. The demands on the pastor to pay for the expenses and collect a salary have made the church more about entertainment than fulfilling the Great Commission. Pastors that can't bring in enough money are soon gone and another is given a shot, or the church dies. Rock star pastors have replaced shepherds.

Another of Terry's points is home churches. Leaving the brick and mortar and it's excessive costs for a close grouping filling the need for personal interaction. In essence becoming a Sunday School with a worship component. 

His chapter named: Country of Christ, speaks to the evil of politics in the pulpit. This led to the election by professing Christians voting in a man for president that is morally corrupt.

Where we disagree is when he laments Trump as president and that members of the church voted for and still defend someone of such low character. But he admits he could not vote for Hillary. As FB friends we've disagreed on this at length.
It's not in the book, but on FB he mentioned he couldn't vote for the lesser of two evils as it was still voting for evil. In the book he gives specifics on why Trump is unfit to govern our country, but he has no specifics on how Hillary was evil.
Seems to me if he's claiming she was evil and he couldn't vote for her there should be some reasoning for the basis of evil. To not have voted for Hillary was to allow Trump to be elected.
He may post a comment after he reads this and correct me on my reasoning. Getting into a debate with Terry is like playing him in a game of chess. Believe me he waxed me all over the board at Wayland on may occasions.
He raises an issued he calls Christian Dementia. Not just the SBC, but all denominations have forgotten their roots. What makes them Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist. What they stood for just twenty or thirty years ago, and not now.
I recommend this book to all. Don't get the impression that Terry or the many unchurched have left the faith. Home churches are springing up all over.
The home church I attended was formed to reach those who were damaged by the brick and mortar churches. We were able to minister to each other for a number of years, more so than a Sunday School class could. For people of faith, this is about the only option left.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

RIP Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison died 6/27/18. I posted about him a number of times. He greatly influenced my life and my writing.

Friday, May 18, 2018


For some reason when I want to post a comment on Berthold's blog an error message comes up. His latest post was about Napoleon. One of my favorite subjects. I enjoyed that the post pointed out that Napoleon was defeated more by economics than bullets.
My take:
A. The Napoleonic wars saw a clash of two elements of war and two theories of economics.
The wars are sometimes referred to the "War of the elephant and the whale." Both animals are dominant in their domain, but can't fight with each other. The result of the war led to the book by Mahan's book "The Impact of Naval Power on History" which credits most wars being won by the navy over the army. Most major wars since Napoleon have been won by naval power, but the carnage on land still continues.
B. Economic theories:
Napoleon and most of the wars previous to this were about conquering land. Wealth was made by the winner by pillaging and looting the conquered, taking slaves for sale, and making the conquered pay tribute. Napoleon was a master at this. The cost in lives on both sides didn't matter. The more battles he won the greater his fame, no matter how many French lives were lost. He's still a national hero.
England defeated the French in the Seven Years War, What we call the French and Indian War, here, with the Bank of England. They fought the war on credit using future taxes as collateral. Unfortunately for England was they tried to pay off the loans by taxing the American Colonies and wound up losing more money than they gained and the colonies as well in the American Revolution. England was able to fight Napoleon for so many years by building a national debt. They built a formidable navy, well trained army and bought allies to fight Napoleon on land.
England defeated Napoleon with two naval battles: The Battle of the Nile and Trafalgar. From that point on they no longer feared invasion and replaced the trade lost from Europe with trade with Europe's colonies throughout the world. Making even more money than the lost by the embargo with Continental Europe. The black market helped too.
Wellington and the English win at Waterloo didn't happen in a vacuum. Welling spent years destroying French army and French army in the Iberian campaign, which Napoleon likened to a drain sucking his soldiers away. Arthur Wellesley was sent to Portugal from India with British East India troops to support the guerillas in Spain. It's this war where the term guerilla warfare come from. It's Spanish for "little war." As his victories mounted Wellesley became the Duke of Wellington. He faced every French marshal. Napoleon never went into Spain.
An aside, The battle of New Orleans was a victory for Andrew Jackson and the Americans. The army that was defeated here, arrived back in England as Napoleon escaped. This army was the bulk of Wellington's forces at Waterloo. They redeemed themselves with a commander who knew what he was doing.
Berthold, never get a history teacher started on a subject like this unless you want a four hour lecture.

Friday, May 11, 2018

52 storis in 52 weeks.


Check out Phillip McCollum's work. Hat tip to Bethold Gambrel.
I'll post more when I get through them. Might try something like this too.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Americans, on Fox

The americans title card.pngThe Americans on Fox TV is in its final season. It's an interesting premise. Two Soviet spies who were raised and trained to fit in to the American lifestyles and conduct clandestine missions. Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings come to the United States in the 1960's. Their marriage and identities were arranged by the KGB. They have handlers who speak about directives from "Control."
The story picks up in 1981 with Reagan as president. They live in a nice suburban house, have a travel agency business and on the sly bug Casper Weinberger's house and steal state secrets. It's like the movie The Saint on steroids. The two operatives change looks like other people change clothes and it's amazing what a wig, fake facial hair can do the make you think they're someone else.
What makes the story interesting is that across the street from the Jennings an FBI agent (Stan Beeman) moves in with his family, and what are the odds? He's just come in from undercover and is now in counter surveillance. He's trying to catch soviet spies while living across the street from them.
This is the final season and there's now way I want to recap all of them.
It was almost like Dexter, where you root for a serial killer. How can this couple who are undermining the United States be the good guys?
Then there's a story line whose arc hits you between the eyes.
Agent Beeman follows a newly arrived member of the Soviet embassy as she visits places in DC. Nina Sergeevna Krilova, is a clerical worker, low on the totem pole. She visits a pawn shop regularly and buys electronics: VCR's and the such. The amount of items is more than one person would need, so they check with the shop owner and discover she's paying for them with Caviar.
Beeman picks Nina up and blackmails her into getting him secrets from the embassy or he'll tell her bosses she's she shipping contraband to her family back in Russia.
It doesn't take long until Agent Beeman starts sleeping with her.
KGB officer, Arkady Ivanovich Zotov, starts noticing that their secrets aren't secrets anymore and discovers Nina passing information to Beeman. Instead of sending her back to Russia, which is a death sentence, he uses her to pass on misinformation and get intel on Beeman.
Nina is a tragic figure here in that she's in the clutches two ruthless men, both sleeping with her and walking on a razor's edge to stay alive.
Eventually Nina is found out and Arkady can't save her. Beeman tries to get her to defect, but she's sent back to Russia.
Arkady's father is a top minister in Russia and he uses him pull some strings to try and keep Nina alive. In prison Nina's turned into an informants of the other prisoners. She gets better food, but her usefulness doesn't last long. She's released from jail and given an assignment to help a scientist working on stealth technology. The scientist was a Russian defector that was working in the aerospace agency. The Jennings kidnap him and send him back to Russia. Nina is supposed to seduce him so he'll cooperate in developing stealth technology. He talks Nina into smuggling a note to his family in America letting them know he's alive. She gets caught.
Arkady comes back to Russia to pull even more strings to get her out of prison, hoping that at least she'll be sent to Siberia. The day comes where she's taken out of her cell by three guards and marched to a man sitting at a desk in the middle of a hall. The man reads off her indictment then says she's been found guilty of sabotage and the sentence is death. Two of the guards grab her arms and the one behind her shoots her in the back of the head.
This was a shock, I really thought that she'd be sent to Siberia because of all the stings Arkady was pulling. It brought home how ruthless and awful the Soviet Union was and Russia today isn't much better.
There are a number of missions the Jennings carry out believing they are protecting Russia from our aggression, but Nina's story tells you different.