Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Queen's Arrival: Airbrush Painting

The queen's arrival

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: "Wolf's Moon" by Patrick Jones

English: Skeleton of a dire wolf, Canis dirus,...
English: Skeleton of a dire wolf, Canis dirus, in the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part techno-thriller, part horror, and all entertaining, that’s the only way to describe Patrick Jones’ novel Wolf’s Moon. Mark Lansdowne, aka Mike Linden, lives with his three dogs in the small Ozark town of Maple Hills that’s not supposed to have wild wolves. But, when people start dying, with clear evidence that they’ve been attacked and eaten by some large carnivore, Mark finds himself thrown into the middle of a mystery that could lead to his death. But, Mark is not your normal victim; in fact, he’s not a victim at all. With all the cunning and viciousness of the creatures who are preying on the citizens of his town, he takes the attacks personally, when a woman he happens to think highly of is killed.

With the help of his friend Warren Skruggs, Mark sets out to eliminate the threat. Using the skills he’s obtained from a past that he keeps hidden from his neighbors, he turns the hunters – packs of Dire Wolves that are thought to be extinct – into the hunted. Jones has crafted a tale that will keep you on the edge of your chair, and make you nervous about going out at night. I can promise you, after reading this story, you’ll get chills up and down your spine the next time you hear a howl in the middle of the night.

Wolf’s Moon is a tightly crafted suspense thriller with all the right elements, handled in just the right manner.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: "A Wasting Time" by William Esmont


It’s hard to describe A Wasting Time by William Esmont. Junkie Angus Mundy is trapped in a no-way-out existence, working like a slave, for slave wages, he barely makes enough to feed his drug habit, and certainly not enough to pay the debt he owes to a bookie-loan shark. When the loan shark offers him a way out; assassinate the Chinese manager of the robot-dominated mine in which he works, and the debt is cancelled, Angus sets out on a path that must lead to his doom. But, will he take Hillary down with him?

I won’t spoil the ending by telling you whether he does or not; you have to read this tense, tightly written thriller for yourself. Esmont has a way of ratcheting up the tension until your nerves a strumming like a well-tuned Strad, and then easing you down, only to jack you back up again.

If you like stories with twists, tantalizing bits of erotica – never fully described, but hinted at in such a way, the mind does the rest – this is a must-read book.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Check out my Yahoo Contributor Profile!

Image representing Yahoo! as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
I've been a contributor to Yahoo! Voices (formerly Associated Content) for some time. Last year, out of some 600,000 contributors, I was rated in the top 1,000. Check out my profile page and my articles at: http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/524538/charles_ray.html.



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"Air America" - My 15 Minutes of Fame

Photo of Mel Gibson at the premiere of Air Ame...
Photo of Mel Gibson at the premiere of Air America. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In 1968, artist Andy Warhol said, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” I don’t know exactly what he meant by that; nor do many others who have paraphrased him, but I think he was probably right. I do know that, after 50 years of roaming the globe, and, often like the character in ‘Forest Gump,’ being on the fringes of momentous events, I’ve probably accumulated my 15 minutes – and, maybe even a few seconds more.
English: Robert Downey, Jr., taken at the AIR ...
English: Robert Downey, Jr., taken at the AIR AMERICA movie premiere 1990 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If being seen in a movie counts as fame, though, I think I had my quarter-hour in the limelight in 1990, or maybe it was 1991, when I had the opportunity to be an extra in the movie, ‘Air America,’ starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr. Unlike those who actively seek notoriety, my moment under the lights was a combination of pure accident, and being in the wrong/right place at the right/wrong time.

I was the U.S. Consul in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai when the movie company came to town to do the location shooting for this black comedy about the Vietnam War, and the exploits of the CIA’s airline’s operations in Laos. They recruited some 50 people in Bangkok as extras, many of them Vietnam veterans who’d settled in Southeast Asia rather than returning to the U.S. As a matter of information, I too am a Vietnam vet, but I’d chosen to enter diplomatic service after leaving the military over running a bar in Patpong.

One of my duties as consul was to provide services to American citizens in the area, and unfortunately, one of the movie company’s assistant directors, an Israeli-American, became ill and died shortly after they arrived. His was a complicated case, because his American relatives wanted the remains shipped to Israel. I was around the set so often taking care of his affairs, someone (and, I no longer recall who) suggested I be an extra in the film’s bar scenes which were being filmed at a local pub. My boss, the consul general, and the embassy approved, and since the filming was being done at night, I didn’t even have to miss work.

After several days of ‘drinking,’ ‘dancing,’ and ‘carousing,’ for the camera; all make believe, but very much like activities I’d participated in in the 60s as a young military man; the company began packing up to travel to Mae Hong Son, on the Burmese border, to film the flight and pilot briefing scenes. I was asked to go along to be an ‘extra’ pilot. Again, the embassy approved, provided I used my personal leave to do it. No problem, I thought, after all, it might be fun.
Mae Hong Son (2007-02-473)
Mae Hong Son (2007-02-473) (Photo credit: Argenberg)

It was; in Mae Hong Son, most of the shooting was during the daytime, so evenings were free for my wife and I to explore the border area. We even had a couple of free days that allowed a visit to a nearby village occupied by the famous long-neck women. I had a chance to spend an evening with Mel Gibson; barely recalling riding back to my hotel on the back of his rented motorbike; and shoot the breeze with some of the other actors like Tim Thomerson.

But, we’re still getting to the ‘fame’ part. During the shooting, the director finally noticed that even though the film was about the Vietnam War, a war in which a large percentage of the American GIs were people of color, there were only two ‘extras’ that were non-white. Kudos to Roger Spottiswoode; he had a small role written in – or maybe it was there all along and they just hadn’t cast it – of a few lines. It was near the end of the movie, when the Mel Gibson character ‘rents’ a military plane to move his ‘collection’ of weapons, and features Gibson, Downey, and the ‘dispatcher.’ Someone suggested I read for the part, along with three or four other guys, including the only other person of color, and to my utter surprise, I was chosen.

I mean, I had to sign a contract and everything, and the rate paid for filming that scene was more than I got as an extra for two or three days shooting. It was done in two takes – and didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, although, in final editing, they dubbed in someone else’s voice. I didn’t get to go back to L.A. with them – no sense trying to push my luck, I figure.

The movie only did so-so in the theaters, but it’s been on cable movie channels around the world regularly. I saw it on South African cable around this time last year, and several people have mentioned seeing someone who ‘looked like me’ on hotel cable when they’ve been traveling. It’s also available on DVD for anyone who is a fan of not quite B, but not A movies either.

It was fun doing it, although, I wouldn’t think of acting as a profession. Hours are too erratic, and with all the food on movie sets, unless you have a real action part, you’re in danger of putting on weight.

Now, you might well ask, what does this have to do with anything? Well, nothing really; I just happened to be getting a jump on spring cleaning and ran across a faded copy of the contract I signed way back then, and thought it’d be a fun thing to write about.

Interested in Andy Warhol art?  Check it out at https://www.artsy.net/artist/andy-warhol

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Review: "Management Matters" by John Hunter

W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, John Hunter, Curious Cat Media.
This book has no ISBN, so it's not available at most retail book sites.


In the opening chapter of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, author John Hunter writes, “I believe most of what managers should know was written down decades ago.” I take the meaning of this sentence to be, ‘there are no new management ideas or techniques.’ The author does not, in fact, offer anything new. But, he does provide an analysis of the ‘old’ ideas that he believes to be effective in making an enterprise, any enterprise, more productive.

Hunter calls on the philosophies of such management and leadership gurus as W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Taiichi Ohno, to show how anyone can, with some degree of effort, turn an organization around and make it more capable.

This is a relatively useful book for someone who wants an introduction to management, but there are a few flaws that I feel compelled to point out. First, the author focuses on management, and seems to ignore the importance of effective leadership in building enterprise capability. There are several typos in the book, and some formatting issues in the e-Book version that are a bit distracting, but only of limited negative impact. The area that really needs attention, though, is editing to correct grammatical errors through the text.  This sentence, for instance:  People who are not willing to learn from the most useful management experts may still be able to accomplish some decent things, but they are very large barriers to reaching the full potential possible from wise management efforts.” I have bolded the areas of the sentence that give me pause.   Another example: “I don’t have much patience for managers not willing to learn from the experts.” The decline in proper use of the language, brought on some believe by the proliferation of electronic media, has inured many of us to hasty grammar, but in a book about enterprise capability, this detracts greatly from what is otherwise a good little book.

The author says that he will be updating the book from time to time. Even with its faults, I enjoyed reading it, and sincerely hope some judicious editing will be his top priority for a subsequent edition.
I give this edition two of five stars for effort.
 

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The National Memo » The GOP’s Violence Problem

The National Memo » The GOP’s Violence Problem
Violence is the course of action adopted by the stupid as a way to level the playing field when they are confronted with a superior intellect.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An Ethical Three Mile Island Looming


Color photograph of the Three Mile Island nucl...

There are storm clouds on the horizon. And, I’m not sure those whose responsibility it is to shield us against such things are even aware of the approaching maelstrom.


The signs of this potential catastrophe are all around us, easy to see, if you’re looking. I’ve been watching them for the past two decades. I’m not sure, when I first began to notice, that I truly understood the portent of what I was observing. I knew that it disturbed me, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was; a growing tsunami that threatens to wash over us, obliterating everything in its path.


Enron logo, designed by Paul RandYou might be asking now, to what am I referring. Well, I’ll tell you, but first a little context and background. When my son, David, is not around for me to bounce ideas off, my neighbor, Jim, becomes my sounding board. Lately, I’ve been having conversations with both of them about what I see as a decline of ethical standards across the board in America, from the marble halls of politics in Washington to the carpeted board rooms of corporate America. The real estate bust, the decline of the banking system, the Enron scandal; take your pick; all point to an obsession with short-term profit at the expense of long-term institutional health and integrity.

As a member of the Silent Generation, that bunch of people born during World War II, just before the Baby Boomers came along, I grew up being taught such things as:

-          You’re only as good as your word

-          A day’s work for a day’s pay

-          Honesty is the best policy

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. I was taught that honesty, integrity; a respect for truth; were the important things. Money was just an extra incentive, a score card on how well you were doing, and as long as you were making enough, it was unseemly to be greedy and grasping.


Republican Party (United States)
I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, we’ve lost that. We’re living in a world where profit is the only motivation for corporations, it seems, and winning is the ‘only’ thing in the political arena. In conversations with my son, I’ve heard stories of senior executives encouraging subordinates to lie to customers to ensure increased profit, and the long term reputation of the company be damned. My neighbor tells me of an executive he knew who wanted to change performance evaluations, downgrading them arbitrarily so the company wouldn’t have to pay increased compensation for employees receiving high ratings. I don’t have to mention the state of our politics, do I? Just look around you. We’re facing a fiscal disaster that could have extremely long term negative impact because of a group of far right radical members of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, who, seeing themselves in the minority and pretty much disavowed by the majority of the population, are willing to shove the country over a fiscal cliff instead of compromising for the long term good. The only good they see is to get their way. That is not only selfish and foolish, but in my book, unethical.

At the end of World War II, having just come out of a terrible depression before going into war, this country had a renewed sense of self. The depression had been brought on by the rapacious greed of the robber barons and Wall Street manipulators who put personal profit before the common good. Having come out of the depression and prevailed in the war, we had a sense of belonging and striving for the greater good. The shelf life of that feeling seems to be wearing off, and we’re going back to the bad old pre-Depression days.

It’s like a melt-down, with no water handy to cool the reactor. It makes Three Mile Island look like a little fireworks celebration in the local park. The problem is, we seem to be marching toward it with our eyes wide open.

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LinkedIn Profile in Top 1%

LinkedIn MerlinWizard
LinkedIn MerlinWizard (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)
Hurray! I have one of the top 1% most viewed @LinkedIn profiles for 2012. http://www.linkedin.com/pub/profile/6/1ba/590
I'm not sure what it all means, if it means anything at all, but with 200 million profiles, and millions of views, it means a lot of people have seen my profile from all over the world. That's more people exposed to my views, aware of my books, and who might be interested in what I have to offer, so it's not something I'm prepared to sneeze at - just yet.


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Sunday, February 10, 2013

A view on Justice

Seal of the United States Department of Justice
Seal of the United States Department of Justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Author Jacqueline Gum's writing reflects universal themes that should be familiar to everyone. Her article on integrity should be required reading for every CEO, bureaucrat, and politician on the planet:
http://jacquelinegum.com/wheres-the-justice-integrity/#axzz2KV7hWr3q




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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: "The Almond Tree"


The Almond Tree, a first novel by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, starts with young Palestinian Ichmad Hamid watching his baby sister Amal blown apart by an Israeli mine planted near his family’s farm. Despair builds on despair as his father Abbas is jailed as a suspected terrorist supporter, another sister is killed, and his brother, Abbas is crippled in a vicious attack. When Ichmad, a brilliant mathematician, wins a scholarship to a university where Arab students are in the minority, he encounters a Jewish professor, a man filled with hate because of his own family’s persecution by the Nazis. But, both men learn to respect each other as individuals, and in their growing collaboration, despair slowly turns to hope.

The Almond Tree traces Ichmad’s life from the squalor of Palestinian refugee camps to the ivory halls of American universities, as he and his new friend make advances in science, and, at the same time, develop as individuals.

This is an amazing first novel; finely crafted, and full of meaning. It’s easy to casually dismiss it. Some would doubt that a Jewish writer could possibly enter into the mind of a Palestinian and make the reader see the fear, hate, love, despair, and hope that shapes his mind. But, Corasanti does just that. More importantly, she has capably described both sides in this long-standing conflict from a human perspective, a perspective that is all too often missing from other accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the human face of war.


A Bargain Book for your NOOK

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