Month: October 2015

Book Review – The Arabian Nights Volume II Published by Signet Classics

I recently experienced the pleasure of reading Signet Classics’ sequel to the popular Arabian Nights saga. Once again Jack Zipes modernized Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translation of the tales. The first installment included the more popular stories; such as “Sinbad the Seaman and Sinbad the Landsman”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp”. Volume II exposed Western audiences to some less familiar yarns. The pieces in this collection weren’t as ribald as the ones in the first offering, either. It still made for an entertaining read.

This is a great book for those who like the “story-within-a-story” format. The “The Craft and Malice of Women” served as the highlight of this approach. This series included 26 separate stories on the same subject. I suspect those reading have already guessed the content of that theme. While lengthy, that string kept me interested in discovering the outcome. “The Ten Viziers” series went on a bit long for my taste. It engage for a while, though.

For those (like me) with shorter attention spans, this volume also included much briefer tales in the form of fables. I’m familiar with Aesop’s contributions to the genre. I enjoyed the opportunity to read ones from a different culture. The moral on leadership in “The Crows and the Hawk” struck me as very contemporary and universal.

These stories contained some memorable lines. My favorite included:

“Indeed, it is the custom of envy to fall upon the fortunate.” (Page 289)

“Whoever prefers haste will live to regret it.” (Page 383)

“He who speaks of things that do not concern him will hear things that do not please him.” (Page 57)

I also discovered outstanding alliteration in the following expression: “Sullied by the soils of sex.” (Page 287)

The similarities with Greek myths surprised me. Several tales contained the moral: those who attempt to escape their fate end up creating it. In the interest of not divulging spoilers, I won’t provide the titles. I’ll let first time readers share the same surprise I experienced.

Of all the tales in this collection, I enjoyed “The Story of King Ibrahim and His Son” the most. I found the conflict exceptionally well crafted. The king heard a prophesy that at the age of seven his son would be killed by a lion. However, if his son survived the attack, he would end up killing the king. What a basis for a story!

I’m glad Signet Classics opted to produce a second volume of tales from the Arabian Nights. Even though the characters and tales wouldn’t be familiar to most readers, it’s well worth taking the time to embark on this literary journey. And you can leave your magic carpet at home.

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Book Review: 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias

Some people seek the meaning of life; for writers an understanding of plot becomes the ultimate intellectual goal. As anyone who has attempted fiction writing knows, comprehending it can be as challenging as finding life’s ultimate purpose. Fortunately for us, Ronald B. Tobias crafted an easy-to-understand guideline. In addition to defining the concept, he included 20 sample plots for reference.

Mr.Tobias commenced his narrative by exploring the–at times elusive–concept. Plot is structure, he wrote. (Page 4) He elaborated by noting that plot is a process, not an object. (Page 5) Personally, I preferred Ayn Rand’s observation that “plot is a purposeful progression of events leading to the climax.” Still, I thought Tobias’s explanation pretty good and comprehensible.

Before analyzing different plots, the author detailed a number of technical aspects of story writing. He delved into Artistotle’s view that a unified action consists of a three act structure: a beginning, middle and an end. He explained how “reversals” and “recognition” play into the overall narrative. “Deep tension” works better for an overall work than “local tension” which is ephemeral obstacle a protagonist faces. (Page 18) He defined “incidents” as “plot beats.” (Page 64) These concepts can be difficult to explain, but the author phrased his ideas lucidly. I didn’t encounter any difficulty following his narrative.

One key point I leaned from this book is that there are two fundamental plots. They are “the action plot” and “plots of the mind”. (Pages 40 – 42) That may seem self-evident. However, any story ever written can be broken down into one of those. Before moving on to the “master” plots, all authors need to understand this.

Of course, the real crux of the book came from the 20 “master” plots Mr. Tobias analyzed. I liked the detailed way he explored the nuances of each one. He showed how a “quest” plot differs from an “adventure” plot. In covering plots such as “transformation”, “maturation” and “ascension and descension” he explained the subtleties that make each unique.

The end of each chapter contained a checklist showing the various key points about each plot. As an added bonus, one can go on-line and download a PDF version of all the checklists. I’m not going to include the website here, because it’s such a great reference, it really is worth taking the time to read the book.

The inclusion of quotes from famous authors livened up the text. Towards the beginning the author quoted Somerset Maugham. “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” (Page 38) He included Mickey Spillane’s statement that, “I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers.” (Page 140) The best tip came from Leo Tolstoy. Many writers believe that a great story comes from a “good vs. bad” conflict. Tolstoy argued that the best stem from “good vs. good.” (Page 105)

My one criticism of the book it’s really a criticism. It’s an observation. The author used numerous novels and short stories by famous writers to bolster his points. As one can see from the names in the preceding paragraph, he used a diverse variety. In the early sections of the book, it seemed like he disproportionately used movies as examples. I specifically recall Fatal Attraction coming up several times. It’s possible that he intended this work as a guide for screenwriters, as well as “print” authors. He may also have chosen Rebecca, Lawrence of Arabia and Ghost because they were more familiar to his target audience, too. I mention this because the abundance of cinematic examples jumped out at me in the earlier chapters.

This book isn’t just an outstanding reference source: it’s a great read. I’d recommend authors think about a story (s)he is writing. Examine the chapters of 20 Master Plots that would apply to it. You’ll probably pick-up some valuable pointers to lift your piece to the next level. I know I did. Depending on how fast my plot comes together, I just may take on the meaning of life next.

Book Review: The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith

Mr. Meredith gave the expression “the dark continent” a whole new connotation in The Fate of Africa.  This narrative provided an historical overview of the region’s development from the end of the Second World War through 2005; at least in my version of the book. An intriguing synopsis resulted from it. The tome began with a quote from Pliny the Elder: “Out of Africa, always something new.” On a continent with so many diverse cultures, ethnic groups and nations, the development of each country followed the same pattern. Lamentably, Mr. Meredith showed how nearly every government degenerated from high hopes into kleptocratic authoritarianism; the latter of which they learned from their colonial governments. (Page 154)

Ghana’s independence on 6 March 1957 served as the centerpiece of the book’s beginning. The first African nation to achieve independence from a colonial power became a major event in world history. (Page 26) This served as one of the very few positive events to take place throughout the entire narrative. Some rare others included Nelson Mandela’s election to the South African Presidency and the end of apartheid. Another occurred when Abdou Diof of Senegal left office after losing an election in March of 2000. At the time, he was only the fourth African leader in four decades to relinquish power voluntarily. (The first one, Leopold Sedar Senghor, also served as Senegal’s president.)  That pretty much covers all the positive events covered by the book.

Although my version of The Fate of Africa came out over a decade ago, I found the author’s analysis of foreign aid very topical. Angus Deaton received the Nobel Prize in Economics this year. One of his areas of study concerned how outside financial support can restrain a country’s development. In his history, Mr. Meredith referenced the “donor fatigue” that took place in the 1980s. The West became frustrated with the profligacy of various African rulers. (Page 376) The author also provided myriad details how leaders used donor finance to delay as well as implement reforms. (Page 374) None of this should’ve surprised anybody. Earlier in the book Mr. Meredith detailed how African leaders “selfishly” pursued development goals. (Page 144)

The author explicated the rise of political Islam on the continent. He traced its origins to the “demise of the Pan-Arab nationalism of the 1960s” (Page 443) and the Arab defeat in the Six Day War of 1967. (Page 443) Meredith traced its development in multiple countries such as Egypt, Algeria and Somalia. Of course, he elucidated its permeation into Sudan. Most people are familiar with political Islam’s influence in the Middle East. I applaud the author for exploring its prevalence in Africa.

As disturbing as I found the overall book, I thought it well written. His lucidity made the overall narrative more impactful. The author even included some good lines to make the text more memorable. Kenyans resorted to humor in explaining how their court system worked. “Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?” They joked. (Page 285) Meredith explained that “while most states had an army, the Algerian army had a state.” (Page 447) He quoted someone as saying Libya’s leader, Colonel Qadaffi, had a “split personality – both evil.” (Page 351)

I had one criticism of the book. At times I wondered about the author’s core purpose in writing it. For a time I thought he aspired to educate people about the avaricious governance that infected the continent and the ensuing catastrophic human suffering it begot. At other times, I found the book a polemic blasting American foreign policy towards the region.

While Meredith criticized the programs of Britain, France and Belgium, I thought he reserved his main ire for the United States. Here’s his commentary on American policy towards Liberia. After vilifying its support of Samuel Doe he wrote the following.

It was a sign of how pusillanimous the United States had become in dealing with African dictators it favoured; that while the election was rejected in almost all quarters as fraudulent, US officials alone applauded it as “generally fair enough although marked by a few irregularities.” (Page 552)

The author presented the following anecdote about an American government official’s trip to Ghana’s independence ceremony.

But the most enthusiastic visitor was Richard Nixon, then the United States vice-president. From the moment he touched down in Accra, he rushed about shaking hands, hugging paramount chiefs, fondling black babies and posing for photographs. It was not always to good effect. Surrounded by a crowd of Ghanaians at an official ceremony, he slapped one man on the shoulder and asked what it felt like to be free. “I wouldn’t know, sir,” replied the man. “I’m from Alabama.” (Page 26)  

And there’s more. Here are Mr. Meredith’s thoughts on America’s response to a terrorist attack.

The repercussions of Sudan’s alliance with Islamist extremists reverberated for many years. In August 1998 “sleeper” cells planted by as-Qa’eda in East Africa in 1994 bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 263 people and injuring more than 5,000. President Clinton retaliated by ordering a missile strike against a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, claiming it was being used to manufacture chemical weapons. No credible evidence was ever provided to support the claim but Sudan lost a large part of its capacity to produce medical supplies. (Page 593)

Several pages earlier, the author criticized Sudanese President Omar-al Bashir. He infused religion as a pretext to launch a jihad against his political enemies in the country’s south. First Meredith attacked the US for being too passive. When they responded with force against a brutal dictator, he criticized that. What approach would he advocate the US to take with brutal thugs?

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan (a native Ghanaian) observed, “Let us be careful not to mistake hope for achievement.” (Page 681) Sadly, there’s been exponentially more of the former throughout Africa’s postwar history. While The Fate of Africa provided a detailed analysis of how the current situation evolved, in terms of what can be done to rectify, it offered no answers.

Wedding Reception

A sense of satisfaction overwhelms me when a government employee goes to jail for failing to execute her tax payer entrusted duties. That’s under normal circumstances. The recent events in Rowan County Kentucky were anything but normal. For the first and probably only time, I didn’t experience that gratification. Like many, I felt a deep sense of revulsion over Kim Davis’ decision to serve as a law answerable only to her. My contempt for those who supported her exceeded even that. To hear individuals cast her in the role of a Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Supreme Court’s Bull Connor makes a mockery of the Civil Rights Movement.

Those in opposition to freedom of marriage couldn’t have selected a more unlikely champion of its sanctity. Ms. Davis is, after all, on her fourth…so far.

A few weeks ago she decided to switch political parties after 32 years. Her most recent political campaign for Rowan County Clerk took place less than a year ago. This behavior raises questions as to just how committed she’ll remain to her current principles.

I’ve always been intrigued by those who argue that gay marriage will “change the traditional view of marriage.” The so called “tradition” has been rather fluid throughout history. In their delusional antediluvian “Leave It to Beaver” view of America some lose sight of that. They also selectively forget that the “traditionalism” of the 1950s metamorphosed into the counter-culture of the 1960s in less than a generation. Why then did a time so idyllic, become so turbulent so quickly?

For centuries procreation served as marriage’s exclusive purpose. Until the advent of the Industrial Age, people inhabited agrarian societies. Children provided a much needed labor force for working the fields from dusk until dawn. For those select fortunate enough not to perform manual labor, the institution served as a means of political union between powerful families. The concept of a marriage based on love is a very modern phenomenon. If anything, gay marriage is a logical outcome of this contemporary development.

I’ve often observed, “Until homosexuals have the right to be as miserable as we heterosexuals, there can be no equality between us.” I do have to add one addendum, though. When I’m on my honeymoon with the woman of my dreams: knowing that gay couples can achieve the same level of happiness and fulfillment in their lives won’t diminish my enjoyment in any way.

But this isn’t about marriage or who should have the right to partake in it. Myriad legal scholars have opined on the speciousness of Ms. Davis’ actions. In her role as Rowan County Clerk, her job is to certify that those filing for a marriage license have fulfilled the statutory requirements established by the State of Kentucky to receive one.

I would challenge anyone who asserts that an elected official is entitled to not execute her responsibilities because she either doesn’t agree with the law or like it. If one believes that, one must also respect the views of those clerks who refuse to provide a dog license because they loathe Poodles. Would one agree that the DMV can refuse to grant a driver’s license to those with foreign cars?

If any elected official feels that the statutes she’s elected to uphold violate her principles, she should work within the system to get them changed. Should that not be possible, the only honorable option remaining is to resign. Ours is a nation of laws, not opinions.

We’re all familiar with landmark events of the Civil Rights Movement such as the March on Selma, the “I Have a Dream” speech, and school desegregation. A number of years ago I read Gene Roberts’ and Hank Kilbanoff’s Pulitzer Prize winning history The Race Beat. The book focused on Southern reporters and the perils they faced in writing about the Civil Rights Movement. Had it not been for them getting the story out, the events I cited wouldn’t have had the same impact. It gave me a whole new appreciation for all of those who participated.  Those people were true American heroes.

Alas, Ms. Davis is no hero. That won’t stop some from depicting her as such. For those who insist on doing so, I have a suggestion. Why not place effigies of her where they will do the most good? How about placing her likeness with monuments dedicated to other paragons of principle from America’s past? Some appropriate locations that come to mind would be next to those images of Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest or the carving at Stone Mountain.

Book Review: Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexievich

Ms. Alexievich explained her goal as writer to animate the “feelings of war.” (Page 8) She achieved this by presenting Zinky Boys through personal interviews. She told the story of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan from the late 1970s through 1989. The resulting book illuminated an emotional portrayal of anger, sorrow and disillusionment. As the author published it in 1990, those interviewed presented fresh recollections of their involvement.

Many have compared the USSR’s involvement in Afghanistan with the American war in Vietnam. I can understand the parallels. Many Afghansti—the nickname for the Soviet soldiers–expressed great anger and resentment towards their government. Those in power had multiple explanations as to the need for military intervention. The Afghan government required help with the socialist revolution there. The Soviets’ southern border needed protection. While there, the troops came to doubt these rationales. A private who fought in the conflict said, “We were given medals we don’t wear and will probably return, medals honestly earned in a dishonest war.” (Page 18)

Numerous combatants commented on the lack of empathy they received upon returning home. (While Americans in Vietnam served a one year term, the Soviet government required a two year tour of duty in Afghanistan.) The best quote in the book came from a construction engineer. He spoke with the author about earlier excerpts that he’d read from her work-in-progress.

These boys were heroes! They weren’t fighting for any so-called “mistaken policy”. They fought because they put their faith in us (the Russian people). We should kneel before every one of them. If we truly faced-up to the comparison of what we did here (at home) with what befell them there we might go mad. (Page 186)

That’s a very intelligent and incisive observation of what society owes its men and women in uniform. It should also remind policy makers of von Clausewitz’s dictum about mobilizing all of society for war.

The Afghanistan endeavor never had popular support. Most civilians living in the USSR expressed either apathy or contempt towards returning personnel. This led a Major from the propaganda section of an artillery regiment to remark, “Don’t confuse the ones who sent us with those who were sent.” (Page 89)

Alexievich aimed to connect with readers emotionally. Here’s a devastating passage from a former Private.

When it was our time to go home we expected a warm welcome and open arms—then we discovered people couldn’t care less whether we’d survived or not. In the courtyard of our block of flats I met up with the kids I’d known before. “Oh, you’re back—that’s good,” they say, and went off to school. My teachers didn’t ask about anything, either. This was the sum total of our conversation:

I, solemnly, “We should perpetuate the memory of our school fellows who died doing their international duty.”

They: “They were dunces and hooligans. How can we put up a memorial plaque to them in the school?”

People back home had their own view of the war. “So you think you were heroes, were you? You lost a war, and anyhow, who needed it apart from Brezhnev and a few warmongering generals?”

Apparently, my friends died for nothing, and I might have died for nothing, too. (Page 77)

As a young man I recall reading descriptions of Vietnam as a “conflict”. The Soviet Union never declared war in Afghanistan, either. The government referred to those lost as “Died in the execution of his international duty.” That’s an awfully glib way to refer to someone who gave his/her life in the service of his/her country.

Since Moscow never declared war, they didn’t issue soldiers with ID tags, or dog tags as Americans call them. The government didn’t provide them out of a fear they would fall into enemy hands. (Page 170)

The people interviewed commented on the troops’ poor training. One solider practiced with live ammunition only once before going to Afghanistan. This lack of training may have led to their despicable treatment of civilians. Units engaged in “revenge actions” by burning fields and killing livestock. A soldier shot up a melon stand when he thought a vendor charged too much money. In her diary the author commented on, “The limits of morality defined by the commands they receive.” (Page 3) I’m not sure the instances I cited had anything to do with superiors’ orders, though.

The esoteric choice of title is my only criticism of the book. At one point a deranged woman told a mother that her son would return from Afghanistan a “zinky” boy. It took me a while to understand the reference. The military buried those killed in action in zinc lined coffins. To be fair to the author, when I did understand the title, it added much more impact to the overall narrative.

I abhor Communism. It’s one of the few things in this world I truly hate. But still, I have great respect for the Soviet soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. Like anyone they had hopes and dreams, loved their families and believed they went to war for the betterment of the “Motherland.” Like the tragedy inherent in Shakespeare’s Brutus, they acted nobly but made a wrong choice. An anonymous person explained to the author: “We must distinguish the war from those who took part in it. The war was criminal and has been condemned, as such, but the boys must be defended and protected.” (Page 193) Perhaps the Soviet experience in Afghanistan has more in common with another American military endeavor.

Book Review – Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

If you’re not moved by this book, you’re not human. Ms. Alexievich delivered a powerful narrative of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. As opposed to delivering a dry history of events populated with statistics, she explored the aftermath through the human cost of the tragedy. The author achieved this through personal interviews with those affected.

The hardest task for an historian is to present readers with a realistic portrayal of time and place. Through the book’s structure Ms. Alexievich did. Voices from Chernobyl consisted exclusively of the words of those directly involved. She spoke with former Soviet military personnel who worked on the clean-up as well as former government officials. While that presented an accurate perspective, the most haunting comments came from those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

I’ve read volumes of history books in my time. None contained the emotional impact of this one. Ford Maddux Ford began his The Good Soldier with the line, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” I doubt few people come away from Voices from Chernobyl not saying the same thing. I’m not sure how I managed to finish it and I can’t imagine how Ms. Alexievich persisted through writing it. I really have to applaud her commitment to getting the story of the Belorussian people’s suffering out to the world.

To be sincere, I’m struggling to write this review. The stories Ms. Alexievich included really moved me: and I’m not an emotional person. She began and ended the book with stories of men who responded to the disaster and passed away from radiation poisoning. The author allowed their widows to tell their stories in their own words.

One that will remain with me forever involved a woman’s ordeal at the hospital. She concealed her pregnancy so they would let her in to attend to her husband. One of the nurses told her: “He’s not your husband anymore. He’s a radioactive object.” (Page 16) Her daughter passed shortly after birth: another victim of complications from radiation poisoning.

For those managing to hang in there and continue reading this review, there’s much more graphic information in the story. The man who passed away at the end of the book succumbed to a horrendous form of cancer. The widow recounted a conversation with two hospital orderlies.

“We’ve seen everything,” they told me, “people who’ve been smashed up, cut up, the corpses of children caught in fires. The way Chermobylites die is the most frightening of all.” (Page 231)

There are a lot of very disturbing personal reminiscences like this in the book. Once more, that’s what made it so powerful. Approximately 340,000 members of the Soviet military worked at Chernobyl following the disaster. (Page 140) One of them recalled the following.

Before we went home we were called in to talk to a KGB man. He was very convincing when he said we shouldn’t talk to anyone, anywhere, about what we’d seen. When I made it back from Afghanistan, I knew that I’d live. Here it was the opposite: it’d kill you only after you got home. (Page 41)

One observer described the Soviet Union as a “country of authority, not people.” (Page 209) Government officials weren’t spared the effects of Chernobyl, either. One former First Secretary of the Stavgorod Regional Party Committee indignantly defended his reluctance to evacuate the area after the disaster. His response elucidated the mindset of Soviet officials during the Cold War era.

In the papers—on the radio and television they were yelling Truth! Truth! At all the meetings they demanded Truth! Well, it’s bad. It’s very bad. We’re all going to die! But who needs that kind of truth? When the mob tore into the convent and demanded the execution of Robespierre, were they right? You can’t listen to the mob, you can’t become the mob…If I’m a criminal, why is my granddaughter, my little child, also sick? My daughter had her that spring, she brought her to us in Slavgorod in diapers. In a baby carriage, it was just a few weeks after the explosion at the plant. There were helicopters flying, military vehicles on the roads. My wife said: “They should go to our relatives. They need to get out of here.” I was the First Secretary of the Regional Committee of the Party. I said absolutely not. “What will people think if I take my daughter with her baby out of here? Their children have to stay.” Those who tried to leave, to save their own skins, I’d call them into the regional committee. “Are you a Communist or not?” It was a test for people. If I’m a criminal, then why was I killing my own grandchild? (Goes on for some time but it is impossible to understand what he’s saying.) (Page 198)

The Swedish Academy honored Svetlana Alexievich with the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. After reading this book, I understand the choice. Some experiences in life deeply affect a person. They shape his view of the world around him in new ways. For me, one of those experiences will have been reading Voices from Chernobyl.

The Stuff of Legends

Yesterday Jeb Bush followed the family tradition of crass and fatuous oratory that made his surname legendary. If that was the former governor’s goal: “Mission Accomplished.” I wouldn’t have thought it possible to out-do Shakespearean eloquence such as “Trees cause more pollution than cars do” and “Smoke evildoers out of their holes”; Bush fils part deux set a new standard. When asked for his thoughts on the rampage at Roseburg our prospective forty-fifth president replied, “Stuff happens.” As insensitive and tactless as the latest heir to the Bush legacy spoke, the ultimate tragedy lay in his veracity: at least in reference to mass murder in America.

Josef Stalin, himself no stranger to the concept, once observed, “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic.” It saddens me such unmotivated acts of violence occur with such frequency in our society. While the Umpqua Community College shooter’s father may express “shock” at this latest massacre, in the last day I’ve read tweets from PBS and the Associated Press stating that our country averages one mass shooting per day. I fear our society is becoming desensitized to it.

But why would we? After all, the media will saturate us with “coverage” of this latest “tragedy”. They’ll present myriad “special reports” on the killer. They’ll probe his friends and family with, “How could this happen?” They’ll ask “Why? Why? Why?” We’ll get incisive analysis of how he “was a quiet boy; a good boy; a troubled boy.” This will go on until he becomes as much a household name as John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.

This “coverage” will, no doubt, feed the salacious appetites of “tragedy porn” addicts. We’ll receive up-to-the-minute body counts presented as enthusiastically as the score of a Baseball Playoff game. As appalling as that may be, I fear something much more horrible. I worry this unwarranted attention will only encourage the next “quiet, good, troubled boy” seeking his fifteen minutes of infamy.

This latest massacre brought to mind Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin. It’s an epistolary novel about a woman’s quest to understand why her son executed several of his classmates. The author thoroughly researched the subject. She cited numerous names in reference to school massacres. Some I recognized; others I didn’t. As a work of fiction, I presumed them the product of the author’s imagination. Due to the volume of appellations at the halfway point in the book, I wondered and investigated on-line. It astonished me to discover that this sort of tragedy had been occurring regularly in the US since the 1970s.

Every culture has its share of violence. We Americans have a legendary brand of it. The late former FBI Agent Robert Ressler pioneered the study of serial killers. He observed that most reside in the United States. When asked why, he answered, “We live in a society that encourages and glorifies violence.”

The media sensationalizing of this crime will further ignite the passions in the gun control debate. Based on Mr. Ressler’s view, I’m wondering if limiting access to firearms would have any effect on violent crime. While fictitious, the killer in Shriver’s novel didn’t use a gun.

While I disagree with the way the former Florida governor expressed himself, I’m disturbed more by how I agree with his underlying premise. This is a national disgrace and an embarrassment to our great country.

My thoughts and condolences go out to the friends and family of those affected by this latest act of senseless carnage. I’ve lost friends and family over the years. I can’t imagine the pain of losing someone I love to such a meaningless violent act. All of those affected have my deepest sympathy.

The rest of us can take solace. We’ll forget all about this tragedy with the advent of the next one. Based on the numbers, we won’t have long to wait. The media will scamper from the Pacific Northwest and descend upon the next campus asking the ubiquitous “Why? Why? Why?” After the standard, “He was a quiet boy; a good boy; a troubled boy”, we’ll be treated to a new stock response: “Stuff happens.”