Saturday, August 23, 2014

Speaking about man-made climate change on ClimateWire

ClimateWire recently published a three-part series reporting on global warming and its alleged impacts along the Gulf Coast, with a special focus on my hometown -- Mobile, Alabama.

The journalist -- Daniel Cusick -- did a pretty good job (I knew him from back in my newspaper days). In three very detailed stories he reported all sides fairly, I think, and showed how this isn't just an international or national issue, but very much a local one.

Here's the section where I appear in the first story, which is titled "Ala., which has much at risk from climate change, argues it doesn't exist":
The state (Alabama) also has its share of climate skeptic political pundits.
J. Pepper Bryars, a Huntsville-based writer and former press secretary and speechwriter to Alabama's previous governor, Bob Riley, has cited Christy's work in a handful of op-eds written for the state's major news outlets. He has characterized climate scientists and activists who adhere to warming theories as being "more like Nostradamus staring down into a bowl of water" than "Galileo peering through a telescope."
In an email exchange with ClimateWire, Bryars laid out his views more fully, including some caveats that give credence to the known effects of climate change in the state but ultimately dismissing the science behind it.
"Skeptics of man-made abrupt climate change aren't questioning thermometers or yardsticks. Temperature and sea-level measurements taken in the past and present are facts that we don't dispute," he said.
"However, we're skeptical of future predictions based on computer models that have been proven inaccurate, especially when the proposed remedies sound a lot like long-held political goals of the far left: transfers of wealth via cap-and-trade schemes, greater government control over production and consumption, and regulation over sovereign democracies by non-elected international bodies of supposed experts."
The next article in ClimateWire's series focused on the small barrier island off the coast of Mobile County -- Dauphin Island. It's a great little fishing village, with the same soft white sands of Panama City Beach and Destin but without all of the crowds. It still has the feel of a small town, which it is. For years some of the island's beaches have been eroding, though, and many blame global warming.

The article is titled "Ala.'s Dauphin Island meets 'Years of Living Dangerously,'" and here's the part where I'm quoted:
But there are others in Alabama who view Dauphin Island's fate on different terms and who believe any relationship between the island's slow destruction and climate change is an abstract scientific theory looking for a landscape to fit its fuzzy assumptions.
Such arguments, made by residents like Mobile native J. Pepper Bryars, a former press secretary and speechwriter for Alabama's last governor, Bob Riley, in a recent op-ed in the Mobile Press-Register is that barrier islands like Dauphin Island are ephemeral landscapes, where "every few years it shifts, shakes and remakes itself like Mother Nature's personal Etch-a-Sketch."
It's Mother Nature, not climate change
As for the role that human-induced climate change has in aiding that process, Bryars and like-minded Alabamians remain deeply skeptical.
They point to data compiled by Christy, the state climatologist, that show Alabama's climate has experienced only modest warming over the last half-century and that extreme weather events happen with no greater frequency or intensity than they ever did.
"Why are the changes and threats any different from past decades? Global warming advocates usually rely on two arguments: There's been a lot of bad weather lately, and the computer models show it's only getting worse," Bryars wrote.
"But is that accurate, at least on a global scale? No," he added.
In a subsequent email exchange, Bryars acknowledged that "parts of Dauphin Island may be in greater danger of erosion that they were a few decades ago, but how about a few centuries ago? We must understand that the shoreline now wasn't what Mother Nature made 500 years ago, and it won't be what she makes 500 years from now, either."
On the question of beach nourishment, Bryars added, "We may win, but it may come at a great cost. Residents and taxpayers will have to weigh the gains, risks and costs as the battle continues."
Again, I think Climatewire did a fine job with the series. Sure, they have a perspective on the issue, as most well-informed people do (especially journalists), but to their credit the reporter and editors certainly allowed me plenty of room to make my point.

Friday, April 25, 2014

My inspiration for the “Warfighter” series

Some readers have asked where I got the idea to do a series of oral history stories on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The idea to focus on the men and women who fought the conflict, and hear the story in their own words, came from a book titled The Good War by Studs Terkel

In the book, the way Terkel asks the veterans questions and helps them tell the story is remarkable. It’s much better than reading a history book written by someone who wasn’t there – this is how it really was, as told by those who were really there. The stories of these “real people” spoken in plain language was remarkable to read.

So…I began to look at books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are great – those written by the veterans. Most are political - which is sad. But I haven’t seen a collection like “The Good War” was, and I think we owe it to our men and women who served there, and the generations that will follow, to record, collect and publish these stories.

I’ll begin to conduct interviews during the next several months and hope to publish something later this year.

If you know of anyone I should interview, please let me know!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My inspiration for volumn two of "The Life of Julia"

I'm busy writing the first draft of volume two in the "Life of Julia" series, which will be titled "Into the Closet."

The story will catch up with Julia when she is 17-years old -- the second year of her life highlighted in the campaign ad. The ad showed Julia doing very well in public school, which will also be the case in the book. However, I will tackle the issue of religious liberty and the growing trend of the government trampling upon traditional views in the name of mandating universal diversity -- which is kind of an oxy-moron. 

Where am I drawing my inspiration? I don't want to give away too much of the plot while it is still being written, but it is safe to say that the theme was inspired by the case of Owen and Eunice Johns of the United Kingdom. The couple, both Pentecostal Christians, had fostered children for years in Derby, England...until a social worker came by for a routine interview and asked about their views of homosexuality. They said, as Bible-believing Christians (in their words), that it is a sin. The social worker asked what they would tell any of their foster children about homosexuality if they were asked. Owen and Eunice said they would say their faith teaches them that homosexuality is wrong, but that if the child was homosexual, they would love and care for the child and treat them no differently than anyone else - also as their faith teaches. 

They thought wrong. Their license to continue fostering was denied, and the case went all the way to a high court in England who refused to act. The court did, however, issue an amazing opinion revealing the degree to which the U.K. has trampled on religious freedom in the name of "valuing diversity." British citizens can believe whatever they want -- inside their own head and heart -- but the court believes they cannot express or practice it in any form that doesn't comply with the government views.

The opinion, and the arguments backing it up, was straight out of a dystopian novel. I read it, and watched a few interviews about the case, and the idea for the next installment of Julia began to form in my mind. This may have happened in the U.K., but it is already happening to some degree here, and it will only get worse. I recently watched a video from a meeting of the Boston Bar Association where a state employee says they're "weeding out" potential caregivers who share the views of Owen and Eunice Johns. Passive acceptance of homosexuality isn't enough, the speakers at the meeting warned, a full endorsement is required. 

I am trying to keep the second story short, perhaps the size of a novella (about 100 pages), and want to published it sometime later this summer. 

Meanwhile, take a look at this clip from a BBC interview show where the issue was discussed.
BBC's "Question Time" program debates the Derby Foster Care Case




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fact behind the Fiction

A few readers of "A Forgotten Man" have asked where I received my inspiration for one of the novel's early plot catalysts -- the government's forced closing of Bienville Bay Oyster Company. A couple of readers even said it didn't seem realistic. I wish that were true.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company is a small, family-owned oyster farm on the coast of California. The federal government has been trying to close it for the past couple of years. After watching this short documentary in early 2013, the idea of Bienville Bay Oyster Company was born.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Forgotten Man hits #1 on two Amazon genre lists!

"A Forgotten Man," my debut novel inspired by President Obama's "Life of Julia" campaign advertisement, surged to the #1 bestseller spots on Amazon's political fiction and literary fiction genre lists during its three-day free promotion in late February.
Screenshot of my book's Amazon Genre Rankings

More than 5,400 readers downloaded the book in just 72-hours! Reviews are already coming in, including:

"This work changed me." 
- M. Domashinski

"There is something quite haunting about this book that makes you search your soul and rethink things within your own life." 
- S. Grayson

"I finished this book three-days ago and it is still running through my mind." 
- G. Buccheri


Promotional giveaways can sometimes help an unknown work get discovered, but now that free books are often available most authors can only expect a few hundred new readers during a promotional event, maybe a thousand if it’s in a popular genre like romance or thriller. I calculated that a successful promotion for “A Forgotten Man” would be between 400-500...but 5,400 was well beyond my expectations, and charting #1 on two genre lists was totally unexpected.

So...a big THANK YOU to everyone who made it happen, and a double THANK YOU to those who left reviews. Your interest in my work, and your thoughts about it, mean more to me than you could imagine.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Doctors earn every penny they’re paid

I recently read one of those viral letters posted on social media that began with the line, “Somebody asked: You’re a doctor? How much do you make?”

The author cleverly used another definition of “make” in the answer, citing the difference doctors “make” and the sacrifices their families routinely to “make” as part of their demanding profession.

Some of the answers were thought provoking:

·         “I can make holding your hand seem like the most important thing in the world when you're scared.”
·         “I can make your child breathe when they stop.”
·         “I can make myself get up at 4 a.m. to make sure your mother has the medicine she needs to live.”
·         “I make my family wait for dinner until I know your family member is taken care of.”

Comments on the letter were mainly positive. Some readers rightly extended those answers to nurses and other healthcare professionals who spend their lives handling our emergencies. Still, in an era when government rather than the free market is controlling much of our healthcare costs, doctors are sizable targets. Many believe they simply “make” too much money and that doctor salaries are part of the overall healthcare cost crisis.

“We pay our doctors way too much,” wrote economics writer Matthew Yglesias in Slate magazine, adding that “there’s no rational basis for leaving their interests unscathed when tackling unduly expensive medicine.”

To justify the claim he cited the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that reported the United States “has the highest-paid general practitioners in the world” and that our medical specialists “make more than specialists in every other country except the Netherlands.”

Good.

As with most goods and services, you get what you pay for. Rather than being envious of a doctor’s salary, or clumsily tinkering with the complex market that decides it, perhaps we should consider the value of their services.

Like many, I’ve had experience with a major medical issue. My wife recently developed a life-threatening condition and spent the last six-weeks of her pregnancy in the hospital.

The care was outstanding. The doctor visited my wife late at night only to show up again early the next morning, ensuring everything was correct. He left nothing to chance or to someone else to handle. He saw her on his days off and even returned from a serious out-of-town family emergency to perform my wife’s surgery during the time it was best for her condition. He was meticulous, cautious and thorough, and in the end he saved the lives of my wife and son.

The cost was enormous; two-thirds a year’s total earnings. Thankfully my insurance paid the lion’s share but our savings took a deep hit. I’m not sure what portion of the total bill went into the doctor’s pocket, but I hope it was a bundle. He earned it.

Most doctors I know pour an enormous amount of time, effort and money into their education, beginning when they’re only teenagers. Once they become doctors their level of effort – and expenses due to malpractice insurance and regulatory costs – seems to only increase. Simply put, doctors have worked harder and sacrificed more over a longer period of time than most people (including me). It stands to reason they should earn more.

That seems lost on the central planners at the Health and Human Services Department. They’re controlling much of the market already through Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare’s growing regulations. Control over access may soon follow, and if the trend continues, they’ll eventually decide how much doctors can earn. That’s how it’s done in the United Kingdom, often cited as an example of a healthcare utopia. 

Let’s hope the tide turns. Meanwhile, the author of that viral letter ended his answers by reminding us that most doctors enter their profession for more than just monetary reward. “How much do I make?” he asked. “All I know is, I make a difference.”

For my family, our doctor made all the difference. I only hope that despite the government’s continued meddling in his profession that future doctors can continue making that kind of a difference for other families, and collect every penny they’ve earned along the way.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Forgotten Man

This week I released A Forgotten Man, the first novel in The Life of Julia series. It’s a story of one father’s heroic struggle to provide for his family, of one mother’s heartbreaking sacrifices, and the tragic unraveling of a young girl’s once-promising future. The novel tells of the unseen impact of the Great Recession on American families and explores the changing relationships between citizens and their government.

It's available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

The story follows the Bosarge family — Jack, Donita, and their three-year-old daughter Julia — after environmental regulations force a small town seafood company to close, costing Jack his job and sending his family deeply into debt. As Jack fails to find employment, Donita loses hope and their way of life begins to crumble beneath a society that has forgotten about working class men and women.

The novel was inspired by the controversial political advertisement “The Life of Julia,” by President Barrack Obama’s reelection campaign. The ad showed snapshots of how government programs helped a fictionalized woman named Julia during 12 pivotal years in her life, beginning at age 3 and ending at age 67. My series, however, will tell the rest of her story, showing the complete impact of an increasingly large and powerful central government, and what really happens to Julia and those around her.

So where did I get the title? I consider the character of Julia’s father to a “forgotten man” in our society, a term coined by William Graham Sumner in 1883.

“Now who is the Forgotten Man? He is the simple, honest laborer, ready to earn his living by productive work,” Sumner wrote in a series of essays in Harper’s Weekly. “We pass him by because he is independent, self-supporting, and asks no favors. We do not remember him because he makes no clamor; but I appeal to you whether he is not the man who ought to be remembered first of all.”

I wrote A Forgotten Man as a cautionary tale about what I believe is a “new lost generation” of American families who are beset by debt, burdened by government, and without the hopes and dreams that inspired, fueled, and built the great nation they inherited, but may not be able to sustain.