Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: Kill Alex Cross

By James Patterson
Review By C. Neuroticus Absolutus

From Chapter 1, Patterson draws you in like a Dyson vacuum cleaner and spins you around in the vortex of a tornado, a fast-paced, deadly mystery. Someone has kidnapped the president’s two children, a bratty older sister and a bright, younger, levelheaded boy. The daylight kidnapping from a private school provides clues that lead the first responders to a drugged out nobody. A time-wasting exercise in futility. Alex Cross, an MPD detective with experience solving a kidnapping is first called into the case, but then kept out of the loop by Homeland Security operatives. A phone call from and a meeting with the first lady leads Cross to run point on the case to find her children.
However, Patterson is not happy with one time-sensitive mystery at a time. He urgently drags the reader to witness an attack on American soil by a secret extremist Saudi sect that calls themselves The Family.
Chapter 41 begins a section called WAR. Silly me, I’d thought I'd been in World War III since Chapter 25!
But Patterson leads and I must follow.
Between the kidnapping and the extremist attacks on America, by Chapter 50, Patterson has me worn to a frazzle, raised my blood pressure 20 points and made me want to throw my work-in-progress novel in the trash. Patterson changes POV often through the book to give the reader a peek into the thoughts of the diabolic kidnapper. But only a peek. Cross knows the kidnapper is toying with him and he’s fuming. On top of that, Patterson has me so enraged at the villain, I want to reach into the pages and rip his heart out. My face reddens with anger and my carotid arteries pulse as the heartless Saudi Family runs over American lives without conscience or remorse. Their only mission is to kill, kill, kill!
Patterson’s headlong plunge through 364 pages will exhaust even the heartiest reader. Jump in and hang on. This literary rocket gets five stars.

Work in Progress Update


C. Neuroticus Absolutus

I last reported that I had 70,000 or so words already written and could do 1,000 words a day for the next 20 days and I would be close to finishing my WIP The Back Nine. Well, a thousand words a day is perfectly achievable if you can lock all the doors, unplug all electronic distractions and keep your wife off your computer. It seems that Spider Solitaire is addictive. Hmmmm. Anyway, I managed to make it to 77,381 words this week and figure I've got another 8,000 to13,000 words yet to go. Not that it matters how long an eBook is. They certainly aren't priced by the word. In this same time frame, I've read James Patterson's Kill Alex Cross, kept up on my emails and posted a couple of blogs.As any writer will attest, we go through periods of production and then periods of not so much production and hope to achieve some positive balance at some point. I'm still hoping.

Up to Our Asses in Alligators

C. Neuroticus Absolutus

  We walk our golden retriever along the well-manicured thoroughfares that wind their way around the eighteen holes of the golf course our condos call home. Our dwellings rise a modest three stories along the Intracoastal Waterway amidst spindly pines standing incredibly plumb in soil whose tiny grains of sand were once boulders of great mountains that once towered along the Carolina coast protecting the inland forests from ravaging hurricanes and salt air.   Many of the friendly residents get to know each other and socialize on their dog-walking excursions through the neatly planted flora. For the newer residents, especially those who mumble their names when they introduce themselves in deep North Carolina, Jersey Shore or other foreign accents, we merely refer to them as, “Lassie’s mom,” “Abby’s mom,” or “Sun Tzu’s” dad until we get to know them well enough to ask,” Just what the hell is your name, anyway?”
With rare exception, our furry children get along quite well. There’s always someone or something interesting to sniff, squat or hike a leg on.
We have the usual Southern critters that live in the patches of scrub oak: possum, raccoon, foxes, gray squirrels, black- and-white-faced squirrels rabbits and, of course, an Audubon Field Guide full of birds of the South. Around and in the ponds―water hazards, in golfer parlance―are snapping turtles, ducks, geese, an occasional Great Blue Heron, white egrets, cormorants and, a recent addition, alligators.
The geese and ducks nest on the banks of these strategically placed ponds. Residents with pond views from their porches or balconies enjoy the parade of mama goose and her goslings, or mama duck and her ducklings. And it’s a delightful sight to watch feathery processions stop vehicles as they cross the roads, their little butts a-wag, following Mom’s comforting clucks.
Still, as charming a sight as they are, the ducks and geese are the bane of golfers. “I’m so sick of stepping in goose poop I swear I just want to take a nine iron to them.” That’s nice-guy golfer talk for, “Next time I come here, I’m gonna carry my 12-gauge in my bag, get me a couple of them and boil the filthy bastards in a big pot!”
My thoughts are, “Hey, you got eyes. Watch where you’re walking.” Or, “Keep your damn ball on the fairway, dude.”
I’d probably speak out except that, as a friend says, “they’ve got NRA stickers on their bags and bumpers.”
So, this past year, at least for our golf course, enter the alligators, instant saviors of golfers and their expensive footwear. We still have some geese, but they just congregate along the banks of the ponds, apparently intelligent enough to recognize the danger in those two beady eyes that lock on and follow their every move.
I can’t understand the intolerance of man when it comes to sharing the land with the creatures native to the environment for centuries before humans decided they needed two-hundred golf courses along the Grand Strand of South Carolina.I finally saw one of the scaly critters sunning on the banks of the 18th hole as I walked my thirteen-year-old golden. I prayed he wouldn’t see the gator and start barking at it because neither he nor I can run fast enough to get from the grocery store ice cream freezers to the cash registers without the whole quart melting. I took my dog home, drove back to the clubhouse and informed the manager that he had a four-and-a-half to five-foot gator soaking up the afternoon sun not 50 yards from his door.
“Yeah, we know they’re there. Called the appropriate agency to get them removed. They come out here, looked them over and said they weren’t big enough to move.”I went back to my car wondering just how the hell big does a gator have to be before being considered a big enough threat to have it removed? Ten feet? Twelve? Four-hundred pounds, maybe five?
Or is it determined by how many pets it consumes, or little children?
Of course, the golfers don’t want them removed. “They keep the ducks and geese off the course.”
Thank God nesting time is over for the year. I dread what will most likely happen next spring.
But life goes on.
Oh, and sometimes, in complete irreverence to select neighbors, we covertly refer to them as “Benji’s or whats-its-name’s asshole dad.”
Of course, it’s rude. But, that’s what you get for not having an NRA sticker on your bumper.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My fellow Americans, Lend me your . . .

C. Neuroticus Absolutus

Americans are hedonistic. Like the grasshopper of legend, we don’t save, which forces the U.S. to borrow from abroad, from China and others. A great amount of the interest we pay on the loans goes out of the U.S. instead of bolstering the U. S. economy. Americans have a feel-good gene that demands that we feel good all the time. It expresses itself in the form of greed and impatience. We desire instant gratification, instant return on our investments, and demand short-term returns on everything. We have a “what’s in it for me?” attitude and haven’t the patience nor the temperament for long-term investments. Even our government runs on borrowed money. Consider what our nation could do with the interest we now pay to foreign investors just to service the loans on the money we borrow from them. This should be our incentive for paying off our national debt as quickly as possible.

For those who pay off their credit cards each month, their debt is short-term and the cards are merely a convenient way to avoid carrying so much cash on their person, a matter of security. But for others, credit cards are demons of debt. Blame credit cards? Plastic money? I think not. Credit cards make it possible for us to temporarily slake our hedonistic appetites and attain insistent gratification which, at best, may last until the next shiny bauble catches our eye. William Shakespeare advised against debt and even more in Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3 (1623) when Polonius warned his son:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend;
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Smart man, ol' Willie Shakespeare.

Cash and Carry was once a popular term as the pioneers moved west. It meant you could carry the goods out of the store only if you paid cash. No loans, no credit, no way. The purpose, of course, was to prevent westward-bound travelers from taking advantage of kindhearted shop owners and skip town without paying. Nowadays, without so much as a signature in some cases, a customer can carry out of the store just about anything his heart desires. The reason, of course, is credit. Before computerization of purchase records and debt accumulation, it took several days for an auto dealer to get credit approval on the car you wanted so badly—unless you were already known by the dealer as well as the bank. In this computer age, transactions for autos are arranged within minutes and the customer once again (temporarily) slakes his unquenchable thirst for instant gratification.

Window shopping and impulse buying are such successful factors in marketing to today's generation of shoppers that merchantmen carry larger inventories to insure that no one leaves the store without purchasing something that tickles their fancy. The successful merchant trades on the hedonistic traits of his customer base. Lure the customer into the store with loss leaders or deeply discounted coupons and they'll buy more than enough to cover the cost of the loss-leader and discounted items many time over.

The merchant is happy and the customer is happy. Win-win, right?

Well, maybe.
Credit cards mean personal debt and debt affects our lives daily in many ways. Credit card purchases are short-term loans, the most expensive type of loans to enter into. In practically no time, compound interest on these loans wipes out any benefit the deeply-discounted prices and coupons may have initially provided. And as long as the loan is in force (unpaid), the credit card user is paying interest on interest. The system is not meant to benefit anyone who will not or can not pay off his/her card monthly as the debt is accrued. This is exactly the kind of customer the credit card companies do not want.

Meanwhile, the credit card company is double-dipping, maximizing profits charging the merchant up to 2% just to handle the credit transaction at the same time they are charging the consumer up to 21% (and possibly more) on the loan. Credit cards are extra work for merchants and they pay for the privilege of accepting credit cards for payment. Nevertheless, merchants are well aware of the contribution of impulse purchases and the contribution this makes to their bottom line. Consider how Christmas sales would suffer if instant credit were not available. The incredulous charges for missing a payment won't be discussed here except to say they represent the clearest form of corporate greed in America—with the possible exception of rubber-stamped home foreclosures.

For the merchantmen, credit cards are a win, too. Without the buy now—pay later knee jerk purchases of consumers, the entire business cycle, from raw goods suppliers to manufacturers, manufacturers to distributors, distributors to merchants and merchants to consumers would barely creep along compared to the present turnover rate of products in the cycle. With the faster business cycle comes greater employment, a wider variety of products, richer middlemen and merchants and ultimately happier consumers. Maybe that's what trickle-down economics is really supposed to mean—a description of the benefits of the business cycle, not a plan to give money to the rich and let it trickle down to the poor (popularly called Reaganomics). It begins with consumer needs or wants which generate the demand for product(s) which the merchant then orders from the distributor, and so forth. The lack of consumer credit slows the cycle, decreases inventories, increases layoffs, and increases unemployment throughout the product pipeline.

The economic engine of our country slows when consumer purchasing decreases. Decreasing purchases mean less tax money to run our country, repair and maintain our current infrastructure, build new highways and bridges and waterways, provide for the health, welfare and education of our citizens, and provide for our national defense. And borrowing at the local, state and federal levels increases to provide the services required by their citizens.

Thus, the availability of credit for the consumers is directly responsible for keeping our economy, our economic engine, running.

So there you are. Credit cards: An immeasurably great business based entirely on the hedonistic traits of American consumers. “I want it now! I deserve it now!” Maybe, even with the downside of overextending credit to irresponsible consumers, credit cards are a necessary evil in our lives. They're ubiquitous, everywhere you go, and have allowed the hedonistic Americans to satisfy their cravings for the ever-changing trappings of affluence and success—and in the end, perhaps unwittingly, underwrite the success of our country as well.

But as always: Caveat emptor, which is Latin for “Let the buyer beware.”