Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review of Phil Truman's Novel GAME

Grit, Guts and Glory on Gridiron

Good guys sometimes win.

You don’t have to love football to love this book, but you probably need to like football and slice-of-life descriptions of small town living.

I greatly enjoyed Phil Truman’s novel, having myself played some high school football for a small town in New York a decade before the period covered by GAME, the seventies, but thousands of miles from the Oklahoma home of the high school team coached by the protagonist, Donny Doyle, ex-Marine, and former college football star.

They take football mighty seriously out West, but some of their other social attitudes were rather benighted. Recruiting three highly talented non-Caucasian players helped take the team toward the top, while winning mixed reviews from the home folks and derision from their opponents.

Whether the trio will be enough to help Coach Doyle’s beat their arch-rivals will depend on their injuries and on the attitude of a mountainous black defensive tackle with a bad attitude.

With many interesting, often attractive, characters and a persuasive depiction of small-town life, this novel could pass as a memoir. It is dedicated to two fellow members of Truman’s high school football organization who lost their lives in combat, and it ends with an epilogue that follows the most important characters through the rest of their lives’ stories.

I loved it. It even explained to me how the quarterback we had my senior year just joined our school for that one semester, something that had puzzled this naïve teammate of his until now.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fire Drill? --- a Middlegrade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

The fire alarms sounded at Tess’s middle school.

The Principal’s voice came over the public address system, “This is a drill. All students and staff will evacuate the building as though there were a fire. There is not a fire. Repeat, all students and staff will evacuate the building immediately.”

When they left the school building, they found the school buses in place, and the Principal directed the students to go into the buses they usually used, with those students who walk to and from school to go to whatever buses had extra room. This was unlike any fire drill they had ever had. It was a bit disorderly and even more puzzling.

Soon, fire engines and police cars came to the school. These first-responders entered the building cautiously, accompanied by two large dogs. Again, this was different from any prior fire drill.

On the buses, the students were talking excitedly.

“Why are we waiting so long to go back into the building?”

“Why are the police here?”

“What are the dogs for?”

Tess thought she knew. “I bet it’s a bomb.”

That caused excitement. Soon all the kids were saying it was probably a bomb. They were glad to be safe on the buses.

After about half an hour, the police and firemen and the two dogs left the school building, and the students were allowed back.

When Tess got home, she told her brothers, Rick and Tim, and her mother about what had happened at school and waited eagerly to ask her father about it.

Mr. Williams arrived just before dinner. A fireman and emergency medical technician [EMT] with friends on the police force, he would be expected to know what had happened.

He told Tess and Tim and Eric and Mrs. Williams, “Around one this afternoon, the school got a call from someone claiming he had hidden a bomb there. The voice was young, so it was likely to be a prank, but the Principal did not want to take any chances and decided to have the school emptied out so the police and firemen and the bomb-sniffing dogs could check out the building. When nothing was found, everyone was allowed back in.”

Mrs. Williams, a teacher at the school, added, “We were told it was a drill, and that there was no fire. We were made to think it was a fire drill, but later it was clear it was not. The next time they announce a drill, some are going to think it is another bomb or bomb threat.”

“Yes, calling it a drill, making it seem like a fire drill, kept everyone calm, but the next time, who knows? I think ‘honesty is the best policy,’ as the saying goes, but I understand why the Principal chose to do what she did.”


One of a series of fifty instructional short stories for young students.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review of NEW YEAR ISLAND by Paul Draker

Ten Would-Be Survivors Compete on a Desolate Island

Many of us have made it through difficult times and are, to some degree at least, survivors. A highly popular television series, Survivor, puts its competitors into primitive environments and has them vie, individually and as part of teams, in contests of strength, guile, agility, endurance, speed, etc. Meanwhile, they have to scratch out the necessities of life. Some succeed, some fail, and the last contestant not eliminated wins the grand prize. The program’s managers make sure no one dies.

In his exciting and dramatic new adventure novel, New Year Island, independent novelist Paul Draker explores the qualities crucial to successful survival under unusual conditions. The book presents a Survivor-like competition on an isolated island. Contests and harsh conditions are undergone by a carefully selected group of people who have themselves already survived unusual challenges, such as being entombed for days during an earthquake when only seven years old, and orphaned by the incident. The competitors are wholly dependent for food and water on those running this “reality show” competition. The contests are cruelly designed to heighten antagonisms between the teams and among the individuals. They turn deadly.

Early on, we attend a lecture describing characteristics psychologists have found to be common among those, the talented tenth, who are typically found to survive life-or-death situations: 1. WILL TO LIVE , 2. RESILIENCE, 3. SELF-CONFIDENCE, 4. PLAYFUL CURIOSITY, 5. ALERTNESS , 6. UNPREDICABILITY, 7. EMPATHY, 8. INTUITION, 9. SYNERGY, 10. SPIRITUALITY.

Camilla, the novel’s heroine, displays these characteristics, while caught up in a survival game designed to get out of hand. Driven by money, romance, revenge, ten well-defined contestants fight nature and themselves and eventually the game’s controller in their efforts to win or even merely survive.

Not for the squeamish, this terrific story will keep most readers riveted. I could hardly put it down. I look forward to reading Draker’s next, Pyramid Lake.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review of NEEDLE by Craig Jordan Goodman

Nancy Reagan Made Him Do It

This memoir by a self-centered former drug addict shows that even decades after kicking his assorted addictions, Craig Goodman still does not take responsibility for his life, his choices.

It has been said that the problem with middle-class tragedy is that the “hero” has no place to fall from. White and well-off, Goodman had a good start despite a difficult childhood. Absolving his abusive mother of responsibility, Goodman instead blames Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say ‘No’” anti-drug campaign for his becoming an addict, due to his lack of knowledge that drugs can addict their users. Who knew? At the end of the memoir– which covers his disastrous years of addiction to marijuana, heroin, methadone, and cocaine– he tells about his return to New York and his disappointment at the greed he finds there supported by the Republican Bloomberg administration.

How different from greed was his own fixation on acquiring drugs to feed his habit and on acquiring fame through the possible success of the CD album he and his band mates were producing, despite his repeated failures to do his share? Is chasing after celebrity any less odious than chasing after money and things?

What did Goodman contribute to others, except as a sometimes waiter, frequently fired, in a succession of restaurants in New York City? Meanwhile, he was involved in selling goods fraudulently taken with another person’s credit cards and selling or hocking his stuff and that of his friends. It could have been worse, as he did not resort to violence to steal from others.

He had a voice good enough to be a singer for the CD. He has the talent to write well and interestingly. His memory must be prodigious, if the array of decades-old facts in the memoir are correct. He could have been happier and more of a contributor than the low-life junkie that he became during this period of his life.

In his sequel, which I am not likely to bother with, he proposes to tell us how his life straightened out. His post-script mentions a daughter, a good sign, and he is dedicating what profits he derives from the book to the welfare of abandoned pets. He can’t be all bad.

You and I knew enough not to get hooked on drugs. We just said “No!”

If we did not have the sense not to start, we did not blame our addiction on someone else.

The book is a cautionary tale, about drugs and about the pursuit of fame and money, about self-delusion. It gives the reader a detailed view of the compulsive yet thoughtless life of the middle-class addict.

As Socrates advised, “know thyself.” Readers desiring to know Craig Goodman will have to read between the lines.


Thursday, June 5, 2014


These Dogs of War are unusual men discovered, recruited, trained and deployed to wreak havoc during the Gulf War, twenty years before this action novel opens. Genetic mutations had combined to make them faster, stronger, smarter than ordinary men, and these strengths are honed by the founders of a special operations military group kept secret during the war and disbanded after. A plane crash soon after seemed to kill the last half-dozen of them.

The novel pits a right-wing Society of Adam Smith with adherents throughout the U.S. government and military establishments against a Federal administration that is left-wing, supported by the usual factions and a Soros-like billionaire, one who in the novel is controlled by Russian intelligence operatives.

Rather than “let sleeping dogs lie,” the founders of the original special operations unit bring them out of retirement to thwart the assassination of the leftist President designed to install an even more radical successor by pinning the murder on conservatives. Along the way, we get politics, romance, exciting brawls, and small-unit military action. The author knows his stuff.

Unlike Superman, our heroes are not immortal, but like the Man of Steel, they seem invincible, until faced with someone like themselves.

The novel ends satisfyingly, yet leaves open the possibility of sequels.

Liberals will not like this novel. Conservatives and apolitical action-fans will relish it, as I did.

Lending Woes and Borrowing Trouble

 Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Dad, got a minute to talk?”

“Sure, Rick. What’s up?”

“I lent Frank some money a month ago, and he hasn’t repaid me and seems to be avoiding me. Somehow, I rarely see him.”

“What was it for?”

“Something he said was personal and did not want me to discuss.”

“That’s odd,” Rick’s father said.

“It irritates me that he is less friendly now than when I lent him the cash.”

Mr. Williams then told Rick about some experiences he had with lending things to friends and acquaintances. If he lent tools, often they were returned late or not at all. If he lent money, often the borrowers seemed embarrassed when they met later. Sometimes he did not get the money back, but even when he did, the people did not seem grateful.

Tess joined in. She had lent clothes to friends, only to get them back wrinkled or dirty. Not always, though. Sometimes her friends would return them cleaner and nicer than they were originally. She would borrow outfits, herself, but make sure they were clean before returning them, although once or twice they were damaged and she had to get them repaired, even though she might have ignored the damage if they were her own outfits, not the friends’.

Mr. Williams told Rick and Tess, “One of our relatives, and I won’t say who, needed several thousand dollars, a few weeks’ pay, and asked me for a loan. I talked it over with Mom, and we decide that we would make it an outright gift, rather than a loan, so that he would not feel indebted to us.”

Tess, asked, “So, what happened?”

“We have stayed friends. He was very thankful, and he has done a few nice things for us, as gifts, too.”

“I guess the lesson is that you should not lend more than you can afford to lose, and probably you should just make it a gift. I think I will tell Frank when I see him that I don’t want him to return the money, but consider it a gift.”

“That may hurt now, but turn out for the best in the long run,” Mr. Williams said.

Mrs. Williams chimed in “Shakespeare has one of his characters advise his son, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ so this is a common problem.”

When Rick saw Frank next, Rick told Frank to consider the loan a gift, but Frank said he couldn’t do that, and a week later, returned Rick’s money.


One of our fifty instructional stories for young readers.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Living Under Communism vs. Democratic Capitalism

Recently, letters to the Wallkill Valley Times have discussed the attitude that should be taken toward people like Pete Seeger, who was sympathetic in one sense or another to communism. I argued we should disapprove of such a position, as we do of favoring fascism and totalitarianism in general. I maintained we would choose to live under democratic, capitalist regimes rather than communist ones.

Last week’s letter-writer criticized the United States for the various unworthy regimes it has allied with, and there is merit to this position, but the U.S.S.R. and China, the two largest communist governments, also have been allied with despots. “Politics makes strange bedfellows” goes the adage, particularly apt for international politics.

This recent letter-writer, defending Pete Seeger, quotes that political activist folk singer: “I still call myself a communist because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.” I’ll let others defend Christianity and the churches, but if communism is not what was practiced [and has failed] in Russia and China and Cambodia and Vietnam and the former captive nations of Europe, then Nazism [National Socialism] is not what was practiced in Germany. This naiveté made the kind of people whom Lenin called “useful idiots,” like Seeger, so dangerous.

Take your choice of where to live: predominantly democratic, capitalist Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany (now), Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia, or communist Russia, China, North Korea, Vietnam.

When people have been free to migrate, they have “voted with their feet.”


Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.