Friday, December 30, 2011


Crimes in Southern Indiana: StoriesCrimes in Southern Indiana: Stories by Frank Bill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You might try to comfort yourself by thinking that Frank Bill's exaggerating for dramatic effect in these short, tightly written tales of country meth addicts, domestic brutality, dog-fighters, unpredictably vicious rednecks, and rural ultra-violence. You might try to tell yourself that things this grim and lurid could never happen in real life. But I can tell you, they do.

This is not a book for the faint of heart; it's pure distilled essence of redneck noir, and there are few happy endings. But the quality of the writing keeps you coming back for just one more page, then another, until it's all gone, like a bottle of cheap whiskey that you can't put down and that's gone all too soon.

I got this book for Christmas, and Frank Bill just made it to the top of the "Buy As Soon As It Comes Out list."

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jesus Probably Wasn't Born Today, But So What?

Latest newspaper column:

Well, here it is, December the 25th. Christmas Day. Since I can assume the first thing most of you did was NOT run out to the driveway, get your copy of The Pilot, and run inside to read this column, I figure the stockings are empty, the presents all opened, the turkey or ham or whatever your choice of holiday meat is either in the midst of cooking or resting comfortably in your tummy. Unless you're Jewish, of course, in which case I hope you have a good day and are enjoying your Hanukkah and the Chinese food.

Some pedantic souls are fond of pointing out that it's highly unlikely, based upon the account in the Gospels, that the actual birth date of Yeshua bar-Yosef, aka Jesus, was December 25th. For instance, shepherds in first century Israel did not  "abide in the fields and watch their flocks by night" in the wintertime; that happened in the spring, when the lambs were born.  In the winter, the sheep were kept corralled, and the shepherds stayed home. The angels would have had to come to the door and knock to announce the birth of the Savior in the City of David,  like some sort of divine Western Union. It's a much less compelling image, to be sure, than the one of the Heavenly Host filling the sky with praises.

No, we're told, the December date was much more likely picked to coincide with (and hopefully take the place of) already existing pagan festivals. They'll point to the fact that sometime in the fourth century A.D. the Roman Emperor Aurelian announced the feast of Sol Invictus (The Unconquered Sun) which took place on December 25th.

Or perhaps the celebration of Christ's birth was meant to occur at the same time as an older Roman holiday, that of Saturnalia, a week-long debauch beginning December 17th. During Saturnalia, people exchanged presents and partied in a fashion that makes even the rowdiest office Christmas party look like an ice-cream social.

In addition, the normal social order was turned upside down; masters served their slaves at the dinner table, and the slaves could boss them around for a change--carefully, one would imagine, since they'd be back on the bottom of the pile next week.

Others suggest that our Christmas was meant to overlap Yule or other Northern European holidays celebrating the Winter Solstice. Those are the holidays from which we get our traditions of bringing evergreen plants indoors, of mistletoe, and of the blazing Yule log (fa-la-lalala, and all that).

I think, however, that the argument  that late December isn't the "real" date of Jesus' birth and that it's really just a date co-opted from paganism kind of misses the point. All of those seasonal pagan celebrations have one thing in common: they take place during the coldest and darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the time when the night seems endless, the cold seems eternal, and it seems as if nothing will ever grow again. But they don't curse or bemoan the darkness; they look forward to the return of the light. They're celebrated with candles and firelight and evergreens. They remind us that however long the winter may seem, spring always comes back. They're holidays dedicated to hope when everything looks hopeless.

 And that's why it's the perfect time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, no matter if it's more likely that He was born sometime in the spring. Whatever your belief as to the divinity of the person known as Jesus, it's undeniable that He was born at a time of great darkness and cruelty, in a country beneath the boot of an empire so brutal that they routinely nailed people to pieces of rough wood then hung them up to die slowly as punishment. And yet, His  message was one of peace, of healing, of love, and of hope. It was a message of light in the darkness.

So, no matter what your beliefs, or lack of same, I wish all those things for you today.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Some Special Letters to Santa

Latest Newspaper Column:

Dear Santa:

I have plenty of gifts, because I have the most towering intellect and the farthest-reaching vision in America right now. Possibly in the entire universe. Tell you what, since I’m a guy with a lot of ideas, let me give back by sharing a few with you.

First off, you need to ditch the elves and replace them with poor inner-city kids to teach them what it’s like to earn a paycheck. And we need big mirrors in space. And geo-engineering to fight global warming ....

Oh, wait, I don’t believe in that anymore. Any video you’ve seen of me saying I did is a falsehood, because I say it is. You need to listen to me, Santa. I’m a transformational figure. I’m all that stands between us and Auschwitz.

— Love, Newt

Note to staff from S. Claus: We need to make sure Newtie gets his meds adjusted.

Dear Santa:

We’re willing to give up Christmas presents this year if we can just borrow the elves to pick our crops. Since this crazy immigration law came in, all the Latinos left. The locals can’t stand a day of this kind of work. Plus, I figure the elves are built low to the ground so they don’t have to stoop over.

Help us, Santa. You’re our only hope.

—Love, John McMillan, agriculture commissioner, state of Alabama

Dear Commissioner: Sorry, but elves don’t have identity papers. I don’t have time to keep going down there and bailing them out of jail. You’re on your own. Signed, S. Claus.

Dear Santa:

I want three things for Christmas. One, I want to be the front-runner again. Two, I want people to realize I’m not brain-damaged. Three, I ... dang! I can’t remember. Oops.

— Love, um ... Rick. Yeah, that’s it. Rick.

Note to staff from S. Claus: Maybe this is why Mitt Romney made that $10,000 bet with Rick. He assumed Rick wouldn’t remember it.

Dear Santa:

In 2007, we controlled 34.6 percent of the wealth in this country. Since the recession began, that percentage has grown to 37.1 percent. We’d like the rest of it. And we demand that people stop saying mean things about us.

— Sincerely, the 1 percent

Note to staff from S. Claus: They get coal in their stockings this year.

Note from staff: OK, but they already own most of it.

Dear Santa:

Can you bring me some more pepper spray? I’m all out, and I keep seeing people sitting down. They’re all over the place. There’s just something about people peacefully sitting down that really makes me want to give them a face full of the old pepper.

— Love, Lt. John Pike, UC-Davis campus police.

Note to staff from S. Claus: Coal.

Note from staff: Already on it, boss.

Dear Santa:

Both Newt Gingrich and I once supported an individual health insurance mandate and cap-and-trade legislation. Now, I have to convince Republican voters that those things are dangerous socialism. What I need for you is to give ­everyone in the country amnesia.

Oh, and while we’re at it, the next time I sit down next to some old white guy at a diner for what looks like a surefire photo op, can you make sure he’s not a gay war veteran who proceeds to hand me my head on a platter in front of everyone? Thanks.

— Love, Mitt

Note from staff: We should probably hold off on gifts for Mitt, boss. He keeps changing the list.

Dear Santa:

We want the influence of money out of politics. We want regulations to reform the banking system, like restoring the law separating investment banks from commercial and savings banks, so that crazy investments don’t take your savings with them when they fail.

We want investigation and prosecution of Wall Street financial fraud. We want to do away with the law that regards corporations as “people.” We want lobbyists to stop being the ones to draft legislation that benefits the industry they’re lobbying for. Thanks.

— Sincerely, the Occupy movement

Note to staff from S. Claus: Wait, what? All I keep hearing is that these people don’t know what they want.

Note from staff: That’s what the media want you to think. They’re owned by big corporations, remember?

Note to staff from S. Claus: Glad I’m not.

Note from staff: Us too, boss. Us too. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Interview at

I'm interviewed by the very talented Jennifer Minar Jaynes today over at We talk about Gallows Pole, places to write, and why I went indie. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to Take Christ Out of Christmas

This was too good not to share:

‎"How do you take Christ out of Christmas? You take Christ out of Christmas every time you:

Don’t take the high road.

Are less than loving, and patient, and kind.

Gossip, complain about, and judge others.

Are slow to listen and quick to anger.

And yes…. grump and moan and cry about everyone taking Christ out of Christmas, instead of simply showing the people kindness and goodwill and grace, and letting them see through your actions that Christ cannot be taken out of your Christmas because Christ is living in you. No one can take that away from you, no matter what they believe or what they celebrate or WHY they celebrate."

Thanks to Jennifer McGrail at The Path Less Taken and to M'Lou Green, who posted this on Facebook. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: THE DEPUTY, by Victor Gischler

The DeputyThe Deputy by Victor Gischler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part-time sheriff's Deputy Toby Sawyer gives new meaning to the word "hapless." He's given the simple task of keeping his eye on the body of a local tough who turns up murdered. Somehow, he manages to botch even that. His efforts to set his mistake right send him lurching from one life-threatening situation to another, uncovering more and more secrets and corruption with every lurch.

Let's face it, Jack Reacher this guy ain't. But Victor Gischler keeps the action moving so fast, and makes the bad guys so bad, that you end up pulling for the poor schmuck with the tin badge pinned to his Weezer t-shirt.

Fast-paced, tightly plotted, and darkly funny, this is Gischler's best book since his debut, GUN MONKEYS.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Little People, A Silly People (And I Don't Mean the Muppets)

Latest Newspaper column:

In a world where the rich and powerful, especially giant corporations, are the truly oppressed members of society,  it’s a good thing that Eric Bolling and his cohorts at  Fox Business News are vigilant and ready to warn us of threats to capitalism.  If they hadn’t been on the job, we might never have known about the imminent Marxist peril posed by the Muppets.

As you might have heard, there’s a new Muppet movie out from Disney, starring Kermit, Piggy, and the  gang, as well as that guy from “How I Met Your Mother” whose name I can never remember. Bolling, the host of FBN's “Follow the Money,”  was offended by the portrayal of  the movies’ villain, an oil baron named Tex Richman (played by the multi-award-winning actor Chris Cooper). Richman, the story goes, wants to drill for “sweet, sweet oil" under the Muppet’s home/studio, and the Muppets and their human friends have to save it.

Well, Eric Bolling and the cracked--sorry, crack-- team at FBN weren’t going to take that kind of socialist slander lying down. “Liberal Hollywood depicting a successful businessman as evil? That’s not new,” Bolling sneered.

Actually, that much is true, as we are reminded this season by multiple portrayals of characters like Ebenezer Scrooge and “It’s a Wonderful Life”’s Henry F. Potter. Ranging farther afield, you can find a lot of fictional villains distinguished by great wealth: Lex Luthor. Goldfinger. Montgomery Burns. Donald Trump. Wait, Trump’s real. I still have trouble believing that.

 A few moment’s consideration would probably lead a reasonable person to theorize that rich and powerful characters make effective villains because their power makes them a credible threat to the aims of the scrappy underdog hero(es). Without a credible threat, there’s no suspense, and no story. A homeless guy isn’t going to do much to stand in the hero’s way, unless you give him a rocket launcher, and that would just be silly.

But not as silly as Bolling and Company when they’re convinced that leftism is afoot. “It’s amazing how far the left will go to manipulate your kids,” fussed one of Bolling’s guests,  Dan Gainor of something called the “Media Research Center”. Andrea Tantoros, one of the co-hosts of the talk show “The Five,” chimed in. “I wish they could just leave little kids alone,” she said, her voice quivering with indignation. "We're teaching our kids class warfare,” Bolling agreed, adding, “Where are we, Communist China?"

Yes, according to the genuises at Fox Business News, the Muppets and the DIsney Company  are agents of the International Chinese Communist Conspiracy.

You cannot make this stuff up, folks.

Perhaps the most amusing thing about the whole segment was that all the time Bolling, Gainor et. al, were warning us all of the Hollywood conspiracy  to defame those poor oil company execs, and thus the very concept of capitalism itself,  clips from the movie were playing on an inset in the screen--Muppets and humans dancing, singing, and generally being a heck of a lot more fun than these over-privileged whiners sitting in a New York Studio and complaining about how mean Hollywood was to the people who brought you price gouging and  the Gulf oil spill. Apparently, it’s not enough that oil companies enjoy astronomical profits every year and that their executives enjoy compensation that would shock a Medici prince, now everyone, including the Muppets, has to be extra-special-nice to them to avoid hurting their (or Eric Bolling’s) feelings.

After  other pundits began mocking Bolling for taking on the puppets in a children's movie, he eventually apologized--sort of. Being a true product of Fox, even his apology made him sound like a passive-aggressive dick. "Apparently," he said, "I said some things that offended little Kermit and Miss Piggy the last few days. And listen, I apologize." Then he went on to step in it again, adding: "I just wanted to say, listen, froggy--what's his name? Kermit, Miss Piggy, if you want to debate this any time, I'm all for it. So let's bring it."

 I guess offering to debate creatures made of felt is moderately less crazy than demonizing them as Communist agents. But only slightly.

You have to wonder: was there no one in the entire studio willing to take Bolling aside and go, “Dude. Muppets? Really?” Thanks to the 24 hours news cycle and the Murdoch media empire’s unceasing hunger to find new and fresh outrages to satisfy right-wingers’ need to feel oppressed and put-upon, the answer appears to be no.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Review: THE COLD COLD GROUND, Adrian McKinty

The Cold Cold Ground (Detective Sean Duffy Series, Book 1)The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Northern Ireland in 1981, Detective Sean Duffy wryly observes, there aren't a lot of what you'd traditionally think of as "serial killers"; any psychopath who wants to kill a lot of people has only to seek out and join the paramilitary group of his choice, and he'll have all the killing his twisted heart may desire. But when a pair of bizarre murders points to the existence of an honest to goodness serial murderer, Duffy, a Catholic "peeler" in a heavily Protestant area, gets the case.

I've been an Adrian McKinty fan since 2003's Dead I Well May Be, and this one did not disappoint. Duffy's a classic McKinty character: complicated and conflicted, driven by internal forces he himself understands only imperfectly. The book takes place during a time when IRA hunger strikers were dying in the notorious Maze prison and the entire country seemed on the verge of civil war as the paramilitaries responded with bombings and riots. The ever-present threat of an explosion (both literal and metaphorical) adds an extra layer of almost unbearable tension to the main story.

This one comes out in the US in early 2012. Get it.

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

18-Year-Old Girl 1,Governor Brownback 0

Latest Newspaper Column:

Recently, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's office took on an 18-year-old high school girl - and lost.
It all started when Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, went to the Capitol and heard Brownback, a right-wing hero and failed presidential candidate, speak.
"I don't agree with a majority of the things that he is trying to pass," Sullivan said, citing in particular Brownback's doing away with all state support for the arts. So, like many a bored and/or disgusted young person, she pulled out her smartphone and got on the online service Twitter.
"Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person," she sent, followed by a "hashtag," or topic identifier, reiterating in somewhat saltier terms her opinion that the governor was fond of performing a certain sexual act.
Now, here's something you need to remember: Twitter messages, or "tweets," go only to people who "follow" you. You have to choose to follow someone. Sullivan had only 60 followers at the time the message was sent. She did not actually say to the governor that he "sucked."
Unfortunately, Sullivan hadn't yet learned just how thin-skinned and belligerent right-wingers can get. Somehow, the word got out that she had dissed the governor to her online buddies, and Brownback's office decided that this expression of opinion could not go unpunished, even if it had not been conveyed directly to them, to the governor himself, or to anyone save the 60 or so friends, acquaintances, and admirers who'd chosen to "follow" Sullivan.
They called the principal's office and complained that Sullivan was being mean to them. She was called on the carpet by the principal, who demanded that she write a letter of apology. She considered it, but later decided that such an apology would be insincere and refused.
The situation blew up into a major national story after Sullivan's sister contacted the media. Her Twitter "following" grew from 65 to more than 15,000 people. Finally, an embarrassed governor's office realized that trying to intimidate an 18-year-old girl who'd insulted them on Twitter made them look stupid. Brownback issued a statement apologizing for his staff, who he said had "overreacted" to the tweet.
Despite Brownback's red-faced admission, the usual pearl-clutching and hand-wringing about how "uncivil" discourse has gotten (but only if it's done by liberals) followed. For example, columnist Ruth Marcus in the allegedly liberal Washington Post wrote that Sullivan should be glad she's not her daughter, because Marcus would make her apologize, then take her phone away.
I'll agree that Sullivan's tweet to her friends was rude. But it was, after all, to her circle, and not to the governor.
And you know what? After years of things like: Willie Horton ads; calling 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton "the White House dog"; Swiftboating; GOP convention-goers waving purple Band-Aids to mock a veteran's war wounds; Ann Coulter saying the "only choice was whether to impeach or assassinate" President Clinton and later claiming 9/11 widows were "enjoying their husbands' deaths"; Rush Limbaugh mocking Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease; posters and T-shirts with nooses on them saying "Rope. Tree. Journalist. Assembly Required"; "Liberal Hunting Permits"; birtherism; posters of Barack Obama dressed as Hitler, Stalin, and an African witch doctor with a bone through his nose; Rand Paul supporters trying to stomp the head of a protester; ads claiming Kay Hagan was "godless"; "If ballots don't work, maybe bullets will"; "Obama hates white people"; "GET OFF MY PHONE YOU LITTLE PINHEAD!"; "YOU LIE!"; wingnuts at FreeRepublic calling 11-year old Sasha Obama a "street whore" for wearing a peace sign on her T-shirt; Sarah Palin committing outright slander about "death panels"; "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy"; cheering for executions; booing soldiers for being gay; comparing poor people to stray animals you shouldn't feed; "We've got one raghead in the White House, we don't need a raghead in the governor's mansion"; supposed "Christians" suggesting that people pray for the president using Psalm 109:8 ("May his days be few, may another take his office. Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow") as a text; Limbaugh calling the first lady "uppity"; and on and on and on, all without a mumblin' word from so-called "conservatives," it's kind of hard to take them seriously when they start scolding anyone about manners.
When I start hearing the same disapproval from the right for things like that, maybe I'll reconsider. Until then, peddle that Twitrage somewhere else. I'm not buying it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Praise for GALLOWS POLE From Robert Gregory Browne

"J.D. Rhoades's Gallows Pole gets the adrenalin pumping from the very first page. Rhoades not only gives us a tight, suspenseful plot, his prose style is economic and full of quiet confidence, and you know you're in good hands the moment you start reading."

-Robert Gregory Browne, author of THE PARADISE PROPHECY , which was one of my own favorite books from this year.

Thanks, Rob!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Phony War On Christmas Begins Again

Latest Newspaper Column:

With Thanksgiving now behind us, the holiday season begins in earnest. And no American Christmas season would be complete without the annual gripe-fest known as the Phony War on Christmas (PWOC).

After all, as I always say, there's no better way to celebrate the birth of Our Lord and Savior than with paranoia, unwarranted feelings of persecution, and bitter, deathless grudges over imagined slights.

Every year, it seems like the Christmas Warriors have to search harder and harder to find something to be upset about. Their usual MO is to take some small incident, omission or otherwise innocent phrasing (using "holiday" instead of "Christmas," for example) and spinning it up into an outrage on the level of burning believers at the stake.

This year, however, material has apparently been scarce, so they've gone right to outright lies and distortions.
First, there was the claim, circulated in a blast of indignant emails, that the Obama White House had decreed that the 2011 White House Christmas trees would be called "holiday trees" and that no one should send ornaments with religious themes.

"This isn't a rumor," one email insisted. "This is a fact." The message stated that the original sender had a "a friend at church" who was a "very talented artist," and who'd been invited "for several years" to send painted ornaments for the White House tree. This year, however, the letter supposedly said that "they would not be called Christmas trees this year. They will be called 'holiday trees.' And, to please not send any ornaments painted with a religious theme."

The letter ends on a typically portentous note: "Just thought you should know what the new residents in the WH plan for the future of America. ... This should confirm that [President Obama] plans to take us away from our religious foundation as quickly as possible."

Problem was, none of this was true. The White House released a statement: "There is no truth to this, and the letter referenced in the email does not exist. No letter has gone out yet from the White House pertaining to Christmas tree ornaments. The trees in the White House will be called Christmas trees, and the tree on the Ellipse will be called the National Christmas Tree. There will be no name changes."

Here's a handy tip for the future: When one of these spammed emails starts off with "this isn't a rumor, this is a fact," it's a rumor, and most likely a lie.

Then there was the hullaballoo around the supposed "Christmas Tree Tax." Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began a program calling for a 15-cent-per-tree fee to be paid by large Christmas tree farmers. Right-wing media immediately exploded in indignation. "Grinched by the Government," blared a banner on Fox News, while alleged "news person" Gretchen Carlson reported on the "tax," with her usual look of breathless, wide-eyed outrage.

Blogger and Fox News regular Tammy Bruce, whose greatest political accomplishment seems to be organizing a write-in campaign for Bristol Palin on "Dancing With the Stars," did her own part to man the Yuletide barricades with a story on the wingnut website NewsMax. Headlined "Obama's War on Christianity," Bruce's story called the fee a "tribute," analogous to a "tax levied on non-Muslim citizens in the Islamic world."
Problem is, the fee wasn't ordered or requested by the president. It didn't have anything to do with religion. It had actually been requested by the National Christmas Tree Association, and was meant to be paid by the members of that association.  Its purpose was "to fund promotion and information programs to encourage American consumers to buy farm-raised Christmas trees," according to a press release from the Association itself. 

Unfortunately for them, the USDA caved - again - to the raging loons and shelved the program, much to the dismay of the NCTA. 

Ah, the holiday season, when certain members of the nation's dominant religion, the faith that plays a controlling role in our national politics, take to the airwaves to tell themselves and everyone who'll listen that they're an oppressed and voiceless minority. Because aren't rampant drama-queenery and strident declarations of victimhood what Christmas is all about?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

They're Not Even Trying to Hide the Racism Any More

Rush Limbaugh Calls The First Lady ‘Uppity’ (VIDEO) | Addicting Info:

I’ll tell you something else. We don’t like paying millions of dollars for Mrs. Obama’s vacations. The NASCAR crowd doesn’t quite understand why when the husband and the wife are going to the same place, the first lady has to take her own Boeing 757 with family and kids and hangers-on four hours earlier than her husband, who will be on his 747. NASCAR people understand that’s a little bit of a waste. They understand it’s a little bit of uppity-ism.

There's no way he can spin this. Oh, he'll try, but 'uppity' is a racially charged word, and Limbaugh  knows it.

Rush Limbaugh's ratings are falling sharply. Hardly any Republican pol feels compelled to kiss his butt any more. He's trying desperately to get attention, and it's only going to get worse. 

This is mostly useful as a way of outing those idiots who claim "we're not racists, Democrats are the real racists, because Robert Byrd was in the KKK before any of us were born." Watch closely: anyone trying to defend Limbaugh and/or his use of the word 'uppity' is ipso facto racist. And I don't care if it offends them to be called what they are. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Looking Back at the 2012 Election

Latest Newspaper Column:

A look back from the future on the election of 2012:
By November 2011, Herman Cain became yet another Republican front-runner whose star began to fade as quickly as it rose.
Allegations of sexual harassment were eclipsed by a succession of gaffes, including one in which Cain found himself momentarily unable to remember whether or not he agreed with President Obama on intervening in Libya.
"I've got all this stuff twirlin' around in my head," he explained to The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, as campaign aides quickly began updating their resumes and checking job openings.

Meanwhile, former front-runner Rick Perry dashed hopes of a resurgence when he found himself in front of a debate audience, unable to remember exactly which federal agencies he wanted to abolish.

Fading candidate Michele Bachmann startled observers when she noted that "If you look at China, they don't have food stamps. If you look at China ... they save for their own retirement security. They don't have AFDC. They don't have the modern welfare state. And China's growing."
This became the first time in anyone's memory that a Republican candidate proposed that the antidote for alleged socialism in America was to emulate a repressive communist dictatorship.
A possible revival of the moribund candidacy of former Congressman Newt Gingrich faltered and died when it was revealed that Gingrich had been paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees by the mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac, an organization which the American right despised only slightly less than the ACLU.
It began to look more and more as if the nomination was going to go, almost by default, to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a man who had about as much backbone as one of the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men used to advertise car dealerships and other businesses.

Faced with this unpalatable prospect, a secret group of powerful conservatives met in an undisclosed location to come up with an alternative. After days of increasingly desperate wrangling, they came up with a bold and unprecedented plan: They would place a cardboard cutout of Ronald Reagan into the contest for the Republican nomination.
Reaction to the announcement was tumultuous. Pundits asked, "What qualifications does a cardboard cutout have to run against Obama?" Reagan Cutout campaign manager Ed Rollins answered succinctly: "He's not Mitt Romney." When asked what qualifications the Cutout had to be president, Rollins was equally concise: "He's not Barack Obama."
These statements clinched the Cutout's support from the right. "Barack Obama was unqualified and inexperienced," several callers to right-wing talk radio shows noted, "so now it's our turn to nominate someone even more incapable."
A few members of the press corps attempted to point out that a piece of cardboard was not, in fact, eligible to be president; after receiving angry denunciations from Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, they were immediately shut down by network executives and publishers terrified of being accused of "liberal bias."
At the next debate, the Cut-out received high marks for "looking presidential" and "avoiding major gaffes," largely because, being made of paper, it answered no questions. Conservative pundit Bill Kristol noted that "the Cutout doesn't have the same baggage as Romney, particularly in the area of health care."
Support for the Cutout grew on the right, particularly when the campaign rolled out its slogan: "Reagan Cutout: He's Not Obama."
By the time of the Republican convention, all of the other candidates had dropped away, with a disgusted Romney throwing in the towel the month before. The convention was a raucous affair, with the crowd hysterically acclaiming the nomination with shouts of "Not Obama! Not Obama!"
Those words, in fact, became the campaign's answer to every query as to policy: "What is the Cutout's position on the situation in the Middle East?"
"Not Obama's, that's for sure. Oh, and we're going to cut their taxes."
Even as polls showed the Cutout's approval numbers slipping, new campaign manager Sarah Palin remained outwardly confident, saying: "We're gonna be dependin' on those real Americans to do that winnin' thing for us, you betcha."
Even after Palin inexplicably resigned halfway through the campaign, her replacement, Joe the Plumber, predicted an easy win because, in his words, "You know. Not Obama. Also, tax cuts."
The American people, however, disagreed. Barack Obama was voted to a second term by the largest majority in American history, 85 percent to 15 percent. American conservatives had to learn the bitter lesson: No matter how weak you think a candidate is, you need something more than "I'm not him."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Setbacks All Over: Bad Election Day for the Far Right

Latest Newspaper Column:

I tell you, I wonder sometimes if it’s a sickness.
Election night 2011, an off-year election, no less, and I’m up till all hours, flipping back and forth from website to website, channel to channel, checking the results from races all over the country.
But politics is my football. Where some guys obsessively follow the stats of the Giants or the Panthers, searching for news on the health of their favorite quarterback’s throwing arm and trying to pick next Sunday’s winners, I amuse myself by pondering the broader implications for 2012 of city council elections in Cincinnati. OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much.
So what can we glean from the results of this week’s voting? Well, mostly, it was a bad day for the far right.
One big story was a referendum in Ohio to repeal a law that stripped public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights. The embattled law was championed by conservatives, including Republican Gov. John Kasich. It was repealed by a margin of 62 to 38 percent.
In Mississippi, voters considered a so-called “personhood” law, which would have declared that human life begins at the moment of conception and which would have outlawed abortions in all cases, even of rape or incest. Anti-abortion forces had high hopes that the measure would pass in conservative Mississippi, setting the stage for a march to the Supreme Court and an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. Republican gubernatorial nominee Phil Bryant told a rape victim who questioned him at a rally that if the law failed, “Satan wins.”
The people of Mississippi didn’t buy it. The measure lost in a landslide vote, 57 to 43 percent. The Prince of Darkness could not be reached for comment.
In Arizona, the man who wrote and championed one of the nation’s most controversial and Draconian immigration laws became the first sitting Senate president in the nation and the first Arizona legislator ever to lose a recall election, according to The Arizona Republic.
The right did have a couple of small victories. In Ohio, they passed a law stating no citizen of the state will be required to buy health insurance, which would essentially nullify the individual insurance mandate in the federal Affordable Care Act.
Unfortunately for the supporters of the bill, the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution (you know, the document the wingnuts claim to love but seem to know next to nothing about) is pretty clear that you can’t just nullify federal law like that, and the measure will almost certainly be overturned.
In Virginia, the election left the state Senate divided 50-50, with ties to be broken by the Republican lieutenant governor. Face it: When the victories you have to crow over are a symbolic measure sure to be thrown out and a tie, you had a bad night.
So what does it all mean? The key word is “overreaching.” The Republicans in these states got in power based on anger about the economy and the jobless rate, but instead of doing something about that, they went right to the radical union-busting and culture wars.
That may have played to the Teahadists who have the Republican Party in thrall, but the majority of the people were having none of it. On the other side, the vote against the individual mandate could be seen as a reaction against what the people see as overreaching by the federal government.
So the candidates who do well in 2012 general election will be the ones seen as moderates. Only Romney and Huntsman seem to have a chance at this on the Republican side. But they infuriate the tea party “base,” just as Obama’s mostly moderate stances infuriate the actual left (as opposed to the Obama-loving left that exists only in the imagination of the demented right).
The key to victory will be for a candidate to convince the center that he or she is the reasonable one, with reasonable policies aimed at benefiting them, while getting enough of the party’s far-right or far-left wings to put aside their distaste for moderation long enough to get out and vote.
So far, the person best positioned to do that is Barack Obama, because Romney’s still trying to pander to the True Believers who hate his guts, and Huntsman’s practically invisible.
But please, Republicans, as an Obama supporter, I urge you: Keep up with the overreach and the radicalism. Double down on the crazy.
In fact, I think I’ll go send a donation to the Cain campaign.

Review: WOLF HALL, by Hillary Mantell

Wolf HallWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of Thomas Cromwell, who rose from poverty to become one of Henry VIII's most trusted advisers. Most accounts treat Cromwell as a ruthless, conniving bastard, but this book doesn't allow for such an easy judgment. Cromwell is many things: scheming but loyal, clear-eyed and seemingly cold in matters of business but tender towards his family, friends and household, like a medieval Godfather.

The characterization is fascinating, not just of Cromwell, but of Henry and the various members of his court, especially the beguiling Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary. The prose is also nearly hypnotic in its beauty. On the downside, the plot moves slowly, and I confess there were times I had to push through to the finish, but the book is worth the effort. 

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Dead of Winter: Chilling New Tales of Crime

"Southern noir thriller writer J.D. Rhoades weighs in with the unforgettable I’ll Be Home for Christmas, a holiday tale that will have you turning on all the lights before you enter your house and checking the bottom of your Christmas stocking for a concealed .38."
That's just one of the great stories in this new anthology that also features Chaz McGee (aka Katy Munger), Taffy Cannon, Rory Tate (aka Lise McLendon), Gary Phillips, Brynn Bonner, Sarah Shaber and Kate Flora.

Monday, November 14, 2011


GALLOWS POLE,  my third full-length e-published novel, is now live for Kindle, and for other formats on Smashwords. NOOK coming soon!

Someone is killing entire families, forcing fathers to hang their wives and children before taking their own lives. How does the killer do it? And what is the meaning of the small iron horse the killer leaves at every murder scene? FBI agent Melissa Saxon and her handpicked team are racing against time to solve the mystery before more families die.

Former anti-terrorist operative Colonel Mark Bishop and the survivors of his command think they know. One of their own, a stone killer who calls himself the Hangman, has come out to play, and he's trying to draw out not only Bishop, but his former comrades—the elite anti-terrorist team known as Iron Horse.

Only the Horsemen can stop one of their own. But the team is disbanded, the survivors scattered. Bishop himself is tormented by guilt for the things he had to do to keep one of his men from suffering an agonizing death. Their adversary is not only a skilled assassin, but a master at creating fear. Behind the scenes, shadowy and powerful figures pursue their own plans for Bishop and the Hangman.

Mark Bishop, Melissa Saxon, and the last of the Iron Horsemen will have to use all their courage and every resource, including an array of high-tech weapons, to stop the Hangman. What they have to do will put everything they ever believed in to the ultimate test and push Bishop to the edge of sanity.

Hope you like it! if you do, please tell all your friends by reviewing, "liking" on FB or Amazon,  or recommending. Word of mouth is my best advertising.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


The ever-talented Jeroen ten Berge hits another one out of the park with his cover for my upcoming e-release GALLOWS POLE. It's a bit of a different look from my earlier e-books, but then, it's a somewhat different book than I've done before. Stay tuned....

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Congressional OCD

Latest Newspaper Column:

This past Tuesday, the United States economy was still fragile. A looming Greek debt crisis threatened to make things worse. Perhaps most tragically (judging from the wall-to-wall press coverage), someone named Kim Kardashian had just filed for divorce.
Beset by crises, it was hard to know which way to turn, which of our nation's many problems must be addressed first. But one man could see clearly what needed to be done. One man knew what required immediate action. That man was Speaker of the House John Boehner. With seconds ticking away, he and his fellow Republicans seized the moment and used it to its greatest advantage.
What step did these brave visionaries, these giants in the land, take? They boldly introduced legislation to have "In God We Trust" declared the motto of the United States.
This lightning stroke of legislative genius no doubt confused many people who thought that "In God We Trust" was already the national motto. Well, yes, it is. In fact, it's been declared the National Motto three times before: originally in 1956, then again in 2002, and once again in 2006.
The Supreme Court has upheld its use and insisted it's not an endorsement of religion. President Obama, much to the disgust of secularists, has also confirmed his support of using "In God We Trust" on our currency. The motto even hangs on the wall of the House chamber.
But apparently the Republicans in Congress have a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like one of those people who have to keep going back and back and back again to confirm that the stove is off and the doors are locked, so that they end up being late for everything.
"If we don't vote again for 'In God We Trust,'" they must have been thinking, "something terrible could happen. I don't know what, but ... it'd be just terrible!"
Listen, for example, to the words of Rep. Trent Franks of the great (and apparently totally crazy) state of Arizona, who asserted that without affirming our faith in God yet again, "we should just let anarchy prevail because, after all, we are just worm food." Texas Rep. Lamar Smith agreed: "There are few things Congress could do that would be more important than passing this resolution."
That last statement recalled for me the rhetoric thrown about by the movement here in North Carolina for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, even though it's already explicitly illegal here.
One proponent of the amendment went on the radio and said, with what sounded like a straight face, that this was "the most important issue facing North Carolina right now." This, in a state in the throes of a massive budget crisis, still rebuilding from hurricane Irene's damage, with a 10.1 percent jobless rate.
Which led a good friend of mine to observe: "I woke up this morning to a fulfilling, full-time job, my wife's health costs are completely covered, the education system is so good that our dogs speak English and Spanish, the cat does calculus and we have a unicorn pooping Skittles in the front yard. So yes, let's go after gay marriage because everything else is 100 percent A-OK."
Anyway, the bill, to the surprise of absolutely no one, passed overwhelmingly, 396-9. And a new day dawned in America. Unfortunately, it looked just like the old day.
When the Republicans took control of the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor declared, "Each day, we will hold ourselves accountable by asking the following questions: Are our efforts addressing job creation and the economy; are they cutting spending; and are they shrinking the size of the federal government while protecting and expanding individual liberty? If not, why are we doing it?"
Why, indeed. Maybe it's because the only "jobs bills" the Republicans can come up with are just tax cuts and more tax cuts - "solutions" which have been proven to have no effect on the jobless rate. We've had 10 years of tax cuts now, thanks to Dubbya Bush, and the economy's still struggling.

So in order to distract us from the fact that the Republican solution is to do more of the same and hope for a different result - the very definition of insanity - they spend time on easy-to-pass legislation that's already passed repeatedly. It makes them feel all righteous and panders to the religious right, but it does exactly nothing to help America.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

DEAD OF WINTER: Homicide For The Holidays

Recently I've joined a cadre of several of my favorite authors under the name of the Thalia Press Author's Co-Op. We're helping each other get our backlists up as e-books, and promoting new, independently published material as well. We've got a group project coming up called DEAD OF WINTER, featuring new, winter themed short stories by Chaz McGee (aka Katy Munger), Gary Phillips, Sarah Shaber, and others.

My own contribution, "I'll Be Home For Christmas," features Gibson County Chief Deputy Tim Buckthorn, who was one of my favorite characters in my critically acclaimed novel BREAKING COVER. My friend David Terrenoire observed once that the book was as much Buckthorn's story as it was Tony Wolf's, and he was right. I've been wanting to use Tim in a story for a while, and this was my chance.

The book's tentatively set for release on November 15th...I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Zombie Renaissance

Latest Newspaper Column:

Tomorrow is Halloween, the time when we think about ghosties, ghoulies, and various things that go bump in the night. So it seems an appropriate time to discuss the Zombie Renaissance.
Seems like there’s never been a better time to be a creator of zombie-related art and entertainment. The website 24/7 Wall Street estimates that “today’s zombie-genre economy,” as they put it, is worth up to $5 billion.
First and foremost, of course, there are the movies. Starting with the shambling, rotting grandaddy of them all, “Night of the Living Dead,” all the way though films like “28 Days Later,” its sequel “28 Weeks Later,” the seemingly unkillable “Resident Evil” franchise, the Will Smith vehicle “I Am Legend” (which substituted fast-moving, rage-filled zombies for the vampires in the original novel), the hilarious spoofs “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland,” and the upcoming “World War Z,” starring Brad Pitt, it seems that the undead make for great box office.
Then there are things like video games (the recent smash hit shoot-em up “Call of Duty: Black Ops” comes with a mode where the player battles Nazi zombies); TV shows (AMC’s “The Walking Dead” has just been picked up for a third season); comic books; and even novels such as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which takes Jane Austen’s classic novel and updates it with a few ghouls (as an Austen-loving friend of mine puts it, that’s just so wrong).

Some people jump on the zombie bandwagon through so-called “zombie walks,” in which crowds of people make themselves up as zombies and lurch, moan and chomp their way through cities and towns, all in good fun and sometimes for charity.
The first recorded walk occurred in 2001 in Sacramento to promote a horror film festival, but the idea quickly spread like — well, like a zombie plague. Now cities compete for the record of biggest walk, with the current crown held by Asbury Park, N.J., which recorded an invasion of 5,000 rotters and secured a place for itself in “The Guinness Book of World Records.”
Dublin, Ireland, claimed a turnout of 8,000 for the one they held July 23 of this year, but Guinness has not yet confirmed the number, possibly because of the difficulty of sorting out whether a pale person staggering through the streets of Dublin and muttering incoherently is a wannabe zombie or just a drunk on his way home from the pub.
Which raises the question: Why are the walking dead such a hot item these days? I mean, I love a good zombie story as much as the next guy, but even I have trouble explaining why zombies seem to be replacing vampires as everyone’s favorite undead.
I can almost see the appeal of the vampire thing. There’s a certain sexiness about vampires, or so the fans tell me. They’re beautiful, their hunger equates with great passion, they bite your neck — hey, it’s not my kink, but whatever floats your boat. But it’s hard to envision a best-selling book and movie series about a forbidden romance between a beautiful but awkward teenage girl and a mindless, flesh-eating ghoul.
Maybe it’s because zombies embody something we all recognize deep down, something that’s definitely on the rise these days. As my friend Stephen Blackmoore, author of the upcoming zombie novel “City of the Lost,” once put it: “Zombies aren’t terror, they’re dread. They’re the physical embodiment of anxiety.” Which may be why they’ve gotten so much more popular in these anxious times.
On the flipside, though, zombies are kind of goofy, with their blank expressions, their clumsy shuffle, the bits falling off. They’re funny in a sick kind of way. They take that anxiety and make it into something you can laugh at. If you can laugh at it, it’s not so scary.
And that’s what Halloween is all about, Charlie Brown.
(click the pic for hints on surviving a zombie plague. Because you just never know.)