5-Stars for “Finding Billy Battles – Book II” by Ronald E. Yates

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I learned so much from this well-written and meticulously researched book. I’m not usually that much of a fan of historical fiction, but in this case it was a welcome educational experience. As Billy’s journeys take him to Saigon, the Philippines, and even turn-of-the-20th-century Germany, this story is richly imbued with cultural and historical facts I previously did not know. This included something as simple as where white pepper comes from, but most especially the dark history of colonialism. I had heard of the Spanish-American War, but had no idea it was fought in the Philippines, much less why.

I have grown up simply accepting the fact that the British, French, and Spanish did a considerable amount of exploring, which also constituted conquests for more land and resources. This is apparent by the languages spoken in diverse parts of the world, far from where they originated. Getting a glimpse into the climate and attitudes of the 19th century, especially how indigenous people were trampled and exploited, brought up multiple considerations that had previously been entirely off my radar.

While colonialism’s defenders note that it brings a higher standard of living to these areas, it is also at a high price to the cultural norms and freedom of those unfortunate enough to live in such a place. Insights into Saigon in the late 1800s provided a new understanding into the Vietnam War and guerilla warfare. While in some cases, America has helped defend these countries, in others it has been just as guilty as the European conquests. Ironically, American is the prime example of a country that rebelled successfully against colonialism, yet then went on to force it on others, for example Native Americans. We are no better than anyone else and it’s easy for me to understand why other countries hate us.

The best part of this story is that all these fascinating details were woven into the plot of a story with believable characters caught up in this historical drama, from the Old West, to pre-WWI Europe, and overseas in the Far East.  I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a meaty, well-researched read that serves up more than an interesting story. History buffs will love it. While it is the second book in a trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had no trouble following it without the benefit of reading the first.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

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“Mr. Spaceship” is Mediocre Except for Context

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This little known short story by Philip K. Dick, one of the all-time great classic science fiction authors popular from the 50s to 70s, is an interesting read for its historical value, if nothing else. If someone wrote it today, I suspect it would receive little acclaim or attention. It’s actual publication date I don’t know, since its copyright is expired and now in the public domain, but I would guess the 50s. One reviewer on Amazon summed it up beautifully by stating it “reads as if in black and white Rod Serling mode.” The detail is indeed sketchy and in the context of today’s technology, beyond lean, the theme now a worn-out cliche. However, it presents interesting brain fodder at the philosophical level.

The basic premise is that a human brain is used as the control mechanism for a spaceship. Of course the brain goes rogue with its new “body,” i.e. the spacecraft. In a way, this is the antithesis of artificial intelligence, and apparently his pet philosophical question with regard to what actually constitutes consciousness and reality. At what point, if ever, does an augmented human lose its humanity and at what point does artificial intelligence attain status as a living being? Clearly this has a lot of relevance today as both scenarios move toward reality.

What makes this more interesting to me is the fact that Dick is the author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” from which the 1982 movie, “Blade Runner” came, with a new one, albeit a sequel, just released. He also wrote “Minority Report”, “Total Recall”, and various others, so he did put out some outstanding work.

Reading about him on Wikpedia gives me the impression this guy wasn’t wrapped too tight. He had a drug problem most of his life and various other issues. Perhaps he was a genius, which isn’t an easy cross to bear, and would explain the otherworldly, dystopian essence of his work, which reflected his unique view of life.

This short story is worth reading for its historical value, but certainly not his best work, which didn’t even earn mention in Wikipedia. A novel of his won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, showing he did put out some excellent, thought-provoking work. Clearly this really isn’t one of them. It has value, however, in the context of his other achievements, the Cold War climate during which it was written, and the many questions he posed, which have still not been answered, even as our technology brings us to the threshold of urgently needing to know.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here. It’s free for Kindle and very reasonable for a print copy, if you’re so inclined.

Cosmic Influences on the 1977 Tenerife Aviation Disaster

doorintospacebkgd[Note: Several weeks ago I posted a review of the book “Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise” by O.J. Modjeska, which chronicled events leading up to and following the horrific ground collision between two jumbo jets in the Canary Islands in March 1977, killing 583 people. As a professional astrologer, of course I had to look at the cosmic influences at work at the time. As is typical of an event chart, everything was there, but at the time I didn’t have time to write it up. Thus, I am doing so now.]

Astrology isn’t simple. Every planet, major fixed star, constellation, named asteroid (and some that aren’t), zodiac sign, and house has multiple meanings and implications. The good news is that this is conducive to computer interpretations, or what is sometimes referred to as “cook book astrology.” I sell several varieties of such reports and use them for myself, family, and close friends because in general they are very helpful. However, there are numerous subtleties that only a trained astrologer will catch since there are so many possibilities as well as interpretations.

This complexity is what makes predictive astrology such a challenge. There are too many possibilities for how an event can manifest (or a person can react) due to the eternal principle of free will.  In retrospect, however, I’ve never examined a chart that failed to contain the energy expressed by the event it represents. If you’re familiar with the “Bible Code” then you know that it’s much the same way–after the fact events can be found, but finding them beforehand is next to impossible. In many cases, the chart looks rather benign. Some charts are so angry and filled with negative energy, that their appearance alone is a tip-off. Others are less obvious, until you start digging deeper. Some may feel as if such scrutiny could unearth anything you wanted to find, but this is entirely untrue. Rather, what lurks in a horoscope tends to fall under the category of “you can’t make this stuff up.”

I’d like to point out that it’s important to recognize that these energies did not directly cause this horrible accident. Rather, they show the cosmic influences at work at the time that contributed to it. If certain decisions had been different, it could have been avoided. Some events have a fated flavor to them, perhaps due to human nature being more predictable than we care to admit. But astrology does not cause events, even though its influences can drive those involved in certain directions, whether for good or ill.

tenerifeaccidentSo, getting to the matter at hand, the collision between a KLM and a Pan American Boeing 747 on a runway that is the worst aviation disaster of all time occurred 27 March 1977 at 5:06:47 p.m. in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain. If you know nothing about astrology, more than likely the chart shown above reveals nothing to you, even if you laboriously check the various legends to interpret the various strange looking glyphs. So hang onto your seats, (or perhaps I should say fasten your seatbelts) because I’m about to explain it to you.

How ironic that this accident was on the ground as opposed to in-flight. The ascendant of this chart, shown on the left at the 9:00 o’clock position, represents the zodiacal sign on the eastern horizon at the moment in question and relates to its personality, if you will. In this case it’s 08:26 Virgo, which just happens to be an Earth sign. The cusp of the 9th house, which represents long-distance travel and foreign lands, is also  on an Earth sign, in this case Taurus. Small points, but an example of how such details tend to reinforce the happening.

What are the odds for this? Actually, I’ll admit, they’re fairly high. There are four elements in astrology, Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, with three of the 12 signs of the Zodiac falling in each one. Thus, there was a 1:3 chance for an Earth sign on these two houses. Fairly high, but be patient. Other characteristics of this chart, especially when combined, will put the odds off the chart (no pun intended).

There were various causes of this horrific accident, one of which was actual fog which rolled in unexpectedly. Representing this we have Uranus, planet of surprises as well as the unexpected, explosions, and rebellion, to name a few, in Scorpio (another Water sign) in the 3rd house, which represents the locale.  Saturn, in the 12th house of hidden enemies, is squaring Uranus, a hard aspect that tends to bring conflict. Saturn rules structure as well as rules and protocol and was in Leo, the sign of leadership as well as ego. Thus, Saturn’s organization was compromised by the sudden advent of fog.

The 3rd house is also the one that includes communications. These were also unclear, and thus implied a problem, while yet another interpretation, that of rebellion(Uranus) against authority (Saturn) to one’s self-undoing (12th house) is there as well, which reflects the decision of the KLM pilot to take off when he had not been authorized to do so, yet apparently thought he had been due to the unclear communications between him and the tower.

Mercury, the planet that rules communications, is trining Neptune, the planet that represents confusion as well as fog itself. Neptune was in Sagittarius, a sign prone toward optimism, perhaps even embellished by arrogance, while Mercury was in Aries, providing impulsive energy. Thus, these two further show assumptions with deadly implications, given Neptune is in the 4th house of endings and Mercury is in the 8th, which includes death and traumatic experiences.

An astrological rule of thumb as far as transit charts are concerned is that there will usually be no less than seven aspects relating to an important incident. So far we have two.

The Sun, which tends to highlight the main theme of a chart, is in the 8th house of death in the sign of Aries, which is know for violence. Many such violent events have occurred in the March – April timeframe. The Moon is in Water sign, Cancer, indicating strong emotional implications with her placement in the 10th house indicating this will have an effect on the public as well. Planets in this house tend to point toward what a person or place will be known for. I, for one, will always think of this accident whenever I hear anything about Tenerife, since I’d never heard of it until this happened. The Moon is trining Mars, ruler of the 8th house of death, thus showing the cause of the emotional reaction. The 10th house if ruled by Mercury, reiterating the communications aspects and newsworthiness.

Mars has multiple meanings, the most neutral of which is simply taking action. He is in Pisces, sign of compassion, in the 6th house which includes both health and service to others, and being infused with emotional involvement by the Moon. Following this horrible event, the people of this small island put forth an amazing amount of concern and help toward the victims and survivors. A minor aspect known as a semi-sextile between Mars and the Sun represents the jaded opportunity to do so.

Most people would assume, even without a background in astrology, that Pluto is probably not a good influence. At the most fundamental level, he represents power and control as well as hidden corruption. The Sun opposing him shows a power struggle, albeit at the subconscious level, as a factor in the event. Mercury is also opposing Pluto, again suggesting corrupt conversations or information, something that surfaced during the investigation and resulted in implementing more standardized commands between the tower and aircraft.

Jupiter, a planet that tends to exaggerate what he touches, is in the 9th house of foreign travel, suggesting the magnitude of this event which would make the news worldwide.  Jupiter is semisextile the asteroid, Chiron, the wounded healer who’s in the 8th house of death, pointing toward the huge number of victims.

Note that the influence of asteroids, as well as the planets, tends to reflect their mythological archetype; nomen est omen, if you will. That said, Chiron isn’t the only asteroid lending influence. Icarus, named for the unfortunate mythological figure who tried to fly, yet fell to earth when the wax securing his wings melted in the Sun, is on the cusp of the 8th house of death. He is in an aspect known as a quincunx with the Moon, an unstable aspect that tends to show a change of direction, need for adjustment, or Catch-22. Again, this has implications for protocol and procedures that required changes.

The asteroid named Ceres a.k.a. Demeter, forever mourning separation from her daughter, Persephone, is conjunct the asteroid, Lucifer, indicating loss of loved ones through an hellish event. The asteroid, Phaethon, the mythological figure who crashed Apollo’s chariot into the Sun, is semi-sextile the Sun as well, again contributing “crash and burn” energy.

Other asteroids worth noting playing a role include Chaos (whose meaning should be obvious) who is in cahoots with Jupiter, showing the resulting extreme chaos, which goes without saying. Ixion, son of Aries (or possibly some other mythological character), the main point being his name connotes “fiery”, his conjunction with Uranus indicating a fiery explosion or sudden fire. Varuna, a Vedic deity associated with the sky and later with water is conjunct the Midheaven, at the top of the chart, suggesting aviation. He is in near-exact square to the ascendant, showing conflict and trouble and also in cahoots with Phaethon, implying a crash.

At this point I have to ask, what are the odds that all these influences would so intimately relate to this event? I’ve somewhat lost count, but know it’s over a dozen between implications of house or sign placement plus the aspects themselves. While this moment in time passed unnoticed by scores of people, for some it was life-changing or even life-ending.

So, if that event chart alone hasn’t convinced you this stuff works, let’s look at the influence of the time of the accident (which we’ve just examined) on the two airlines involved.

KLMTenerifeBiYes, corporations have birth charts as well. When an entity is “born”, it assumes the energy of that moment. The principle of transits is that the aspects formed from the real-time location of the planets to the birth chart are indicative of influences. I’m not going to belabor these biwheels to the level of detail of the event chart, but will only point out some obvious indicators.

For KLM, Neptune in the 1st house suggests delusions or confusion. He is sextile the Midheaven, suggesting their reputation for excellence and safety is a delusion. Uranus is sextile Venus, ruler of the Midheaven, suggesting a sudden change from their exalted status due to events in a foreign land. Mars opposing Saturn shows pushing against tradition or regulations. Uranus being squared by Jupiter suggests a huge surprise or explosion, with the house placement indicating financial implications due to personal injury.

The Sun quincunx Saturn shows a change of direction of a transformational nature. The asteroid, Chaos, is trining Mars in the 8th house of death from the house of endings, certainly not an auspicious omen. Pluto is conjunct KLM’s Sun, a transformational indicator that tends to relate to death, whether literal or figurative.  Saturn conjunct Neptune shows a rude awakening. Saturn, considered the lord of karma, transiting the 8th house is often a call to reckoning.

PanAmTenerifeBiPan Am’s chart is slightly less harsh, which makes sense since they were not found to be at fault. Pluto, nonetheless, is showing a change of direction in their status. Jupiter sextile Uranus shows a hidden enemy causing an unexpected event known to the public. The Sun trining Saturn in the 6th, has implications for vindication of the crew. Uranus quincunx Mars in the 12th shows a sudden change of direction related to an attack from a hidden enemy. Saturn conjunct Pan Am’s Moon shows the sadness and mourning, the sextile from Pluto adding transformational energy. Pluto quincunx Jupiter as well as the Midheaven shows a huge involvement with death in the public eye. Venus and Mercury conjunct Venus imply group support.

More indicators could be found, some that may have conceivably predicted this event in advance if given intense scrutiny. However, prediction is a labor-intensive process and another case where you need to have some idea what you’re looking for and thus easier done after-the-fact.

There is nothing simple about astrology, but it contains a considerable amount of information and surprising insights when applied. Those who think it’s nothing but myth and superstition have clearly never investigated what its capabilities really are. I, too, at one point was a skeptic. Not anymore.

If you’d like to learn more about astrology and the incredible amount of information it can reveal, I invite you to check out my book “Whobeda’s Guide to Basic Astrology.” It’s written for beginners and the book I’d hoped to find when I was first learning about it. It’s available in electronic and print copy format at several vendors you can find here. Much of the same information is found on my website, ValkyrieAstrology.com, except you’ll be subjected to a lot of hyperlink bingo. If you’d like more information about the disaster in question, then I highly recommend O.J. Modjeska’s book, which provides a painfully detailed postmortem of this horrific piece of aviation history.

Believe me, you can’t make this stuff up.

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Stock Photo Copyright Bruce Rolff / 123RF Stock Photo

Astrological charts generated with Sirius version 2.0, Copyright (c) 2008 Cosmic Patterns Software, Inc.

A Right or a Privilege?

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Since when did coming to America, more specifically the USA, become a right instead of a privilege? When did the beckon-call of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” become license to come here to promote violence or expect to be taken care of without maintaining certain standards of behavior? Coming here to make demands is not how it was intended to work.

America was once known as a grand melting pot, a nation of immigrants, many fleeing tyranny, others seeking the “American Dream.” Unless you’re a Native American, your ancestors at some point were immigrants. A melting pot, however, implies blending in, becoming part of the whole in a harmonious way. A country is founded on common standards of behavior and beliefs enforced by the rule of law. A common language is another important feature.

Democracies fail due to too much diversity. Too many people demanding that everyone else bow to their demands. Too much criticism and intolerance on the part of many coming here. Too many expectations to be taken care of at the expense of the government which, of course, is funded by the taxpayers. This entitlement attitude has gotten out of hand and will destroy us morally and economically. The melting pot and American Dream were never intended to tolerate destructive, radical behavior. Today we are no longer a melting pot, but a lumpy, unappetizing stew of flavors that clash instead of blend.

Back in 1907 Theodore Roosevelt said: “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

This is the essence of the “melting pot” concept and in the early 20th century it worked. But it has been abandoned, resulting in the pigs’ breakfast we see in our society today. Sometimes to gain something, you need to let something go. Becoming a true American isn’t compatible with clinging to old beliefs that are probably why you left your homeland in the first place.

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Ellis Island

I am growing very weary of President Trump being criticized for his recent action stopping the inflow of refugees. Place the blame where it belongs: On terrorists and radical Islam, not the President trying to protect the USA from the chaos we see in Europe. Maybe “Making America Great Again” involves returning to the melting pot concept. Maybe those seeking refuge in the USA need to leave some of their beliefs and expectations behind.

Freedom of religion doesn’t mean imposing it, often violently, on everyone else. Tolerance and peaceful coexistence is required, two qualities antithetical to Islam. If the USA yields to their demands, it fits the old analogy of letting the head of the camel into the tent. As long as there’s a risk that those who wish to destroy us are among the refugees, as has been demonstrated in Europe, calling a time-out to assure such are not included is the logical thing to do. It only makes sense to learn from others’ mistakes. Unfortunately, many innocent people are caught in a snare intended for others. But when change is required, that isn’t unusual. It’s not easy to stop a train. Sometimes you just have to slam on the brakes, even though sometimes it results in derailment. How many have been students pursuing a college degree when the requirements change midway or farther through their coursework? Such is life.

Cities generally have clusters of communities where those who share a common heritage or ethnicity gather to live. It’s natural for human beings to want to socialize with those who share common beliefs and cultural roots. However, as these communities grow, they can lose touch with the fact they are just one faction in a nation of many. They develop views contrary to the well-being of the nation as a whole. Tolerance dissipates and arrogance takes it place, wanting to impose their will on others. They want to destroy the very principle of freedom that allowed them to come here in the first place and mold America into the nation they left behind. Rather than contribute to America’s strength, they contribute to her potential downfall.

I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with America. There are many policies I don’t agree with, including many President Trump is promoting. I believe we should protect the environment and wildlife. I believe that corporations such as Big Oil, Monsanto, and Big Pharma have too much power and control, that the healthcare industry is horribly broken. Gutting regulatory agencies is definitely not the way to fix these out-of-control industries. I believe we should take care of our own working poor, military veterans, and Native Americans before those who would seek to destroy us. As a nation we are beset by a multitude of problems, but ignoring one does not solve the others.

I believe in common sense which, as has been said before, is not all that common. Rather, selfishness reigns. But we have to start somewhere and get on the same page. Those who believe coming to America is a right and not a privilege are the ones who have created the immigration crisis we see today. We need to return to the “melting pot” concept, which is what made America great in the first place. Diversity without cooperation is a recipe for disaster, thus that lumpy, unappetizing stew that will surely cause heartburn.

It’s been said that democracies don’t work in families or prisons. They also tend to fail when a nation becomes a mass of screaming children, all wanting their own way. Unless someone steps up and draws the line, enforcing the law, history has taught us that what follows is usually a dictatorship. Common sense and compromise are required to save us. Tantrums and making unreasonable demands will eventually lead to an even less fortunate situation as the government is forced to restore order and safety to the populace at large, as is its responsibility.

Pardon another cliché, but those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Interview with Simon Jones, Author of “Fall of Empires”

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MF: As a self-declared history buff, do you recall what first drove your interests backward in time?

SJ: I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember. As a very young boy I remember my father and grandfather spending hours with me playing with toy soldiers and telling me stories from history. My grandfather made a replica warship out of a tea trolley with sections of broomstick for cannons and a hidden cassette player inside which played ‘Hearts of Oak’. He also built a replica Saturn V and a mock up of the surface of the moon which covered the entire dining room table and taught me about the space race. My parents took me all over the place to castles and museums and my Mum, who also loves history, encouraged me to read historical books from an early age. I also had a wonderful history teacher, Mr Bastable, who could make even the dull bits of history interesting. With all those great influences I was always going to grow up loving history.

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MF: It certainly sounds as if you were primed by your upbringing to love history! Have you travelled to many of the locations relevant to your books? Which one(s) inspired you the most?

SJ: I have been fortunate to have travelled to lots of great historical sites around the world although there are still lots more on my list. Visiting Egypt and Rome whilst writing ‘The Battles are the Best Bits’ were hugely inspirational and I incorporated my memories of those visits into the book. There is something very powerful about standing on the very spot where great events happened and you can feel the resonance of them somehow. Sadly most of Fall of Empires takes place in Syria and Iraq which are not very tourist friendly these days. I have been to Istanbul which also features heavily, though apart from the Hagia Sofia and the walls there is not much left of the old Byzantine Constantinople.

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MF: That is so true about historical sites. You can definitely feel their complexity. When you read about an historical period, do you typically picture yourself living during that time?

SJ: I think you have to. Not in a fantasizing sort of way but in terms of your outlook, your values and your expectations. I don’t think you can write objectively about history either as fiction or non-fiction unless you take a step back from your 21st century based values and judge people and events by the standards of the time in which they occurred. In ‘The Battles are the Best Bits’ I found myself justifying acts of slaughter which today would be judged as war-crimes as perfectly reasonable actions under the circumstances. The ancient world was a much more violent place than the modern world and human rights and the value of human life were seen very differently. This was a world in which the destruction of an entire city and the slaughter, rape and enslavement of its population was a legitimate act of war. To write about this period effectively you have to remove yourself somewhat from the here and now. Dealing with these events objectively I think gives them even greater impact in the mind of the modern reader.

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MF: The context is definitely a huge factor that takes some effort to understand. Even today cultural differences prevent many from understanding others’ actions.

Your book “Fall of Empires” earned over 280,000 reads on Wattpad, which is amazing! At what point did you decide to take the plunge and publish your work as a print book?

SJ: In some ways I regret the decision as there is no doubt that by sharing your work freely you reach far more readers than you do by charging money for it. I decided to ultimately publish the book as a result of the positive reaction to it from readers and from the site administrators who obviously see a lot of books. So I was confident it was of sufficient caliber to warrant publication. I already had one book in print so was under no illusions how hard it is to reach readers in such a saturated marketplace. I have a very limited appetite for self promotion however so I only have myself to blame.

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MF: I totally understand your attitude toward self-promotion since I feel much the same way. Writing is the fun part, marketing, not so much, though I do enjoy helping others promote their work.

As a history aficionado, do you have a favorite historical figure? If so, why?

SJ: You would probably expect me to name a military figure from the ancient world but I would say my favourite historical figure is Charles Darwin. His contribution to science goes without saying but his journals reveal an adventurous and daring spirit. During the voyage of the Beagle Darwin undertook numerous arduous journeys into the interior. He braved hostile natives, inhospitable terrain and even ventured into a warzone in pursuit of scientific enquiry. I think a lot of people picture him perhaps getting off the ship from time to time and strolling around with his magnifying glass but he was a real man of action. He was also a genuinely decent human being with little time for the superiority or snobbishness that characterized Victorian men of his class and would happily break bread with anyone he encountered on his travels no matter how humble their station. He abhorred the slavery which he witnessed in South America and vowed never to return to any slave state.

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MF: Darwin was truly one of history’s great figures. Few are familiar with, much less appreciate all he did or the man he was. And speaking of familiarity, most people are acquainted with the adage, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Which lesson do you think today’s leaders are failing to learn?

SJ: I think that the Middle East is the prime example of failure to learn from history. Time and again western governments have imposed clumsy solutions on the region which fail to take account of centuries of conflict and complex divisions understood by only a handful of experts. The poor handling of the Arab Spring and the rise of Isis are just the latest examples. Events of a thousand years ago or more still resonate in the region alongside more recent tensions and no doubt once the latest Iraqi crisis and Syrian civil war are finally brought to a close, another imperfect solution will be imposed by the west and Russia, adding another layer of complexity and more seething discontent.

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MF: The Middle East has definitely been a problem area for millennia. It seems to me that much of the problem is that they are still stuck in the 7th Century culturally whereas the rest of the world has progressed. It’s impossible for us to understand what most modern westerners consider a barbaric mindset.

I find it interesting that you have a degree in Genetics and worked for the Forensic Science Service. Have you ever had your DNA traced to see if you’re genetically connected with any of the areas that draw your interest?

SJ: I have not. To my knowledge my family has been traced back to Elizabethan times living as farm labourers and domestic servants in the south of England but that’s only one branch. It would be an interesting thing to do one day. I’d like to find out if I have a bit of Viking in me!

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MF: I’ve done some genealogy in the past and it’s definitely an advantage to be familiar with history when you’re trying to figure out where a family lived before they popped up somewhere, usually due to some migration due to events at the time, whether political or weather related.

While our cultural and genetic roots define our foundation, some historical figures such as General George S. Patton believed that he had been a warrior in a previous life. Have you ever had any experiences (e.g. deja-vu) that gave you the impression that you had actually lived during another specific time?

SJ: No. I don’t believe in previous lives but when I visit ancient places, where so much has gone before, I do get a sense of feeling the history of the place. Places like the Roman Forum, the Valley of the Kings, the Terracotta Army. There is something special in the air or in the stone that makes the hairs on your arms stand on end. That’s the closest I’ve got to something like that. I had a similar experience at Dachau too, for obviously different reasons.

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MF: Those who have never visited a place that had a significant role in history can’t understand that. It’s definitely almost tangible, the echoes of past events that cling to an area.

Have you started work on your next book? Tell us about it and what inspired you to write it.

SJ: I am not writing a present as I decided to give up my job and become a teacher and sadly no longer have time for writing. That same love of telling stories and passing on knowledge is what made me want to go into teaching however and so I get the same satisfaction from planning and delivering lessons. I’m teaching science but I try to get a bit of history into my lessons wherever I can.

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MF: That’s awesome! I’m sure you’ll make a fabulous teacher. So many students need some background to put what they’re learning into context, i.e., some additional information that has meaning and makes it relevant. When I was a child in school, the emphasis in history class comprised memorizing dates and places, which was mighty boring. I didn’t care about it at all until I got into genealogy.

Balancing a career of any sort with writing is always a challenge. Which part of the writing process is your favorite?

SJ: The research. The writing really is an outlet for the learning in my case. Whilst most probably see research as a means to end, for me the writing is the justification for the research. It gives it a purpose beyond learning for its own sake and a vehicle to share that learning. Whilst that vehicle was previously writing, now it is teaching.

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MF: I’m sure your passion for history and sharing it will make you a great and memorable teacher. No matter what subject you’re teaching, it has a history, especially science, which ultimately impacts society in important ways.

Do you have any future book ideas outside the historical fiction realm? In other words, do you have any real-life experiences in forensics that would lend ideas to mysteries or thrillers?

SJ: I think that market is well and truly saturated, so no, it doesn’t interest me. The biggest crime in my forensic experience was the closing down of the British Forensic Science Service and the biggest mystery is how it was allowed to be so badly run for so long. Someone should write a book about that, but it won’t be me.

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MF: Sounds like a wise decision. Do you have a favorite author or favorite book of all time, perhaps one that inspired you to become an author?

SJ: There are few books I have read more than once and I can only think of one I’ve read more than twice and that’s The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. It is truly uplifting and got me through some very lonely times in my life. The film didn’t do it justice.

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MF: Thanks for the interview, Simon! I’m sure your work will benefit many as will your foray into teaching and sharing your vast knowledge and love for this very important subject.

Simon’s book is available at the following places:

Publishers Book Link

Amazon US

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More about Simon Jones

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Review of “The Wake (and What Jeremiah did Next) by Colm Herron

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This story is nothing short of brilliant. If you have any connection to Ireland, you’ll recognize the intimate depiction of its people and culture. If you don’t, you’ll get a crash course. The saying that fiction is best for depicting truth definitely applies. In this case, it’s like being fully immersed, perhaps even like being baptized in Irish whiskey, through the eyes of the main character, Jeremiah.

The book is so loaded with truth I hardly know where to start. It starts out at a wake, an event that is typically associated with Irish culture. If you’ve never been to one like myself, this will give you a glimpse of what they’re all about. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, it will make even more sense. Here you have someone who has passed away and has no relatives, so a neighbor holds the wake because it’s the thing to do. The conversations during this event reveal a boatload. It’s more of a social event where refreshments are served than a time to remember the deceased, who was not particularly liked. Jeremiah, whose mother is the hostess, is stuck attending and, to make it more tolerable, has a bit too much to drink. Well, okay, maybe more than a bit. This results in some absolutely hilarious situations that had me laughing ’til I cried, but I won’t give away because I hate spoilers.

So what did Jeremiah do next? Well, he got on with his life. A rather weird, somewhat dysfunctional, crazy one that wasn’t particularly unexpected for a young man in his twenties discovering life in that time and place. As is the case with most that age and gender, he’s obsessed with sex. He’s in love with a woman who’s not only bisexual, but a rebel. This is where all the social issues regarding the Catholics and Protestants come into play. After all, it’s the 60s when protesting was in vogue. So, Jeremiah hooks up with Aisling and her partner, Frances, whom he describes as “Stalin in drag.” The adventures they encounter, including in the bedroom (which are tastefully done, considering it’s a menage a trois) take off from there, and provide a glimpse into the religion-related issues and what the protests are all about.

I consider this story a literary masterpiece. I could hardly put it down, which was exacerbated by the fact it doesn’t have chapter breaks. It reads partly like a journal and partly like following Jeremiah around, perhaps as his guardian angel sees him. Few books have the ability this one has to draw you into a world so effectively. It’s like a very personal trip to the Emerald Isle.

As a bonus, and to assist those who may not “get” what this book is all about, the author includes some discussion questions at the end which would be particularly helpful for book clubs or even English teachers. All great literature is unique and stands out from everything else and this is in that category. You’ll either love it or hate it. I loved it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Greek Fire: Interview with Konstantinos Karatolios

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One of my favorite sayings is “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately, we see such consequences all around us. And it’s no wonder, considering the way they taught history when I was growing up, which was primarily to memorize dates and events without context. Bor-ing!

Quite frankly, I didn’t have much interest in the subject until I started researching my family’s genealogy several years ago. At that point it had meaning, as events at the various time periods affected my progenitors, specifically by precipitating migrations to say nothing of wars. Now that I’ve lived long enough to see a significant number of historical events transpire before my eyes, it’s even more interesting. At this point, I love it, but it’s taken me a lifetime to get there.

Thus, I find it tremendously encouraging to see a young man such as Konstantinos Karatolios embracing history. As you can tell from his name, he’s Greek, and thus hails from a culture with a long and rich history. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, “Troy”, about the Trojan War and I can easily imagine Konstantinos in the role of Achilles, formerly portrayed by none other than Brad Pitt. If Konstantinos goes into teaching after completing his PhD, I’ll bet dollars to donuts he’s going to have a powerful affect on increasing interest in the subject, kind of like Indiana Jones did on archaeology. 😉

So without further ado, let’s learn some more about this good-looking guy who’s intelligent enough to realize what a treasure trove history is , long before he’s as old as dirt like myself, and discover his motivation to write “Greek Fire,” from which you can find an excerpt below the interview.

You can learn more about Konstantinos here as well as his website and connect via his Facebook page.


MF: Few civilizations have a history as rich as Greece. Which time period do you find most interesting?

KK: There is no doubt that there is a focus on the Classical Period and I truly understand the popularity of this era. However I think that if you scratch the surface you will find that other periods are very interesting as well. One of these is definitely the Mycenaean era. Despite all that I chose to write about the most ambiguous period of all. The medieval period, i.e. the Byzantine when we are talking about the East. It is definitely the least appreciated of all but it promises some of the biggest thrills to those who  bother study it.

MF: Who do you think is the most fascinating person in Greek history?

KK: That’s a really tough question. However it is my opinion that it’s not the charismatic leaders that make the important era but it is a significant era that calls for a charismatic leader. The same applies for artists and scientists too. What would Mozart have been if it wasn’t the historical period he was born at?

MF: How much truth to you think exists in Greek myths? Do you think they’re true stories embellished with time or purely symbolic?

KK: I think that myths are myths and we shouldn’t take them as facts. However no story is made without having a historical core. Difficult as it is our job is to find that core and see how it correlates with history.

MF: Was there something specific that drew your interest to Greek Fire?

KK: Greek Fire is covered in vagueness. It’s not only the fact that the way it was made was a state secret. Byzantines knew how important it was to possess a weapon that the opponents didn’t knew what it was and indeed we know that there were cases when armies surrendered just hearing that the Byzantines had it. So we have a weapon mentioned in a lot of sources but with a way that it doesn’t help us historians to draw definite conclusions. On the other hand the modern opinion of Greek Fire is oversimplified and totally unacceptable. The combination of these too made me interested in Greek Fire.

MF: Did you have any interesting experiences while researching your book?

KK: Researching is always an interesting experience by itself. All these little disappointments when you find out that things were not as you expected them to be on the one hand but also the huge satisfaction you get when you discover something new, is something difficult to describe.

MF: What’s the biggest challenge you found researching historical events?

KK: The biggest problem for a Byzantinologist is definitely the lack of sources. In many cases we must make the most with almost nothing.

MF: If you had access to a time machine, when and where would you want to go?

KK: It goes without saying that I would travel to the Byzantine Empire. I truly hope that they wouldn’t burn my time machine down using Greek Fire! It would be highly ironic!

MF: What is your favorite place to go when you’re seeking some inspiration?

KK: The ideal place for a writer is somewhere where he or she can be totally isolated from other people and not distracted at all. I have to admit that this is too good to be true. Usually I just lock myself up in my office but that’s never as isolated as it sounds!

MF: What are you currently working on?

KK: I’m working on my PhD. I try to find out everything there is for the education of the princes of the Macedonian Dynasty, at the Middle Byzantine Era. I am looking to return to Greek Fire as soon as I get the chance to do it.

EX 26/6 YGRON PYRR

Excerpt:

“The wonder of the thousand-year Byzantine Empire could not have been achieved without an army that allowed it to maintain its existence for so many centuries. This was despite facing constant challenges from external enemies that differed significantly in their nature. In this context, what had been inherited from the Romans and the adoption of new weapons and tactics in battle were of equal importance. “Greek fire”, if not the most important of these weapons, was surely that which achieved the greatest fame of all. It was used throughout the course of the Byzantine Empire and granted resounding victories to its navy. Its use verges on legend, and yet almost all we know about it and its use is clouded by the vagueness of the primary sources.”

You can learn more about “Greek Fire” at the publisher’s site and pick up your copy from Amazon here.

An Expert’s View of Brexit

Small Island Big History (1)

One of the hot topics this week has been Brexit, Great Britain’s decision (at least England’s) to leave the European Union (EU). I find it interesting and perhaps a bit ironic that it came so close to the USA’s Independence Day, July 4. However, whether or not the decision will stand or be reversed via the Bremain movement is yet to be seen as more and more ramifications of the decision evolve.

This was the perfect time to interview author and historian, Christopher Berg, author/compiler of a book of essays on the British Empire entitled “Small Island, Big History.” I love the cover, which was a real eye-opener regarding Britain’s conquests over the centuries. Truly, British influence is worldwide, something that’s easily forgotten today when Britain’s prominence has retreated since the last century.

Let’s see what an expert on the subject has to say.

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MF: As a historian, especially with regard to the UK, did you see “Brexit” coming when the EU began to stumble a few years ago?

CB: No, I did not, though in hindsight, the UK was reluctant to relinquish the British pound for euros as it would have diluted their purchasing power, but, aside from this, the only one who probably saw it was Niall Ferguson.

MF: Do you think it was skepticism toward the EU at its inception that motivated the UK to retain its own currency and not accept the euro?

CB: That might be part of the answer but such matters are rarely so simple or cut-and-dry.  In an international context, the sovereignty of a nation must be maintained and to devalue, dilute, or jettison a national currency in favor of a new and untested common currency linked to dozens of other nations of varying economic strength and solvency was problematic for the British.

MF: The British Empire influenced the entire world with its conquests, largely by planting substantial populations imbued with its culture throughout the globe. From South Africa to India, New Zealand and Australia, there is no doubt that the British have enjoyed a worldwide influence. While over the past several decades, independence has been granted to several commonwealths, some peacefully, others not so much, with its extensive history of imperialism, why do you think that the UK joined the EU in the first place?

CB: Self-interest.  That is the primary motivation for most first-world nations and, perhaps, many aspiring nations that want to join the ranks.  And, it was an evolving economic reality and to keep markets stable and encourage and maintain good trade relationships with her continental neighbors, the British pondered long and hard about their entry into such an economic community.

MF: Do you think there was a single coup de grace that drove England to withdraw from the EU?

CB: The issue with many European banks bordering on the brink of collapse, the considerable economic tensions escalating with such countries as Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Greece, as well as the issue of a “bail-in” in Cyprus was startling news to many, including Germany.  The specific issue or trigger is much more difficult to pinpoint, if there is one.  Again, I would defer to Niall Ferguson, the imminent Harvard economic historian.

MF: Britain’s conquests have been anything but friendly, which earned her a lot of opposition based on her reputation for an iron hand and brutal enforcement. Do you think being tromped during WWII took her entirely by surprise? What affect did that have on her subsequent policies toward her commonwealths and the world in general?

Chris_HeadshotCB: WWII caught Britain by surprise in some respects.  The fall of Singapore, for example, suggests that they really had little intelligence on the “strength” or “state” of their empire.  It was simply the leadership of Winston Churchill that gave the British people the moral resolve to withstand the Nazi threat in 1940-41 and the budding friendship of Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt known as the “special relationship.”  Churchill was willing to make many compromises in terms of relinquishing colonies, and, as a former Colonial Secretary, was more even-handed in his approach to the colonies.  However, the shock of losing the empire after 1945 and the rise of self-determination brought a tough decision on how to move forward.  The British had lost their preeminent position of the Victorian Age and, now with the rise of the United States as the world superpower, a new balance-of-power had been thrust upon Great Britain.  Churchill’s prescience and a concern for home and social matters helped to ease the transition of Britain from a recognized world power to that of a secondary role.

MF: The initial response of the financial markets toward England’s withdrawal from the EU was unfavorable for its currency. What do you think the long term effect will be, to strengthen or continue to weaken the pound?

CB: I think that the move to withdraw from the EU was Britain’s response to growing uncertainty, the rise of international unrest, and economic instability in many EU-member countries.  In the short term, I think this was a defensive move to maintain the pound’s position.  The long term position is much harder to discern as economics is a volatile area that is very difficult to manage, much less be proactive about.

MF: What lessons should remaining members of the EU take from England’s withdrawal? Do you think others will follow?

CB; I do think that others might follow suit and others have expressed interest, such as Germany.  The stronger economies will definitely begin to re-think their present position and the international effect is only beginning to be felt, even here in the United States.

MF: What effect will this break for freedom have upon England’s citizenry? Do you think it will restore their pride and increase nationalism in a dramatic way?

CB: So far, it has shown to have a galvanizing effect upon the British people, a sense of renewed solidarity, and, perhaps, even a return to protectionist policies.

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You can pick up a copy of “Small Island, Big History” at the following links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Create Space

Additional Book Information

Quest Publications

Author Biography