Frankly, I think that Chinese spy/weather balloon was filming background shots for a reality TV show

Status of Balloon: In the Atlantic Ocean

Destination of Balloon: Davy Jones’ Locker

Alternative Destination: Coast Guard Cutter Recovery.

Dinah Shore

Assuming the balloon is sent to Quantico for analysis, lab technicians will discover it was shooting background footage for a new Chinese reality show to be called “See the USA in your Dongfeng (东风汽车公司) Venuci e30 electric car.” Initially,  Dongfeng Motor Co., Ltd executives wanted to use a copycat version of Diana Shore’s: “See The U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet,” but re-thought the matter when contacted by General Motors’ legal department.

Episodes in pre-production centered around the Chén family visiting iconic American tourist destinations in between stops to take selfies at missile installations and other sensitive sites. To meet sponsor requirements, the e30 would appear in many of these selfies.

Chinese officials said that while the balloon was programmed to monitor the weather and U.S. Navy ships in the South China Sea,  once it went off course, the footage shot in the U. S. wasn’t any different than “scenes Americans see every day without even thinking about them.”

According to spokesmen who were later thrown in prison, the show to be released internationally during the year of the Rabbit was intended to humanize Chinese tourists as “just regular folks inasmuch as only 18% of them are spies.”

Plans to include a walk-on appearance by President Biden have been denied by the White House.

–Malcolm

If you like satire, you’ll find plenty of it in Malcolm R. Campbell’s “Special Investigative Reporter.”

FL GOVERNOR DESANTIS’ PROPOSALS ON HIGHER EDUCATION POSE A GRAVE THREAT TO ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND FREE SPEECH AT PUBLIC COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK — PEN America today called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s announcement of a broad outline of legislation to restrict the historic autonomy of higher education “a grave threat to free speech and academic freedom” at Florida’s public colleges and universities.

Among other changes, the governor’s proposals announced Tuesday would ban critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI) at universities; effectively end tenure protections by giving boards of trustees hiring and firing power over faculty; rewrite university mission statements; compel colleges and universities to deprioritize certain fields that are deemed to further a “political agenda”; and “overhaul and restructure” New College of Florida, whose new board of trustees, made up largely of conservative pundits, on Tuesday fired the college president and replaced her with a political ally of the governor.

In response to the proposals, Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, released the following statement:

“These proposals represent nothing less than an effort to substitute the dictates of elected officials for the historic autonomy of higher education institutions. If enacted, they would unquestionably pose a grave threat to free speech on Florida campuses. The core freedom that is a vital prerequisite of academic research and teaching is the ability of scholars and students to pursue lines of inquiry, and this in turn depends on a university remaining free from political interference.

“Further,” Young continued, “the recent actions at New College — where a board selected to further an ideological agenda fired the president at its first meeting — reflects the inclinations of a government that wants to exert greater and narrower ideological control over higher education; not one that respects open inquiry or academic freedom. This proposal and these actions deserve vehement and vigorous opposition from all who hold free speech on campus dear.”

I went to public school and college in Florida. If I were a student in that system now, I’d be worried about the governor’s dictatorial approach to a system that should be immune from DeSantis’ political beliefs and agenda. Sooner or later, the universities will face accreditation problems.

–Malcolm

Kathy Reichs’ ‘Fatal Voyage’

In working my way through Kathy Reichs’ forensic thrillers, I’ve reached Fatal Voyage with only a few more pages to read. Her books are well-written, educational, and almost always place the main character, Tempe Brennan, in dangerous situations.

I especially liked this novel because it was set in and around Bryson City, NC, an area I’ve been visiting since the 1950s. It’s fun to see how an author views an area I know well, from Mt. Mitchell to  Clingman’s Dome, to New Found Gap. I’ve hiked through a lot of the area and driven through all of it. Reichs uses the towns and mountains well, adding a lot of local color (real and fictional). One of my brothers used to own several tracts of land near Dillsboro. I once tried to buy an old restaurant in Dillsboro but the plan got vetoed by somebody I won’t name here.

From the publisher

“Buckle up and take this voyage,” says People. The journey begins with Temperance Brennan hearing shocking news on her car radio. An Air TransSouth flight has gone down in the mountains of western North Carolina, taking with it eighty-eight passengers and crew. As a forensic anthropologist and a member of the regional DMORT team, Tempe rushes to the scene to assist in body recovery and identification.

“As bomb theories abound, Tempe soon discovers a jarring piece of evidence that raises dangerous questions—and gets her thrown from the DMORT team. Relentless in her pursuit of its significance, Tempe uncovers a shocking, multilayered tale of deceit and depravity as she probes her way into frightening territory—where someone wants her stopped in her tracks.”

She doesn’t mention all the moonshine stills in the area, one of which was on or near my brother’s property. A free jar of shine would have ensured our silence if we’d ever found one of the stills. Of course, we might have ended up dead, something that happens a lot in Fatal Voyage.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, paranormal, and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories. This Kindle “boxed set” includes all four novels of the Florida Folk Magic Series a savings over buying them separately. You can, of course, can also buy them in hardcover, paperback, and audiobook editions.

Thanks for showing up

This weird, chaotic blog averages between 50 and 80 visits a day. Then out of nowhere, 150 people show up. I seldom know why because my posts on those higher-traffic days aren’t about hot, nationally trending issues.

But, whatever draws you here, thanks for showing up.

I’m spending more time on my novel in progress these days. My muse must have decided I’m serious about it.

I still don’t know where it’s going. I never know. I don’t know what I’m going to write until I open the file.

For example, some days ago, one character killed a cop. I thought, “hmm, that’s unexpected.” Then, in a later scene, I found out why. She had a good reason, as it turns out. I’m not making this up. When I write, I experience the evolving story the way a reader would experience it. Gurus say I should know how a novel or short story ends when I start work on it. Fooey, that would ruin all the fun of going along for the ride.

As if you can’t tell, my posts are written the same way.

I had no idea I was going to write about a dead cop who was also a member of the KKK. The story is set in 1955 when Elvis was singing “That’s All Right.” If the novel were set in the present day, I wouldn’t include a dead cop because there are too many dead cops and rogue cops in the news. The main purpose of this series of novels is my focus on the Klan. Growing up, I hated them with a passion and always wondered how many of my friends’ fathers were members.

I hope I never find out.

At any rate, you’re here reading these thoughts while (probably) wondering if I’m borderline insane.  Yeah, that’s likely, but it’s a Godsend for a magical realism author.

–Malcolm

When I worked for the Illinois department of mental health and was working my way up through the ranks, somebody asked me what my ultimate goal was. “To become a patient,” I replied. It took longer to happen than I expected.

This “boxed set” includes all four novels in one Kindle volume, a savings over buying them separately. However, you can also find them in hardcover, paperback, and audiobook.

Sunday’s mixed bag of stuff

  • Rainy and wet today here in Northwest Georgia. Robbie, our indoor/outdoor kitty is inside. He must know that heavier rain is coming. All in all, a good day to stay inside and work on the next novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series set in Tallahassee and a fictional town near the Apalachicola River. Perhaps there’ll even be something fun to watch on TV tonight like, hmm, another episode of “Swamp People” on the History Channel.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel The Passenger. It’s different from such classics as Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, but just as powerful and well-written. I agree with Ron Charles’ assessment in The Washington Post that, “McCarthy has assembled all the chilling ingredients of a locked-room mystery. But he leaps outside the boundaries of that antique form, just as he reworked the apocalypse in The Road… Western knows he’s suspected of something, but he’s not told what. The two men who repeatedly question him never drop their formal politeness—never flash a bolt gun like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men—but Western knows that his life is in danger and that he must run… The style—a mingling of profound contemplation and rapid-fire dialogue, always without quotation marks and often without attribution—is pure McCarthy.” I haven’t bought Stella Maris, the companion novel yet, but I will.
  • The Guardian story about the police murder in Memphis is headlined: “Tyre Nichols’s death after police encounter was ‘failing of basic humanity’, says Memphis chief.” The newspaper notes that there were 1,176 “police-involved” killings in 2022. The daily news routinely includes a police atrocity like this or a mass shooting by some thug from the community. Many newspapers and commentators say that inflation or possibly problems at the U.S./Mexico border are the country’s top news stories. They’re wrong, I think. Violence ought to be at the top of the list.
  • No, I don’t plan to watch the upcoming Super Bowl Game. I haven’t cared for years, though if the Atlanta Falcons were playing, I might watch. I tend to watch college football, especially if the Florida State University Seminoles are playing. They had a decent season, though not as good as the University of Georgia’s Dawgs, a team I only root for when they’re playing the University of Florida Gators.
  • Okay, I’m still addicted to Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books and have three on order to read before getting to Stella Maris. I hope all of you are reading quality books these days.

–Malcolm

All four novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series are available in one Kindle volume, a nice savings.

Fort Caroline and ‘The Flamingo Feather’

“Fort Caroline was an attempted French colonial settlement in Florida, located on the banks of the St. Johns River in present-day Duval County. It was established under the leadership of René Goulaine de Laudonnière on 22 June 1564, following King Charles IX’s enlisting of Jean Ribault and his Huguenot settlers to stake a claim in French Florida ahead of Spain. The French colony came into conflict with the Spanish, who established St. Augustine in September 1565, and Fort Caroline was sacked by Spanish troops under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on 20 September. The Spanish continued to occupy the site as San Mateo until 1569.” – Wikipedia

When we moved to Tallahassee in time for me to start the first grade, the family took multiple short trips around Florida to learn about “our new state,” among them a trip to Fort Caroline. I was disappointed that the Fort was no longer there; just a memorial on or near the site where Laudonnière’s expedition probably landed.

The trip was still worthwhile, especially to me because I’d read about the French/Spanish conflict in a juvenile-level historical novel called The Flamingo Feather that was written by Kirk Munroe written in 1887. I checked the book out of my grade school or junior high school library and found it fascinating and filled with action. (I sided with the French, by the way.) In many ways, this was my introduction to the concept of the historical novel, especially one that teaches a subject about which we learned very little in school.

If the “look inside” feature on Amazon is accurate, the book appears to be set in a small type; it also comes with a boring cover and appears to be missing the original illustrations. There is no description saying what the novel is about. Where that description would normally appear; we find this:

“This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work. As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.”

You can read the book free on at Lit2Go where it’s described briefly: “When Rene De Veaux’s parents die he goes to live with his uncle, who happens to be setting out on an exploration of the new world.” The book is also available on Project Gutenberg where you can read it online (with illustrations) or download it as a Kindle or EPUB file.

I’m biased in favor of the book since it’s one of the first novels I read. It’s a good story even though today’s readers will find the style and approach rather archaic.

–Malcolm

Earphones Winner from Audio File magazine.

Malcolm R. Campbell writes magical realism novels set in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s.

The shootings of the day

Gun violence is a contemporary global human rights issue. Gun-related violence threatens our most fundamental human right, the right to life.

Gun violence is a daily tragedy affecting the lives of individuals around the world. More than 500 people die every day because of violence committed with firearms.

Anyone can be affected by firearm violence but in certain situations gun violence disproportionately impacts communities of colour, women and other marginalized groups in society. – Amnesty International

You can track shootings by type and location at the Gun Violence Archive. The information here is updated daily and includes cumulative data throughout the year. All of the information here is disturbing, especially the listing for what’s happened during the last 72 hours. I appreciate the work of this group, though I find it sad that we need this group. Yet, according to Amnesty International, “There are 8 million new small arms and up to 15 billion rounds of ammunition produced each year.”

Personally, I’m tired of hearing that if we restrict gun ownership and the right to carry guns, only criminals will have guns. And yet, most of the mass shootings appear to be caused by individuals considered non-criminals prior to the shootings.

The problem has a lot of socio-economic overlays, but it’s generally believed that the precipitating factor is easy access to legal and illegal guns.

What surprises me is the fact that we–as a nation–put up with it. I suppose we’re burying our heads in the sand with the viewpoint that if the violence doesn’t kill us or people we know then it’s not our problem. And yet, it is, because the failure to enact legislation that will put a dent in gun violence is allowing it to happen. In that regard, most of us are at fault.

–Malcolm

Writers need to pace themselves (or else)

I try to write 100 words a day come hell or high water.

If I were to write more words, my writing career would be compromised. Why? I wouldn’t be pacing myself. I’d be like an old Chevy racing at Daytona and that would mean the engine would soon be toast. Well, not actual toast, but you know what I mean. A blown engine in a Chevy is a bad thing. A worse thing is a blown engine in oneself that happens if you work harder than you should. I’m very superstitious and so I won’t tempt fate by writing 101 words.

I did NaNoWriMo some years ago. I wrote all the words I needed but was a nervous wreck, fast-tracked to boot hill. After doing it, I wondered just what was the rush anyhow. If you take years to complete a novel you have years in which you can hope that reviewers and readers will love it, somebody will nominate it for a Pulitzer Prize, and the movie will bring in $100000000 and a truckload of glamorous movie stars.

If you don’t pace yourself, the book will come out sooner, and all the hope you could have had by writing slowly is suddenly toast. Not actual toast, but you know what I mean. Nobody reads the book and those who don’t read it refuse to write loving but fictitious reviews that say the novel is the best thing since sliced bread.

Another problem with writing too fast is discovering 50,000 words into the book that you’ve written past what your muse told you to write. Now your book–and probably you–is stuck in an Area 51 status which, as we have seen, brings the Feds to your house, and let me clue you in that in these woke times, they’re no longer whistling Dixie. They (the Feds) have hard questions like “when did you realize the novel you were writing was being beamed down from the mother ship?”

You better not respond by saying you just thought your muse had been drinking too much Jolt Cola. Truth be told, a lot of writers drink too way too much Jolt Cola because they think anonymity might be gaining on them. And they’re right because excessive use of Jolt Cola causes them to write really bad stuff like, “I’ve kissed a prince, Mom. I hope it doesn’t turn into a frog.”

Suffice it to say, writers should never exceed the posted speed limit because the grammar police are always hiding behind billboards for Rice Krispies and other innocent products waiting to pull over anyone who seems to be powered by Jolt Cola, a mother ship, delusions of grandeur, or bad writing advice from the dark web.

If you pace yourself, you’ll always be in the clear. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it until I hear a more expedient story.

–Malcolm

My only NaNoWriMo book was “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” (now titled “Investigative Reporter”) and the AudioFile Magazine reviewer said, “a vehicle for sex, cigarettes, steak, and zinfandel.” All good, but it sounds like a review for “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

What Happens Here Can Only Happen Here

“A particular place in the land is never, for an oral culture, just a passive or inert setting for the human events that occur there. It is an active participant in those occurrences. Indeed, by virtue of its underlying and enveloping presence, the place may even be felt to be the source, the primary power that expresses itself through the various events that unfold there.” – David Abram

The modern world often obscures the importance and influence of a place because in knowing about the events of many places at the same time via news and social media, we often focus on similarities while ignoring the differences. It’s human nature, I think, to look for common themes and even to copy those we like best leading, among other things, to build the same stores and restaurants across the country because they are profitable by virtue of being known as well as a comfort to both the residents and those traveling through town. Homogenizing everything we can not only destroys local culture and exciting differences but makes for a very sterile way of life by trying to translate the culture of another place into our place where that culture is unnatural.

(I digress when I say that I don’t like this practice, especially when traveling and finding mostly chain restaurants dominating the scene to the detriment of local culture and local restaurants. I can’t imagine visiting New Orleans, for example, and only eating the same fast food I eat at home.)

If you read and/or write magical realism, you know already the importance of the place where a real event or fictional story is set, and in knowing, that one understands how the place helps shape the events that happen there. Those events cannot happen anywhere else–no matter how much people might try to copy them–because they depend on the place’s history, culture, geography, and other factors that are unique. One tries through his/her writing to communicate this to the reader subconsciously rather than overtly. You can’t say “The swamp didn’t like Jim.” But when Jim goes into the swamp in your story, you can give the impression that this is true–or that Jim is scared of the swamp and acts differently than he would act if he weren’t scared of it.

It’s hard not to think of the exchange between Luke Skywalker and Yoda, when Luke asks (about the swamp), “What’s in there?” Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”

This is true everywhere even though most people won’t acknowledge it.

In looking for similarities between shootings and other crimes, commentators are quick to compare a crime in one place with a crime in another place. They often refer to these as “copycat shootings.” But that can’t be true even if the second perpetrator was aware of the first and wanted to duplicate it. He/she lives in a different environment–the Great Plains as opposed to, say, the Everglades–and part of his/her motivation is copying, a factor that wasn’t involved with the first crime.

Focusing on the real or imagined copycat nature of an event will usually lead investigators astray. Storytellers know this and honor the influence of the place on what happens in that place rather than the extraneous fact that similar events might have happened somewhere else. In magical realism, we understand that what happens here can only happen here.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series. This Kindle set includes all four novels in the series.

Remembering ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas’ by Jules Verne

In All the Light We Cannot See, the blind French girl Marie-Laure Leblanc is reading the novel in braille, sometimes alone, sometimes to her uncle, and sometimes into the microphone of an old short-wave radio transmitter. Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus become an important motif in the book. For me, the inclusion of Jules Verne’s story was a bit haunting since the novel, and even the Disney movie adaptation released in 1954, was one of my favorite novels. In fact, I think I ended up reading most of Jules Verne’s work.

I knew the story first from the film because, in 1954, I wasn’t capable of reading a Jules Verne book. That’s just as well inasmuch as the first English translations were a mess.

A friend of mine in grade school also loved the movie, so much that we ended up building a miniature Nautilus in his basement where we gave “tours” of various voyages to adults willing to pay five or ten cents depending on the length of the voyage.

I loved the accuracy of short-wave radio scenes in All the Light We Cannot See because I was once a ham radio operator. I built my own transmitter and used a 1940s-era short-wave receiver. It was always fun late at night, talking to people around the world as well as listening to commercial broadcasts originating thousands of miles away. In those days, DXing was popular and we prided ourselves in identifying commercial broadcasts, telling the stations what we heard, and getting a postcard by mail that verified we had heard the station on the date and time we said we did. I finally gave away that old SuperPro short-wave receiver a few years ago to a ham radio operator who was likely to repair it and get it working again.

Best I can tell, the current version of Jules Verne’s novel offered on Amazon might well be the best English translation yet. My feeling is that it’s a lot more accurate than earlier English translations. I know the story only too well because I have lived with it, one way or another, for almost seventy years.

–Malcolm

Jules Verne led me into a long-time interest in science fiction novels which ultimately moved into contemporary fantasy. I write now because of him.