Monday, November 26, 2012

About the Pomona Terrorists

Below is an email that I wrote, today, to a reporter at the LA Times that I met one day at Starbucks:

Hi X,

You probably don't remember me. We met at the Starbucks in KoreaTown, while I was on my lunch break. I was the chubby, balding blond guy who works for the Health Department, inspecting hospital radiology departments.

Hey, look, I am really frustrated that none of your colleagues are interested in this topic. I realize that Mexico i.e. South America is your beat, but I think you have the wisdom to understand what I am trying to ask: why did the Pomona 3 self-radicalize?

I wrote a novel that I finished in 2009, and the usual New York publishers didn't bother to tell me they weren't interested, except for one genius who took the time to write me, and let me know that the plot was implausible, stupid, contrived, and anti-muslim. Well, guess what? The plot that the FBI exposed last week perfectly mirrors Amateur Hour: 3 young men in Claremont (Pomona, in real life) self-radicalize, one of them is ex-military, and train as terrorists.

X, your colleagues at the Times are asleep at the wheel. This is Pulitzer material: one of you could do an investigative report about how Catholic kids (I assume that 2 of them are Catholic) got lost in America in the gap between first-generation immigrants, and established Americans who feel at home, here. As an immigrant, myself, I understand the thought process of a lot of these guys. Despite having blond hair and blue eyes, and speaking English without an accent, I wasn't a real American, because I spoke in Hungarian with my parents, and I had a funny name.

This is good material, and it is highly relevant: If it was that easy for me to come up with a plot like that in Amateur Hour, do you think that this is the last time that this is going to happen? What are we as a society going to do about this? Do we spend money reading everybody's emails and FaceBook postings, and arresting the next batch of terrorists, or do we try to change the circumstances that lead to the type of thinking that leads to this?

I hope you can get one of your colleagues to think about this, and set off on the right track.


Monday, November 19, 2012

How to write a book no-one wants to read:

Two of my books that involve my two favorite topics (birds, and the military) are now out on for Kindle, and also at in all of the other (Nook, iPad) formats. They should already be up for direct purchase from iTunes (iStore) and in their prospective formats, but somebody somewhere hasn’t done the paperwork, yet.

Click here for information about all three books' content, and here to review or purchase Amateur Hour.

Some thoughts about one of the books, Roadside Rest: As a veteran who has worked in VA hospitals scanning my fellow veterans, Roadside Rest means a lot to me. While the story is fictional, it is based on several real-life people. Interestingly, I may have come up with the magic combination that causes few people to want to read it:

1. Women don’t want to read it because they have no military experience.

2. Men who usually read military stories don’t want to read it “because it’s about a girl.”

3. Birders (birdwatchers) don’t want to read it because (a) they have no military experience (the number of current or former military types who are birders is relatively small), and (b) Kris wears her dad’s .45 while out photographing birds in the Huachucas and the Chiricahuas.

4. Gun owners don’t like it because Kris is a birdwatcher, clearly a suspect liberal activity.

Now, I say these things somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I still fret that too many people find it easier to hide inside their own pigeonholes, and not bother with a protagonist who doesn’t mirror all of their personal values i.e. mores.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Apollo Park, Lancaster California

And why did I find a White-throated Sparrow at Apollo Park, today? Because I don't need White-throated Sparrow for a year bird.

Lark Sparrows are one the most beautiful American birds.
Side-view of the same Lark Sparrow
Common Raven, Corvus corax
Chinese Goose a.k.a. domestic Swan Goose

Sunday, September 30, 2012

White-winged Dove in Claremont!

White-winged Dove,  Zenaida asiatica
Dude, you should be in southern Mexico by now, not suburban L.A.
Wow, all I did was take the Basset Hound out for her morning walk.  Well, okay, it is fall migration, and I did take binoculars with me.  Here's the thing, though: I was already done checking all of the trees in my neighboorhood park for small passerine migrants hiding up, inside the trees, and there wasn't much there. 
Then, when I was walking the dog home I noticed this weird pigeon with a long, hooked bill, and said "What the hell is that?"

When I got the bird through my binos, I just about peed in my pants.
Then, to kick it up a notch, the bird left the park, flew south, and landed on the roof of my house!  Of all the houses in the neighborhood, it landed on mine.  Unbuhleevable.
The nearest White-winged Dove breeding population is at the Salton Sea. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


How do you explain 9/11 to a 6 year-old?

I pulled my back, last night, and after a visit to the chiropractor, this afternoon, headed over to Target to buy a big bottle of Advil gel-caps. My 6 year-old asked if she could go with me.

Sure, Beautiful, hop in.

I pulled into the Target parking lot, and she asked, “Dada, is today an America day, like Fourth of July?”

“Eh…kind of. Did you learn about it in school?”

“No. Ethan (her fellow first-grader) said that it’s the day we started a war, and beat the bad guys.”

“Well, not exactly, Maggie-Pie. Let me explain. A long time ago, 5 years before you were born…”

“…were you a little kid?”

“No, I was a grown up with a job. I worked in downtown L.A.”

“Was that USC?”

“No. I worked at another building for another company.”

“Oh. Was it a hospital?”

“Yeah. So, what happened was—you know how pirates take over a ship?”


“Well, some very bad people took over a couple of airplanes—like pirates—and made them crash into these two building that used to be the tallest buildings in the world, when I was your age. They were called the Twin Towers.”

“Oh my god, that’s really big! Wait. If they crashed the airplanes into the tall building, then they died, too!”


“That’s dumb. Why did they do that?”

“Because they were very bad.”

“Oh. Then what happened?”

“Well, I was still at home at my house, making coffee, when the first plane hit the tall buildings, and I heard about it on the radio, so I turned on the TV, and believe it or not, I saw the second plane crash into the buildings.”

“Oh my god!”

“That was bad, but the worst part was still coming. When the airplanes hit the Twin Towers, at first only the people on the airplanes and the people inside that part of the buildings died. A bunch of firemen, police, and paramedics all ran and drove their fire trucks and police cars over there, and started helping people out of the building. The fire got worse, and the buildings fell to the ground. A lot more people died, including a lot of fire men and police men.”

“Were you there?”

“No, Baby. That was in New York, all the way across America, really far away.”

“Did you go home?”

“From work? No, but everybody else who worked in L.A. did. I…”

And that’s when I started crying. Great. I’m parked in a 10 year-old Toyota Celica in the parking lot at Target, sitting behind the steering wheel, and tears are rolling down my cheeks, uncontrollably. I want to tell Maggie Pie about how we stood there inside the HealthCare Partners building in downtown L.A., and by 11:00 there were no cars anywhere. The Harbor Freeways was empty. The Hollywood Freeway was empty. So was the 10. All of the skyscrapers were empty. The only people who either stayed at work, or reported to work---despite the very real fear that airplanes would crash into the Library Tower—the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, were hospital employees. HealthCare Partners was ‘only’ an outpatient facility, but with a fully staffed 24 hour Urgent Care, and a full radiology department, we stayed.

Just in case.

Our boss gave us the option of going home, and made it clear that no one would judge us if we were afraid, and evacuated.

As far as we knew Los Angeles was next. We were absolutely convinced that we were in mortal danger. When word came that morning that the Air Force now ruled the skies, and that any stray airplanes that refused to do what they were told would be promptly shot down, our shoulders sagged. When word came that there was no longer a single private or commercial airplane aloft over North America, and that fighter pilots had full license to shoot down anything they didn’t like, we sighed with relief.

My friend, and fellow x-ray tech, Kathy Izquierdo and I stood outside on the sidewalk, and watched as angry fighter jets patrolled downtown L.A.. Back and forth. Back and forth. The only two sounds in the world that we could hear were the steady hum of the air conditioner on the roof of our building, and the thunder of twin engines each time an F-15 whooshed overhead.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Things with Wings

Ah, the boredom of the summer doldrums has been broken by the arrival of fall migration.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Sepulveda Basin 8/26/2012
Dragonfly 1
Baker Sewage Treatment Plant, Baker, California
Dragonfly 2
Baker Sewage Treatment Plant, Baker, California
Zebra-tailed Lizard
Callisaurus draconoides
Baker, California
Wait, what's with the pictures of dragonflies and lizards?  Oh, yeah!  Johnny Bovee found a White Ibis at the Baker Sewage Treatment Ponds.  Woo-hoo!  There hasn't been one reported in California since I started birding in 1992.  I haven't seen one since my last trip deep down into Baja California, 700 miles south of the U.S. border.  Yeah, yeah, I know: they're in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, but I'm not.  So why did one show up halfway between my house in Claremont, and Las Vegas???
Needle in a haystack?
No: White Ibis in a flock of White-faced Ibis. 
White Ibis
Baker, California 9/1/2012
This stupid White Ibis did the same thing that the Roseate Spoonbill did in Phoenix, Arizona: it kept hiding among the local birds, in places where you can only see if by staring into the sun, as a safety precaution.  Lost e.g. vagrant birds use this tactic to survive in an unfamiliar environment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Arizona August 2012

Mexican Jay Aphelocoma wollweberi
These guys are not the same species as the Western Scrub Jays in your back yard.
For some reason, looking at this bird makes me want some whiskey.

A lot of effort is being put into keeping them from going extinct.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Mexican Spotted Owl
The Mexican population of Spotted Owls spill over into Southeast Arizona.  Given their geographical isolation from the Spotted Owls in California, along with their different calls, many consider them to be a separate species.

Butterfly 1
Butterfly 2
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
Butterfly 3
Butterfly 3

American Snout
One of the most bizarre-looking butterflies.

Butterfly 4
Butterfly 5: Marine Blue Leptotes marina ???

Butterfly 6

"My mother's coming to visit."
"In that case, I'm going fishing,"
No, you're not!"
"Yes, I am!"
"You've been drinking!"
"Only beer.  Gimme a kiss!
"Go away. I hate you!"

Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor

Butterfly 7: Elada Checkerspot ???

Arizona Sister or Mexican Sister
Considered by some to be a race of California Sister, Adelpha bredowii, but considered to be a full species by others.
Butterfly 8:  Checkered White pontia protodice ???

Roseate Spoonbill
Glendale Recharge Ponds August 19th, 2012.
It was 104F when I took this photo from 200 yards away, so I don't want to hear any complaints.

Yes, this is the Tombstone that they keep making movies about.
Shooting bad guys is hard work.  Union rules says we get half an hour for lunch.

Car we saw in the parking lot at Boot Hill, where they buried people in Tombstone.
Would you hire ghost busters whose marketing budget allowed for one can of window marker paint?

Hey, these guys could use the services of GIT!
Wilson's Phalaropes
Glendale Recharge Ponds
This is a nervous smile.
I told Csaba that it's legal to wear your gun in Arizona.
He didn't believe me until we ran into a birder at Miller Canyon who had a .45 automatic.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
The price we paid for getting glimpses of this bird while standing in tall grass at the monastery in St. David, Arizona in the summer was a nice case of chiggers.  I am typing this with one hand, while scratching my ankles with the other.
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
One of the few birds that I can imitate, and succeed in calling out of hiding.
Miko, if you add me onto your year list, I will peck your eyes out!
Dragonfly 1
Dragonfly 2
Dragonfly 3
Dragonfly 4
Dragonfly 5
Dude, where's my tail?
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail