My Debut Thriller — About al-Qaida 2.0 — to be Released on 9/11

Yes, it’s fiction, but my first novel, the thriller “Hell City,” just may foreshadow al-Qaida’s ability to pull off another “big one.” The book just might sound a wake-up call for a city (New York) and a country that largely has gone to sleep on the issue?

“A striking read that will leave you looking around the corner in fear,” writes Kirkus Reviews in a review of the novel.

A news release, announcing the 9/11 release date, went out yesterday nationwide.

Terrifying as today’s headlines, “Hell City” tumbles Gotham toward devastation yet again as it tracks the newest breed of jihadists bent on a major attack.

Beginning on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, the e-book edition of the novel will be available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. For now, I’m pricing the e-book at $0.99, to encourage new readers.

I will post regularly here on the novel — its backstory, its genesis, its characters. You can also “like” me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter for the latest news.

The Hot Ride

A heat bomb hit me when I slid into my Chevy today, a welcome rapture after an icy winter in upstate New York. It took me right back to the tireless Nash that was heaped among the weeds in my boyhood, nested among toads and copperheads in a bungalow colony in Peekskill.

A James Deanish boy named Leif was my summer partner in crime. He was the true grit country boy, I, the city kid learning the ropes. We were just short of teenage, and that mechanical skeleton was our rocket to the moon.

We sat in the stultifying July sun, hornets circling; our souls exulted from the dusty upholstery scents as we took turns behind the hot steering wheel, the battered speedometer feeding our imaginations. The cracked and crazed sheet metal became a time machine, taking us on far journeys through states that were as yet unknown. Our young hearts baked and burned. Turn after turn, we explored, escaped as if mapping out the rest of our lives.

I have no idea what happened to Leif after that summer. Year after year, my own soul baked on: in my father’s Studebaker, Dodge; in my first car, a 1948 Cadillac hearse. That black monolith took me to California and back twice, tracing every road I had imagined in that magical Nash.

It persists. I’ve since traveled the back roads of most states. My wife, Roxanne and I continue the journey every chance we get: Cross Creek, Savannah, New Orleans, Pueblo, Greensboro, Kansas City, Barstow, Staunton, Albuquerque. Somehow, it’s always just beginning, when the sun enwraps you behind the wheel.

America is in my blood, my bones, as evinced in my writing. Check out this raw reality in the video to my song “Miss America.”
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Catcher 22: Holden Caulfield Today

“The Catcher in the Rye” was as singular a novel as the voice of J.D. Salinger, who passed away on Thursday. To my generation – The Who, Woodstock and all that – it was the bible for the disaffected, misunderstood teenager, who was ready to flip from Peter Pan.

Of course, the flipping continued. After high school, there were new discoveries on the road, so to speak, to self-discovery: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Hemingway, Dylan, the Beatles, the Williamses (Tennessee and Hank), the Millers (Henry and Arthur), Lorca.

But today’s youth don’t have time for such protracted processes. As Jennifer Schuessler put it, writing in the New York Times last June:

Today’s pop culture heroes, it seems, are the nerds who conquer the world — like Harry (Potter) — not the beautiful losers who reject it.

Some critics say that if Holden is less popular these days, the fault lies with our own impatience with the idea of a lifelong quest for identity and meaning that Holden represents.

Since the 1980s, I’ve been saddened by the fast-track trajectory of college students. Pressure to choose a gilded career flattened any chance for soul searching during its ideal developmental period. No doubt many college students in recent times have bounced from major to major, from career to career, and have fallen under the wheels of life a few times. Yet something still seems lost in today’s culture.

Nevertheless, I’m convinced there’s something inherent in human nature that seeks its own inquisitive level despite the “so now” pressures and distractions of the times. Our three-year-old grandson, Russell is as spoiled with store-bought toys as many, but I was heartened to see that his favorite play thing of late is an empty chewing-gum box — the best gift his pappy ever gave him.

The soul lives on.
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Dems ‘Double’ Up on Racism

It would be comical if it weren’t sad, the transparent rationalization of Senator Harry Reid’s comments on the complexion of Barack Obama, the candidate.

I understand the president’s acceptance of the senator’s apology and his need to bar the White House door against a political tempest. But trying to explain away Reid’s choice of words as “inartful” does nothing more than put a ribbon on a rat.

Many influential African Americans have gone on the record in defense of Reid: CNN Political Analyst Roland Martin, PBS Editor and Senior Correspondent Gwen Ifill and John L. Jackson, Jr., author of Racial Paranoia. Furthermore, liberals galore – and I’m no conservative — are smugging up the joint. Case in point, Frank Rich, who writes in his Sunday column:

For all the hyperventilation in cable news land, this supposed racial brawl didn’t seem to generate any controversy whatsoever in what is known as the real world.

I suppose the “real world” would be rationalization nation, which, to me, is populated by hypocritical apologists.

Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, you’re focusing on trees: there’s a forest out there in them thar words. Shall I parse their highly charged meaning?

I’ll take a crack at it. Essentially, by saying Obama would work as a presidential candidate because he was light skinned and didn’t talk like those negroes (I exaggerate here to make a point) is racist pure and simple. You don’t have to be a linguist to read between these lines and their attendant implications. Turn the phrase around, and here’s what Reid is really saying: “I’m sure glad he doesn’t look real dark and talk, you know, real Negro.” Another words, this guy isn’t like those real dark black people who scare the pants off us white boys.

Exaggeration? If so, by how much. It’s all code, man, and we’ve all been around enough to know it. High-minded parsing can’t explain it away.

It’s a Democratic double standard, pure and simple. Maybe that’s why I became an independent long ago.

And, by the way, happy birthday, Martin Luther King.
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9/11 Redux: Intelligence Fails to I.D. Plot

Blame it on bureaucracy. Blame it on inter-agency culture wars. No matter, the ball dropping in the Flight 253 case is eerily similar to intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Flight 253 on the ground in Detroit.

This unfolding story is chilling. As reported in this today’s New York Times, the National Security Agency picked chatter from Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen outlining a terrorist attack involving a Nigerian man. But various intelligence agencies failed to put the pieces together and thwart Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s aerial act over the skies of Detroit.

Furthermore, agents at National Counterterrorism Center in Washington didn’t connect those National Security Agency dots, when Abdulmutallab’s prominent banker father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, made urgent appeals to U.S. State Department officials and the C.I.A. regarding his son’s radical intentions. According to the Times:

A family cousin quoted the father as warning officials from the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in Nigeria: “Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat.”

The cousin said: “They promised to look into it. They didn’t take him seriously.”

The new details help fill in the portrait of an intelligence breakdown in the months before Mr. Abdulmutallab boarded a plane in Amsterdam with the intent of blowing it up before landing in Detroit.

In some ways, the portrait bears a striking resemblance to the failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the billions of dollars spent over the last eight years to improve the intelligence flow and secret communications across the United States’ national security apparatus.

Unfortunately, these calamitous events have produced mostly political finger-pointing and posturing. And officials have rushed to save face by burdening innocent air travelers with a series of ridiculous security measures. It’s like closing the airport door after the bomber is out. The solution is simple: make the inter-agency intelligence system work. In fact, start by search any of the 550,000 on the broader watch list when they show up at an airport. Isn’t that better than overburdening tens of millions daily.

The Times’ Scott Shane did an analysis of these events as well, comparing the current events with those of Sept. 11:

The finger-pointing began in earnest on Wednesday over who in the alphabet soup of American security agencies knew what and when about the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up an airliner.

But the harshest spotlight fell on the very agency created to make sure intelligence dots were always connected: the National Counterterrorism Center. The crown jewel of intelligence reform after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the center was the hub whose mission was to unite every scrap of data on threats and suspects, to make sure an extremist like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be bomber, would never penetrate the United States’ defenses.

“It’s totally frustrating,” said Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the national Sept. 11 commission. “It’s almost like the words being used to describe what went wrong are exactly the same.”

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Homeland Security Homer Simpson Style

Here’s today’s terrorist watch-list quiz:

Create a “red flag” by combining any two of the following items regarding a potential terror suspect:

  • has no luggage
  • buys one-way ticket
  • pays cash for ticket
  • visa recently denied by Britain
  • prominent father reports son as potential terrorist to U.S. State Department
  • history traveling to Yemen

D’oh, and we have a winnah! It’s Homer Simpson. It’s also 99 percent of the American public and several classes of orangutans.

Yet the genius bureaucrats who clog up the works of our homeland security system all failed. The biggest loser: Janet Napolitano. She’s the master proctor for this exam, and she failed to even know how to grade it. As she told the Sunday morning talk circuit: “the system worked.” Her Monday morning backpedaling didn’t fill the bill either, and it took her boss’ eventual appearance at the podium to at least set the record straight, terming the homeland security affair a “systemic failure.”

For more coverage, check the following New York Times pieces: “Early Signs…” on today’s front page; today’s editorial on the subject; Clark Kent (no, not Superman) Ervin on the Op-Ed page; and, for laughs, master lampoonist Maureen Dowd who invokes cartoon logic to give perspective to these confounding events:

Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

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The War Wages on in the Media Biz

If there’s any doubt about the disarray and desperation afoot in the music business, just check out the Internet’s affect on the media business – music, print and broadcast – overall over the past decade. A recent article in the New York Times covers the waterfront on this issue quite well.

While the devastation of digital democracy vis-à-vis the Web made its first blitz through the belly of the music biz, the print media was next in line, and the battlefield there rivals Antietam.

As a journalist and PR man – in addition to my music career – I’ve felt the devastation first hand. I’m intimately involved in the newspaper field and have seen dozens of friends and colleagues tossed out on the street as media chains have filed Chapter 11 and newspapers large and small have folded. Some first class writers and photographers I know can’t get arrested in their field right now. Personally, it makes me sad. Professionally, it brings home the realities of what us music artists face as we search for a viable business model.

And it brings to mind post on Music Think Tank by Derek Sivers entitled “Unlearning.” In it, he claims everyone who says they know what the future music model is is simply “full of shit.” What’s significant about his colorful observation isn’t so much its tude as its truth.

Sivers has been around enough to know (even what he doesn’t). And his recent read on our industry resonates through the Times article cited above, from Rupert Murdoch’s shaky search-engine trial to the uncertain, even timid efforts of Time Inc. and the New York Times itself.

With the new decade upon us, we can only hope that a less bloody battlefield lies ahead.
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Turning the ‘Tide’ on Terrorism and Stupidity

The so called Tide list of some 550,000 wasn’t enough to detain — let alone stop — suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Flight 253 on Christmas Day as reported in the New York Times. The tip from his prominent banker father to U.S. Embassy officials wasn’t enough. And, as Britain’s Sunday Times reported, having his UK visa request refused this past May wasn’t enough either. Well, enough is enough.

The confounding practices surrounding information-sharing in the Abdulmutallab case are reminiscent of the ominous events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, when tips and red flags were bound in red tape.

To his credit, President Obama has called for an investigation of current practices regarding such lists as Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide), Terrorist Screening Data Base, no-fly, and selectee. To his discredit, the President has yet to step up to the podium to quell fears and set the record straight on mistakes behind the Flight 253 incident.

Certainly, the Sunday morning talk-show comments of Janet Napolitano and Robert Gibbs were laughable, and gave the impression of an administration that just doesn’t get it. Napolitano actually said, “the system worked.” It’s an insult to Americans’ intelligence that makes the administration look stupid, if not out of touch.

Rumors swirl that Obama will find a podium today or tomorrow. That would be smart, but regaining our “intelligence” is going to be an uphill slog following this Keystone Cops affair.
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Mr. President, You’re Flunking Crisis Management 101

Mr. President, you need to find a podium, and fast. Even college freshman in PR 101 know that major crises require transparency and truth, all from the mouth of the CEO, and pronto.

Sending Napolitano and Gibbs out on such a mission is a joke, plain and simple, and a recipe for PR, even political, disaster.

Napolitano on WABC-TV “This Week” this morning said some confounding things:

That Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on some list, but there was nothing else to indicate he was a threat. Oh yeah, how about his distinguished banker father who weeks ago told U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria that his son may be in the process of a terrorist act against the U.S.

Defying logic again, she had the gall to say: “everybody did what they were supposed to,” and that the government practices for exactly this type of event. Oh yeah! Even the commentator, Jake Tapper, to his credit, reminded her that the only folks who did what they were supposed to were the regular folks on that flight and the crew.

Robert Gibbs also buried the obvious failures in bureaucrat-speak about the alphabet-soup methodology of lists (i.e.: Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, Terrorist Screening Data Base, “no-fly,” and “selectee”).

Mark my words, the ham-handed handling of this historic event on behalf of the administration will go down in PR-blunder history along with Bhopal and Exxon Valdez. This will serve as a textbook example for instructors of crisis management who will use it to point out everything not to do.

And PR aside, just wait till Leno and Letterman take to their respective podiums this week.
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“Robert Frank’s The Americans” at the Metropolitan

I just saw the exhibit “Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’” — centered on the photographer’s seminal book by the same name  — on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through Jan. 3.

Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, Frank took pictures in Europe and South America during his early career, but it wasn’t until he crisscrossed the seductive roads of America that Frank felt he was finally making art with his lens. With his U.S. travels in the mid-1950s, his work reached a new level, and 83 of his road images were arranged into the book “The Americans.”

It’s no surprised that Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the first U.S. edition of “The Americans (1959).” It raised eyebrows in the media for its brute black and white candor. But “The Americans,” like Kerouac’s own masterwork, “On the Road,” opened the door to the loneness of the country’s heart and spirit and, together, they inspired a generation of artists, musicians and thinkers.

Robert Frank's "U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho"

It’s interesting how foreign image makers like Frank, Mechelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point,” 1970), Louis Malle (“Atlantic City,” 1980) are able to capture the essence of the land better than most native auteurs. In fact, with the stir made by “The Americans,” Frank was compared to America’s original outsider observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose 1835 book “Democracy in America” helped to define the young nation’s unique character (Is it what America brings to you or what you bring to her?).

I believe a great artist is a conduit for “place.” His subject somehow finds him, speaks through him. The artist ultimately “sees” through time as the French photographer Eugène Atget described it. I believe such artists also see through other dimensions, some of which elude us, some of which speak through intersections of light and shadow, artifact and art, quietude and cacophony, moment and mystery.

It’s hard to describe “The Americans.” Language could illuminate it, could degrade it. Perhaps it’s like the stuff of dreams, the magic of which begins to disappear upon transfer to the conscious mind. So much spills from the bucket on its ascent from that deep, dark well.

But I try. Actually, I thought poetry might somehow have a special access pass to the world within photography. So I offer up the following images from my forthcoming chapbook “America, I’ll Have My Way With You”:

I MISS YOU ALREADY AMERICA

I miss you already America
and you’re not even gone

leave me your messages
by the grimed phone booth
how you joke of the truth
hat tossed to eternity
leave me your hay bales
in the sweat hum of the field
waiting on farm hands
and wayward girls
leave me your Ford grillwork
idle at the company house
preaching at the two lane

leave me your truck’s whine
at the crossroads
singing that heaven
is elsewhere in the night
leave me your green trailer
singular at the corner
monument to guts
leave me your shag heart
dusting the television night
with boredom and blood

You might view the video of my song “Miss America,” too.

I was surprised and pleased to see Frank himself link the worlds of photography and poetry in his description of his work:

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.

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