There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
This epigraph appeared in John O’Hara’s book Appointment in Samarra, written by W. Somerset Maugham in 1933. O’Hara’s book was published in 1934. O’Hara was born in Pottsville Pennsylvania.
Probably so. According to the experts, physicists, scientists and folks working on fusion projects around the world. They’re estimating ten to fifteen years tops to have a fully functioning fusion plant capable of providing electricity. Now that’s no small fete.
Imagine capturing the same process that makes our sun burn brightly, and distant stars in the universe shine, able to be seen on earth. That’s right, nuclear fusion, 150 million degrees centigrade, which is the temperature of our sun. Humans are going to create it, manage it and make electricity. Whoa, you’re saying right now. You mean to tell me, we are going to create the surface of the sun, 150 million degrees centigrade, in a fusion plant and not burn a hole clear thru to the other side of China, along with melting everything within a hundred mile radius if not the entire planet.
In France a nuclear fusion experimental plant (ITER) is currently being constructed at Caderache, just northeast of the city of Aix. Over 100 thousand tons of concrete was poured to form five foot thick walls and floor, that will house the machine that will create and store the energy safely, that uses strong magnetic forces to keep the hot plasma, the byproduct of a mixture of deuterium and tritium, 150 million degrees centigrade, away from the walls. Make you feel better? Good news is we’ve already created fusion at other facilities in the world, and we have learned so much from these experiments, that allow us to build and safely operate a fusion plant. Still skeptical though, right? It’s the word nuclear, scares everybody.
Here’s the good news, nuclear fusion does not produce long lasting nuclear waste. It’s clean and green. And the real kicker, the neutrons from fusion are known to neutralize radioactive particles.
Now for the even better news, the fuel for fusion is abundant and inexpensive and available in nature. 30 million years of abundance available from the ocean, sea water. In my book The Red Serpent, an old man said to Michael du Maurier, Fusion will create the power to drive plants that can desalinate the ocean. It will alter barren climates, make the earth uniformly fertile, and alleviate hunger. It will power machines to create matter as needed. All this from one free universal substance. Water!”
Fusion is the answer to many of our worlds problems and it’s on it’s way. A gift from the universe, a bright star that has shined on this earth for a billion years. It keeps lighting our path in so many ways.
I did indeed. I don’t mean philosophy, psychology, or physiology. So what is philology anyway – an art or a science? Good question, because that is still a subject of debate.
The field of philology arose in the 1800s and, in turn, gave rise to the science of linguistics in the twentieth century. Actually, philology is the study of text reconstruction along with the translation of artifacts and manuscripts such as ancient scrolls or tablets – the things that might be found on archaeological digs.
When unearthed, these very delicate items are cataloged and perused for content to determine the identity, location, personality, culture, and historic period of the authors who wrote the texts and the scribes who copied them down. The condition of an artifact when found depends on how and where the item was originally stored as well as the longevity of the medium – such as animal skin or papyrus – that was being used at the time. By studying these variations, philologists can date and compare similar manuscripts to get a more pure translation. They can also isolate secret codes, such as peshers, that may have been used to disguise the actual content of a work for reasons dictated by what was going on in that particular geographic area at the time it was written.
Without the above considerations – and more – we would never be able to assemble a valid interpretation of the past. As Professor Serafina Valenti tells her graduate class in my book THE RED SERPENT, “That, students, is the essence of philology. It’s looking through a microscope that goes way back in time.”
God, it was a long time ago. 1966, if you really must know. There I was, along with three other cocky sailors in the Poinsettia Bar & Grill in Key West, tossing back a few cold ones. An older gentleman in a straw hat and Hawaiian shirt at the far end of the bar made a few stabs at joining our conversation, but we only acknowledged him with perfunctory nods and, for the most part, blithely ignored his contributions.
Rosie, our favorite bartender, motioned several times for us to pay attention to the old gentleman and, at one point, informed us that he had bought drinks for the four of us. Hearing this, we looked in his direction, raised our glasses, and smiled briefly (we weren’t totally ignorant) before diving back into our own self-absorbed world. When we glanced in his direction a little later, we could see the old gentleman was gone.
“You idiots,” Rosie exclaimed, walking over to us, “what is the matter with you? I’ve been trying to tell you guys that you were just treated to a round of drinks by JOHN STEINBECK!”
“What?” I shouted. “Why didn’t you say so?” I tore out of the bar and ran to the car to get my copy of Travels with Charley. Always the would-be writer, boy, did I ever want that author’s signature! I grabbed the book and ran up and down Poinsettia Avenue to see which doorway had swallowed up Steinbeck. Sadly, I couldn’t spot a trace.
I’d like to think that day taught me to be a little more observant of others and a lot more tuned in to what they say. According to my wife, however, I haven’t quite gotten there yet.
She’s been written about, sung about, served as a midnight muse for Owen Wilson, and hailed as the romance capital of the world. But nothing beats a first-hand encounter with the amazing City of Lights.
Having travelled to Paris on a number of occasions in the past, I found myself taking the Magic Lady for granted. Then a good friend, who happens to be a widower and was half-way through reading THE RED SERPENT, came to me raving about the descriptive passages in the book. “I was so surprised,” he said, “to find such visual stimulation in this book. Imagine reading a thriller and getting such a feel for the place that I want to go there! So I know where I’m heading next,” he exclaimed. “I’m going to France even if I have to go by myself!”
My friend went on to enumerate the exciting impressions that lingered in his mind: magical gardens; majestic museums; the ambiance of artsy cafés; aromas of chocolate and spice; and, of course, the legendary Seine.
Paris is but one of several areas in France graphically extolled in THE RED SERPENT. If you’ve never been there, the virtual visit could prompt you to hop the next plane to Orly or Charles de Gaulle. Those who’ve already had the pleasure tell me it’s inspired them to return.
It may be one of your favorite TV shows – the hilariously funny, ingeniously written sitcom about four nerdy scientists. But in a nutshell, the Big Bang Theory has some pretty awesome implications. NASA says, “The Big Bang Model is a broadly accepted theory for the origin and evolution of our universe, and claims that 12 to 14 billion years ago, the part of the universe we see today was only a few millimeters across.” Presumably, the first spark to set all this off was the recently isolated ‘god particle,’ a designation that makes many physicists cringe.
Divine intervention aside, Stephen Hawking feels the reaction would have happened anyway due to the law of gravity. “Because there is a law such as gravity,” Hawking writes, “the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”
While man may be on the brink of creating something out of nothing in the future, contemplating that today requires thinking WAY outside the box. How would the fulfillment of this hypothesis affect our daily lives? How would people handle the gift? How could it be disseminated in a peaceful and prosperous manner? The results could be as many and varied as your imagination can conjure up. In my book THE RED SERPENT, a ruthless battle of good and evil forces has waged over 5,000 years to capture these answers and control the kind of knowledge that can change civilization forever. How will it all end up?