Joseph E Bird

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July 2016


It was a Monday, the only truthful day of the week. All other days were liars. Only Monday told you how bad your life really was. It had been a long, gray winter, but that morning in March the sun filtered through the trees on the east bank of the Seneca River and tried to convince her that this Monday would be different. It was the twenty-ninth spring for Savannah Joyce and she would be nobody’s fool. Especially not Monday’s.

copyright 2004, joseph e bird

This is the opening of my first novel, Counsel of the Ungodly.


I jumped in my car the other day to head to a meeting and the radio was tuned to NPR, where local classical composer, Matt Jackfert, was hosting his classical music show. I caught the last few minutes of the third movement of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The music, while aptly named, is captivating. And when you know the story behind it, it’s even more moving.

Here’s Gorecki’s story:  Henryk Gorecki’s life.

Here’s the third movement:

Nothing else to say.

No Good Tree (4)

Lex sat on the sofa and drank his tea in three long gulps. He took small bites of his sandwich and picked at the potatoes as he watched the reports from astronomers and scientists from around the world. Their predictions varied a little, but the consensus still seemed to be that The Asteroid was on a collision course with Earth. No one could say for sure if it would be a direct hit or a glancing blow, but there was little detectable optimism coming from the scientific community. He could tell that most were trying to restrain themselves from declaring doomsday.

The report switched to Washington, where President Espinosa had orchestrated a teleconference with President Jianming of China and Russian President Medvedev, all of whom had promised an unprecedented cooperative effort to work together to solve the crisis.

“Rest assured,” President Espinosa offered, “the world’s superpowers will do whatever it takes to come up with a plan to divert The Asteroid. Time is on our side, but we can’t delay. That is why the best scientific minds, and the best military leaders, will convene next week at the United Nations in New York. President Jianming, President Medvedev, and I will be there to assure that no option is left on the table and that every possibility is explored. We will find an answer. We will solve this crisis. And as we set aside our differences and come together for the most important common cause in history, we will no doubt usher in a new era of cooperation and peace.”

He put his sandwich down. The gravity of the situation couldn’t have been more dramatically illustrated. If the President sought to reassure, he did just the opposite. As far as Alexander Knight was concerned, the situation was grave. By most accounts, he had ten years to live.

The news anchor continued. “Around the world the reaction to The Asteroid has been surprisingly calm. The predictions of chaos have been, for the most part, wrong. In some of the larger cities in the United States, there were brief moments of looting, but order was quickly restored, not only by the police, but by the general populace. There was a sense of pulling together, as shop owners and neighbors helped one another defend their properties. The same was true, more or less, in all of the world’s major cities. Jim Arula in Los Angeles has more.”

Becky pushed her father into the family room and then sat down next to Lex. She put her arm around his shoulders, then caressed his back as he leaned forward, elbows on his knees.

“Anything new?” she asked.

“Not really.”

“Is Wheel on yet?” Harley asked.

“It might not be on tonight,” Becky said. “Might be special coverage.”

“Damn meteor.”

“Asteroid,” Lex corrected.

“It’s not like the world’s going to end tomorrow,” Harley said.

Lex held up a hand to Harley. “Financial report. I want to hear this.”

“As you might expect,” the anchor said, “Wall Street didn’t like today’s news. The Dow closed down almost ten percent, the largest single day loss in the history of the Dow. Raul Gupta in New York has more.”

“Dan,” Raul began, “everyone knows that if there’s one thing investors don’t like, it’s uncertainty. The news today created the biggest cloud of uncertainty that mankind has ever known. Given that, it’s no wonder that stocks around the world plunged.”

“There goes our 401k,” said Lex.

“You’re not going to need it anyway,” Harley said.

Gupta continued. “Most investors I talked to today acknowledged the uncertainty and were not surprised by the record-setting sell-off. At the same time, they stress that in the investment world, ten years is what most analysts consider mid to long-term. A lot can happen between now and then, and the smart money will stay in the market, even buying bargains once the market hits bottom. As one broker told me, it’s really a no-brainer. If The Asteroid hits, it’s not going to make any difference whether you were in the market or not. But if it misses, and you’re out of the market, you will have lost out on what he predicts will be the biggest bull market ever.”

“Thanks, Raul,” the anchor said. “In an extraordinary move, all of the major stock markets of the world announced today that they would suspend trading for the rest of the week to provide a cooling off period for investors to gain perspective.”

“What do you think, Dr. Knight?” Lex asked Becky.

“By the time we’d be in a position to make any trades our portfolio will have taken a huge hit. When the markets open again, I’ll shift some things around, but that broker’s right. If we take it out, the losses become real and permanent. If we hang in there, we’ll enjoy the ride back up.”

“Provided there’s good news.”

“I’m not sure we necessarily need good news. I mean ten years is a long time. Most people can’t just quit their jobs. The ninety-nine percent will need some income and will probably keep investing. I think in the short-term, maybe for a couple of years, the market’s going to be down. But there are opportunities in down markets.”

Lex thought for a moment. “You know when you start back up this fall, you won’t be able to teach the same investment theory you’ve always taught. The thirty-year plan will be out the window.”

Harley laughed.

“I’ll have to think about that,” Becky said. “For sure, the emphasis is likely to change. But then again, you can’t rule out the possibility that the rock misses us.”

“Asteroid,” Harley said. “Oh, good. Wheel’s on.”

“Might be the thing that finally gets that show off the air,” Lex said. He picked up his plate and headed back to the kitchen. “I’m going to call J.J. Have you talked to him today?”

“No, I thought I’d wait on you this evening,” Becky said.

He put the phone on speaker and dialed J.J.’s number. He answered on the third ring.

“Hey, J.J. Your mom and I just wanted to check on you and see how you’re doing.
Things crazy down there?”

“It’s always crazy in Houston, Dad.”

“Any looting?”

“Oh, you know how it is. Some people will try to take advantage of a crisis situation. We had some of that in parts of the city. Downtown was fine, though. I mean, there was a lot of talk and people are on edge, but so far, nothing too bad.”

“What’s your read on the oil sector?” Becky asked.

“You’re on summer break, Mom. You’re supposed to be working in your garden.”

“Seriously, J.J.”

“Are you kidding? Nothing boosts the price of oil more than the world coming to an end. Boom times, Momma.”

“For now.”

“Yeah,” J.J. said. “We’ll have to see how it plays out.”

“How’s Aisha?” Lex asked.

“She’s a rock. Nothing phases her. Surviving Hurricane Anders made her strong.”

“How’s her family doing?”

“Generally, ok. Haven’t talked to them in a week so I don’t know how their handling this news. Odds are, they’re still focused on rebuilding.”

“They’re going to stay in New Orleans?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s home. How’s Grandpa?” J.J. asked.

“Watching Wheel of Fotune,” Lex answered.

“Of course.”

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

No Good Tree (3)

Chapter 1 – The First Week


He looked at the bright light in the sky and squinted. It was the third cut of the season, still early enough in the year that the smell of freshly-mowed grass gave him a sense of contentment. That life would go on after another long, cold winter when everything had been brown and gray and void of fragrance. Yesterday he had found joy in the green grass and the luminescent yellow tulips and the ever-warming, ever-bright sun. But that was yesterday.

He made the turn at the end of the yard and looked up to see his father-in-law sitting in his wheelchair on the front porch, looking in his direction. That didn’t necessarily mean Harley was watching him mow. Sometimes he just stared. By the time he had completed his third lap, he had stopped checking on Harley and was simply watching the blades of grass in front of him disappear under the front deck of the mower. It was one of the things he loved about mowing, the mindless labor that provided opportunity for contemplation. And there was much to contemplate.

He had tried to focus on his work all day, but news flashes kept showing up in his email, and two or three times every hour, he couldn’t resist the urge to check the news online. There was so much coverage, but very little new information.

All the news outlets had dropped the string of letters and numbers and simply referred to it as The Asteroid. The major networks were following the lead of NASA and downplaying the threat, focusing on the various theories to steer the deadly rock away from earth, illustrated with amazingly realistic computer-generated animations.

On the drive home, the radio talk show hosts were already politicizing The Asteroid, each party blaming the other for the budget cuts that had reduced NASA to a shadow of the program it had been in the sixties. Had The Asteroid been detected earlier, we would have a better chance, they argued.

He was halfway through the yard and for the first time that spring, he had worked up a sweat. As he made the turn back to the house, he saw that Harley was no longer on the porch. No doubt Becky had taken her father inside. He wondered if he knew. He wondered how he would react.

When he finished twenty minutes later, sweat was dripping off the end of his nose and he wiped his face on his arm. He glanced at his watch and saw that it was time for the evening news, so he pushed the mower to the garage and went into the house through the kitchen. Becky had sandwiches and fried potatoes setting on the kitchen table. Harley was already eating. Lex picked up his plate and glass of tea and went to the family room.

“Going to catch the news,” he said.

“There’s nothing new,” Becky said.

“Yeah, I know.”

Harley had started to take a bite of his sandwich, but stopped, holding it in front of his face, as he watched Lex come and go.

“He’s worried about that meteor, isn’t he?” Harley said.

“He’s not worried, Dad, he’s just interested. And it’s an asteroid, not a meteor.”

“Like it makes a difference.”

No Good Tree (2)

This is fiction.  For now.

Wednesday, 8:02 AM, EST

“This morning we have the latest on Asteroid 2013JM431. Some scientists are now saying that an Earth impact is near certain, putting the chances at better than fifty-fifty. NASA is denying those reports from independent astronomers, and further emphasizing their plans to alter the course of the asteroid. Others say that the idea that human intervention could alter the course of the massive asteroid is pure folly. Is this the doomsday rock that we’ve always feared? We begin this morning with Jim Arula at the Palomar Observatory in Pasadena, California.”

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

No Good Tree

This is fiction.  For now.

Tuesday, 6:31 PM, EST

“We begin tonight with breaking news from NASA. For more than three years now, scientists have been tracking a massive asteroid, officially known as Asteroid 2013JM431. At the time of its discovery, it was said to be in a near-earth orbit, but scientists also said it posed no direct threat to Earth. Astronomers announced today that, in fact, the asteroid appears to be on a more direct path with Earth. Although the asteroid is still ten years out, they have estimated that there is a one in ten chance of an Earth impact. Already, scientists are formulating plans to alter the path of the asteroid, and are confident that they can nudge it just enough to avoid disaster. For more, we go to Franklin McDavid at NASA.”

copyright 2016, joseph e bird


Ever notice my profile pic? Looks like I could break out in song on a moment’s notice, right? When I was still on Facebook, I had the same photo on my Facebook page. One day an old friend, a very accomplished musician, saw my picture, stopped by my office and invited me to join him and his friends for their jam sessions. Sounds cool. But just because I’m holding a guitar doesn’t mean I’m good enough to join in with real musicians.

I declined.

There’s a lesson in that little story.

There are lessons in all good stories, even stories that are completely made up. Fiction, in other words. In fiction, we meet people, get to know them, and learn from their mistakes. We feel their pain, rejoice in their victories. Kind of like life.

I’ve heard people say they only read stories that are real. They mean history, biographies, and reference and self-improvement books. All good and beneficial. But by skipping fiction altogether, they’re missing nourishment for the heart and soul.

Same with art. And music. And dance. And poetry. And other forms that engage the right side of the brain.

Relying on feelings too much can get is trouble. But we risk missing out on so much if we live only in logic and reason.

“We dance for laughter,
we dance for tears,
we dance for madness,
we dance for fears,
we dance for hopes,
we dance for screams,
we are the dancers,
we create the dreams.”  — attributed to Albert Einstein


I haven’t dropped any music lately, so let me tell you about two of my recent discoveries.

First is the Mahogany Sessions, stripped down acoustic music by various artists, mostly in a moody or melancholy style. It’s good for late-night listening or when you’re in one of those moods. This evening might be right.

There’s an interesting story about how I found out about Josh Garrels, but I’m not going to tell you right now. Here’s one of his songs from the Mahogany Sessions. Just put in your earbuds and groove to the vibe.

Is this really necessary?

Inculcateverb: to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions.

Socrates inculcated his pupils with the love of truth.

What a clunky word.  Sounds like a medical procedure. If you left off the last phrase of the example sentence, it would sound like Socrates had vision problems.

Socractes inculcated his pupils. 

Maybe he used eye-drops.

But he’s talking about the love of truth.

Love and truth. Two beautiful words. Noble concepts. What a better place the world would be with more love of truth. Or just more love, for that matter.

So let’s inculcate truth. Sounds like something politicians do all the time.

Let’s inculcate love. Yikes.

Why not use a word everybody understands?  One that has the same air of nobility as love and truth?

How about instill?

Socrates instilled his pupils with the love of truth.

I like that better.

The meaning is clear. The thought is uplifting.

Just because words are out there, doesn’t mean we have to use them.

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