This month’s epistle comes to you during an interesting period. It may be difficult over the next few days to decide what sort of wearing apparel to face the day with. Temps are forecast to range from 100+ over the weekend to low 40s and 50s early in the week. (So I suppose it will be wise to keep everything from t-shirts to overcoats close at hand.) Nita’s sister called from Texas to say that their local news even mentioned the possibility of snow for Nebraska. You gotta love this place.
These past several days beginning September 1 have been busier than usual in the writing world. Many magazines and periodicals specify reading periods -- usually a few weeks long, often opening in February and September -- in which they invite submissions to their publications. Anything received outside of the prescribed windows is not read or considered. So, there is often a flurry of activity to submit emails dated 1 September or snail mail postmarked that date so that the material falls inside the boundary for consideration. I submitted a few things, more fiction than usual, to test the water with some publications I haven’t tried before.
I have previously mentioned one fiction piece titled “Doomsday 3.0” that I have been working on. Thanks to Jeanne Kern and Kathleen Rutledge for helping edit the first two drafts. It is has since gone through two more iterations. I received a couple of interesting comments back from earlier submissions, both were favorable regarding the writing but were, I think, reluctant to take on the subject matter. Given the climate of the times, I fully understand that reaction. The “tease” that accompanied several of the submissions follows below.
“The fiction story, Doomsday 3.0, uses current headlines as a backdrop. The 6,500 word story traces events which lead elected officials to designate a military officer to supplant the nation’s constitutional government. Amidst the chaos of an ongoing pandemic, growing protests and unrest, and a breakdown of civil order, the opposing party’s candidate for president is assassinated. With the nation in flames, congressional leaders call on an officer identified in existing plans that provide for the military to temporarily assume control when conditions in the country become so extreme that civil authorities are no long able to carry out their constitutional responsibilities. The events and the deliberations that lead to the anguished decision are brought to life as are the difficult preparations for the transfer of power and climactic meeting in the Oval Office.”
As I said, I understand the reluctance. I don’t know that the story will be chosen for publication. Whatever the outcome, I do feel better for having thought it through and putting the words on paper. We’ll see what happens.
An interesting thing happened while I was browsing through the local Barnes & Noble the other day. As I walked by a section showcasing recent releases I noticed one titled “Humans: A Brief History of How We (expletive deleted) It All Up.” Except that the expletive deleted was not totally deleted. The most interesting thing was that the author’s name was ‘Tom Phillips.’
That, dear reader, is not me. When I came home I Googled him up the guy. The Wikipedia spiel identifies him as a “journalist and humor editor based in London. He was the editorial director of BuzzFeed UK, where he divided his time between very serious reporting on important issues, and making jokes.” Another short bio mentions him as being “the editor of Full Fact, UK’s independent fact checking charity.”
The whole thing is kind of unusual because a couple of years ago there was confusion regarding a review of a book I had written. The reviewer seemed to have confused my book with the work of a British historian also named Thomas Phillips. As we discovered when we attempted to sort it out, there are at least two British authors who write under that name and a British poet who mostly uses ‘Tom Phillips.’ I mean what’s the deal? Who would have thought that a plain vanilla rural Nebraska name like Tom Phillips would be spread all over the landscape?
That led to the following excursion. Please feel free to tune it out if, as understandable, you’ve already lost interest. I went again went back to trusty Google to see how many more Tom Phillips persons there might be lurking out there. It’s incredible. You might consider checking out your name to see how many doppelgangers are floating around the planet. Among my other namesakes – in addition to those already noted – there are in the business world, the co-founder of “Spy” Magazine and the former chief executive of Mitsubishi Motors Australia. From a family of judges in Texas, there is a Thomas Phillips who for seventeen years was Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. My time stationed in San Antonio overlapped the first years of his tenure and when a controversial ruling came out I occasionally got kidded about it. The kidding was tough to respond to because after a few years there I was never convinced that a law degree in Texas required any knowledge of the Constitution.
In politics, there are ten names listed. They include three Congressmen, three members of the British Parliament, a British civil servant, a British diplomat, a Welsh mayor, and a Thomas Phillips (1560-1633) who was governor of county of Coleraine, near Londonderry in Northern Ireland. I am pretty sure there may be a genetic link with the governor. His major claim to fame was that he was the first to receive a license to distill whiskey. That would track closely with an uncle of mine who was known for the moonshine he brewed during the Prohibition Era.
In athletics seven names are listed under Thomas, Tom, or Tommy. They were involved in a variety of sports: ice hockey, automobile racing, wrestling, Australian football, rugby, and rowing (where, in 1979 a Thomas Phillips won a gold medal at the 1979 Rowing Championships). The one that was most interesting to me was a Tom Phillips identified as a major league baseball player. He was a pitcher. Incredible as it may seem for an over the top baseball geek, I had never heard of the guy. There is probably a reason for that. In the parts of the four seasons he played in the majors – 1915 with the St. Louis Browns, 1919 with Cleveland, and 1921-22 with the Washington Senators – his record was 8-12 and his ERA was 3.74. Not exactly all-star caliber, but still – the guy was a pitcher in the major leagues.
The seven remaining names listed under a catchall “Other” category are all British. Their professions were intelligence agent, military engineer, Jesuit biographer, founder of Llandovery College in Wales, antiquary and book collector, and pioneer of Welsh settlements in Brazil. The one name I recognized on this list was a British Admiral who shared my name. He was called Tom Thumb because of his small stature. His career was mostly as a desk admiral, though he helped with the evacuation of Dunkirk. He is most known to history as the commander who lost the British ships HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse to Japanese aircraft when ventured out without protective air cover in an attempt to slow the Japanese advance toward Singapore. Sir Tom went down with his flagship on December 10, 1941. He remains a somewhat controversial figure. The British aircraft carrier that conceivably could have provided air cover ran aground and was unable to join his flotilla. He did not call upon Australian aircraft available to help him because he did not wish to break radio silence. Some have defended his actions, while other historians note that he was known to be dismissive of the risks posed to capital ships by attacks from the air.
At any rate, Google lists 35 – thirty-five – Thomas, Tom, or Tommy Phillips in their rogue’s gallery. The famous phrase from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” came to mind as I was sorting through all of them: “Who are those guys?’ I suppose the most positive thing is that none were identified as having served prison terms, robbed banks, trafficked drugs, or disavowed Santa Claus. So … there is that -- although perhaps those names will be forthcoming on a different list.
Different subject: on August 18, I talked about the book “Battlefields of Nebraska” to a meeting of the Nebraska National Guard Association. The first story in the book is about a battle between a small Spanish army and Pawnee Indians (perhaps aided by French traders or soldiers) that took place near, of all places, present-day Columbus, Nebraska. The Spanish were defeated in the battle; for all intents and purposes the loss ended their claim to a substantial part of the North American continent. This year marked the 300th anniversary of “Villasur’s Expedition” as it was called, so there was a fair amount of publicity about the battle in local newspapers. The officials at the Guard Bureau did a good job with the schedule. My presentation took place 300 years and four days after the battle which occurred on August 14, 1720.
Well, that is more than enough for this time – although there should just barely be enough space left for a couple of the usual TRULY AWFUL PUNS. These are indeed bad. Please do not protest by rioting in the streets. There is already enough of that going on.
Pun #1: I was going to tell a carpentry joke but I didn’t think it woodwork.
Pun #2: A cheese factory exploded in France. The damage was awful: there was Da Brie everywhere.
I hope this finds everyone well. Stay safe and take care of each other.
Best wishes, always
My daughter Karen sent the following cartoon. We all could use a smile. Whatever your political views, I hope this will lighten your day.