Tuesday, January 31, 2012

USGS replies to information request about old survey marker near FC

Many of you will remember my Jan. 14 post in which I described a U.S. Geological Survey marker that’s a few feet from the dirt driveway that leads to my parents’ house outside Frisco City, Ala. I wrote the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey for more information about the marker and today I’m giving you an update on the interesting responses I received.

For those of you who didn’t read the original post, it mentioned that when I was a boy, my siblings and I used to sit and stand on this survey marker while waiting to catch the school bus. I can remember reading the curious marker hundreds of times as a child.

As things go, I got older and I hadn’t thought about that marker in a long time, that is, until recently when we took a family trip to my parents’ house for the holidays. I walked out to the marker with my kids and told them about how it was just part of the scenery during my bus-catching days.

The metal marker is encased in a small cement cube that’s fixed into the ground. Many of you have likely seen markers of this type because thousands of them have been placed around the country by the U.S. Department of the Interior over the centuries. I know of at least one other one, just off Conecuh County Road 15 in Belleville. Someone also told me that there’s one on top of the Overhead Bridge in Evergreen, but I haven’t personally walked up there (yet) to check it out.

These survey markers, which are sometimes called geodetic markers or benchmarks, are placed to mark key survey points on the earth’s surface and are used for land surveying purposes. The marker near my parents’ home was apparently placed there by surveyors I 1971, and the elevation there is 383 feet above sea level.

Beside this marker, there’s a metal sign on a post that reads as follows – “WITNESS POST – PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB NEARBY SURVEY MARKER – FOR INFORMATION WRITE TO THE DIRECTOR U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, WASHINGTON D.C. 20242”

I snapped a few pictures of the marker and on the ride home, I got to thinking about what sort of information I might receive if I were to actually write the USGS Director. So later, I did just that. What follows is the letter that I mailed on Jan. 12 in hopes that I could learn more about the marker.

----- 0 -----


Thurs., Jan. 12, 2012

Dr. Marcia McNutt
Director, U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Dr. McNutt,

Re: USGS Marker

I hope this message finds you doing well. I know that you are extremely busy, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter.

I’ve enclosed a few photos of a survey marker that’s near my parents’ house, just outside of Frisco City, Ala. When I was a kid, my siblings and I would often sit or stand on it while waiting for the school bus. I’ve always been curious about the significance of this marker, and while showing it to my children over the holidays, I noticed that it says to write the USGS Director for more information.

My children are elementary school age, and I would appreciate any information you could send us about this marker. I know they’d get a big kick out of it, and I have to admit that I’m curious as well.

I work for a newspaper in Evergreen, Ala., and I’ll probably write a short column based on the information you send back. I know there are other markers like this across the country, and I suspect that our local readers would enjoy reading about them.

In the end, I really appreciate you taking the time to read this letter and thanks in advance for whatever information you can provide.

Respectfully,
Lee Peacock

Enclosures (3)

----- 0 -----


When I mailed the letter, I really had no idea if I’d ever receive a reply. For all I knew they received letters like this all the time and didn’t have the time or manpower to respond to all of them.

Fast-forward to last Thursday, when I received a nice e-mail from Doug Thompson, the Chief of the Science Information Services branch of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Office of Communications and Publishing in Reston, Va. His e-mail read as follows:

----- 0 -----


Mr. Peacock,

Thank you contacting the USGS regarding the survey marker on your property. Information about benchmarks and other survey markers for the Eastern U.S. are kept in our Rolla, Mo. office. I have faxed your letter to our Rolla office and have called the office chief to let him know it's coming. You should hear back from him very soon, we all love to inform people about our agency and our science, particularly when it involves kids, you can't start them on a science track too soon.

If for some reason you do not hear back in a reasonable time please contact me directly, my contact information is below.

Cheers,
Doug

----- 0 -----


On Monday, I received a nice phone call at the office from Keith A. Brady, who works in the USGS’s Office of Communications and Publishing in Rolla, Missouri. We talked for nearly 20 minutes about the history of these survey markers, and he told me a lot I didn’t know. He talked about how the markers are vital to mapmaking, especially in regard to the establishment of elevation contour lines on topographical maps.

He also noted that the locations of these markers are indicated on official USGS maps and that they are typically located in places that are easily distinguished in aerial photos, such as along fencerows, heavily traveled roads, etc. You can download these maps at http://store.usgs.gov.

He also said that you can have a replica made of these markers by a company called MountainClimb’s Geo-Situ Summit Bench Marks. These replicas are somewhat expensive, but are popular among mountain climbers. Each replica is inscribed with the name and elevation of the marker and is made based on photos of the original.

I asked Brady if the USGS had an online database for people to search for information about individual markers and he jokingly replied that they had “a very sophisticated three-drawer filing cabinet database system that’s not currently accessible online.” He was good enough to dig into their records and sent me the following information about the marker near my parents’ home. Here’s what it said:

“FRISCO CITY POST OFFICE, 2.1 MI SOUTH OF, ALONG STATE HIGHWAY 21, THENCE 2.9 MI WEST, THENCE 0.6 MI NORTHWEST; 70 FT NORTH OF, AND 0.9 FT HIGHER THAN CENTERLINE OF ROAD AT DRIVE NORTHWEST; 24 FT NORTHEAST OF CENTERLINE OF DRIVE; 11 FT EAST OF POWER POLE; 1 FT WEST OF FENCE; 0.5 FT WEST OF METAL WITNESS POST; IN CONCRETE POST; STANDARD TABLET STAMPED "91 RAP 1971 383" PAINTED "BM 382.6" 382.545 FEET (DATUM OF 1929)”

In the end, I appreciate Brady and Thompson taking the time to reply to my information request. They both seemed eager to share information about the services offered by the USGS, and it was fun to gather more detailed information about a marker that I used to sit on while waiting to catch the school bus.

How many of you out there are familiar with these markers? Do you know of any in your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments section below.

Daily Weather Observations for Tues., Jan. 31, 2012

Temp: 47.7 degrees F (8.7 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.0 inches.

Humidity: 60 percent (Normal)

Conditions: Mostly Cloudy.

Winds: Winds out of the East-Southeast.

Barometric Pressure: 29.85 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 0.0 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

NOTE: 41st day of Winter. First Quarter Moon. Last day of the deer and woodcock hunting seasons.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Monday, January 30, 2012

FICTION - Eli McMorn and The Tunnel - Part IV

I was on my back, and Stewart was on top of me. I was overpowered by his strength, and he held me down with ease. He hissed once more like an angry cat and flashed his razor-sharp fangs. The display jolted my brain into action. Moments before, when he threw me across the tunnel and onto my back, I’d dropped my flashlight, but not my gun.

Stewart grabbed the side of my head with powerful hands and turned it to the side to expose the flesh of my neck. He was straddling me and my left hand was pinned, but my right hand held the gun. He lowered his mouth to my throat, and that’s when I fired all six shots into his stomach.

The muffled shots were loud in the tunnel, and Stewart yowled in pain. He clutched his stomach, rose and staggered back. A wound like that would have killed or disabled any normal man, but Stewart regrouped quickly. My flashlight had come to rest only a few feet away, so rolled toward it and picked it up.

I trained its beam on Stewart in time to see him approaching with bloody, outstretched hands. His fingers looked like claws, and his mouth was a fang-filled hole. It was then that I remembered that there was an old fashioned pistol inside of Stewart’s camera bag.

I could see the bag behind Stewart, and in desperation, I switched off the flashlight. Next, I threw the empty handgun to Stewart’s left to make him think that I’d ran in that direction. I then bolted around his right side for the bag. I heard him grab for me despite the complete darkness, but he missed when I slipped headlong in the guano that covered the tunnel’s floor.

I recovered quickly and bear-crawled toward the camera bag. Stewart grabbed the tail of my jacket, pulled hard and the jacket came half way off my shoulders. I lunged for the bag and reached for it with my free hand. In the same instant, I turned on the light, and Stewart protested with a loud hiss.

I saw the gun inside, and my guts turned to ice water when I considered that it might be empty. I lunged again, but Stewart yanked me back hard. I clutched at the bag, and it turned over. Its contents went everywhere, and I caught a glimpse of the gun falling into the shadows on the other side of the tracks.

Stewart stood over me then with the tail of my jacket in my hands. Almost as if he meant to yank me to my feet, he jerked back hard, so hard in fact that he pulled the coat completely off my back. By some miracle, I held on to the flashlight. How it didn’t come out of my hand when it passed through the jacket’s sleeve, I’ll never know.

A moment of confusion ensued, and I made another attempt for the gun. I scrambled in the muck and over the tracks. The beam of the flashlight fell on the gun, and I snatched it up. A brief glimpse at the gun told me that its muzzle was packed with guano and filth, but there was no time to clean it.

I spun and pulled the trigger. I half expected to hear the impotent click of the hammer against the firing pin, but instead the small gun roared in my hand. The flashlight in my left hand shook, but I could still see where the round punctuated Stewart’s shirt in the center of his chest.

Stewart yowled and smoke began to issue from the wound. He tore at it with his claws and continued forward. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I unloaded the weapon into Stewart’s looming form. In all, I fired five shots. The sixth misfired even when I pulled the trigger two more times.

Stewart stopped his advance and dropped to his knees. I backed up and watched as smoke billowed from his wounds. Snorting great breaths from his nose, like an injured bull, he ignored me and tried to remove the rounds from his chest with his long fingernails. In the brief time that I watched, he dug into one of the wounds and removed a silver-colored slug. He even inspected it briefly, holding it between his gore-covered index finger and thumb. The bullet was badly misshapened, and caused his fingers to burn and smoke.

He discarded it and tried to remove another one. That’s when it dawned on me that my only real chance of survival was to run. I switched off the flashlight again and ran to the opposite side of the tunnel. I hoped to avoid him and run for the entrance. Klutch’s patrol car was a mile or so back down the tracks at the railroad crossing on Tunnel Road.

Just as I passed Stewart, I heard a great rustle of clothes as he jumped to his feet and began to chase me. Another rustling sound came to my ears, and I realized much too late that it was the sound of my boots wrapping up in the jacket that Stewart had torn from my back only moments before.

I went down hard, and the side of my head struck hard against one of the grimy, iron tracks. A wave of nausea swept over me as I almost passed out. Again, I’d held on to my flashlight somehow, and I switched it on as I flipped onto my back. I was exhausted and had little strength to resist when Stewart attacked me seconds later.

He straddled me and this time, he pinned both of my arms under his knees and legs. I dropped my flashlight, but could see in the ambient glow the smoke still issuing from the bullet wounds in his chest.

Once more, he gripped my head with both hands and turned it to expose the side of my throat. He flashed his fangs and hissed as he began to move in for the kill. Suddenly, there was a noise from close by, and Stewart rose slightly and half-turned in reaction to the sound. His eyes went wide though in the next instant when a great wooden stake penetrated the front of his shirt.

A great fount of stinking, putrid gore flowed from the wound and in the half-light, I saw one of the smoking slugs fall from the fresh wound caused by the wooden stake. Stewart was bolt upright, and his eyes seemed empty as he examined the large piece of wood that was lodged in his chest.

I pushed him off with one great shove and he fell to the side. Behind him, illuminated in the eerie glow of my flashlight was Detective Klutch. His broad shoulders heaved up and down as he tried to catch his breath. In his left hand, he held another wooden stake and in his right was the mallet I’d seen earlier in Stewart’s camera bag.

I got to my feet and picked up the flashlight. We stood over Stewart’s body for a minute or so and watched him. He gurgled now and again, and eventually Klutch threw down the mallet and stake. “Go and get your camera,” he said. He pulled another flashlight from his jacket and switched it on as I set off down the tunnel in search of my digital camera.

I found it several hundred feet back. As luck would have it, I’d somehow managed to drop it earlier in one of the few spots in the tunnel that wasn’t covered by either water or guano. I picked it up and brushed it off. “Hurry up, McMorn!” Klutch yelled. “Something’s happening.”

I shouldered my camera and set off back in his direction in a jog. I came around the bend of the tunnel and saw Klutch looking back. “Hurry up and get some pictures,” he said. I looked down and saw that something strange was happening to Stewart’s body. It seemed to be breaking down or liquefying somehow. I snapped picture after picture with my camera as thin tendrils of smoke began to rise from his clothes and skin.

Five minutes later, there was nothing left of his body, only his clothes, and they were badly damaged. His clothes looked rotten, as if they’d been buried in a hot, jungle cemetery for a decade or so. “You got shots of all that?” Klutch asked.

“Yeah, I’d say 50 or 60.”

“Good, because nobody’s going to believe us without those pics.”

We walked back to his car, and he drove us to his office in the basement of the Claiborne Police Station. There, we downloaded the pictures from my camera onto Klutch’s desktop computer. None of them turned out. Those of Stewart’s body were either blurred or pixilated. Klutch told me to go home and get a shower. He never mentioned that night to me again, and as far as I know, Stewart’s disappearance remains an active missing persons case.

Yesterday's News from The Evergreen Courant - Jan. 30, 2012

24 YEARS AGO
JAN. 28, 1988

“Mrs. Hugh ‘Dot’ Mason was one of those instrumental in getting this historical marker placed at the site of the ‘Old Flag Tree,’ a landmark of 19th century near Old Town (turn left at Old Town Baptist Church). The site is on the old original Stallworth property on the original Sparta Road from Travis Bridge to Old Sparta. The Flag Tree was at the site of an Indian battleground and was distinctive as all of the branches on one side had been torn away causing the tree to look like a flag from a distance. It was last known standing in 1912. About 1/4-mile down the road stands the old home of the late William Thomas and Pearl Stallworth Mason and the home of the late Ralph, Author, Carl and Hugh Mason. The property is presently owned by The McMillan Co. of Brewton and Ed Leigh McMillan II gave permission to place this marker.”

“Mrs. Emily Brogden welcomes Mrs. Armelia Oliver, a new program assistant, to Conecuh County Extension Servie. Mrs. Oliver will be responsible for teaching nutrition to pregnant mothers, both adults and teenagers. Through this program it is hoped to improve the health of infants and reduce the infant mortality rate in Conecuh County.”

“LaKenya Mitchell was first place winner in the Southside Elementary School Spelling Bee held Jan. 20. She is in Mrs. Bodiford’s fourth grade class. Shimeka McCreary was the alternate winner. She is in Mrs. Richardson’s fifth grade class.”

39 YEARS AGO
JAN. 25, 1973

“Irby F. Thomas of Rt. C Evergreen holds what he says is a ‘bezeal’ or ‘mad’ stone. He is 69 and says the stone has been in his family as long as he can remember. It is supposed to have come from a reindeer’s stomach and the old timers said if a person was bitten by a rabid dog, the stone could be put on the wound and would draw the poison out. The stone is acorn-shaped, brown with a lighter tip.”

“Sparta chooses Miss and Mr. SA: Last Thursday, the students of Sparta Academy elected Mr. and Miss SA. Miss Sharron Windham, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Moye Windham, was chosen Miss SA. Gary McInvale, son of Mr. and Mrs. David McInvale, was elected Mr. SA. Ten candidates from the senior class were nominated by the faculty according to character. The students then voted for the candidates that they thought best represented the school.”

“Down she goes! This old frame warehouse building behind Wild Brothers Hardware Co. on Court Street came tumbling down this week. Here workmen peel off the tin roof prior to razing the building. The old building is being replaced by a modern steel warehouse erected for Wild Bros. by Commercial Buildings Steel Co. of Mobile.”

“Navy Petty Officer Third Class Larry L. Andrews, son of Roland Andrews of Rt. D, Evergreen, is in the Western Pacific aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise.
“Recently, the Big ‘E’ made her first visit in four years to Hong Kong, where her crew spent seven days relaxing, shopping and enjoying the many exotic sites of this Crown Colony.”

54 YEARS AGO
JAN. 23, 1958

“A fire swept through a warehouse on Carey Street Tuesday afternoon causing damage estimated at about $15,000. The blaze was thought to have been started from a trash fire burning near the building.
“The building belonged to Mrs. Rube Millsap Jr. and was being used for storage by the Steven Robert Corp., local drapery manufacturing plant.”

“The Evergreen Chamber of Commerce will hold its fourth annual banquet tonight at the Evergreen High School Lunchroom, according to President Lawton Kamplain who will preside over the meeting.
“Pleas Looney, former head of the State Industrial Development Board, will be the featured speaker.”

“Alabama February Call To Beckon 336 Youths: State Selective Service Director James W. ‘Jimmie’ Jones said today that 336 Alabamians would be the state’s share of a national quota of 13,000 men. Conecuh will call four men.”

“Conecuh Representative R.G. ‘Bob’ Kendall Jr. formally announced this week that at the proper time he will qualify to run for the office of State Senator from the 17th District. Rep. Kendall said that he would qualify for the office shortly after the state and county Democratic Executive Committees meet.
“The 17th District is composed of Butler, Covington and Conecuh counties.”

69 YEARS AGO
JAN. 28, 1943

“Frisco City’s Founder Dies Early Saturday: FRISCO CITY, Ala. – The Rev. James W. Jones, one of south Alabama’s best known citizens, died here Saturday at the age of 85 years.
“He was founder and pioneer citizen of Frisco City, which formerly was known as Jones Mill, and in more than 50 years devoted to the ministry throughout Alabama, Florida and Georgia was the spiritual leader and friend of hosts of persons. He was a moderator of the Antioch Primitive Baptist Association for 45 consecutive years and until his death.
“During the first World War, four of his sons were in the Army. At the present time, he has nine grandsons in the service of their country.
“Mr. Jones served Monroe County, Ala. as a member of the Board of Revenue and jury commissioners. He represented the county in the state legislature during the session of 1901, and again during the session of 1911. For several years, he was a trustee of the State Teachers’ College at Troy.”

“Ten Die In Crash Near Flomaton: MOBILE, Jan. 27 – Brig. Gen. Carlyle H. Wash, 53, whose career of more than a quarter of a century as a flying officer spanned many posts of high command, was killed with nine other airmen in the flaming crash of their plane a few miles east of here yesterday.
“The ship, a twin-motored Army transport, plunged into a wooded area seven miles from Flomaton, Ala., near the Florida-Alabama line during a heavy rainstorm.”

84 YEARS AGO
JAN. 26. 1928

“Edward L. Potts, who lives near Owassa, in this county, is making formal announcement in this issue of The Courant of his candidacy for Circuit Clerk of Conecuh County.”

“Tax Collector J.R. Kelley asks that those who are subject to pay poll tax and have not already done so, bear in mind that Wed., Feb. 1, is the last day upon which this tax may be paid. If you want to participate in the important elections to be held this year, take advantage of the few days left to discharge this requirement.”

“RABID PUP BITES 9 PERSONS HERE: Six months old pup belonging to the family of Knud Nielsen bit nine persons here last week, before dying sometime Friday. The head was carried to Montgomery Saturday and upon test showed rabies.
“Those who were bitten and are now taking treatment are: Mr. and Mrs. Knud Nielsen and children, Valgurta and Knud Jr., Mr. Julius Nielsen, Mrs. J.O. Stapp, Ruth Moorer, Lamar Moorer Jr. and Juanita Yeoman.”

“Monday morning found the Western Union Telegraph office in its new quarters located between O.C. McGehee’s and the Arcade Theater on West Front Street. The pretty little building occupied was constructed by Mr. W.M. Newton and is well finished inside and out. The new office provides much more room and in many ways is an improvement over the small office formerly occupied in the front of the post office building.”

Daily Weather Observations for Mon., Jan. 30, 2012

Temp: 37.9 degrees F (3.3 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.0 inches.

Humidity: 65 percent (Normal)

Conditions: Clear with trace clouds.

Winds: Calm.

Barometric Pressure: 29.94 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 0.0 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

NOTE: 40th day of Winter. Southwest Alabama is also under a Fire Weather Warning from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Jet contrail also visible this morning. Frost on ground and vehicles.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

'Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor' book appears on best-sellers list


It’s Sunday, so that means that it’s time for my weekly review of this week’s Publishers Weekly Best-Seller List. According to the list, there are three new books at the top of the four major best-sellers lists this week.

"Private: Number 1 Suspect" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro replaced "Believing the Lie" by Elizabeth George as the No. 1 book on the hardcover fiction best-sellers list.

"Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America" by Mark R. Levin replaced "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History" by Chris Kyle, Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen as the top book on the hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer replaced "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson as the No. 1 book on the trade paperbacks best-sellers list.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson remained the top book on the mass market paperback best-sellers list.

There are four books on this week’s hardcover fiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They (along with their place on the list) include "Death of Kings: A Novel" by Bernard Cornwell (2), "Raylan: A Novel" by Elmore Leaonard (7), "The Rope: An Anna Pigeon Novel" by Nevada Barr (9) and "Shadows in Flight" by Orson Scott Card (10).

There are three books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America" by Mark R. Levin (1), "The End of Illness' by David Agus (3) and "The Psychology of Wealth: Understand Your Relationship with Money and Achieve Prosperity" by Charles L. Richards (5).

There are three books on this week’s mass market paperbacks best-sellers list that weren’t on that list last week. They include "Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor" by Dick Couch and George Galdorisi (10), "On Lavender Lane: A Shelter Bay Novel" by JoAnn Ross (12) and "A Storm of Swords" by George R.R. Martin (15).

There are two books on this week’s trade paperbacks best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander and Cornel West (12) and "Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--Turned Its Back on the Middle Class" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (15).

As a reminder, I’m posting these lists each Sunday because they, as a whole, represent a great, contemporary recommended reading list. These lists are initially released each week on Thursday, and if you’re interested in reading them then, visit Publishers Weekly’s Web site at www.publishersweekly.com. Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "Private: Number 1 Suspect" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
2. "Death of Kings: A Novel" by Bernard Cornwell
3. "Believing the Lie" by Elizabeth George
4. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
5. "Death Comes to Pemberley" by P.D. James
6. "11/22/63" by Stephen King
7. "Raylan: A Novel" by Elmore Leaonard
8. "The Litigators" by John Grisham
9. "The Rope: An Anna Pigeon Novel" by Nevada Barr
10. "Shadows in Flight" by Orson Scott Card
11. "Gideon's Corpse" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
12. "Star Wars: Darth Plagueis" by James Luceno
13. "Locked On" by Tom Clancy and Mark Greany
14. "The Best of Me" by Nicholas Sparks
15. "Love in a Nutshell" by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America" by Mark R. Levin
2. "American Sniper" by Chris Kyle, Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen
3. "The End of Illness' by David Agus
4. "Steve Jobs: A Biography" by Walter Isaacson
5. "The Psychology of Wealth" by Charles L. Richards
6. "Killing Lincoln" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
7. "Through My Eyes" by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker
8. "Taking People with You" by David Novak
9. "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand
10. "Deliciously G-Free" by Elisabeth Hasselbeck
11. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman
12. "The Obamas" by Jodi Kantor
13. "The 17 Day Diet" by Dr. Mike Moreno
14. "Sexperiment" by Ed Young and Lisa Young
15. "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch" by Sally Bedell Smith

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
3. "The Jefferson Key" by Steve Berry
4. "The Sentry" by Robert Crais
5. "Hidden Summit" by Robyn Carr
6. "You...Again" by Debbie Macomber
7. "Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel" by Steve Martini
8. "A Game of Thrones' by George R.R. Martin
9. "Minding Frankie" by Maeve Binchy
10. "Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor" by Dick Couch and George Galdorisi
11. "Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evanovich
12. "On Lavender lane: A shelter Bay Novel" by JoAnn Ross
13. "Skeleton Coast" by Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul
14. "Spirit Bound" by Christine Feehan
15. "A Storm of Swords" by George R.R. Martin

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer
2. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
3. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
4. "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo, Colton Burpo and Lynn Vincent
5. "Bossypants" by Tina Fey
6. "The Tiger's Wife: A Novel" by Tea Obreht
7. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
8. "Assholes Finish First" by Tucker Max
9. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A George Smiley Novel" by John LeCarre
10. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
11. "10th Anniversary" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
12. "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander and Cornel West
13. "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell
14. "Night Road" Kristin Hannah
15. "Winner-Take-AllPolitics" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of these books. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Daily Weather Observations for Sun., Jan. 29, 2012

Temp: 34.9 degrees F (1.6 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.0 inches.

Humidity: 68 percent (Normal)

Conditions: Clear with a few thin, trace clouds in the east, southeast.

Winds: Winds out of the North-Northwest.

Barometric Pressure: 29.96 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 1.8 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

NOTE: 39th day of Winter. Today is also the last day of the duck and goose hunting seasons in Alabama. Southwest Alabama is also under a Fire Weather Warning from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Del Torro's 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' was a good, creepy thriller

I watched a horror movie the other day that I’ve wanted to see for a while, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” and I was more than a little pleased by the overall quality of this movie. If you like a good, creepy thriller, you should check this one out.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is about a young girl named Sally, who moves from California to live with her father and his girlfriend in Rhode Island. Her father is remodeling their home, which is a huge, old Victorian mansion that was originally owned by a famous wildlife painter. The painter vanished without a trace under mysterious circumstances and when Sally arrives on the scene she accidentally releases a host of murderous “tooth fairies” who were imprisoned deep beneath the house.

My biggest reason for wanting to see this movie was because it was co-written by Guillermo del Torro, who directed both “Hellboy” movies. Many of you who saw “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” will remember the “tooth fairies” in that film. The creatures in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” are similar to those except they don’t have wings and are arguably of nastier disposition.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” was released in August of last year and was directed by Troy Nixen, who is also a famous comic book artist and writer. Matthew Robbins and del Toro wrote the screenplay, and the cast included Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Nicholas Bell, Julie Blake, Alan Dale, James Mackay, Garry McDonald, Edwina Ritchard and Jack Thompson.

I loved that this movie also referenced Welsh author Arthur Machen. When Holmes’ character visits the local library to investigate the disappearance of the mansion’s former owner, Machen’s stories are mentioned specifically by the librarian in regard to the origin of the “tooth fairies.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with Machen, his stories are awesome, especially “The Hill of Dreams.”

Machen was also a huge influence on horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and I thought that it was interesting that the movie was set in Rhode Island, which is Lovecraft’s native state. Del Toro is a huge Lovecraft fan and there has been talk of him directing a long overdue movie version of Lovecraft’s famous novel, “At the Mountains of Madness.” “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” also had a similar plot to a famous Lovecraft story called, “The Rats in the Walls.”

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” also reminded me of Joe Hill’s recent “Locke & Key” graphic novel series. The “Locke & Key” series by Hill, aka Stephen King’s son, is set in a mysterious, old country mansion called “Keyhouse,” which is located in the fictional town of Lovecraft, Mass.

In the end, I enjoyed “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and would recommend it to any horror fans in the reading audience. How many of you have had the chance to watch this movie? What did you think about it? Did you like it or dislike it? Why? Let us know in the comments section below.

For more information about “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” visit its official Web site at www.dontbeafraidofthedark.com.

Daily Weather Observations for Sat., Jan. 28, 2012

Temp: 41.0 degrees F (5.0 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.0 inches.

Humidity: 75 percent (Humid)

Conditions: Clear.

Winds: Calm.

Barometric Pressure: 29.72 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 1.8 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

NOTE: 38th day of Winter. Ground still very wet after rains day before yesterday. Light frost also seen on top of house and some spots on the ground.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Friday, January 27, 2012

'Forgotten Tales of Alabama' is full of entertaining legends and lore

If you enjoy reading about ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle, then I invite you to check out a great book called “Forgotten Tales of Alabama” by Kelly Kazek.

Published in September 2010 by The History Press, this 190-page book includes more than a few bizarre and entertaining “tales that have existed only in rumor, anecdote, legend and lore.” The book is illustrated by Kyle McQueen.

Kazek’s name may sound familiar to many of you. A few weeks ago, around Christmas time, you may have seen a review in this space of her recently published book, “Christmas Tales of Alabama.” That book was really good and so was “Forgotten Tales of Alabama.”

Kazek lives in Madison and serves as the managing editor of The News-Courier newspaper in Athens. In more than 20 years as a journalist, she’s won more than 130 national and state press awards.

Stories in “Forgotten Tales of Alabama” feature an entertaining mix of tales, and are divided into five categories – Colorful Characters, Strange Sites, Intriguing Incidents, Tombstone Tales and Curious Creatures and Odd Occurrences.

I especially liked the chapter in which Kazek details a number of famous UFO reports from over the years and from across the state. These reports include a famous Feb. 11, 1989 case in which more than 50 Fyffe residents, including several police officers, reported seeing UFOs. The mysterious triangle or crescent-shaped objects were seen flying overhead, and reportedly didn’t make any sounds. Others say the UFOs were shaped like bananas, while others said they were lined with green lights.

The story was eventually reported by hundreds of news outlets around the world, and the incident was never fully explained. Fyffe’s residents took it all in stride, and they now hold an annual event called the Fyffe UFO Days, which features a hot air balloon festival.

I also liked the portions of Kazek’s book that discussed mysterious creatures like the Coaling Bigfoot, the Red-Eyed Gargoyle of Selma, Huggin’ Molly, the Alabama White Thing and the Wolf Woman of Mobile.

The most intriguing and unusual of these is the story of the Alabama White Thing, sightings of which have been reported since the 1940s in Morgan, Etowah and Jefferson counties. Witnesses say that this creature is seven feet tall and covered in solid, white hair. It’s sometimes described as having no eyes or ears. Other says that it moves extremely quickly and makes an eerie screech like a woman screaming or a panther.

In the end, I really enjoyed Kazek’s book, and I highly recommend it to anyone in the reading audience who’s interested in reading farfetched and unusual tales from within Alabama’s borders. If you like books like “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” by Kathryn Tucker Windham, you’re sure to enjoy “Forgotten Tales of Alabama.”

You might also want to check out some of Kazek’s other books. They include “Christmas Tales of Alabama,” “Fairly Odd Mother: Musings of a Slightly Off Southern Mom,” “Hidden History of Auburn,” “Forgotten Tales of Alabama,” “Forgotten Tales of Tennessee,” “A History of Alabama’s Deadliest Tornadoes: Disaster in Dixie,” and “Images of America: Athens and Limestone County.”

Daily Weather Observations for Fri., Jan. 27, 2012

Temp: 50.4 degrees F (10.2 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 1.2 inches.

Humidity: 75 percent (Humid)

Conditions: Mostly Clear with a few scattered clouds.

Winds: Winds out of the Northwest.

Barometric Pressure: 29.53 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 1.8 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 5.2 inches

NOTE: 37th day of Winter. Ground still very wet after yesterday's rains.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

'Mystery Booms' continue this week in Conecuh, Monroe and Clarke counties

Another round of “mystery booms” were reported during the past week in Conecuh, Monroe and Clarke counties and while many theories have circulated about the cause of these ongoing noises, no one has come forward with a definite answer.

Several witnesses, including Courant employee Kristie Garner, reported hearing an extremely loud, unexplained “boom” last Thursday around 7 p.m.

“It seemed like three separate booms,” Garner said. “When the first one started, I thought, ‘Is that thunder?’ But then it kept going and finally stopped. (It) happened one or two more times. I finally went outside to hear better, but it had stopped. It was creepy.”

Witnesses also heard the noises in Monroe County and as far away as Grove Hill.

Jim Cox, the publisher of the Clarke County Democrat in Grove Hill and South Alabamian newspaper in Jackson, told The Courant this week that the booms were heard in Clarke County around 6 p.m. last Thursday.

“Several long and repeated booms rattled the windows and shook the dishes,” he said. “I opened a yard gate about the time one hit, and my black lab was out the gate and gone. It took an hour to get him back in.”

Last Thursday’s reports of the unexplained “booms” come just over two months after a similar unexplained noise that occurred around 11:33 p.m. on Nov. 18. That noise was heard over a wide area in western Conecuh County and eastern Monroe County. On that occasion, the noise was heard by witnesses from Repton to Monroeville and as far south as Goodway and Wildfork in Monroe County.

The noises have been heard on multiple occasions by scores of witnesses since Nov. 18 and have also been reported in The Monroe Journal newspaper in Monroeville.

Theories about the possible causes of the unexplained sounds vary and include the off-burning of oil rigs, seismographic testing, high-speed naval aircraft, UFOs and meteorites. Or it could be the work of a handful of brave pranksters who are setting off homemade cannons or other explosive devices. No evidence has been found to support any of those theories. One man suggested that the noises are being caused by individuals setting off explosives to destroy beaver dams on private property.

One new theory that has been proposed this week is that the noises are “brontides,” which are unexplained deep, booming noises that are often associated with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Episodes of these explosive noises of natural origin have been well documented often in association with seismic activity and in a few cases as precursors of major earthquakes.

Could southwest Alabama be headed for a major earthquake?

The idea may not sound so farfetched when you consider that there have been an increasing number of recorded earthquakes in southwest Alabama, according to state emergency management officials.

According to “Earthquake Awareness for Alabama Residents,” which was published by the state EMA office, "One of these (earthquakes) was a 4.9 magnitude event on October 24, 1997, in Escambia County. This was the largest quake at that time recorded by seismographs in Alabama and the largest in the Southeast in the preceeding 30 years.

“Historically, the southwestern part of Alabama has had minimal seismic activity, but this quake indicates activity on the BFSZ, an ancient basement fault zone that underlies the area.”

In the end, readers are encouraged to contact The Courant if they have any information about the causes of these unexplained noises. The Courant can be reached by phone at 251-578-1492 or by email at courantsports@earthlink.net. To contact The Courant by mail, write The Evergreen Courant, ATTN: Lee Peacock, P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401.

The Evergreen Courant's Sports Flashback for Jan. 26, 2012

24 YEARS AGO
JAN. 28, 1988

“Escambia’s Junior Girls got by Sparta, 23-18. Christy Wright led Sparta with six points. Kaye Salter and Daphne Baggett had four each and Kimberly Griffin and Pam Brown, two each.
“Escambia’s Lady Cougars edged the Lady Warriors, 42-40 in spite of a 20-point effort by Kim Searcy. Shawn Hammonds had 14 points. Julie Johnson, four, and Abbie Till, two, for Sparta.
“Sparta’s Junior Varsity Boys lost to Escambia, 40-26. Wayne Cook and Steven Gall led Sparta with six points each. Jeff Brundage had five; Jerry Cotton, four; Richard Weaver and Mark Watts, two each; and Neil Sanford, one.
“The Cougar Varsity Boys outshot Sparta, 60-48. Toby Baggett with 15 points and Brad Watts with 11 led the Warriors. Jeff Carrier had eight points; Robbie Bolton, seven; Craig Blackburn, four; Jamie Atkins, two; and Chris Davis, one.”

“Billy Hamilton got these racks in a most unusual manner. He was in a tree stand using one of the new deer grunts when the 12-pointer and the 10-pointer both came up. Being a good sportsman, Billy knew he could kill only one of the two big deer. While he was trying to decide which one to kill, the deer fought and killed each other while Billy grunted. The deer bearing the eight-point rack came up while Billy was in a tree stand bowhunting and again using the new grunt. The buck got so frustrated because he couldn’t find what he thought was another deer grunting that he butted himself to death on the tree. And, that’s the truth, according to Billy Hamilton.”

39 YEARS AGO
JAN. 25, 1973

“The Evergreen High Aggies blasted T.R. Miller of Brewton, 63-35, Tuesday night to run their undefeated season record to 21-0. David Thomas fired 17 points to pace the Aggies. Lemond Jones had 12; Cleve Fields, 11; David Carroll, 10; Wavie Ausby, seven; and Eddie Stallworth, four.
“Evergreen is coached by Charles Branum and last weekend won its third tournament of the season. The Aggies won the Thanksgiving Tournament at Repton, Christmas Tournament at Evergreen and South Alabama Conference Tournament in Andalusia.
“Coach Branum was at Pineapple for two seasons before coming to Evergreen and his teams there won 46 games and the district championship in 1967. His overall record in seven years as a coach is an impressive one with 120 wins and only 30 losses.
“Coach Branum is a native of Monroe County and a graduate of Monroe County High School.”

“How many of these Evergreen High Aggies of either 1926 or 1927 can you recognize? Circuit Clerk Leon A. Salter who let The Courant use this picture identifies the football players of nearly 50 years ago as McLain Dreaden, Frank Hagood, Virgil McCreary, Ellis Shannon, Hardy Gaston, Watson Spence, Wright Dunn and John Hanks; Flowers Northcutt, Leon Salter, R.J. Guy, Gibson Edson, Douglas Nelson, Oris Jones, Willie Tippin and Carl Guy, Coach Tommy Belser, Principal W.B. Sexton, Mabry Murphy, Thomas ‘Insect’ Walter, Spud Holman, Rube Millsap Jr., Melvin Pierce and John C. Holman.”

54 YEARS AGO
JAN. 23, 1958

“Coach Lee Owen Dees’ Castleberry Blue Devils won it all in the annual county tournament held at Lyeffion last Thursday and Friday night. The Conecuh County High teams won both the varsity and the ‘B’ team division of the meet.
“Friday night in the championship game the Blue Devils had little trouble disposing of Repton, racking up a 48 to 20 decision. Charles Heaton led the scoring with 12 points as eight members of the Blue Devil squad got in the scoring act. David Castleberry had nine points; Leon Edwards, seven; Wilson McCreary and Billy Garner, six each; Gordon Sims, four; and Frank Weaver and Butch Geck, two each.
“Barry Ryland hit for nine points to lead the Bulldogs with J.C. Brantley adding six; Wayne Baggett and Alvin Goneke, two each; and Guy Miniard, one.
“Castleberry advanced into the tournament finals without any trouble disposing of Lyeffion by a 45 to 24 count in the first round. Repton drew a bye.
“Gordon Sims with 18 and Charles Heaton with 16 furnished the bulk of the Castleberry offense. Frank Weaver contributed six points and David Castleberry, five.
“Coker and Cook bagged six points each to lead Lyeffion. Robert Dees had five; Riley, four; House, two; and Frazier, one.
“Castleberry dominated the All-County ‘A’ Team as selected by the coaches with three men on the squad. David Castleberry, Charles Heaton and Gordon Sims were all named to the honor quint. Repton’s Barry Ryland and Lyeffion’s Robert Dees were also honored.”

69 YEARS AGO
JAN. 28, 1943

“Aggies Defeat All Star Team 51 to 12: Coach E.L. McInnis’s Evergreen Aggies defeated a makeshift all star aggregation composed of three former EHS performers and several other young men around town, 51 to 12. The game started off rather slowly, but the Aggies found themselves and held a 16 to 1 edge at the half. Coming back fast in the last stanza the school boys snowed the stars under, with Thames, Johnson and Huey setting a blistering pace the oldsters couldn’t keep up with. Johnson racked up 18, Thames, 16, and Huey, 13, points for scoring honors of the night. Seaman First Class Otis Johnson paced the stars with seven. The Aggies superior pass work and tight defensive playing were the factors in their triumph.
“Friday night, Jan. 29, the Aggies will tangle with the Jay High School quintet from Florida. A fast, close and exciting game is promised. Immediately following this attraction, which starts at seven, will be a square dance at eight o’clock. Admission (for game): Students, 15 cents, others 25 cents.”

84 YEARS AGO
JAN. 26, 1928

“NEWS FROM THE SCHOOL ON THE HILL: The boys team from the school on the hill journeyed to Jones Mill and captured a close basketball game from the Millers. Those who saw our boys in action were fully impressed by the fact that Coach Robinson has rounded out a very smooth running quintet. Their attack was varied and furious while their defense was air tight. Watch out boys as they run over McKenzie next Friday.”

“The Boys Athletic Club is an organization formed by Coach Robinson and the boys who participate in athletics. The meetings are held weekly. The programs consist of discussions of everything related to athletics. The boys are taught how to train for athletics and the proper kind of food for an athlete to eat. They discuss the different teams of the country and their prospects.
“Coach Robinson is the Honorary President of the Club. The officers elected were: Raymond Holman, President; Caude Murphy, Vice-President; Joe Hagood, Secretary-Treasurer.
“The boys are deriving much benefit from this club. It is in every way a top-notch organization. They are learning many details that they would be ignorant of if they didn’t belong to this organization. Every question concerning athletics that a member of this organization asks is given due consideration and is answered intelligently. The club is increasing its members in sports, and it is becoming very popular throughout the entire school.”

“The City School Boys Basketball team has had a rather successful season thus far.
“Here is a list of their games and scores: Jr. High 18, City School 12; Paul 4, City School 2; Mt. Union 9, City School 31; Mt. Union 16, City School 21; Lenox 16, City School 23.
“The Lenox game was played on our court Fri., Jan. 20.
“It proved a very interesting game, with hard playing on each side. It was only in the last quarter that our boys gained a comfort lead.
“The City School teams plays Paul on our court Jan. 27 and Castleberry Feb. 3. Bear these dates in mind and see our games.”

Compiled by Sports Reporter Lee Peacock from past issues of The Evergreen Courant. To read The Courant’s weekly Sports Flashback feature online, visit leepeacock2010.blogspot.com.

Who will win this year's Super Bowl - the Patriots or the Giants?

The stage is now set for this year’s Super Bowl, which will be played on Sun., Feb. 5, in Indianapolis, starting at 5:20 p.m.

The New York Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17, in overtime Sunday to clinch the NFC title. Earlier on Sunday, the New England Patriots beat the Baltimore Raves, 23-20, to win the AFC title.

Many of you will remember the last time that the Giants faced the Patriots in the Super Bowl. That was in 2008 when New England entered the title game with a perfect record only to have its dream season ended by Eli Manning and the Giants.

I suspect that the Patriots will be out for a little revenge this year, and I think they’ll be too much for the Giants to handle this year.

Even my Magic Eight Ball agreed. When I asked it if the Patriots would win the Super Bowl this year, its answer was “Absolutely!”

Both teams include players with Alabama ties.

Patriots players with Alabama connections include former Alabama defensive ends Mark Anderson and Brandon Deaderick.

Giants players with Alabama ties include former Troy wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan, former Troy kicker Lawrence Tynes, former Troy defensive end Osi Umenyiora and former Alabama State cornerback Michael Coe.

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During the past week, the state tourism department also released its list of Top 10 events for the month of February and this month’s list includes a couple of sports-related items.

The Mercedes-Benz Marathon Weekend will be held Feb. 10-12 in Birmingham with the race to be held on Feb. 12. On Feb. 24, the 25th Annual Shelby County Cattlemen’s Rodeo will be held in Columbiana. The rodeo event features chuck wagon races, bull riding, calf roping, team roping, steer wrestling and bareback riding.

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Also during the past week, the Alabama Sports Writers Association named Daphne running back T.J. Yeldon as the 30th recipient of the ASWA’s Mr. Football Award.

Yeldon was a great player at Daphne and Alabama Crimson Tide fans in the audience will be happy to hear that the 6-foot-2, 210-pound running back has already enrolled at The Capstone.

As the winner of the Mr. Football Award, Yeldon joins a select fraternity of great players from the state’s prep football past.

Vigor’s Tommy Compton won the first-ever Mr. Football Award in 1982 and other winners over the years have included Pierre Goode of Hazlewood, David Palmer of Jackson-Olin, Freddie Kitchens of Etowah, Carnell Williams of Etowah, Brandon Cox of Hewitt-Trussville, JaMarcus Russell of Williamson, Andre Smith of Huffman, Julio Jones of Foley and Clint Moseley of Leroy.

Yeldon put up some impressive numbers while at Daphne. As a senior, he carried the ball 231 times for 2,196 total yards, an average of 9.6 yards per carry. He also finished the year with 31 touchdowns and rushed for over 300 yards on two occasions. No doubt he’ll make a welcome addition to The Tide’s already stacked offensive backfield.

Daily Weather Observations for Thurs., Jan. 26, 2012

Temp: 66.7 degrees F (19.3 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.1 inches.

Humidity: 85 percent (Humid)

Conditions: Mostly Cloudy.

Winds: Winds out of the Southeast.

Barometric Pressure: 29.46 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 0.6 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 4.0 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 4.0 inches

NOTE: 36th day of Winter. Area under a Tornado Watch until 12 p.m. CST.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

This week's movie picks are 'The Grey' and 'Paranormal Activity 3'

It’s Wednesday, so today I give you my weekly list of movies that will open in theatres this week as well as a list of movies that will be released this week on DVD.

I hope this will serve as a useful guide as to what’s going on this week if you happen to be near a movie theatre or if you’re looking for something to drop into your NetFlix queue.

Movies that are scheduled to hit theatres this week include:

Back to the Sea (PG, Family): Directed by Thom Lu and starring the voices of Tim Curry and Tom Kenny.

Declaration of War (Drama): Directed by Valerie Donzelli and starring Valerie Donzelli, Jeremie Elkaim, Cesar Desseix, Gabriel Elkaim and Brigitte Sy.

The Grey (R, Action, Suspense): Directed by Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson and Nonso Anozie.

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? (Documentary): Directed by Carlos Carcas and Norberto Lopez Amado and starring Norman Foster and Deyan Sudjic.

An Inconsistent Truth (PG, Documentary): Directed by Shayne Edward and starring Phil Valentine, Newt Gingrich, Jim DeMint, James Inhofe and Frederick Singer.

In Darkness (R, Drama): Directed by Agnieszka Holland and starring Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader and Herbert Knaup.

Lula, Son of Brazil (Drama): Directed by Fabio Barreto and Marcelo Santiago and starring Rui Ricardo Diaz, Gloria Pires, Juliana Baroni, Cleo Pires and Lucelia Santos.

Man on a Ledge (PG-13, Action): Directed by Asger Leth and starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Anthony Mackie, Jamie Bell and Ed Harris.

One for the Money (PG-13, Comedy, Romance): Directed by Julie Anne Robinson and starring Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, Daniel Sunjata, Nate Mooney and John Lequizamo.

The Wicker Tree (R, Drama, Horror): Directed by Robin Hardy and starring Christopher Lee, Graham McTavish, Honeysuckle Weeks, Clive Russell and Jacqueline Leonard.

New DVD releases for the week of Jan. 24 include:

50/50 (R, Comedy, Drama): Directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston.

Another Happy Day (R, Drama, Comedy): Directed by Sam Levinson and starring Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, Kate Bosworth, Demi Moore and Thomas Harden Church.

Happy, Happy (R, Romance, Comedy): Directed by Anne Sewitsky and starring Agnes Kittelsen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Joachim Rafaelsen, Maibritt Saerens and Oskar Hernaes Brandso.

Hell and Back Again (Documentary): Directed by Danfung Dennis.

The Lie (R, Comedy, Drama): Directed by Joshua Leonard and starring Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Mark Webber, Violet Long and Kelli Garner.

Paranormal Activity 3 (R, Horror, Suspense): Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and starring Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown and Brian Boland.

Real Steel (PG-13, Action, Science Fiction): Directed by Shawn Levy and starring Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie and Kevin Durand.

Revenge of the Electric Car (PG-13, Documentary): Directed by Chris Paine and starring Elon Musk, Bob Lutz, Carlos Ghosn, ‘Gadget’ Abbott and Tim Robbins.

The Whistleblower (R, Drama): Directed by Larysa Kondracki and starring Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Woman (R, Horror): Directed by Lucky McKee and starring Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis.

If I could only watch one movie at the theatre this week, it would be “The Grey,” and if I had to pick just one DVD to rent this week, it would be “Paranormal Activity 3.”

In the end, let me know if you get a chance to watch any of the new movies in theatres this week or if you’ve already seen any of the movies that have just been released on DVD. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Daily Weather Observations for Wed., Jan. 25, 2012

Temp: 57.0 degrees F (13.9 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.1 inches.

Humidity: 73 percent (Normal)

Conditions: Mostly Cloudy.

Winds: Winds out of the Northeast.

Barometric Pressure: 29.64 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 0.5 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 3.9 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 3.9 inches

NOTE: 35th day of Winter.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Capote's 'In Cold Blood' named one of 'The 50 Coolest Books Ever'

What’s the “coolest” book you’ve ever read?

The Web site ShortList.com tried to answer that question recently with a very cool best-of books list called “The 50 Coolest Books Ever.” These books guarantee “gallons of cool,” according to the compilers of the list, and it’s hard to argue with them when you take a look at some of the titles that made the cut.

Without further ado, here’s the complete list:

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
2. American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis (1991)
3. American Tabloid by James Ellroy (1995)
4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
5. Black Hole by Charles Burns (1995)

6. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
7. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)
8. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
9. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
10. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

11. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
12. Crash by J.G. Ballard (1973)
13. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1966)
14. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (1958)
15. Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (2003)

16. The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
17. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
18. Factotum by Charles Bukowski (1975)
19. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (1971)
20. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)

21. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
22. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
23. Generation X by Douglas Coupland (1991)
24. Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (1993)
25. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)

26. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
27. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
28. Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1955)
29. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (1979)
30. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

31. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2000)
32. Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. (1964)
33. Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis (1985)
34. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
35. Money by Martin Amis (1984)

36. Morvern Callar by Alan Warner (1995)
37. Naked Lunch by William Burroughs (1959)
38. Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
39. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
40. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)

41. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1951)
42. Perfume by Patrick Suskind (1985)
43. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
44. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
45. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

46. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (1993)
47. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)
48. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (1984)
49. Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986)
50. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1997)

In the end, how many of these books have you had the chance to read? Which did you like or dislike and why? Which was your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments section below.

Daily Weather Observations - Jan. 24, 2012

Temp: 47.7 degrees F (8.7 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.3 inches

Humidity: 73 percent (Normal)

Conditions: Mostly Clear with some clouds to the East-Southeast.

Winds: Winds out of the North-Northeast.

Barometric Pressure: 29.67 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 0.4 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 3.8 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 3.8 inches

NOTE: 34th day of Winter.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Monday, January 23, 2012

FICTION: Eli McMorn and The Tunnel - Part III

Stewart was almost unrecognizable when he shuffled around the corner. He was covered in filth, and his feet moved in short jerks and slides through the guano on the tunnel floor. His pants were stained beyond salvation, and his shirt was in even worse condition. Its most prominent feature was the large, dark stain of dried blood at the collar and on his chest.

I kept my gun up and watched as he moved into the full beam of my flashlight. He gave no indication that he knew that I was there as he stayed close to the far side of the tunnel with one hand against the wall for support.

I lowered my gun and called to him. “Stewart!” He didn’t react. How was he on his feet, I wondered. Just 10 minutes before, Detective Klutch and I had examined the man’s corpse. He’d been lifeless and cold to the touch like a man who’d been dead for hours.

As if he’d read my thoughts, Klutch stirred at my feet. He groaned and lifted a hand to his head. He winced as his fingers found the wound there and then he tried to sit up.

I heard a noise and glanced back up to see that Stewart had slumped against the wall of the tunnel. He’d moved closer, but had trouble standing. “Stewart, just stay right there,” I called to him. “I’m coming to help you.”

It was then that he looked up and seemed to notice me for the first time. Something wasn’t right. He hadn’t said a word, and I could see that his face was too pale from blood loss.

I made a step in his direction, and something grabbed my leg. It was Klutch.

“McMorn,” he said, his voice weak, and I saw that he’d managed to sit up. “Where’s my gun?”

“Don’t know,” I said. “I think you dropped it in the dark. I looked for it a while ago and couldn’t find it.”

He reached toward me with an empty hand. “Give me yours,” he ordered. “And keep your light on that thing.”

Without question, I passed him my gun grip first and he took it. It looked small in his large fist, and he glanced at it for a moment before he raised his arm and emptied the gun into Stewart’s slumped body.

The noise was so loud that I wondered if it would bring the roof down on our heads like a collapsing mine shaft. I jumped involuntarily at the unexpected gunfire, and it was all I could do to keep the light steady.

Klutch had fired from a seated position, and he’d missed only once. Five rounds his Stewart center mass, but the final round struck the wall to his left. A fist-sized piece of the tunnel wall broke loose and fell to the tunnel floor at Stewart’s feet.

Stewart yowled like an animal, but didn’t go down. He grimaced and brought his right hand up to the tight group of five fresh bullet holes that now punctuating his grimy dress shirt. I watched as his hand came away bloodless and figured that there were several reasons he was still standing. At a distance of 50 feet, he’d been standing too far away for the small-caliber rounds to have much punch and that he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Klutch lowered his firing arm and the barrel of his empty gun clanged against the iron track at his side. “McMorn, we’ve got to hurry,” he said. I glanced down and watched the detective produce another small handgun, the throwaway I’d looked for earlier, from the small of his back. It was identical to the small revolver that I carried for protection, the gun he’d just emptied into the police department’s photographer.

“Come here,” he said. “Hurry.” I moved to his side and he handed me the throwaway. “You’ve got to finish him.”

“What are you talking about?”

He pressed the gun into my hand. “It’s no time for questions,” he said. “I’ll explain everything later. For now, you’ve got to finish him before he completely turns. Empty this into his head if you have to, just don’t let him leave the tunnel.”

His voice trailed off and he closed his eyes as he slumped back to the floor of the tunnel. I made several attempts to rouse the big detective, but he’d slipped back into unconsciousness. I could hear Stewart moving far off, headed out of the tunnel, so I stood and went after him with the gun.

I had no intention of killing him. I was sure that he’d never been dead in the first place, only unconscious or perhaps catatonic. If Klutch didn’t want him to leave the tunnel then I’d catch him and stop him from leaving. I’d tie him up maybe. That way I could walk back to Klutch’s car and radio for help. Something wasn’t right, and they both needed medical attention.

My flashlight in one hand and the gun in the other, I set off after Stewart. I followed the railroad tracks in his direction and had walked about 100 feet around the bend when my light came to rest on Stewart. He was slouched against the wall on one side of the tunnel. His knees were bent and his back was to the wall. His arms were crossed over the tops of his knees and his face was buried in his arms.

I was struck once more by the filth that clung to him and his clothes. The tunnel was by far the dirtiest place I’ve ever been, and I wondered how I would look in front of a full-length mirror. My gun hung down by my side, but my light was up. I lowered it a bit so as not to blind Stewart and in hopes that he would be able to see my face if he looked up.

“Stewart!” I called from about 10 yards away.

He raised his head, but didn’t look in my direction. He didn’t look dangerous, so I went to him and knelt by his side.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” I said from his side, my free hand on his shoulder. His skin was fish-belly white, with an almost bloodless aspect, like an old marble tombstone. He didn’t look at me. Instead, he seemed to be staring at something on the other side of the tunnel.

A feeling of uneasiness settled over me, and when I turned to look I expected to see someone standing there. Instead, my eyes settled on Stewart’s old camera bag. For some reason, he’d returned to the place where we’d first found his body not long ago. I remembered that the bag actually contained no camera at all, only a weird assortment of other items.

A second later, I turned my attention back to Stewart and was shocked by the change in his demeanor. In place of the man who a few seconds ago looked insensible and detached, something altogether different sat before me now. He was looking me full in the face now, and there was a light and intelligent malice in his eyes that hadn’t been there a few seconds before.

My fingers tightened on the grip of Klutch’s gun and remembered his instructions to empty it into Stewart’s head. In that moment of truth, I could bring myself to do it. I would be the one who would have to answer for it, and I knew when help eventually arrived I would be left to explain why I’d unloaded a handgun into the skull of the police department’s injured and unarmed photographer.

I raised my flashlight, and the beam played eerily across his face. It seemed to bother him, and he tried to stand. How could I restrain him, I wondered, wishing that Klutch had given me a set of handcuffs or some zip ties.

Before I could finish that line of thought, Stewart fell on me with the strength and fury of a rabid dog. He shoved me hard across the tunnel, and I landed hard across the tracks. I crashed hard into Stewart’s camera bag, and it’s contents flew in all directions.

Before I could get up, Stewart was on top of me. His strength seemed incredible for a man his size. He held me down with ease as I bucked and kicked beneath him.

My flashlight fell from my hand and skittered to a stop at the base of the tunnel wall. In the faint light cast by its beam I saw Stewart’s ghastly face. He loomed over me, and his lips parted in a murderous smile. It was in that moment that he hissed like a cat and displayed a full set of teeth that included two, great protruding fangs.

Yesterday's News from The Evergreen Courant - Jan. 23, 2012

15 YEARS AGO
JAN. 16, 1997

“Circuit Judge Sam Welch gave the oath of office to newly appointed Conecuh County Circuit Clerk George Hendrix on Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. Hendrix’s wife, Nancy, held the Bible for the ceremony. Hendrix replaces the retiring clerk, Mrs. Jean E. Riley, who served in that position for 20 years.”

“Alabama’s 1996 Junior Miss Summer Newman welcomed Holly Hart of Evergreen, Conecuh County’s Junior Miss and Coretta Askew of Sylacauga, Talladega County’s Junior Miss to the Montgomery Civic Center to begin preparations for the state finals on Jan. 17-18. Holly is the daughter of Bill and Ruth Hart of Evergreen and is a senior at Hillcrest High School.”

“William A. Barron Jr., Vice President of Manufacturing for Shaw Industries, Inc., will be the keynote speaker for the annual meeting and ‘Mardi Gras Gala’ of the Evergreen-Conecuh County Chamber of Commerce. This special event, chaired by Ron Fantroy, is being held Thurs., Jan. 23, 1997, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Hillcrest High School cafetorium.”

“Nationally known Civil Rights leader, the Rev. H.K. Matthews, will be the guest speaker for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program at Sampey A.M.E. Zion Church in Repton on Sun., Jan. 19, at 2:30 p.m. Rev. Matthews was born and reared in Snow Hill, Ala. and attended the public schools of Wilcox County, where he graduated from Snow Hill Institute.”

30 YEARS AGO
JAN. 21, 1982

From “The Colyum” by Bob Bozeman – “This part of the world is totally unprepared for the kind of weather we had last week. We are particularly inept at driving on iced-over streets and bridges, especially because we don’t have ‘snow tires’ or ‘chains.” So, I am happy that we managed to survive those iced-over streets and bridges, iced-over roads, sleet, ice and snow without any serious casualties.”

“All kinds of weather here Earl reports: Earl Windham says, ‘Well, we have had rain, sleet, snow and ice… what more do you want?’ The weatherman reports 1.05 inches of rain Jan. 12; .63 on Jan. 14; and .05 on Jan. 16.”

“Miss Lesa Ellen Ralls, age 19, daughter of Jean E. Ralls and John G. Ralls, has been selected to be a state contestant in the 1982 Miss Alabama USA Pageant to be held at the Sheraton Hotel in Huntsville, Ala., Feb. 20, 1982, 7:30 p.m. The Miss Alabama USA Pageant is the official state finals to the Miss USA-Universe Pageant to be held in May 1982, which is nationally televised from Biloxi, Miss.”

“Rebekah Williamson, Conecuh County’s Junior Miss, tries out a top hat and cane in preparation for finals in the 1982 Miss Alabama Junior Miss. Charles Savage, president of Alabama’s Junior Miss, and Kim Gilliland, Alabama’s 1981 Junior Miss, look on as Miss Williamson, daughter of the Rev. Jack and Mary Williamson of Evergreen (Baptist Church), takes time out from rehearsals.”

45 YEARS AGO
JAN. 19, 1967

“Taylor receives Air Medal award: U.S. ARMY, Vietnam (AH-TNC) – Army Specialist Fourth Class Spencer E. Taylor, 20, son of Mrs. Eula R. Taylor, Route 1, Box 112, Castleberry, Ala., received the sixteenth award of the Air Medal Dec. 24 in Vietnam.
“Spec. Taylor earned the award for combat aerial support of ground operations in Vietnam.”

“Southern Bell Telephone Company today reported an annual gain of 150 telephones in Evergreen during 1966. J.D. Kaylor, the company’s manager for Evergreen, said the increase brings the total phones in services to about 2,675.”

“Surrounded by a roomful of flowers from well-wishers, Mrs. Mabel Amos of Brooklyn took the oath of office as Secretary of State before the parade Monday morning in a private ceremony in the Secretary’s office.
“Mrs. Amous, who as recording secretary in the administration of seven governors was known as ‘the assistant governor,’ came to her first elective office with a promise to promote the best possible services to the people of Alabama.
“The oath of office was administered by Court of Appeals Judge Annie Lola Price, a longtime friend of Mrs. Amos.
“Mrs. Amos was sworn in again later in the day just prior to the ceremony for Governor Lurleen Wallace. The public oath was administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice J. Ed Livingston.”
“Mrs. Amos is the first citizen of Conecuh County to be elected to a statewide office.”

60 YEARS AGO
JAN. 17, 1952

“Tues., Jan. 15, 1952 was a red letter day for Conecuh County.
“Tuesday, after more than two years of wading through red tape and awaiting government and state appropriations, of making plans and changing plans, the Conecuh County Hospital Association was able to let the contract for construction of the Conecuh County Hospital.
“The hospital is to be built under the Hill-Burton Act.
“The contract went to Andalusia Development Company of Andalusia, the low bidder with a base bid of $332,583.”

“THE WEATHER, LAST WEEK: Evergreen, high 77, low 27, mean 55. The State, high 79 (Dothan), low 21 (Anniston), mean 54.8.”

“LANDS ON OKINAWA: Mr. and Mrs. S.P. Shoemaker have received a message from their son, Pvt. John L. Shoemaker, stating that he has landed on Okinawa. Pvt. Shoemaker had been in Korea for several months seeing service in the combat area with the famed 25th Division. His regiment has been moved to Okinawa for a rest.”

“B.L. Qualls is erecting a new store building on his lot in Belleville on East Broad Street.”

“Helen Keller Club Begins Search for ‘Woman of the Year’ - The Helen Keller Club begins its quest for the woman in Conecuh County who has contributed most for the county. She will be called Woman of the Year and will be recognized and presented an award on March 25.”

75 YEARS AGO
JAN. 21, 1937

“HUGE TURNIP GROWN BY JEFF D. JOHNSTON: A turnip weighing six pounds, and measuring 24 inches in circumference, was brought to The Courant office last Saturday, having been grown by Jeff D. Johnston of the Johnstonville community.
“Several huge turnips were grown by this good farmer, it was said, the one displayed in The Courant window being the ‘cream of the crop’ as to size.”

“Operating as a subsidiary of the Poultry Products Co., Inc., of Montgomery, announcement is made in this issue of The Courant of the opening here of the Evergreen Seed and Produce Co., with quarters in the Jones-Deming Building on Rural Street.”

“When the stork visited the home of Peter Anderson, who resides near the Overhead Bridge, last week, and delivered triplets to Peter’s wife, it brought the number of children in the family to seven.
“Married seven years, and the oldest child being six years old, Peter’s family seems to hold some kind of county record.
“The latest additions to Peter’s family consisted of two girls and a boy, and all of them are reported to be doing well.”

“While out cruising property in Beat 2 in the northern part of this county on Monday of this week, Andrew R. Pierce came up what appears to be a very rich specimen of iron ore. The specimen was brought to The Courant office and is now on display.”

Daily Weather Observations - Jan. 23, 2012

Temp: 68.2 degrees F (20.1 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.1 inches

Humidity: 83 percent (Humid)

Conditions: Mostly Cloudy.

Winds: Winds out of the South.

Barometric Pressure: 29.50 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 0.1 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 3.4 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 3.4 inches

NOTE: 33rd day of Winter.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Clive Cussler's 'Skeleton Coast' appears on PW best-sellers list

It’s Sunday, so that means that it’s time for my weekly review of this week’s Publishers Weekly Best-Seller List. According to the list, there are two new books at the top of the four major best-sellers lists this week.

"Believing the Lie" by Elizabeth George (Dutton Adult) replaced "Private: Number 1 Suspect" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro as the No. 1 book on the hardcover fiction best-sellers list.

"American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History" by Chris Kyle, Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen replaced "Steve Jobs: A Biography" by Walter Isaacson as the top book on the hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson remained the top book on the mass market paperback and trade paperbacks best-sellers lists.

There are five books on this week’s hardcover fiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They (along with their place on the list) include "Believing the Lie" by Elizabeth George (1), "Gideon's Corpse" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (3), "Star Wars: Darth Plagueis" by James Luceno (5), "Lothaire" by Kresley Cole (9) and "Copper Beach: A Dark Legacy Novel" by Jayne Ann Krentz (10).

There are six books on this week’s hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "Choose to Lose: The 7-Day Carb Cycle Solution" by Chris Powell (5), "The Obamas" by Jodi Kantor (7), "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch" by Sally Bedell Smith (10), "Sexperiment: 7 Days to Lasting Intimacy with Your Spouse" by Ed Young and Lisa Young (11), "Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry" by Dylan Ratigan (14) and "Deliciously G-Free: Food So Flavorful thy'll Never Believe It's Gluten-Free" by Elisabeth Hasselbeck (15).

There are four books on this week’s mass market paperbacks best-sellers list that weren’t on that list last week. They include "Skeleton Coast" by Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul (6), "Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel" by Steve Martini (10), "The Sentry" by Robert Crais (11) and "Fatal Error: A Novel" by J.A. Jance (13).

There are five books on this week’s trade paperbacks best-sellers list that weren’t on the list last week. They include "10th Anniversary" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (7), "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A George Smiley Novel" by John LeCarre (10), "Night Road" Kristin Hannah (12), "The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery That Holds the Secret of America's Future" by Jonathan Cahn (14) and “Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography" by Rob Lowe (15).

As a reminder, I’m posting these lists each Sunday because they, as a whole, represent a great, contemporary recommended reading list. These lists are initially released each week on Thursday, and if you’re interested in reading them then, visit Publishers Weekly’s Web site at www.publishersweekly.com. Below you’ll find all four of this week’s best-seller lists.

HARDCOVER FICTION
1. "Believing the Lie" by Elizabeth George
2. "Private: Number 1 Suspect" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
3. "Gideon's Corpse" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
4. "Death Comes to Pemberley" by P.D. James
5. "Star Wars: Darth Plagueis" by James Luceno
6. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson
7. "11/22/63" by Stephen King
8. "The Litigators" by John Grisham
9. "Lothaire" by Kresley Cole
10. "Copper Beach: A Dark Legacy Novel" by Jayne Ann Krentz
11. "Locked On" by Tom Clancy and Mark Greany
12. "77 Shadow Street" by Dean Koontz
13. "Love in a Nutshell" by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly
14. "The Best of Me" by Nicholas Sparks
15. "Kill Alex Cross" by James Patterson

HARDCOVER NONFICTION
1. "American Sniper" by Chris Kyle, Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen
2. "Through My Eyes" by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker
3. "Taking People with You" by David Novak
4. "Steve Jobs: A Biography" by Walter Isaacson
5. "Choose to Lose: The 7-Day Carb Cycle Solution" by Chris Powell
6. "Killing Lincoln" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
7. "The Obamas" by Jodi Kantor
8. "The 17 Day Diet" by Dr. Mike Moreno
9. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman
10. "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch" by Sally Bedell Smith
11. "Sexperiment" by Ed Young and Lisa Young
12. "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand
13. "The Dash Diet Action Plan" by Marta Heller
14. "Greedy Bastards" by Dylan Ratigan
15. "Deliciously G-Free" by Elisabeth Hasselbeck

MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
3. "Hidden Summit" by Robyn Carr
4. "Spirit Bound" by Christine Feehan
5. "Mr. and Miss Anonymous" by Fern Michaels
6. "Skeleton Coast" by Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul
7. "The Jefferson Key" by Steve Berry
8. "You...Again" by Debbie Macomber
9. "Moonlight in the Morning" by Jude Deveraux
10. "Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel" by Steve Martini
11. "The Sentry" by Robert Crais
12. "A Game of Thrones' by George R.R. Martin
13. "Fatal Error: A Novel" by J.A. Jance
14. "Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evanovich
15. "Minding Frankie" by Maeve Binchy

TRADE PAPERBACKS
1. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
2. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
3. "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo, Colton Burpo and Lynn Vincent
4. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer
5. "Bossypants" by Tina Fey
6. "The Tiger's Wife: A Novel" by Tea Obreht
7. "10th anniversary" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
8. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
9. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson
10. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A George Smiley Novel" by John LeCarre
11. "Assholes Finish First" by Tucker Max
12. "Night Road" Kristin Hannah
13. "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell
14. "The Harbinger" by Jonathan Cahn
15. Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography" by Rob Lowe

In the end, let me know if you’ve had a chance to read any of these books. What did you think about them? Which would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Daily Weather Observations - Jan. 22, 2012

Temp: 62.4 degrees F (16.9 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.8 inches

Humidity: 85 percent (Humid)

Conditions: Overcast, Heavy Fog.

Winds: Winds out of the East-Southeast.

Barometric Pressure: 29.54 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 3.0 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 3.3 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 3.3 inches

NOTE: 32nd day of Winter.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

WARNING - 'Apollo 18' movie could make an 'X-Files' fan's head explode

“Apollo 18” is one of the best science fiction horror movies that I’ve seen in a long time, and I highly recommend it. I watched this creepy movie for the first time a couple of days ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of this “found footage” film.

Officially, there were only 17 Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s and 70s, and this movie is based on the idea that there was a secret 18th mission. The real life Apollo 18 mission was scheduled to visit the moon in 1972, but it and two later moon missions, Apollo 19 and Apollo 20, were cancelled for a number of reasons, most notably because of their high budgets.

In the “Apollo 18” movie, which is supposedly based on decades old found footage (think “The Blair Witch Project”), the Department of Defense launched a secret Apollo 18 mission in late 1974. It never returned, and because of its top-secret fate, the U.S. has never sent men back to the moon. The movie, which I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t seen it, explains why we’ve never been back.

Released in September 2011, “Apollo 18” was directed by Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and was written by Brian Miller. The movie stars Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins, Andrew Airlie, Michael Kopsa and Ali Liebert. Christie plays Capt. Ben Anderson, and Owen plays Commander Nate Walker. Robbins plays Lt. Col. John Grey, and Airlie provides the voice for Mission Control. Kopsa is the voice of the Deputy Secretary of Defense. (In real life 1974 this would have been William Perry “Bill” Clements Jr.) Liebert plays the role of Nate’s girlfriend.

Despite lackluster reviews, this movie was a financial success. Shot on a budget of around $5 million (with old camera lens from the 70s), this movie reaped box office revenues of over $25.5 million. It was released on DVD on Dec. 27, 2011, and you can now rent it through NetFlix.

For more information about the movie, visit its official Web site at www.apollo18movie.net. You might also want to check out www.lunartruth.org. This site is a mock Web site for the film, and you’ll see it referenced in the opening credits as the place where the “found footage” was first publicly released. If you go there, it’ll direct you to another mock site called www.lunartruth.com, which is loaded with enough (fake) classified government documents to make an “X-files” fan’s head explode.

In the end, this movie was fun to watch, and I enjoyed it. It was a mash-up of “The Blair Witch Project,” the “Alien” movies with Sigourney Weaver, “Paranormal Activity” and Tom Hanks’ “Apollo 13.” I hope there’ll be a couple of sequels to follow of equal or better quality. If that comes to pass, then we’re in for a treat.

How many of you have had the chance to watch “Apollo 18”? What did you think about it? Did you like it or dislike it? Why? Let us know in the comments section below.

Daily Weather Observations - Jan. 21, 2012

Temp: 64.8 degrees F (18.2 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.1 inches

Humidity: 84 percent (Humid)

Conditions: Cloudy.

Winds: Winds out of the South-Southeast.

Barometric Pressure: 29.51 inHg.

Week to Date Rainfall: 2.2 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 2.5 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 2.5 inches

NOTE: 31st day of Winter.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Is 'The Hunt for Red October' Tom Clancy's masterpiece?

I recently finished reading a famous novel that I’ve wanted to read for a long time, Tom Clancy’s 1984 naval warfare, techno-thriller, “The Hunt for Red October.” This was Clancy’s first novel, and it went on to be a worldwide best-seller and launched Clancy’s career as a heavyweight writer.

I’ve had the chance to read a number of Clancy’s novels over the years, but for some reason I’d never taken the time to read the novel that many consider his masterpiece. I finally broke down the other day and decided to read this great book when I saw that it had been listed at No. 87 on a recommended reading list called “101 Crackerjack Sea Books.”

(This list was released in the summer of 2006 and was compiled by writer Dean King for Bookmarks Magazine. To see this list in its entirety, visit http://leepeacock2010.blogspot.com/2011/11/how-many-of-these-101-crackerjack-sea.html.)

Originally published in 1984 by the U.S. Naval Institute, “The Hunt for Red October” details the fictional cat-and-mouse search for the Soviet nuclear missile submarine, Red October. The captain is disgruntled with the oppressive life in the USSR and has convinced a handful of officers to defect to the U.S. during their sub’s maiden voyage. The U.S. wants the sub and its leaders for their intelligence value, and the Soviet want to either capture the sub or sink it before it can fall into American hands. What follows is a novel that’s required reading at military academies around the globe, including the Soviet Naval Academy. “Red October” is also reputedly a favorite book among a number of past presidents, including Ronald Reagan.

Like me, many of you will probably be familiar with this story thanks to the 1990 movie based on the novel. Directed by John McTiernan, the movie starred Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Fred Thompson and James Earl Jones. Connery plays Soviet sub captain, Marko Ramius, and Baldwin plays U.S. intelligence officer, Jack Ryan. Ryan plays prominently in a number of other Clancy novels, a few of which are referenced in “Red October.”

Of the Clancy novels that I’ve read, I have to say that “The Hunt for Red October” is probably my all-time favorite. Other Clancy novels that I’ve read and enjoyed include “Red Storm Rising” (1986), “Patriot Games” (1987), “Clear and Present Danger” (1989), “Without Remorse” (1993) and “Red Rabbit” (2002). Clancy books that I haven’t read include “The Cardinal of the Kremlin” (1988), “The Sum of All Fears” (1991), “Debt of Honor” (1994), “Executive Orders” (1996), “SSN: Strategies for Submarine Warfare” (1996), “Rainbow Six” (1998), “The Bear and the Dragon” (2000), “The Teeth of the Tiger” (2003), “Dead or Alive” (2010), “Against All Enemies” (2011) and “Locked On” (2011).

In the end, I really enjoyed reading “The Hunt for Red October,” and I gained more than a little satisfaction in crossing it off my long “books I’d like to read someday” list. How many of you out there have read this book? What did you think about it? Which of Clancy’s novels is your personal favorite? Let us know in the comments section below.

Daily Weather Observations - Jan. 20, 2012

Temp: 60.4 degrees F (15.8 degrees C)

Rainfall (past 24 hours): 0.4 inches

Humidity: 84 percent (Humid)

Conditions: Overcast.

Winds: Winds out of the South, Southeast.

Week to Date Rainfall: 2.1 inches

Month to Date Rainfall: 2.4 inches

Year to Date Rainfall: 2.4 inches

NOTE: 30th day of Winter, security light still on, ground wet from recent rain.

Readings taken at 0700 hrs Central Standard Time (1300 GMT) daily, just west of the Monroe-Conecuh County line, near Excel, Alabama, USA, in the vicinity of Lat 31.42834°N Lon 87.30131°W. Elevation: 400 feet above sea level.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Was December UFO report an International Space Station sighting?

It’s the third Thursday of the month, so today I’m giving you an update on UFO reports in Alabama from the past month, courtesy of the Mutual UFO Network.

A search for UFO reports in Alabama between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31 on MUFON’s website, www.mufon.com, resulted in only one report from within our state.

According to the witness, the sighting took place on Dec. 14, but they don’t say where it occurred except that it took place somewhere in Alabama.

“I was walking my dog and looking at the sky,” the witness said in their statement. “I saw a bright object in the sky. It looked like a star, but it was moving.

“There were five airplanes in the sky,” the witness wrote. “This object did not look like them. There were no flashing, colored lights.”

The witness watched the object for about 10 minutes until he walked with his dog behind a house.

“As I walked out from behind the house, it (the object) was gone,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the ISS (International Space Station) or a satellite, but I would like to know.”

This report is interesting because the object that the person reporting seeing could very well have been the International Space Station. The ISS can easily be seen from your own backyard if you know when and where to look. It does look unusual, and if you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might just think that you’re seeing a UFO.

If you’d like to see the ISS for yourself, you can track its appearances by visiting http://spaceflight1.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/, the Web site for NASA’s Human Space Flight program.

The site is simple and easy to use if you’d like to try it. Just visit the site and click “Go to Country” under “Sighting Opportunities.” If you choose the United States (as most of you will), then the site will take you to another page where you have to select the state or territory where you’re located.

If you’re in Alabama, select Alabama and on the next page, select the city closest to you. When I checked the page last Thursday, there wasn’t an option for Evergreen, but Andalusia and Monroeville were among the selections. For our purposes, that’s close enough.

The next page will give you the times in which the ISS will be visible from your location on days when sighting opportunities are possible. The site will also tell you in which direction to look to see the ISS “approach” and “depart.” It also gives you an idea of how many minutes the ISS will be visible. Keep in mind that the weather will have to cooperate if you hope to see it.

Before closing out this week, I just want to put it out there again that I would be very interested to hear from any readers of The Courant who have witnessed a UFO in Conecuh County. I think a lot of other people would be interested in hearing your story too, and I’d be willing to accept your report on an anonymous basis if you’d be more comfortable with that arrangement. You can contact me by e-mail at courantsports@earthlink.net or by phone at 578-1492.