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Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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The Queen of Wassail

Published in Art Scene

Anne Smarzik of Relics Jewelry & Gift Emporium proudly holds the Judge's Trophy she won last year at the first annual Wassail competition in Bastrop, Texas. This year she won the People's Choice award at the event, while Caledonia Cottage Quilts won the Judge's prize for an alcoholic wassail.


Some 15 local businesses in this town east of Austin vied for the coveted trophy, mostly with non-alcoholic versions of this Christmas tradition. Anne told me her recipe has been handed down through five generations of women, and she has daughters to continue the tradition. Her secret recipe, consisting of about 8 ingredients, derives from England where she was born.  


Relics is at 925 Main Street in Bastrop. Check out their fascinating store at


Photo by C. Cunningham




Tom Hanks: I Write From Cynicism

Published in Celebrity

Actor Tom Hanks is also writer Tom Hanks: it was that persona on display at the Texas Book Fest this month. Speaking to a sold-out audience of more than 1,000 people in Austin, Hanks was here to promote his new book Uncommon Type, a collection of 17 short stories.


Hanks said the first book he read for pleasure was The Hobbitt, “and in 6th grade I read Hailey's Hotel.” Later he “fell in love with the plays of Eugene O'Neill and Shakespeare.” All this informs his approach to writing now. “I don't write from a plethora of nostalgia. I write from cynicism.”


Hanks elaborated by saying that as a cynic, “I am interested in wrong or strange moments of serendipity in which our lives change. Everything that happens in our lives is about interactions with people who have different ideas. People connection: there is a power of direction that goes along with it. That is the kind of dynamic I relate to.”


Surely an inspiration for his collection of short stories was the first such collection he ever read: Who Am I This Time? by Kurt Vonnegut. A thread that runs through each story of Hanks' book is mention of a typewriter, which reflects his own fascination with the machine.


It began in 1986 when he went to Israel to make a movie. “I walked by a store that had this Hermes baby typewriter.” He now owns 140 typewriters. “A lot of them are just objects of art from the 1930s to 1960s,” but he does use many of them. “I like the permanence that you get from typing anything. It will last as long as the carvings on Westminster Abbey.”


Photo copyright Sun News, by C. Cunningham


Dan Rather: Nixon's Toxic Legacy

Published in Miami News

Veteran newsman Dan Rather received the Texas Writer Award this month. The award, in the shape of cowboy boots, was given to him in Austin during the annual Texas Book Fest.


As the bastion of what many in the country perceive to be the “East coast liberal media” it is not surprising Rather had a lot to say about the current political and social climate in the country. He made a particular point that “patriotism is being confused with nationalism. Patriotism is a deep and abiding love of the country,” Rather explained, “but it includes the recognition we are not perfect. Trying to achieve a more perfect union is patriotism.”


On the situation in 2017, where some people won't even talk to their neighbours if they voted for an opposing political party, Rather uttered soothing words. “We need to lower our voices and be empathetic.”


Asked “how did we get here?”, Rather said “It has been a slow process.” He harkened back to the 1960s with its high-profile assassinations (Rather was in Dallas in Nov. 1963 and reported on the death of President Kennedy). “It was a difficult decade,” he said, but highlighted not the Watergate scandal of Nixon but instead “Nixon's Southern strategy.”


The president, said Rather, devised a way to “suck away the votes of the southern states by appealing to white racists. The word got around that you could win politically” by applying this strategy. Rather traces our current dilemma to that legacy of Nixon.


There seems to be a mindset now that returning to some golden age will set things right. “Any thinking person knows there is no going back to the 1950s, which, by the way, wasn't that great,” Rather said.


Not surprisingly, Rather attributes the state of the union in November 2017 to President Trump. “The last nine months have seen an acceleration of the rhetoric,” propelling us into what Rather calls a “post-truth political era” where “facts are fungible. There is an effort to convince people truth is not all that important. You don't need a Harvard degree to know that is ridiculous.”


Looking forward, Rather poses a fundamental question: “Can we find enough to hold ourselves united to keep this great experiment – the American dream – moving forward?”


Rather is author of a new book, What Unites Us.


Photo copyright Sun News, by C. Cunningham





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