My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life is the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, you can find an archive list at the bottom of this page.

Saturday, July 15

Quotas or Abilities?

Last week on one of the sports networks, probably ESPN, there was a brief discussion about the few black baseball players in the major leagues, down from about 8% last year to about 7% this year. The discussion pondered the ways to grow that number to better reflect the current black population in America, about 25%. That sounds to me like the argument for quotas based on ethnicity in business management, college enrollment and scholarships, police and fire departments, actors in film, television, and on stage. Even the “too white” Oscars are now trying to “even up” the nominations. And now in MLB? I realize that for too long, minorities have suffered in all those areas, have earned less, received fewer promotions, gotten less recognition than whites. It was unfair in the past and we’re scrambling in the present to make it more equitable. But how much longer do we need to follow some artificial quota to rectify past inequities? When can all these areas be based on ability and not racial percentages of our population? If we’re going to address the inequities in sports, we should consider professional basketball and football. The NBA could easily be called the BBA since about 99% of players are black. The NFL could easily be called the BFL since about 75% of the players are black. Does that mean that three out of four black basketball players should be dropped and replaced by whites, or two out of four black football players dropped and replaced by whites? Obviously those blacks in the NBA and NFL are there because their abilities surpass that of most of the white players. So be it. That’s fine. But let’s also get to the point where all of life’s categories are based on ability and not on race.

Saturday, July 8

Night Thoughts

Since I’ve been using oxygen at night (at a setting of 3 liters a minute), my dreams are becoming longer and more realistically vivid than they used to be. I guess that must suggest I’m not sleeping very deeply anymore. My eyes must just be flying around all night long. And I seem to be able to control the directions these dreams take, like a film director instructing the players what to do and say. For example, my golf dreams (which are almost as frequent as classroom dreams) in the past were surrealistic, involving really odd golf courses and situations, maybe with heavy snow covering the course as I play it, or heavy stands of trees that would make a hole impossible to play, or my ball lying between two rocks as I try to figure out how to hit it, or a tee shot that has to go through a room sort of like what you might encounter at the clown’s head on a putt-putt course. These were almost always dreams of anxiety, as were most of the dreams involving classes of recalcitrant students. But now the golf courses are almost normal, the shots normal, and the scores normal. The schools where I’m dream-teaching are no longer places that make me nervous. Sometimes now, I find myself not quite dreaming, not quite awake—that in-between place that happens too often at 3:00 a.m. And here my thoughts can go wandering all over the place. Strange words pop into my head, words the meanings of which I’m uncertain. Or ideas for a story or novel. As with most people who find great ideas in the middle of the night but who never write them down, these ideas often drift away with morning’s light.

Last night I was thinking about sentence structure and the peculiarities of the English language. I came to that strange English construction “let’s” and the sentence “Let’s let him do it.” The word “let” is an oddball. If you don’t believe me, check a good dictionary and see what it says about the many possibilities for this word. A linguistic explanation for the structure of that sentence would go like this: The main verb is in the imperative voice, or command, and the apostrophe in the first word stands for “us.” The second word “let” is equal to “allow” and the rest of the sentence “him do it” is acting as the object of “allow,” the thing we want to allow. The phrase “him do it” is really an infinitive phrase with the signal for the infinitive, “to” having been left out. The sentence then is equivalent to “You (understood) allow us to allow him to do it.” And the pattern would look like this:
The apostrophe to indicate the “us” is on its way to extinction. And when that mark’s loss is accepted, we’ll be left with a most peculiar word whose meaning is nearly indefinable.

Just look at this sequence:
“He lets me do it.” “He allows me to do it.” “He commands me to do it.” “He demands I do it (or that I do it).” “He regrets my doing it, or he regrets me doing it.” These last two sentences mean slightly different things: In the first, the thing he regrets is the “doing” and in the second, the thing he regrets is the entire idea of “me doing it.” Tricky, yes?

Now look at this sequence: “(You, understood) Let me do it.” “Let’s do it.” “Lets do it.” “Lets let him do it.”

Almost all traces of the imperative voice have disappeared. Are you asking permission to let him do it, or are you suggesting the person addressed agree to let him do it? And it also suggests they do it now, not later. As I said, this is all very tricky, and also quite strange for a 3:00 a.m. visitation.

Thursday, July 6

Hotdogs & Baby Driver

In an age when almost a third of the world’s population is considered obese and another third within normal parameters, we must consider that the other third is undernourished, many bordering on starvation. And on the Fourth of July we showed the world what we think of that starving third by sponsoring food eating contests. Joey Chestnut, in the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest in Atlantic City, won his tenth title by consuming 72 hotdogs and buns in ten minutes. What an impressive athletic endeavor, Joey, 72 in ten minutes. That’s enough to gag a maggot as we used to say in my youth. Next year he can strive for a new record of 73 or 74. And the world looks on in astonishment as a long line of contestants eat enough hotdogs in ten minutes to feed three or four hundred starving children for a month.

For most of us old movie fans (I mean old fans, not old movies.), the greatest car chase was in The French Connection when “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) chase some French drug smugglers in and out and around New York underpasses. Or maybe it was Bullitt as Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) pursued the bad guys, both doing those iconic auto high-flights on the San Francisco hills. There have been many cinematic extended car chases in the past, but I think they may all have to move aside to let Baby (Ansel Elgort) do his thing in Baby Driver. The driving was excellent, the car chases exciting, with avoidance tricks that seemed plausible instead of the usual special effects smash-‘em-ups we see too often in the Fast and Furious and Jason Bourne franchises. The driving was set to the music that Baby hears in his IPod inner ear. Baby is working off an obligation to Doc (Kevin Spacey), who caught him trying to steal his Mercedes. Doc won’t turn him in to the police if baby will be the driver in a number of bank heists that Doc orchestrates. Baby becomes Doc’s good luck charm, and he uses him on each of the jobs they do. But then, Baby is also the best getaway driver Doc could find. He works with three others on the first job we see—Buddy (Jon Hamm), Buddy’s psychotic partner Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Griff (Jon Bernthal), then later with a replacement for Griff, Bats (Jamie Foxx), who truly is batty. Baby meets and falls in love with Debora (Lily James), a waitress at Baby’s favorite diner. He wants to do this last, this final, job for Doc so that he and Debora can hit the road into the Western sunset. No such luck. Doc wants more. Bats doesn’t trust Baby. And the blood flies and bodies pile up. That piling may have been where director/writer Edgar Wright got off on the un-Wright foot. We didn’t need all that blood to make a convincing love story, just a lot of manic driving and a really great musical score, the music that Baby uses to make his way successfully through a chaotic world.

Tuesday, July 4

Fourth of July 2017

Arizona Weather – It’s settling into a high range from about 108 to 115 and is just now showing signs of the higher humidity that signals the start of the monsoon. We don’t need a weatherperson (Have you noticed how many of these people are now women?) to tell us about rising humidity. Our bathroom door tells us as it makes louder and louder shrieks as it get tighter and tighter in its frame. Something about summer heat and the movement through July has always depressed me: Beginning on June 21, the first day of summer, the days get shorter and shorter. Just like life. We’re on the downside of the year and I’m on the downside of my life. How depressing.

Today is the Fourth of July and we have few celebratory plans. We’ll go out for dinner to Carrabba’s, just as we’ve done every Tuesday for the past year, and we’ll probably watch the Macy’s Fireworks Spectacular even though another second-hand sight of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of incendiary stuff no longer turns us on. And this year, we feel that our nation’s image to the rest of the world has suffered so much from the White House Bumbler that these fireworks are a grim reminder of North Korea’s threats of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at us. I noticed a mention in USA Today that 35 of Trump’s 165 days in office have been spent at one or more of his golf courses. That’s a lot of time spent on golf and a lot of money spent on security while he’s taking these golf breaks. If he continues at this rate for his first year, he will have been on one of his golf properties seventy-seven times. Don’t you have more important things to do, Donald?

More on golf. Danielle Kang won the women’s PGA last weekend. What a gutsy final round she had, and what a refreshing newcomer to the ranks of major winners. I hope she wasn’t a flash in the pan and we see more of her in the future. The Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club is only a week and a half away, another Open without Tiger. How sad that he now admits he has a problem with pain medication. How sad that we’ll never again see him tee it up in a professional golf event. But we can feast on the battle of the Big Six at Royal Birkdale—Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McElroy, Rickie Fowler, and—Yes!—finally, a Sergio Garcia who replaces Bubba in this scintillating sextet.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Let’s hope the second half of this year will show us less Trump golf and more Trump sanity.

Sunday, July 2

Trump Tweets

No matter how many advisers and Republican congressmen and women have told him his tweets are doing grievous harm to his and our nation’s image and are too undignified for the leader of the free world, Donald Trump continues to send out threats and insults for his enemies and all the people of the world to read. Let’s see. Here’s a quick summary of his recent Tweet Tirades: Trump vs state election officials who refuse to send voter information to him; Trump vs CNN, who spreads “fake news and garbage journalism”; Trump vs Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, whom he describes as “Crazy Joe” and “Dumb as a Rock” Mika and later as “low IQ Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe.” They had the audacity to question his mental and emotional fitness for the office.

His approval rating has slumped to about 25% and seems to be holding there. I’m guessing that those who continue to support him and approve of what he’s doing are made up for the most part of white, male, misogynistic gun owners who would like to see our nation sectioned off into areas that exclusively allow only members of the same race and religion. And believe that the only suitable place for a woman is the kitchen and the bedroom, believe that transgendering and same-sex marriages are an abomination and an insult to God, believe that the Bible is factually true, and believe that the U.S. should pull out of all foreign affairs and let the rest of the world take care of itself. There. That pretty much covers all bases. I’m also guessing that the London bookies have lowered the odds on Trump’s impeachment to even. And I wouldn’t bet a penny against it.

Saturday, July 1

Phone & E-Mail Scams

It seems like there are more and more scams involving e-mails and phones than ever before. Last night I got a new one, a phone call from Dish Network telling me I would need to upgrade my DVR boxes, or something like that. The call was from a William Jeffries, who had a distinctly Indian accent with all kinds of busy background noises behind him. The accent and noise made it hard from me to understand what he was saying. He first asked me to hit the menu button twice and it would call up a page that listed all the information about my Dish equipment. Okay. And since only a day or two earlier, Dish had made a change to the appearance of their page for saving programs, I thought this call was something further with their upgrade. But the more questions he asked me, the more uncomfortable I became. I finally told him that I’d rather call Dish directly to see what it was they needed from me. He objected vehemently. I hung up. I went online and looked up Dish phone scams. Yupp. There it was, almost exactly as it had happened. Another lesson learned, but just barely.

And this lesson reminded me of another one I’d just learned. It wasn’t as blatant a scam as the others I’d heard of, but very close. About a month ago I got an e-mail request to take a survey. I can’t remember who asked me to do it or what it involved, but I suspect it was related to all the shopping I do on Amazon. So, I took the survey with the understanding that I‘d get some free reward for participating. Yes, a free gift from about ten categories, one of which was for a free watch. I emphasize the word “free” because the survey also emphasized it. You already know what I should have known, that there’s almost nothing under the blue sky that’s free. Ten days later, my “free” watch arrived, a rather manly-large Axion watch with tiny watch face at the top and a small informative circle at the bottom, four side buttons for setting all kinds of functions—a numerical time readout in both regular time and military time, a space to tell me the day of the week and date of the month, a stop watch function, and an alarm. It’s quite handsome although a bit larger than I’m used to. I rather liked it. And except for the $6.95 shipping and handling, it was free! But a month later I noticed on my credit card statement a charge of $99.95. I called the number listed there. I was informed that the watch was free for two weeks, after which if I didn’t return it I would be charged that $99.95, and that I had also somehow agreed to participate in other such mailings once a month, “gifts” to examine for 14 days before returning or keeping. I told them to take me off their mailing list. I would keep the “free” $106.95 watch because I had no choice, but I was an unhappy buyer of said watch.

This internet practice may not be illegal, but it narrowly skirts the line between scam and legality. I’d consider it a scam. Just another lesson I learned too late, and it cost me only $106.95.

Thursday, June 29

Baseball Records & Jazz

A little more on baseball. The Arizona Diamondbacks are one of several surprise teams in MLB this year. Last night they won their fiftieth game against only twenty-eight losses. That’s their best start ever and makes them third best in both leagues, trailing only the Houston Astros and the hated LA Dodgers. They’re such a fun bunch to watch. They’ve pulled off twenty-eight come-from-behind wins. Now, that’s exciting baseball. In baseball, almost all records can and will be broken, but there are two records from the past that will probably stand forever: Ted Williams’ season average of .407 in 1953 and Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six games in a row with one or more hits in 1941. One would think the Williams .407 would be reachable, but in all of baseball, he’s the only one to maintain an average that high for a whole season. He also did it in 1941 - .406 and 1952 - .400. With today’s pitchers—bigger, stronger, faster, with far more pitching tools than in the past—batters can’t hit them at a 4 for 10 pace for an entire season. Then there’s Joltin’ Joe’s 56 in a row. No one since then has come within shouting distance of his record. No one in the future will either.

In most sports involving a ball, the eyes have it. Players who see the ball more clearly and for a longer duration will be more successful than those who don’t. Ted Williams swore he could see the stitches on the ball when his bat made contact. Golfers with amazing hand-eye coordination will tell you they see the ball as they hit it. In all sports involving catching, kicking, or striking a ball or puck, it’s all-important to see the ball until after the ball or puck has been caught or struck. The eyes have it, and it’s the single most important factor in sports success.

I’m a longtime jazz fan. I was going to say “old time” but I’d rather not think of myself as old. But not just any kind of jazz. There are all sorts of music that fall under the jazz label—big band or swing and small groups like trios of bass, percussion and piano; Dixieland, male and female vocalists, fast, slow, loud, soft. From my youth in the 40’s and 50’s, I loved the big bands—Glenn Miller, the Dorseys, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Les Brown, and Benny Goodman, to name only the best-known. But my all-time favorite was Stan Kenton. His jazz was louder than most, more innovative than most. I listened to all of his “Artistries” over and over and even today I can hear note for note in my inner ear his most famous “Artistry in Rhythm.” Louis Armstrong’s Dixieland turns me off; jazz that’s too loud or too fast turns me off. I guess I’m saying that quiet jazz piano and a quiet female jazz singer like Diana Krall or Carmen McRae turns me on. I’ll always regret never going to a club to listen to either of these women. It was always something I’d do sometime, just not today. And now it’s too late.

Wednesday, June 28

McEnroe vs Williams

The Battle of the Sexes, Round Two. Remember when Bobby Riggs lost a grudge match to Billie Jean King in 1973? It was to decide if a woman tennis player could beat a man, even an old loudmouth like Riggs. And now we have a new debate when John McEnroe left-handedly slapped Serena Williams by saying that she was without a doubt the greatest female tennis player of all time but that she would rank only about 700 in the men’s circuit. Oh, my, did Serena take offense. It’s probably true that most women in most sports wouldn’t be able to compete with most men. That’s not a sexist observation, just one based on the physical differences between most women and most men. The best woman in most sports that require physical strength and speed would be better than most men. But not the best men. We’ve been watching American Ninja Warrior and are big fans of Kaci Cantanzaro and Jesse Graff,
both of whom have demonstrated that they can compete with and beat most, but not all, of the male contestants. In football, women have made it on male teams in high school and college, but so far mainly as punters or kickers. In professional basketball, Ann Meyers played briefly with the Indiana Pacers in 1979 but more as a curiosity than an effective starter. Even the 6' 8" Brittany Griner
wouldn't be able to compete with NBA players. Michelle Wie a decade ago made the sorry discovery that she couldn’t keep up with the men in professional golf, nor could Annika Sorenstam
in 2013 when she failed to make the cut in the Colonial that year, nor could Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1938 Los Angeles Open. But McEnroe’s placing Serena back at 700 is truly insulting. She would more likely be in the top 100, maybe even as high as 25. But not number one. And Bad Boy John should acknowledge that and apologize to her. Or better yet, challenge her to a match like Riggs did to King. That would generate a huge audience of men and women most of whom would be rooting for Serena to shut Loud-Mouth John’s loud-mouth.

Tuesday, June 27

This 'n' That

We’re still in the middle of a heat wave, but in a few days it will go down to what we average for late June, about 106˚. Most people unfamiliar with Arizona would say we’re still in the middle of a heat wave. I guess so. But when one doesn’t leave the house because it’s hovering around 120˚, one also doesn’t leave when it’s only 106˚. It’s like what we did in snowy Chautauqua County—not go out in the middle of a blizzard, also not go out when it’s chilly, muddy, wet-snow sloppy.

Interesting stat. Facebook just reported that over two billion are now socializing on its medium. Mind boggling. That makes fifty times two billion inane remarks made every day, or ten trillion such inanities daily. How many emoticons would that entail? Probably only five trillion per day. The numbers are so huge the mind can’t fathom this phenomenon. How many minutes a day are wasted because two billion people are Facebooking? About six trillion minutes, or one hundred billion hours, or about 4.17 billion days, or 11.42 million years. Mr. Z, how can you report this with pride and the promise to make that number of Facebookers even higher?

Not much to report about movies. The only one that’s coming out this week that I want to see is Baby Driver. It got good reviews and the plot sounds like something I’d like. A week ago, we made the sorry mistake of renting The Great Wall. What a stinker. How could Matt Damon have agreed to make this movie? How could the producers have thought it would make a bunch of money? The visual effects were good but then we have The Great Wall of China and these millions of beasties that attack it. How silly. I’ll think twice before I rent another Matt Damon flick.

More on my lessons about living with oxygen. The Bitter Apple spray seems to be working to prevent Tuffy from chewing holes in the line. I’ve also discovered that the more time I spend with the two prongs up my nose the easier it becomes. In fact, often now I don’t even realize it’s there. And I’ve come up with a solution for that awful pain one gets at the top of the ears from the oxygen line sort of biting into the flesh. I bought several terrycloth head bands, then attached two large paperclips, bent the top of the paperclips, and now the line can be held up above the ears. No more pain.

Sunday, June 25

Obesity & Bill Cosby

My nearly six month hiatus from this blog has seen an almost 100% loss of readers. Not that a wide and varied readership was ever my bloggish goal, but It did feel good when a hundred or more readers would show up for one of my blogs. From the very beginning, I posted here as a kind of daily journal or diary entry. The writing was for me mainly and only partly for anyone else who may have wanted to see what I had to say. And now that I’ve returned to a tiny audience, I feel sad. And abandoned. Therefore, I’m going to continue to post and hope that some of my past readers will return.

The Cosby trial resulted in a hung jury. The just couldn’t find unanimity. I can understand. Too many of these trials on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are too hazy, the definition of each too subjective, with too much room for revenge instead of justice. Not that I think Bill Cosby is innocent of all these charges. That many women all telling the same story can’t be motivated simply by revenge. I also wonder why so many of them agreed to take the pills Cosby gave them to “relieve” their anxiety. What were they anxious about? Wasn’t that agreement at least partly a consent to what came later? There may or may not be another trial.

Every so often I have to say something about fat people, really fat people. What makes them tick? Is the taste of food so enticing that they’d give up a normal body size just to eat and eat? I recently read an article about the world’s heaviest man, a Mexican living in a nation in which nearly 35% of adolescents are overweight or obese. He weighed in at just over 1300 pounds. Another article reported that about a third of the world’s population is obese. How is that possible? Faulty metabolism doesn’t explain it. Only a tiny fraction could legitimately claim they had a metabolism too slow. The only explanation must be over-eating or eating way too much fat-producing food, ours and the world’s penchant for junk food. But a third of the world’s population is over two billion people. Two billion! Can you imagine what they’d look like if you piled them up helter-skelter? That would be one huge, greasy mountain of blubber. Is it some sort of competition to see who can be fattest, to win an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records? Those at the top of the heap usually die young from a failure of one or more organs that simply throw up their frankfurter fat fingers and give up the ghost or from an inability to get from one room to the next because the doors aren’t wide enough. Two billion! Is the taste of rich food so enticing that these fat folk can’t deny their taste buds? I don’t know. But if we want to make room for our now nearly seven billion people, we could make quite a bit of room by stapling the stomachs of these two billion grossly overweight people.

Monday, June 19

Baseball & Active-Reactive Sports

Baseball is such an unusual sport. For those who have never played it or have never become a fan, it must be like (as my wife is fond of saying) watching paint dry. But for those who are avid fans or have ever played it, the game is a study in mental pressure. Nearly all sports are reactive. That is, a competitor reacts instinctively to some action of his opponent, who then also reacts instinctively to that instinctive move. For example, tennis, except for the serve, is reactive, as is basketball, except for free throws, as is football except for the kicking of extra points and field goals. Boxing, soccer, and hockey are almost entirely reactive. Golf, on the other hand, is almost entirely active with the competitor deciding rationally instead of instinctively what club to use, where to aim it, how hard to swing. The golfer, except in occasional match play events, is not competing with anyone or anything but the course, each stroke for 18 holes set in motion by the golfer’s active decisions. Then there’s baseball, which is about half and half active and reactive, leaving all sorts of possible head games. The duel between pitcher and batter goes on for the entire game. Who can outguess the other? Batter: Which pitch will he throw to what part of the plate and at what speed? Pitcher: Which pitch will he be expecting and delivered to which part of the plate at what speed? The catcher becomes involved by signaling to the pitcher which sort of pitch he thinks should be thrown. The batter looks to the third base coach who will relay the manager’s instructions for the next pitch—bunt, take, or hit-and-run. The pitch is thrown, the batter either lets it go or he swings and misses or hits it foul or hits it somewhere in fair territory. The defender reactively catches it or picks it up and throws it to a fellow defender at whichever base that’s appropriate to produce one of the three outs that comprise that half an inning. And between each pitch, all nine defenders must keep in mind all the possible outcomes when a ball has been hit. It’s all very complicated. And very exciting if you know what you’re seeing and involve yourself in the mental aspects of the game.

Baseball questions:
Why aren’t more young players becoming switch hitters? Why aren’t hitters given a set amount of time between pitches, with each infraction counting as a strike? Why doesn’t professional baseball do away with an umpire calling balls and strikes? To avoid those painfully long games that go into three or four or ten extra innings, why not have only one extra inning? If it remains tied after that one inning, then have each team choose one hitter to bat against one of their own pitchers, the hitter given three swings with the other team defending. Two hits followed by a home run would count as three runs. A home run followed by two hits would count as only one run. Three hits (other than a home run) would count as one run. If the score after this sudden death inning remains tied, then declare the game as a tie. Just think of the interest in the game this sudden death inning would produce.

Tuesday, June 13

Trump vs Comey

I can ignore him and his escapades no longer. I just have to comment on the sad image our nation is now presenting to the rest of the world. I’m referring to the “He said-he said” confrontation between James Comey and our omni-tweeter president Donald Trump. On one hand we have the Comey memos he wrote about their meeting in the White House, the “he said” that he feared Trump might lie about what was said. On the other hand we have the Donald’s “he said” suggesting he may have made tapes of their meeting. Comey said, “I hope so. When will we see and hear them?” Trump said, “Not now, maybe later.” We, apparently, will hear them on the same day we see his tax returns. Like never. Meanwhile, the investigation into Russian ties to Trump and his band of advisers continues, with ever widening ripples in the guilt pool about those Russian ties. Comey calls Trump a liar and Trump calls Comey a leaker. It’s quite possible that Trump doesn’t know the difference between a lie and the truth. Whatever is convenient is the truth. Or maybe he just doesn’t remember what he once said that contradicts what he later says. Maybe he just didn’t realize how difficult his job would be and now, unconsciously, wishes he could get out of it. Even Paul Ryan now tries to explain Trump’s many faux pas by saying, “He’s still learning how to act like a president.” Maybe Trump doesn’t realize how stupid he sounds when he says, “Climate change is a hoax” or “Barack Obama isn’t a legal U.S. citizen.” All of this in his first five mostly unsuccessful months in office. It seems ever more likely that VPOTUS Pence will become POTUS Pence. That would be better, but only by a little, than what we now have.

Monday, June 12

Tonys 2017

“Another opening, another show, another Tony’s the way to go!”  I think I’ve seen every Tony Awards show since we’ve been married.  That would make last night’s my 57th Tony.  And it was as good as it’s ever been.  Of all the awards shows (and there seem to be over a hundred), the Tonys are the classiest, most entertaining of them all.   Kevin Spacey was an adequate host but he couldn’t come up to those hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman.  And if last year was the year of Hamilton, 2017 would be the year of Dolly and Evan Hansen.  Bette Midler, looking a few decades younger than she really is, won for her role as Dolly in the winner of the best musical revival, Hello, Dolly.  I think she may have aged another year during her prolonged acceptance speech.  I know I did.  Then there was Ben Platt, who won for his role as Even Hansen in the winner of the best musical Dear Evan Hansen.  Wow!  Simply Wow!  He won me over with his extended, oh so complicated version of “Waving through a Window.”  I’ve always been fascinated by song lyrics.  That doesn’t mean I think more highly of the lyricist than the one who puts those words to music.  Richard Rogers was every bit as important as Oscar Hammerstein.  But the lyrics, ah, the lyrics.   I guess that’s why I’ve spent my entire life writing lyrics that will never be heard by anyone but me.  I guess that’s why I’m such a fan of Stephen Sondheim, who learned the trade at the knee of Oscar Hammerstein.  And now we have Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, who came up with these complicated, very clever lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen.  I hope I live long enough to see this show performed at the Arizona Broadway Theatre.  If you want to taste a few of the best songs from this show, here are the YouTube versions of “Waving Through a Window,” “Only Us,” and “You Will Be Found.”  Again, Wow!

Friday, June 9

Inogen One G2

My in-home oxygen concentrator and G2 portable arrived at my door today.  If packaging is a criterion for judging how good a company is, then Inogen must be in the world’s top ten.  It came in two cardboard boxes, with cardboard heavier than any I’ve ever seen.  The first box contained the in-house concentrator, about a third the size of the one we’ve been renting from our health provider, sounding about a third as loud as the bigger one.  It was held in place in the box by really heavy plastic blowup sheets.  I think the unit would have escaped any injury even if dropped from ten stories.  The second box contained the portable with all its accessories, this also encased in heavy blowup plastic.  The accessories: a plastic pull cart with telescoping handle for transporting the portable in case it became awkward to carry it on the shoulder, a carry bag for the portable, one 12-cell and one 24-cell lithium battery,
two power cords (an AC cord for at home and a DC cord for car or boat), and a user manual.  First, I tested the in-home concentrator.  Worked just fine.  Then the portable concentrator.  This one really surprised me.  With the 24-cell battery attached, the whole thing weighs just over seven pounds.  You charge the battery by plugging the portable in and turning it on.  A little display window at the front of the unit tells you how much the battery has been charged and what level of oxygen supply you want it set at.  When I first put a cannula on with the unit set at 3, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t pumping any oxygen continuously.  Then I could feel and hear the oxygen being delivered in little bursts to coincide with my nasal breathing.  If I breathe through my mouth instead of my nose, it doesn’t put out any oxygen because it can’t tell if I’m really there.  But when I breathe through the cannula it will match the oxygen puffs to my breathing, just as though Siri is in there listening and checking up on me.  And when it’s turned on, there’s almost no sound, just a tiny purr and those occasional little puffs.  I didn’t realize that the portable unit could serve as an in-home concentrator and, therefore, I didn’t really need the one I bought.  But, I guess it serves as a reliable backup in case something happened to the portable.  All in all, I just can’t say how happy this makes me.  Compared to the large in-home unit and those annoying silver tanks for trips outside the home, what I now have is like a dream come true.  If one really does need to life a life on oxygen, then this is the only way to go.  Maybe in a month or a year, when something awful happens to either unit, I might feel differently, at which time I will slap myself in the face and take back my glowing endorsement.  But I doubt anything like that will happen.

Now, back to my sharp-toothed little Tuffy who keeps biting tiny holes in my oxygen lines.  He did it again last night and this morning when I tried to patch it with packing tape, it just wouldn’t seal.  So, I put on a new line, went on-line to that wonderful place called Amazon and ordered a package of twenty-five 40-foot lines for just over thirty dollars.  Each line comes to about $1.25.  And on Monday, I’ll be getting a spray bottle of Bitter Apple cat repellent (another purchase from Amazon) that I’ll use on the oxygen line to see if that won’t make him quit his biting.  And if that doesn’t deter him, then for only about $1.25 I can simply throw the bitten one away every three or four days and put on a new one.

Wednesday, June 7

Oxygen & Tv Westerns

In one or two days I’ll get my order from Inogen, a small in-home oxygen concentrator and a battery-operated portable.  The in-home unit will replace the larger (and louder) unit we’re now renting and the portable will free me from that awkward tank that I’ve been pulling around like a dog out for his constitutional.  The portable will allow me more freedom away from home, even an extended automobile trip if we want to visit our Kentucky daughter and don’t want to fly.  The unit can be plugged into the car for oxygen use while it recharges the battery.  Can’t wait.  More on cats and oxygen hoses.  Tiger or Tuffy did it again last night, chewed a hole in the line that leaked about 90% of what should have been coming to me in bed.  So I again looked up cat repellent and found bottles of bitter apple spray or rub-on.  Supposedly, dogs and cats can’t stand it.  We’ll see.  I also found out that my advanced age and oxygen dependence has altered the makeup of my blood such that 82˚ now feels the same as 75˚ felt only a few years ago.  We now keep our AC set at 82˚and it feels just fine.

Where are the television Westerns of yesteryear?  I long for a Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Bonanza, or Maverick.  I miss Miss Kitty, Matt, and gimpy Chester; miss Rowdy, Gil, and Wishbone; miss the Cartwrights (Ben, Hoss, Little Joe, and Adam); and, of course, miss the Maverick brothers Bret and Bart.  Were these shows really as good as I remember or have I simply romanticized them?  I don’t know.  There used to be a bunch of hour and half-hour Westerns in the Fifties and Sixties, but they weren’t nearly as good as the four mentioned above: to name only a few,  Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, The Wild Wild West, The Lone Ranger, and Bat Masterson.  I’ll take the few Western movies still being made, like The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Jane Got a Gun, and The Revenant, but I’d sure like to see a good Western series.

Tuesday, June 6

Tiger's Fall

I guess I can no longer ignore the latest episode in Tiger’s fall from grace.  For years I’ve defended him, as a remarkable golfer and a remarkable young man.  Then the news from Florida in November 2009 and the debacle with his wife, the news not only of his infidelity but his supposed addiction to sex, nymphomania on the female side and satyriasis on the male.  But there is no psychological consensus regarding such behavior.  Is it a psychological condition or is it simply a desire to have sexual relations with more than just a wife or girlfriend?  No one seems to know.  Okay, so despite my disappointment at this unfortunate incident, I forgave him his sins.  He’s certainly not the first husband to stray, just one of the most famous.  I kept saying that his golfing career would continue, that he would still beat Sam Snead’s record for most wins, that he would still win more majors than Jack Nicklaus.  After all, he won the 2008 U.S. Open on just one leg.  But then it became a back issue more than his surgically repaired knees.  And more and more rehab that kept him out of the game during what would have been his most productive years.  Then that series of comeback attempts two years ago that were so embarrassingly bad.  I kept saying I still thought he’d recover and get back to winning golf tournaments, maybe not five or more majors, maybe not even one.  But at least he could contend.  But then he had more issues with his back.

And now another news flash—an apparent DUI in Florida with that unfortunate and awful lineup photo that was aired all over the world.  Those who hated Tiger from the very beginning for his apparent arrogance, for his unapproachability, for his being black, must now be chortling over this latest fall from up there to down here.  It still hasn’t been determined if he was under the influence of alcohol or if he was encumbered by a combination of prescription drugs.  Doesn’t matter.  The damage has been done and nothing will make it better.  That booking photo has confirmed that everything that could go wrong with his life and his golfing career has gone wrong.  He will retreat into the privacy of his wealth.  He will never again play competitive golf.  He may or may not continue his philanthropy.  I hope does.  Maybe that would somehow offset these two falls from the heights of the sports world to the depths of that booking photo.

Saturday, June 3

Quality Television

I keep saying the same thing about our leisure time television viewing: There’s too much quality stuff and too little time to see it.  In the old days, we had the three major networks—ABC, NBC, and CBS.  Then, more and more networks got into the act.  And now we have at least twenty that are watch-worthy.  I tune in CBS far more often than the other two.  Why?  Because the best hour-long dramas are there—Madam Secretary, Blue Bloods, NCIS, Bull, and Criminal Minds.  And the best two comedies, The Big Bang Theory and Mom.

Two of the best dramatic series can be found on FX, The Americans and Fargo.  The critically acclaimed Better Call Saul is on AMC.

I’ve watched
The Americans from the beginning and I’m just as confused now as I was after the first episode. There are almost too many plot lines to keep track of, especially those set in Russia with Russian dialogue and English subtitles.  I love Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as the spy couple, love their many different disguises by alternating head and facial hair styles.  It’s odd to be rooting for Russian spies, but they’re just such nice people.  That’s what so surprised me when Sweet Keri killed the Russian woman who, in WWII, had been forced by the Nazis to execute and bury in a large trench the young Russian men in her village.  Even more surprising, when she also killed the husband, who had nothing to do with his wife’s acts in the war, knew nothing about them.  The next season will probably be the last, since the end of the Cold War would be the end of their spying.  Will their FBI friend and neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich) ever learn their true identities?  Will they and daughter Paige relocate to Russia or will they decide to stay in America, where they’ve lived for most of their adult lives.  We’ll see.

One of the oddest but best series on television is the Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul.  I call it odd because it’s using many of the same character as those in Breaking Bad, but they’re all so different, some even risen from their graves.  Saul (Bob Odenkirk), who was a true lawyer sleazebag in Breaking Bad, is now the sympathetic but still strange lawyer Jimmy McGill in Saul.  The two nasty drug dealers, Hector Salamanca and Gus Fring, both die in Breaking Bad but are resurrected and larger than life in Saul. Mike Ehrmantraub (Jonathan Banks) was a drug partner of Walter’s in Breaking and is now back in Saul as a much more sympathetic character.  Odd, yes, but very watchable and surprising.  [Ah, ha!  I've been informed that Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad.  Why did I not know that?  Why didn't I do better research?  I now understand why Hector and Gus are alive in Saul but I'd still prefer that Jimmy not turn into Saul later in his career, the sleazy one we had in Breaking Bad.]

Then there’s probably the best show of all for the last three seasons, Fargo, the very funny, very bloody, very interesting creation of Noah Hawley.  Each season is a self-contained ten episodes set in the Minnesota we first saw in the Coen brothers’ hilarious Fargo, the movie.  And if you’re looking for pure evil embodied in anything on television, look no further than V. M. Varga (David Thewles), the crooked-toothed, soft-spoken, anorexic villain who takes over the company of Emmit Stussy (Ewen McGregor), killing and intimidating anyone who gets in his way.

As I’ve said before, just too much quality viewing on the tube and too little time to view it. 

Thursday, June 1

A Quiet Passion

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Cynthia Nixon was a believable Emily Dickinson in the recent film, A Quiet Passion.  She captured the passion as well as the reticence of this New England recluse.  I was a little disappointed that so many of her best-known poems were ignored and those that were included weren’t as clearly presented as they might have been.  Most who saw this movie would not be as familiar as I am with either her life or her poems.  I think too many of the poems quoted would have gone right over the heads of most of the audience.  It would have been more effective to see the poems as she wrote them, with all her idiosyncratic punctuation visibly evident.  Too much was made of the few males she may or may not have felt attracted to and too little made of other aspects of her life, like how much her garden became a refuge for her in her reclusive years.  Where was the “narrow fellow in the grass,” or the bird which rides “upon a single wheel” or the robin she watched secretly as he “bit an Angleworm in halves / And ate the fellow, raw”?  Too much time was spent with her mother’s death and brother Austin’s infidelity.  Too little time was spent with the poems and too much on the conversations she had with her liberated friend, Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey).  One of her poems was quietly delivered by Dickinson when she said hello to her new-born niece, “I’m Nobody!  Who are you?” but it felt more extemporaneous than poetic.  The film was almost entirely devoid of background music, a good thing, although early on we see the Dickinson family attending a particularly painful operatic performance, one which Dickinson supposedly proclaimed wonderful.  No, the perceptive Dickinson would not have said such a thing.  Many scenes were slowed down to allow Nixon room for dramatic, full-face expressions.  Dickinson’s life was almost entirely without the sort of drama most moviegoers require.  Except for a few shouting matches between her and  her Puritanically pious father and her and her philandering brother Austin, her life played out in slow motion.  Her New England isolation was underscored with the absence of any mention in her poems of the Civil War.  We needed to see more of her poetry to appreciate the woman and her character.  I wanted more of her surprising metaphors, like “ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers— / That perches in the soul,” and “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—”  I needed more of her surprising word choices, like “The Riddle we can guess / We speedily despise— / Not anything is stale so long / As Yesterday’s surprise—” or “Much Madness is divinest Sense— / To a discerning Eye— / Much Sense—the starkest Madness— / ‘Tis the Majority / In this as All, prevail— / Assent—and you are sane— / Demur—you’re straightway dangerous / And handled with a Chain—”  I admired Cynthia Nixon’s portrayal of Emily Dickinson, for which she will very likely be an Oscar nominee;  but I wanted more of Dickinson’s poetry.  I guess that must be the old English teacher in me.

Tuesday, May 30

Donald Trump, U A

He may not have said it, but if he had it would sound something like this: “Our trip to Europe and the Middle-East last week was a huge success, a really really great visit with our allies over there.  And I believe I won that knuckle-crusher contest between me and France’s President Macron.  Yes, he’s a lot younger than me but I showed him what a grip I had.  And it’s the same grip I use on making America great again.  For a relatively older man, I have a tremendous grip.  But I also had a bad time with Chancellor Merkel in Germany.  All those automobiles they ship to our great country has to stop.  They are bad, very bad in their trade relationships with our great nation, and I will put a stop to it.”

Almost sixty years after Lederer and Burdick made the tag “Ugly American” a fitting label for the way most of the world viewed Americans, President Trump is doing his best to resurrect that image.  It was then a legitimate complaint about too many U.S. citizens who traveled abroad, their arrogance in insisting that communication be in English and not the language of the nation visited, the flaunting of money, the loud, brash stressing of opinions, the lack of class in attire, the reminders of how much better life is in the US, our ignorance of the history and culture of nations visited.

We haven’t often heard him speaking directly about his policies, off the cuff, that is.  I’m not sure he could state much of anything very clearly without the help of his writers.  In the debates, he very carefully avoided having to say anything with substance.  Without a teleprompter he’d be almost speechless, and even with a teleprompter which gives him someone else’s words, his delivery is slow and awkward.  He loves empty adjectives, like big, wonderful, bad, great, amazing, incredible, and tremendous.  He loves to pile up intensifiers to make a point, believing, it seems, that if he repeats such words, he’s making strong points.  For example, he might say something “is really, really bad,” or someone “is a very, very good person.”  He speaks in clichés.  He tends to exaggerate.  He too often makes statements that haven’t been accurately researched.  He stumbles over phrases and leaves words out.  For example, in an interview about his appearance on the Chris Wallace show, he said, “I have, seem to get very high ratings. I definitely. You know Chris Wallace had 9.2 million people, it’s the highest in the history of the show. I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple. Chris Wallace, look back during the Army-Navy football game, I did his show that morning. It had 9.2 million people. It’s the highest they’ve ever had.”  [In fact, it was 2.3 million.]  In other interviews, “When WikiLeaks came out ... never heard of WikiLeaks, never heard of it.”  “The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage … The electoral college is very difficult for a Republican to win.” And: “The election has, you know, look, the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity because the Electoral College, as I said, is so skewed to them. You start off by losing in New York and California, no matter who it is … The Electoral College is so skewed in favour of a Democrat that it’s very, very hard.”  “But President Xi, from the time I took office, he has not, they have not been currency manipulators. Because there’s a certain respect because he knew I would do something or whatever.”  “I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people.”

I believe we have made a really, really tremendous mistake in electing this man to be our president, and I, well, have to say . . . we have a leader who’s now reinventing what we once thought we’d done away with, the really, truly, Ugly, Ugly American.

Monday, May 29

Airline Scuffles & Big Brother

Much has been made lately of all the scuffles on airlines, especially the one involving the bloody doctor being dragged off the plane because he refused to give up his seat to make room for an airlines employee. So many people, both passengers as well as flight attendants, seem to be angry. Where is the sociability and civility of the past? Could it have something to do with terrorists and our growing anxiety when we board a plane? Could it have something to do with our impatience over the lengthy process of checking in? Could it have something to do with ever-shrinking seat space? Probably all of the above. More and more, I and a lot of other people don’t really want to fly anywhere unless it’s absolutely necessary. We’re now warned that bombs can be made small enough to fit in laptops as well as smartphone and tablets. Therefore, now such devices have to be transported with luggage or left behind. And if such bombs are powerful enough to blow a hole in the side of the plane from the passenger section, why wouldn’t they be powerful enough from the luggage storage area? That leads to my next question: Why are these terrorist cuckoo birds so intent on killing old, young, or in between, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, or any other group that doesn’t necessarily agree with and adhere to their views? Does the rest of the world have to root out and kill all these terrorists before we can stop running scared? I guess the answer is yes. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world we’re living in.

Another thought—Orwell’s Big Brother of 1984 is with us, following and recording our every move. A proliferation of cameras can now watch us no matter where we go. They’re not yet able to send out signals to Big Brother to warn him of our transgressions, but they soon will be. Or maybe they already are. I’m not sure where you’d have to go to escape this surveillance—deep in the Rockies or some other wilderness area. But with the rapid increase in the number of drones and what they’re capable of, very soon there’ll be nowhere to hide. Some will argue that if you’ve done nothing wrong, why worry about it? My response? Who decides what is or isn’t a wrongdoing?

Sunday, May 28

Emily Dickson & Julie Harris

Next week we’re going to see the only movie in town that looks promising, at least the only one I can find that isn’t directed at children or those adults who are mental midgets. It’s A Quiet Passion, about one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson. Cynthia Nixon is getting very good reviews for her portrayal of this enigmatic New England lady. I hope she’s as good as the other one who took on the challenge, Julie Harris in her one-woman Broadway show called The Belle of Amherst. When I was a young lad in 1955, living briefly in New York City, I went to see the movie version of Steinbeck’s East of Eden three or four times in a row. You might think I went that often to see James Dean doing his early James Dean thing. That may have been part of the reason, but it was really to see the young Julie Harris, just one of the many film stars with whom in my youth I fell in love.
Then in 1976, she gave us a television version of The Belle of Amherst, a Broadway performance for which she won a Tony. If you’ve never seen it, go to YouTube for a ninety minute treat. It’s a tour de force for Julie Harris similar to what Hal Holbrook did with Mark Twain in the Fifties and Sixties. I wish playwright William Luce hadn’t chosen to include one of Dickinson's worst poems, “I Shall Not Live in Vain.” It’s a poem that a number of literary critics say may not even have been written by Dickinson. One of her distinctive stylistic traits in her fascination with unusual words. “I Shall Not Live in Vain” is plain and amateurish, relying on false emotion not found anywhere else in her more than fifteen-hundred poems. See what you think:

If I can stop one Heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain
Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.

This was supposedly written in 1864, the same year she wrote

Love— is anterior to Life—
Posterior—to Death—
Initial of Creation, and
The Exponent of Earth—

Now, I ask you, did the same poet write both poems and both in the same year? I doubt it. If you have never seen Belle, go to YouTube. As for A Quiet Passion, I’ll let you know how Miss Nixon did, see how she compares to the Julie Harris version of Emily Dickinson.

Thursday, May 25

Life on Oxygen

Life with a trailing oxygen line. Well, it beats the alternative, so, yes, living with oxygen is better than dying without it. I’m a newbie in the oxygen club, so I haven’t yet discovered all the plusses and minuses that go with this lifestyle. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned so far. The green plastic tube that trails after me isn’t as cumbersome as I thought it would be. I don’t step on it; I don’t stumble from a coil around my ankle; I don’t pinch it in a closed bathroom door. But oh how Tuffy loves to chew on it. At first I thought it was too tough for a cat to do any damage. Wrong. He has very sharp little teeth. Tiger and Charlie don’t find it tasty, only Tuffy. A week or so ago I realized around 3:00 a.m. that nothing was coming through. I got up and checked the line—tiny little tooth holes close to where the line attaches to the oxygenator were emitting tiny little streams of oxygen, four such holes in all. I got out a roll of packing tape and taped the holes. Success, at least until he decides he also likes the taste of packing tape. The next day we tried to think of anything that would be noxious to a cat that we could rub on the line. By “noxious” I don’t mean deadly. I simply wanted to find something that would really turn him off. So my wife dipped a cloth in white vinegar and rubbed it on the line. That seemed to deter him at least temporarily. But I don’t want her to have to apply the vinegar on a frequent basis. I went on-line to see what others may have said about such a problem (and, yes, one can find answers to almost any question one can come up with). Some suggested solutions: 1. Slit open lengthwise thirty or forty plastic straws to protect the line. 2. Go to a hardware store and buy a length of flex line big enough to run the oxygen line through. 3. Make a paste of flour and water mixed with cayenne pepper and slather it on the line. 4. Suspend the entire line from hooks in the ceiling. Now, I ask you, are any of these suggestions practical? No. If not ridiculous (the straws), or messy (the paste), or way too cumbersome (the flex line), then totally unworkable (the ceiling hooks). One would need a separate line for each location that needed to be visited since a line suspended from hooks wouldn’t allow for any change in direction. That would give me about five or six separate lines with the need to reconnect to the oxygenator whichever line would take me to a new location. Whoa! That would never work. I guess the only practical solution is to give Tuffy away, and that ain’t about to happen. Better a few little air leaks than an absent Tuffy. I also learned that the cannulas need to be sanitized on a frequent basis, like every three days. One needs to wash it in warm sudsy water, then soak it in a solution of warm water and vinegar for an hour or so. Why is that necessary? Well, plastic cannulas, especially the two nasal prongs, are susceptible to bacteria that can so easily give the wearer a sinus infection. That’s all I’d need—an infection that might disallow my taking in any oxygen. There is, then, the unsatisfactory hauling of an oxygen tank whenever one wants to leave home. The tank sits on something like a tiny golf cart and is pulled behind.
It’s awkward to put it in the car, awkward to take out of the car, awkward to enter restaurant or movie theater or grocery story with this silver tank, like some cantankerous child attached to an impatient parent.

That about all I’ve learned so far, but I’m sure there will be other issues to deal with down the yellow-brick oxygen road.

Wednesday, May 24

The Voice, Season 12

I wrote this last night, so what I say is one day old, but my prognostications about who will win were pretty much on the mark. I’m talking about the finale of The Voice, which was on last night, two hours of hype, hype, and more hype. We’ve watched this twelfth season more closely than any in the past and my observations are in most ways just a repeat of what I’ve already said.

Overall, the vocal talent is better on The Voice than on other such contests, even better than on American Idol. My positive takes? So many of the contestants are so very attractive. Are they naturally so or are the makeup people magicians? The sets of all of the performances are unbelievably intricate and beautiful and how they manage to get them ready between performances is beyond me. The backup singers and band musicians are excellent, although maybe a little too intrusive. The judges are cogent and funny. Negative takes? Those awful out-of-synch arms waving from the front boxes. Why do the producers of Voice as well as Idol feel they’re necessary? The volume of the backup singers and orchestra too often makes it hard if not impossible to hear the contestants. Then there’s the audience reaction during performances, all the screaming and applause during instead of after the performance, and unless I miss my guess, they have someone out in front of the audience directing them when to amp it up. That’s too much like forcing laugh tracks on the audience watching tv sit-coms. There’s also too much time spent on banter between judges (especially that artificial duel between Adam Levine and Blake Shelton) and not enough on the actual performances. The voting seems to be too dependent on the number of ITunes downloads. Tonight’s winners? Chris Blue will win, with Lauren Duski second, Jesse Larson third and the delightful 15-year-old Aliyah Moulden fourth. See, I told you I was pretty much on the mark, with only Jesse and Aliyah trading reversed.

Now, what about the two hours last night? It was nice to see so many of the contestants who didn’t make the final four come back to sing duets with their coaches or other star singers. I loved the duet between Usher and Chris Blue, “Everybody Hurts.” I loved the twosome of TSoul and Vanessa Ferguson who joined the incomparable Gladys Knight for an extended “You Are the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me/If I Were Your Woman” How can Gladys Knight look and sound almost exactly as she did forty years ago? ‘Tis a mystery. The two best singles were Chris Stapleton singing “Either Way” and Jennifer Hudson singing “Remember Me.” Wow, has Jennifer Hudson ever come a long way from that stint she did on American Idol in Season 3, the year Kelly Clarkson won and Jennifer finished . . . SEVENTH!! Her new single “Remember Me” should be a big-time winner.

Will we watch another season of The Voice? Too soon to say if the negatives will outweigh the positives. If only they would have all the contestants sing at least once acapella so we could really hear how good or bad they are. Dream on.

Tuesday, May 23

Hello Again, Hello Again

I’ve been away too long again. I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to get a publishable version of my book on English sentence structure; all those arrows and variously sized circles nearly drove me nuts. But I finally got it done and had it published on Amazon. Now if I could only entice a few English teachers out there to buy it and try it, I’d be a happy old man. Here’s the place to find it: ES3

An old news item but one that really made me grind my teeth. It involved the young man, 19-year-old Timothy Piazza, who was allowed, yes, allowed, to die in that hazing incident at Penn State a number of weeks ago. How tragically stupid such hazing is. When I was a young pledge at the U. of South Dakota many many years ago, all the fraternities called it Hell Week even though it lasted only 72 hours. ONLY 72 hours? It was an exercise in sadism that for 72 hours allowed fraternity members to demean, humiliate, and torture the new pledges, supposedly to separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who could survive would become full brothers in the bond. Those who couldn’t were dropped like sacks of garbage. I won’t go into any of the details, but I would have to guess that many of the unmentionable activities I went through were the same as those at the Beta Theta Pi house. The excessive, forced consumption of alcohol is the only thing their pledges had to do that I didn’t. And it killed him. His blood alcohol level when he was found on the edge of death was between .26 and .36. The legal limit for blood alcohol is .08. That’s a rather astonishing difference. But it was the nearly total lack of humanity demonstrated by too many of the fraternity brothers that was especially awful. He fell down a flight of stairs and was then ignored for the next twelve or so hours. Nobody checked to see if he was all right. No one called 911. They just pretended he wasn’t there. Until it was too late. Fraternal organizations are a fine way for young people to become accepted on college campuses, but there was no need then nor is there any need now for the kind of hazing that’s still allowed.

Then there’s our president, Donald Trump. He’s been in office for just over four months and the man just can’t keep his mouth shut, can’t keep one or the other or both feet out of that open mouth. He’s demonstrated over and over again that he’s way too far over his head in the depths of Presidential requirements. London bookies are indicating that the odds of his being impeached are almost up to even. More on that in posts to come.

Saturday, May 6

Happy Valley & Oxygen

Hello again. I think I said that same thing last year. Well, here I am again. I stopped posting just after the New Year to get back to writing a novel I began almost ten years ago. And I'm happy to say that it's now finished. It's called Happy Valley (a really trite name but it was the best I could come up with). It's about a retired English teacher who now lives in a retirement city called, naturally, Happy Valley, which is really a thinly disguised Sun City West, where I and my wife now reside. Nothing very unusual or dramatic happens during this man's life, but I think it's a life that's interesting enough to be the basis for a novel. I would hope that some of my readers might buy it and judge for themselves. It's available through Amazon (what else?) as an e-book for $1.99 or as a paperback for $10.00. Click here for purchase.

What else has gone on this year? Well, I had a near-death experience with pneumonia that put me in the hospital for more than a week. It was determined there that in addition to pneumonia, I also had pulmonary fibrosis and a diseased heart. How's that for a triple-header? I've been out of the hospital for about a month, living on oxygen, a condition that appears to be mine for the rest of my life. I don't find that having an oxygen line trailing after you everywhere you go in the house is a happy experience. It also makes trips away from the house awkward. But I'm ordering a portable oxygen concentrator that should make it much less awkward. It's a little expensive, but what choice do I have>? It weighs five pounds, runs on lithium batteries that are good for up to ten hours, and is very quiet so that it won't bother other people at a movie theater or restaurant. I guess I'll get used to it. I guess I'll have to get used to it. The alternatives aren't very good.

I plan to write two or three blog posts every week, just as I did in the past. I have lots of Trumpisms to catch up on. Will I ever run out of things to say about the Donald? I don't think so.

Saturday, January 21

Punny Names

I love puns. Don't you also love puns? How about a bunch of puns based on names?
Way back in my past I read a book by John Cheever, The Wapshot Chronicle, I think it was called. The father of the main character had spent a lifetime collecting names based on puns and wordplay such as Sally Forth, the name of a comic strip character, or Rick O’Shay, a Saturday morning cartoon character. I knew from my misspent youth a number of such names, like the sister and brother duo Eileen and Ben Dover, even that unfortunate Chinaman with a hernia, Wun Hung Lo [Feel free to leave this last one out if you find it offensive]. But Cheever’s character was the first I’d encountered who made a hobby of such name collecting. Without consciously deciding to do so, I too became a “nomismatist.” Now, years later, the compulsion continues, but it’s beginning to drive me crazy.

Being a student of literature, I early encountered the young Englishwoman, Judy Obscure; the Spanish señora, Barbara Savill; the stout old English gentleman, Toby R. Nottaby (I could hardly overlook Shakespeare); the two friends of the Mad Hatter, Allison VanDerLind and Trudy Lukenclass; and finally the overweight Russian gentleman, Warren Pees.

But aside from literature, the more I looked, the more names appeared to me: Gideon Payle, Emma Bea Leaver, Roger Oubernoudt, Phyllis Stations, Saul R. Eaklips, the somewhat smelly Anita Schauers, the two Irishmen Manny O’Tier and Upton O’Gude, the Clark Gable lookalike Frank Lee Muhdeer, and the somewhat old-fashioned Horace N. Bucky. And relatives, especially aunts like Auntie McKasser, Auntie Dote, Auntie Pasto, and least but not last, Auntie Klymax.

It kept getting worse and worse. I started thinking about all the names that ask questions, like Izzie Yewman, Izzie Dunne, and Izzie Dedd (the last of which then led to Esther Leif-Atterdett), that interogatory family of Kennie Duit, DeeDee Duit, and Willie Duit (and their answering brother ,I. Darren Duit), Willie Maykett, the nymphomaniacal Wanda Ball, and the romantic William Aramy. And finally, that cold-blooded pair of worriers, Ophelia Draft and Isadora Jarr. These last two made me think of all the pairs of people, such as the two Italian gourmands, Patsy Fazool and Ricky Tony; the skinny pair, Bill Eamia and Annie Rexia. And these pairs led to more and more—the two mind readers, Claire Voyant and Luigi Bored; the French couple, Billy and Patty Dew; the flowery couple, Phil O. and Rhoda Dendrun. Then Stan Dupp and Bea Kownted, Howard Yew and Emma Fein, Les Tawk and Morey Akshun, the killers Pat and Matt Reside and their cousin Sue Side. I kept finding it harder and harder to sleep.

And then the final indignity: if a woman named Billie Button married a man named Lent, she’d become Billie Button Lent. Ouch!!

Hello Again

I know. I said I wasn't going to write any more posts, and yet here I am again. How could I not get in another Trump jab? We have several words being added to our English vocabulary, Potus, Scotus, and Flotus. I think it's only fitting that we add one more--Boobotus. Yeah, you've got it: "Boob of the United States." That fits him nicely.

I also have to leave a warning for any who read this, my encounter with another internet scam. It was an encounter that caused me a major loss of time and money, and I don't want anyone else to suffer the same losses.

I got burned by an internet scam that completely locked me out of my computer. I feel so stupid. Why do we have to make such huge mistakes in order to learn what we shouldn’t do? Here’s what happened. Last year I got a phone call from someone representing Supremo, a company that sells downloads for internet security. The technician told me they had spotted a number of suspicious attempts to login to my online banking account. In order to show me all these attempts I would have to allow him access to my computer. I allowed it and he talked me through a maze of steps to show me all the errors. I said, can you fix it? He said, yes, but it would cost me about $250 for a lifetime service with Supremo. I agreed, and he then fixed the errors and noticeably sped up my computer. Okay, good. Then this last call, half a year later, in which he told me that my Windows 10 had to be recertified, that my original download of Windows 10 required a purchase of a certificate. If I would take over computer, he would show me where I had the Windows 10 service agreement. I allowed him in. He showed me. I asked him how much this certificate would cost. $229, and that he and his company could handle the transaction. I said I thought I’d rather go straight to Microsoft to buy this certificate. He got indignant and said he’d have his supervisor talk to me to explain why I should go through his company to buy the certificate. His supervisor got even more indignant when I told him I wasn’t going to pay them anything. Then I made the sorry mistake of telling him I thought they were operating a scam. Oh, now he really got mad and told me that if I didn’t buy the certificate, I wouldn’t be able to use my computer. I said I wanted him to leave my computer. He said he would, but first he had to do a couple of things. Ten seconds later he was gone. And when I next tried to open my computer, nothing worked. Apparently those few things he had to do were to put a lock on my whole system.

Now what do I do? I go to Best Buy to ask the Geek Squad what I could do. They thought they could get my computer back up and running. Yup, I had no service agreement with the Geeks when I bought the computer, so this fix would cost me about $250. A week went by and finally they called to tell me I could pick it up. And it was like a new computer. All my photos, music, and documents were still there, but all my hard- and software were gone. I spent a full day trying to get it back to where it was before the lockout. And finally, that’s where I am now.

Lesson learned: Almost all calls telling you something bad or dangerous has been spotted on your computer are scams. You speak to a man or woman with a seriously hard-to-understand Indian accent, lots of background noise from other fake technicians talking to other naïve people just like me. And it always ends up requiring a cash outlay. Lesson! Never, never allow anyone to access your computer. If you get a call such as the one I just described, hang up immediately. It’s just another version of the phone call you get telling you about back taxes you owe and if you don’t pay them the sheriff will be at your door to arrest you.

Saturday, December 31

Farewell to 2016, Welcome 2017

Here it is, the last, the final day of 2016. And I’m not unhappy to see this year go. This past year has been so unusual for so many reasons, the loss of so many of the people in film, television, and the nation who passed away, the latest being Debbie Reynolds, the young bubbly dancer with whom I fell in love over sixty years ago. I guess her passing and that of too many others simply reminds me of my own potential passing. Another factor is probably the disappointing season for the Cardinals, a season which comes to an end tomorrow. Good. Let’s get ready for the 2017 season. The number of people killed in terrorist attacks around the world perplexes me, disturbs me, perplexity because I simply can’t understand the Jihadist desire to randomly kill innocent people. And, of course, the surprising election of Donald Trump. I still can’t get over that. I’m still depressed by his election and the public display he keeps exhibiting with his Tweets and his arrogance in news conferences. My final acceptance of giving up golf, the game that’s dominated my entire life, is another reason for my negative feelings about the end of this year. Or maybe it’s just the gloom of overcast skies that remind me too much of early winter days in upstate New York. Right now, it looks like it might begin raining again, as it did for most of last night. I’d like New Year’s Eve to be festive, with fireworks and tooting horns, but I don’t think we’ll be doing any tooting tonight. A nice steak dinner, a quiet glass of champagne, and then to bed at our usual time, 10:00 p.m., which comes out to midnight in New York.

I’ve decided that this will be my last blog post for a while, maybe forever. I have a novel I started at least five years ago that’s calling to me. I’ve been blogging for eight years now and it just feels like a good place to stop (either temporarily or forever). I look at the stats for this blog and am surprised by the number of people from other nations who have visited me: Russia 6941, France 2479, Germany 1668, the UK 1410, Ukraine 693, Poland 498, Canada 440, Latvia 428, and Sweden 381. I’m astonished by the number of words I’ve written: 554,701. I didn’t think I had that many words in me to write on such a wide variety of subjects. I went on-line to find out more about Jihadism (and I learned that that word may not be very accurate). I looked up Sharia Law and found this disturbing list:

According to Sharia law: (as listed by Billion
• Theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand.
• Criticizing or denying any part of the Quran is punishable by death.
• Criticizing Muhammad or denying that he is a prophet is punishable by death.
• Criticizing or denying Allah, the god of Islam is punishable by death.
• A Muslim who becomes a non-Muslim is punishable by death.
• A non-Muslim who leads a Muslim away from Islam is punishable by death.
• A non-Muslim man who marries a Muslim woman is punishable by death.
• A man can marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9 years old.
• Girls' clitoris should be cut (Muhammad's words, Book 41, Kitab Al-Adab, Hadith 5251).
• A woman can have 1 husband, who can have up to 4 wives; Muhammad can have more.
• A man can beat his wife for insubordination.
• A man can unilaterally divorce his wife; a woman needs her husband's consent to divorce.
• A divorced wife loses custody of all children over 6 years of age or when they exceed it.
• Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.
• A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).
• A woman's testimony in court, allowed in property cases, carries ½ the weight of a man's.
• A female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits.
• A woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval).
• A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.
• Meat to eat must come from animals that have been sacrificed to Allah - i.e., be "Halal."
• Muslims should engage in Taqiyya and lie to non-Muslims to advance Islam.

It strikes me that these laws, which so belittle women, aren’t valid in the 21st century, and those who believe in them are clinging to laws that are outdated by at least two or three hundred years. How can the world ever find peace with these terrorist groups so intent on killing all non-Muslims? I’ll have to think about this some more, maybe come back to it when and if I begin blogging again.

And with that, I say to whoever is reading this, “Have a happy and prosperous new year!”

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